Electronic Document Management Initiative: STREAMLINING THE ADMISSIONS PROCESS TO CREATE EFFICIENCIES AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUSTAINABILITY PLAN

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1 2013 SACUBO BEST PRACTICES ENTRY: Electronic Document Management Initiative: STREAMLINING THE ADMISSIONS PROCESS TO CREATE EFFICIENCIES AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUSTAINABILITY PLAN Rhonda Belton Director, Application Technologies Chris Fulkerson Assistant Vice President/CIO Elon University 2550 Campus Box Elon, NC 27244

2 Abstract Elon University started the planning and implementation of the electronic document management initiative in 2007 by first employing the electronic scanning, processing and storage of Admissions documents. The infrastructure was set up so that this system could be expanded as an enterprise solution. Since that time, Elon has implemented electronic document management for Financial Planning, Advancement, Registrar, Provost Office, School of Education and the Business Accounting Office. Going paperless offered great savings in resources, provisioning for better data retrieval and efficiencies in customer service. The success in Admissions encouraged other areas on campus to take advantage of these benefits. Electronic document management has greatly improved the workflow for the Admissions staff enabling this office to process student applications at a much higher rate while offering improved customer service to potential incoming students. The Admissions staff members scan each document and link it to the corresponding student record in our student information system. The electronic routing process is much quicker than handing off papers to be filed and passing paper folders from staff member to staff member. This streamlined process saves steps in the filing process, saves paper, and saves physical file space in the office. The electronic document management in Admissions reduced the number of temporary data entry staff hired at peak times of the year. Not only is time saved for Admissions operations and physical file storage space reduced but staff members are able to communicate immediately with applicant families without having to take a message, locate the applicant s folder, and return phone calls. Going with electronic document management of our supporting documentation for the Admissions application process also gave anytime and anyplace access to these documents to our Admissions staff and applications readers.

3 Introduction of the Organization Elon University is a selective, independent university renowned as a national model for engaged learning, along with excellence in the liberal arts, sciences and professional programs. The beautiful and historic Elon campus located in central North Carolina is designated as a botanical garden. The rich intellectual community at Elon University is characterized by active student engagement with a faculty dedicated to excellent teaching and scholarly accomplishment. The curriculum is grounded in the traditional liberal arts and sciences and complemented by nationally accredited professional and graduate programs. Elon students put knowledge into practice, fulfilling their roles as global citizens and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good. Elon University sends more undergraduate students to study abroad than any other master s-level school in the nation, and was named one of the top three universities in the nation for community service by the federal government s Corporation for National and Community Service. In addition, 87 percent of students complete internships, 46 percent of students hold at least one campus leadership position, 82 percent of students participate in community service, and about 584 students annually work with faculty members on undergraduate research projects. In its 2012 "America's Best Colleges" guide, U.S. News & World Report rates Elon the #2 Southern University and among the top 56 colleges and universities in the nation "with an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching." Newsweek-Kaplan has named Elon the nation's "leader in engaged learning" and Princeton Review ranks Elon among the nation's 376 "best colleges." Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the Fiske Guide to Colleges both name Elon University one of the nation's "best value" private universities. The 358 full-time Elon faculty teach in more than 60 undergraduate majors. The university includes Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences; the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business; the School of Communications; the School of Education; the School of Law; and the School of Health Sciences. Three master's programs are offered in business, education and interactive media. The graduate program also offers doctor of in physical therapy and a law degree. Elon operates on a academic calendar, including a four-week term in January. 5,225 undergraduate and 691 graduate students come from 48 states, the District of Columbia and 57 other nations make up the student body at Elon. About 25 percent are from North Carolina, with 8 percent each from Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, 7 percent from Virginia and 5 percent each from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York. Elon Phoenix athletics include 16 intercollegiate men's and women's sports in NCAA Division I (FCS football), and Elon is a member of the Southern Conference. In addition, many students actively participate in 18 intramural and 21 club sports. The 620-acre Elon campus is consistently recognized as one of the nation's most beautiful college environments. The campus includes a 56-acre Elon University Forest, a land preserve and natural area for scientific research. Elon University was founded in 1889, and its core values have remained constant throughout history: close relationships between faculty and students, a culture that supports constant innovation, and a strong sense of community. Daily events, social gatherings and sidewalk conversations are the hallmarks of this friendly and welcoming academic community.

4 Statement (Restatement) of the Problem/Initiative Elon University s Admissions office received 10,000+ applications each year in a paper intensive process. Each prospective student file has an application, transcripts, test scores, recommendations, essays and counselor evaluations. Each of the supporting documents for these potential students arrived at different times and had to be manually placed into the folders and logged into the Student Information System (SIS). In addition, Admissions kept copies of all correspondence with each prospective student which could be notes from phone calls, s, letters or faxes. Each folder can contain a significant amount of paper. Space to store all the paper files was becoming a problem. During the crunch time of processing applications, significant temporary data entry staff had to be added so the information from the documents could be added to the SIS. With so many application folders, tracking of the folders was an issue. If a prospective student called with an inquiry, a message had to be taken while the folder was located and reviewed before an answer could be given not the image of customer service that Elon University wanted to portray. Throughout the project, full-time staff in Admissions had to be reassured that they wouldn t lose their jobs and that they would come to appreciate the electronic document management. The university was able to replace the highly time consuming, manual way of processing applications.

5 Design The original goal for moving to an electronic document management solution in 2007 was a desire to deal with the ever expanding number of paper files that were over taking office space. The next expansion space would have been to take a classroom off line for file storage. Admissions approached IT to find a means of electronically storing documents. In the discovery process, the vendor showed that much more was possible with a document management system than just having an electronic filing cabinet. When the document imaging solution was finished, Elon gained a more efficient system of intake of prospective student applications and supporting documents; a more efficient process of routing documents to the appropriate reviewers; a method of linking documents to the SIS records; and an easy method of retrieval of information to provide better customer service when prospective students made inquiries about their status. The document management solution was initiated and funded by IT as the university s first entry into document management. The CIO wanted to build the infrastructure so it could be scaled as more departments wanted to tackle their document management issues. An implementation team comprised of members from IT, Admissions, and our solution vendor, performed a detailed analysis of the admissions process. The initial thought was to have the electronic process mimic the existing paper application process, but in the process of performing the analysis, the vendor suggested several time savings enhancements that the document management software could provide. Elon University s IT staff first converted the application to an online form which captured data and transferred it to the SIS. The application was then converted to a PDF document in the prospective student s electronic file in the document management system. As the PDF is transferred, key fields from the SIS are captured and used to index the file. As other documents come into Elon through the mail, a staff member opens the document, scans it, and looks up the prospective student in the SIS. The staff member identifies the document and electronically passes it to the next stage. When a document is entered into the system it is permanently linked to the prospective student s record in the SIS. A staff member can look up a prospective student in the SIS and see an icon on the screen if there is an electronic document. Clicking on the icon reveals what documents are available for viewing and can be selected. A person s document can also be searched in the document management system. Within the document management system, there is an ability to create word documents, complete an evaluation form and fill out electronic check sheets. Electronic Post-it notes or messages can also be attached to documents. Admissions readers are able to read files and write up an evaluation while logged into the document management system. The prospective student s electronic file is then routed to a decision committee.

6 Implementation Elon s solution vendor installed all hardware system components including scanner workstations along with the scanning software. Vendor programmers wrote custom programs so that Elon staff could easily index students documents and link them to student information records with the ability to retrieve the documents via lookup screens in SIS. They also programmed the work flows within the document management software from the extensive discovery phase prior to issuing a scope of work. User documentation and training sessions were then developed by the vendor. The Admissions staff members conducted user acceptance testing for final approval. As insurance and as a way to help alleviate staff worries, the paper documents were kept in folders as a backup to the electronic process for two full cycles of admission. At the end of the second year, Admissions staff admitted that the paper backup was not needed and that they had not accessed them. Benefits As our Admissions Office was moved to electronic document management, we looked at specific criteria to measure whether our project was successful or not. Elon was able to address the pain point that led Admissions to inquiring about document imaging. Our vendor was able to add value by recommending an improved process and indexing of the Admissions documents with a much faster and easier retrieval. As discussed in earlier sections, there were several benefits of implementing the Admissions electronic document management project. Not only did the university solve its storage space, but savings were also realized in application processing time and resources hiring temporary data entry staff. Elon also gained efficiencies in customer service to prospective student families. When the speed of communication with a potential student makes the difference of that student deciding between Elon University and another institution, the new system gives Elon University an edge over other institutions more than 10,000 times. When the institution is tuition driven, it can mean the difference between success and failure. The Admissions staff members are very pleased that document management streamlined the application processing operations. They are also pleased that document retrieval is available to them from a simple inquiry rather than looking through stacks of folders. Admissions new process greatly improves the customer service that Elon is able to offer to families of potential students. Elon s electronic document management solution is producing the benefits we had hoped to receive. The success in the Admissions project drove many other departments to IT inquiring how document management could help them. To date, eight departments have implemented some form of electronic document management. Some are simply an electronic filing cabinet; others have complicated work processes like the Admissions project.

7 Retrospect Electronic document management changed the way Elon University processes student applications to fill the freshmen class each year. The solution streamlined application processing, provided drastically better customer service to our potential incoming students families while providing a way to store all documents without encroaching on physical space. Admissions is very satisfied with the document scanning, indexing, storage, retrieval, and customer service that has been made possible through this new system. They have become the poster child for other departments to emulate. Making sure the original design allowed for expansion enabled the project s success to be replicated within other departments and leveraged the institutional IT investment. IT continues to reach out to other departments to assist them in becoming more efficient with the university resources allocated to them.

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