Higher education institutions are used to tight budgets. Having ‘money to burn’ is a long-gone pipe dream. Just maintaining the status quo is challenging amid declining revenues and escalating expenses.
Recent issues of Campus Technology, University Business, and the Educause Review sport prominent articles about doing more with less. The Educause association’s current issues committee put “funding IT” in first place on its 2009 Top-Ten Issues list, a spot it’s held six times in ten years. It’s no wonder: declining endowment performance, uncertain public support, and tight budgets make justifying IT expenditures tough. Spending on new initiatives now doesn’t make sense unless savings exceed the investment. Enterprise content management (ECM) and business process management (BPM) software achieve that goal by minimizing paper flow and reducing costs early in the document lifecycle.
The cost-cutting power of ECM and BPM
ECM software minimizes expenses by capturing, indexing, and storing documents digitally at the point of receipt. Desktop scanning, online forms, bar codes, and other forms of capture end the paper chase, making document contents useful moments after they’re received. Whether you work in admissions, financial aid, registrar, human resources, accounting, or another area, paperless processing—or ‘less paper’ processing—saves beaucoup bucks, quickly.
Capturing and indexing forms, correspondence, emails, faxes, photos, images, and supporting documentation in a central, searchable ECM repository ensures authorized staff has access to everything they need to do their work, wherever they are. Rules-based BPM takes advantage of stored digital files, automating routine processes and flowing pertinent documents to the right people to be worked on according to your business rules. The results:
- File room staff can be repurposed for more useful tasks.
- Campus courier costs (fleet, fuel, maintenance, salaries) are significantly reduced.
- Postage and packaging expenses are eliminated.
- Storage-related costs drop, including rent, heating, cooling, and filing cabinets.
- Receivables are processed more quickly.
- More work can be handled without adding staff.
Integrating ECM with accounting, HR, and other software reduces costs further while improving efficiency:
- File duplication and re-creation is eliminated.
- Information isolated in software applications (such as HR) can be leveraged in other business areas (such as accounting).
- Student bills are easily tracked, enabling quicker and more accurate billing.
- Fast, accurate invoicing creates a stronger cash flow.
- Staff wastes less time searching for information and more time doing meaningful work.
- Portal file access enables student and faculty self-service wherever it’s practical, helping you streamline staffing.
Listed below are six ways you can enhance your services for a minimal investment, using mature technology that delivers powerful ROI—quickly.
1. Expedite admissions
To make informed decisions, admissions paperwork must be accurate, complete, and timely. Recruiting top students and encouraging them to choose your institution means your decision letters must reach applicants before others present attractive offers. Gathering, packaging, and sending paperwork to the appropriate people for review takes time.
When applications, transcripts, exam scores, recommendation letters, and other documents are stored digitally, admissions officers, financial aid staff, and others who need information gain instant, secure access. BPM expedites processing, gathering and packaging documents and pushing them through appropriate workflows and hierarchies for review, approval, and signatures. Simultaneous access expedites reviews. Browser-based access to documentation enables quicker decisions. Rules-based processing redirects work according to your rules when employees are absent. Efficiency rules.
2. Update student services
Processing student paperwork is time consuming. Gathering and verifying student paperwork typically requires multiple phone calls, faxes, mailings, and movement of documents across campus or between satellite branches. Yet you don’t have to mint money to pay the price of swift communication. By implementing ECM, you can work smarter—and cheaper.
Making desktop scanners available at multiple locations and letting students and staff scan documents at the point of receipt ensures:
- Sensitive data is immediately secure;
- Electronic forms are immediately accessible to authorized persons for processing;
- Data entry is significantly reduced, along with duplication and errors;
- Less staff time is spent verifying student information.
3. Financial aid
Student verification involves collecting federally mandated information about applicants and enrollees. It’s a labor-intensive, cumbersome process. With ECM, documents can be scanned into a central repository from multiple locations and made available instantly to appropriate staff. Importing reduces manual data entry, increasing accuracy. BPM directs the flow of work, ensuring documentation is complete and routing materials appropriately for processing. Desktop access lets staff process more applications during peak times. Digital reporting makes it easy to see where applicants stand, improving service.
4. Streamline faculty hiring
Like student admissions, hiring faculty means gathering, storing, distributing, and acting on extensive documentation. Hiring top personnel requires making solid offers before applicants accept positions elsewhere. Online forms eliminate costs of replicating paper, making applications available electronically. ECM ensures all documentation—applications, resumes, work samples, transcripts, and more—is stored in a central, secure and searchable repository. BPM packages documentation, makes sure it’s complete, and sends it through your formal review process, shortening turnaround.
5. Convert print documents to PDFs for internal use
Print publications such as department programs, curricula, or marketing materials created for the public waste unnecessary paper if they are distributed to staff on paper. By capturing and distributing PDFs or posting them on your portal you eliminate significant printing, paper, and inter-campus transportation expenses. Digital distribution promotes eco-friendly, sustainable, and affordable business practices while ensuring workers have the files they need.
6. Reduce storage needs
A comprehensive ECM system also addresses document archival, ensuring prompt migration of electronic documents. Files can be purged, moved to alternate storage media, or deleted according to your records retention rules. By eliminating paper, you streamline storage. Precious and costly space—including heating, cooling, cleaning, and rummaging through files for occasional retrieval—is ended. Storage rooms can be converted to office space, meeting rooms, expensed to another business area, or sold. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to save.
What to look for in an ECM solution
When you look for ECM and BPM, it’s important to look for:
- A proven vendor with customers who can verify ROI from their investment.
- A product that’s flexible, scalable, and built using modern technologies.
- Products that will integrate easily with legacy and line-of-business applications.
- Training and documentation that will ensure successful implementation.
- Professional services to address customization and other unique needs.
Smart investing means putting your money where it has the best chance of producing strong returns. By investing in ECM, you reap cost savings quickly while improving the quality and speed of services you offer. Instead of downsizing your vision while you struggle to control costs, you can downsize your expenditures by gaining control over your information. You’ll also be positioned to manage your growth cost-effectively when the economy rebounds.
It pays to be lean, but only if you do it the right way. Don’t compromise your institution’s reputation by cutting services. Be lean and green (and smart!) behind the scenes so you can maintain the programs, services, and shine that define your institution.