Whether it’s in paper form or digital data, the administrative information that follows students, teachers, and administrators throughout and even beyond their career with an educational institution can be expansive and complex.
It's difficult to devote enough attention to educating students when so much time is spent dealing with paperwork and processes. Then consider that administrators today are allotted fewer staff resources to manage the heaps of paper and bytes of data despite.
Automating admissions, financial aid and registration processes allows administrators and staff to spend more time focusing on students and faculty. Here are 10 ways school administrators can gain control over their information and increase efficiency.
1. Gain instant access to information when you need it
A document management system helps schools to centralize their critical information. Letters, transfer forms, contracts, emails, voice messages, faxes, board minutes, and more can all be stored centrally in a single digital information repository. This provides a global overview of all of a school’s or district’s business information to those who are allowed access. Digital storage and management allows people to find what they need quickly, while dramatically reducing paper, printing, and shipping costs. A cloud-based system allows authorized persons to access the information they need from remote offices, from their desktops at home, or wherever it is needed.
2. Standardize information to get everything you need the first time
In a paper-based system, information consistency is difficult to achieve. Even when policies and communications dictate what must be collected and how much detail should be provided, follow through is left to the individual.
A good document management system has the configurability to apply and enforce the information policies and business rules established by your school. It also allows authorized persons to monitor who has entered, accessed, updated, or processed files in the event of a performance review or audit. If additional data has to be added prior to a file being complete, the software can be instructed not to save the file until the desired information has been collected. Furthermore, if you make standard forms available on your school’s portal or website, you can eliminate paper at the source.
3. Reclaim needed real estate from pesky file cabinets
In a paper-based system, records retention regulations inherently necessitate file space to continually expand in order to accommodate the growing number of students, alumni, and retirees. This consumes valuable real estate. In addition, physical storage means staff members must go to a central physical space in order to access information or may need to issue a request to their records manager to retrieve and view specific files. Misfiled papers, or papers that have been pulled by someone else, can result in re-created files and/or frustrating waiting times. Off-site storage of less frequently-needed records makes staff access difficult.
A digital system facilitates records retention through effective automation while allowing floor space previously allocated for files to be used for cubicles, additional office space, a classroom, equipment storage, or whatever the school needs most.
4. Access board insights and decisions
School board and staff meetings often result in decisions that affect the future of a school’s operations. Board members and staff may need to review meeting minutes in order to verify that a planned action is in accordance with a decision, or to gain insight into the historical development of a specific issue. Electronic document management mechanizes and eases the search, allowing authorized persons to request files about a specific topic, materials that mention a specific person or position, or any other data that has been indexed at the time it entered the system digitally. The software system then delivers the correct files to the desktop of the person requesting them. When the request is for a file that contains some confidential data, the person asking for information is able to view only the data to which he has been granted access.
5. View student performance securely
The first and most important directive of a school is to educate a child. This means storing information about the whole child, including academic records, physical and mental health data, disciplinary procedures, and more. Papers lying on desks can result in unwanted access to data.
An enterprise content management (ECM) system ensures that only authorized persons can access information. Physical location and office hours no longer present a challenge. Sensitive materials can be pre-set to allow very limited access and prohibit the forwarding of information to persons unauthorized to view it. Regardless of where you are, ECM keeps a thorough record of file access and denials, making it easier to demonstrate compliance.
6. Manage human resources
Teachers and administrators have a variety of records that follow them, as well as certifications that have to be maintained. Document management makes it easy to compile all of a person’s information, or to extract lists of specific file types (such as contract renewals) that require action. In addition to tracking requirements and certification paperwork, an ECM system can be pre-set with alerts, indicating that qualifications are about to expire, or that specific coursework is needed to satisfy requirements.
Auto alerts can also ensure the wrong action is not taken (such as granting one more vacation day than a contract actually allows). Automating human resources takes away the headaches of managing information so you can focus on managing your most valuable asset: your people.
7. Manage financial records: payroll, payables, and audits
From payroll records to subcontractor payments and incoming invoices, managing financial information can be an arduous task. Bids, receipts, purchase orders, and other materials have to be collected and managed. An ECM system electronically collects and categorizes related documentation, making it available to multiple people simultaneously when needed.
When paper copies are all that is available, usually someone has to wait (perhaps making multiple trips to search for the appropriate documents). Alternatively, photocopies have to be made and/or copies have to be distributed. With ECM, the auditor can request electronic images of the receipts and files he needs at the same time that the checks are being processed. While this is happening, the manager can also view the cash flow situation and its various permutations.
8. Distribute work effectively and eliminate waiting
An enterprise content management system that includes workflow capability lets you streamline your processes for consistency and automate them in accordance with your business rules. For example, take the case of a letter that needs to be signed by a teacher, guidance counselor, and the principal. An ECM system can be pre-set to request the letter, and then push it forward for signature with a specified time period for expected response from all three parties. If one of the signatories doesn’t respond, an alert can be sent as a reminder that the materials have been collected and are waiting for the individual's signature.
In a similar fashion, the system can be instructed to wait until all items that were requested have been collected, and then to forward all of the materials automatically to the intended recipient. The ability to see where a process is at any given time means that inquiries can be answered promptly, putting an end to the paper chase.
9. Make decisions based on real-time information: using time wisely
Decisions are made based on information that is on hand at any given time. But what if the latest update is sitting in someone’s inbox? What if supporting documents are in the mail on their way to the office, or, in today’s mail room, waiting to be opened and either photocopied, entered into a database, scanned, or emailed to someone? This results in a different set of “facts” being known to different people.
Electronic capture of incoming mail through immediate scanning or portal-based online forms means information is immediately updated and accessible to all pre-authorized parties the moment the material is received or files are updated.
10. Comply with FERPA and HIPAA: no more missing files
The increasing number of regulations and the severe penalties that can result from noncompliance frequently motivate schools to store documents electronically and automate their records retention schedules. Civil liability, fines, and criminal prosecution can result unless observance of regulations can be demonstrated. FERPA regulations that govern the privacy rights of students and parents, HIPAA laws that regulate access to private health information, and other rules, regulations, and policies can be monitored and audited effortlessly in detail with a document management system.
Letters rendering prior written consent for disclosure, records of consent exception, and other critical information can all be stored and associated with pertinent files. Combined with a records management policy that shows your school’s intent to abide, electronic storage arms you with the proof you need to rise above litigation and other challenging circumstances.
Putting your school on the path to electronic efficiency can be challenging, but the benefits vastly outweigh the difficulties. By candidly evaluating your needs, listening to staff challenges, clearly defining your business objectives, and demonstrating your commitment to help others succeed, you can go a long way in smoothing the rough waters of change. With a clear vision and project scope, and vendors who are prepared to partner in your success, you can do more with less. ECM frees you and your staff to use more of your time and talents for the betterment of your school and its students.