Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Going to school on workflow

By Mark Brousseau

Kansas State University (KSU) has increased productivity, raised efficiency and reallocated staff by deploying Perceptive Software’s ImageNow enterprise content platform in its admissions office. Rhiannon Englert of application manager and ImageNow client administrator, undergraduate admissions, shared the university’s story yesterday at Perceptive Software’s Inspire 2011 user conference in Las Vegas.

Founded in 1863 and located in Manhattan, Kansas, KSU offers more than 250 majors and programs and serves over 23,500 students. The university’s admissions office has about 50 ImageNow users, and holds about 30 seat licenses at a time.

The university processes about 20,000 applications and 20,000 transcripts per year.

Before deploying ImageNow in 2002, the university previously used a “very large and very loud filing-drawer system” for managing its admissions documents. “It was a very clunky system and took up a lot of space,” Englert said. “By deploying ImageNow, we were able to replace that system with three workstations.”

Until three years ago, KSU used its ImageNow solution primarily for electronic document storage. The school’s workflow was used largely for basic tasks and was centered on an in-house routing slip and back-end document scanning

In this paper-driven environment, the university would date-stamp incoming admissions documents and then send them to its document processing staff, who would perform data entry and make any necessary notations directly on the original documents. The documents then would go to an evaluator-level employee for more processing, and any action that needed to be taken. Once this step was complete, the documents would be scanned and electronically linked to a student ID number.

This process created some challenges, Englert said, starting with the labor involved in manual data entry. “We also were concerned about the location of documents during processing: the only person who knew the location of a document was the person who was processing it,” Englert explained. Similarly, there was no way to quantify the processing workload. “Employees would say, ‘We have a huge stack of transcripts to process,’ but they could didn’t know how many,” Englert said.

That all changed in 2009 when the university upgraded to version 6.3 of ImageNow.

As part of its upgrade to the new version of software, the university evaluated its business process, looking for ways to improve efficiency and eliminate the “vicious cycle” of paper-driven processes, Englert said. Not surprisingly, the university decided to implement a paperless workflow in its admissions office. As a result, incoming documents – including applications and supporting documents – are now scanned upon receipt and then enter electronic workflow queues based on the document type or business process. The electronic documents are then linked to a student identification number in KSU’s PeopleSoft system, processed and archived.

With such a big change in how work is managed, it’s not surprising that Englert’s team had some concerns early on, including: how information would be displayed on monitors; whether they could make electronic annotations on documents: the clarity of document images (for determining the authenticity of transcripts); and the impact on processing turnaround. Some employees also were anxious about the system’s workload monitoring tools, and that someone would be watching them.

The university tackled these issues head-on (i.e. providing all employees with two monitors for easy image viewing) and kept communication to staff flowing.

The benefits have been significant. As a result of moving to a paperless workflow, the university increased efficiency, improved turnaround times, and reallocated staff – all at a time when its budgets are extremely tight. The workload tracking has proven to be a powerful tool for supervisors, helping them better understand staff workloads and turnaround times, and prioritize work when necessary. Englert said it is also easier to locate documents with ImageNow’s search capabilities. .

“During high-volume times, documents are now available in ImageNow within hours or a few days as opposed to several days or weeks,” Englert commented.

Now, the university is looking for more ways to take its processes to the next level.

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