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CCU Atheneum:

Pioneering the paperless university

by Doug Bell
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CCU is leveraging technology to streamline business processes and create strategic value

A Coastal Carolina University task force is at work on a project that will transform the way we do paper (and business) on campus.

For the past year, the eForm & Workflow Task Force, comprised of representatives from a cross section of campus departments, has been meeting to come up with initiatives designed to streamline the increasingly cumbersome flow of paperwork that burdens many campus operations. Working in collaboration with ImageNow, a document management system used by the University, the group has set goals and developed a timeline for their implementation.

“Historically with document management systems, the focus was on developing repository capabilities,” said Abdallah Haddad, task force chair and CCU’s chief information and technology officer, “but over time the evolvement of these systems to include automating workflows led us to direct our efforts to applying this technology to transform many of our campus workflows.”

Phase I, which is scheduled for implementation by June 30, 2016, tackles some of the most time-consuming, paper-intensive aspects of the University. The Office of Financial Services has already made significant progress in automating many of its functions. One of the first areas to adopt ImageNow, the department has eliminated “tons of paper” in its workflow methods over the past three years, according to controller Lori Church.

“We’ve automated a number of our financial transactions, with amazing results on many levels,” said Church.

“When I first started working at Coastal, every invoice had to be stamped, stapled, approved or vouched, a process which accumulated stacks of paper,” said Lynn Silver, accounts payable supervisor who has worked in the financial services office since 2008. “Then these stacks had to be alphabetized, checks had to be handwritten for each invoice, and finally all this paper had to be filed for the yearly audit.”

Now, the invoices are scanned and approvals are handled through email. Payments are transacted through computer screens instead of on paper checks. Everything is filed electronically instead of in cabinets, and there is less chance of something being lost or misfiled when an auditor asks for it.

“Automating these processes through ImageNow has helped cut down the audit from five days to three days,” said Church. “It reduces steps and paper, making everything more efficient and cost effective.”

The task force hopes that this automation success story can be replicated across campus. Other paper-intensive workflows that are being transformed as part of Phase I include forms processed by the Registrar’s Office, the Office of Graduate Studies and other areas. Additional components of Phase I address staff training, testing and evaluating, and new modules. A new full-time staff position has been created to directly support the initiative and provide assistance to various departments.

Phase II, set for implementation by June 2017, will engage various additional departments as well as admissions, financial aid and human resources. The third milestone, Phase III in June 2018, will involve implementing additional modules and engage still more departments.

One of the campus paper form procedures that perhaps stands in the greatest need of automation, according to Associate Provost John Beard, is the graduation application form.

“Currently, we’re not in the 21st century or even the 20th century, we’re in the early 19th century,” laughs Beard, a member of the task force. “It could have been handled the same way in Charles Dickens’ day. Everything is paper. Every student who graduates has to fill out forms by hand and academic offices have to approve them, by hand. No one escapes this process. Students call it the ‘Coastal Shuffle,’ taking these paper forms from one office to another. It’s high time we changed. Today’s students expect electronic processing of documents. If this first phase is successful, then many other academic forms should follow. By taking an enterprise approach, engaging the whole campus in a comprehensive process, this initiative will eventually make things easier and faster for our employees and our students.”

Jim Luken, associate provost and director of graduate studies, agrees that “it’s a long time coming.” Also a member of the task force, Luken is involved in automating the graduate admissions workflow. “This will greatly improve the efficiency of the administrative process, and it will certainly improve recruitment of new graduate students. Moving from paper to an electronic process will make the review of applications so much easier. It’s all going to be pretty life-changing for the campus, and fewer trees will die as a result.”

“While the primary purpose of this initiative is to digitize and streamline workflows and processes,” said Haddad, “another very significant objective is that it produces a green, environmentally-friendly environment that reduces the use of paper to a minimum. What we are doing is leveraging standardized technology to promote efficiency, customer satisfaction and institutional excellence. Currently, too much paper is being sent around campus, and too often the stakeholders involved don’t know where the documents are and have no way of tracking their progress. With the new initiative, there is a fluid movement of workflows, and all the interested parties can easily find out the status of a process or transaction because it will all be digital.” Haddad said that the new program will alert personnel when various actions need to be taken.

A further benefit of the initiative is its scalability. “As CCU continues to grow, we can build on this initiative’s basic infrastructure, adding new pieces without having to start over as time passes,” said Haddad.

CCU is planning to go further with this process than many of our peer institutions have. “I believe we are pioneers in the state and maybe the Southeast in terms of the planned extent of our automation,” Haddad said. “We have made visits and studied what other universities are doing, and they haven’t gone as far as we are planning to go in some of our workflows and automations. It’s going to be a great thing, in terms of strategic return on investment, scalability, sustainability and in the quality of service we can provide our students and community.”

CCU’s executive vice president/provost, chief financial officer and senior administrators have provided essential support and direction for the initiative, according to Haddad. “Their continuous support and the engagement of the Coastal community, in addition to the hard work of the approximately 27 task force members, will ensure the success of this transformative step for the University.”

A website is being developed that will be launched later this month and will provide more information about the initiative.

 

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