Short of office space? The University of Oklahoma’s College of Arts and Sciences figured out how to get more – and saved itself some money in the process.

The college first considered digitizing its documents after a broken water pipe caused a flood. While it didn’t do much damage, it left Assistant Dean for Academic Services Dr. Rhonda Dean Kyncl feeling like they’d dodged a bullet. So the college started a project to digitize its records.

First, Kyncl asked on a mailing list how other universities digitized their records. “The people who did something had digital file systems, but literally that – digital records but no digital workflow or information sharing,” she says.

UO wanted to look at the workflow around those documents. While a student record might consist of anything from 10 to a hundred pages, its contents were fairly consistent. If they were a veteran, there would be a certain group of documents. If they were an athlete, there’d be another set, and so on. There might also be transcripts. Then there was the process of where the documents came from, where they went, and who got them at various points along the way.

The college also scanned its back records. In the process, the college was able to get two offices back — the former “active file room” and “inactive file room.” In addition, the college also calculated its savings, ranging from $15,000 to pay for a student worker whose primary role was to take file folders around to people, down to $300 annually for supplies such as staples, binders, and paper clips. The college also cut its paper costs by 30 percent, Kyncl says.

The biggest savings, amounting to more than $7,000, was in time, Kyncl says. Counselors who used to have to perform elaborate rituals of filling out and filing cards could now perform a much more streamlined process online. In addition, when records were on paper, they were “held hostage” by whichever desk they happened to be on, because nobody else could look at them, she says. Now, processes can be performed in parallel because the data remains available.

As well as saving time and money, the workflow process means that counselors can now spend more time doing their real job — spending time with students, Kyncl says. Previously, as much as 20% of the counselors’ time was devoted to dealing with paper, she says. Students now also have easier access to their own records.

What’s next? The dean of the college has bought each of the counselors an iPad, so they can have access to student records without being in the office. Students can even sign records on the iPad.

And how do the students like the new system? They like it, Kyncl says. “There’s something to be said when students know that you made an investment in knowing them and in keeping track.”

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