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Leveraging 2021 Funding for Paperless Process Improvement

Laurel Stiller

Laurel Stiller
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There is no question that 2020 CARES Act funding breathed life and hope into institutions that were desperately trying to pivot in March 2020. Without the additional funding provided at that time, there were very real needs of students, families and the community that could not have been met.

Both K12 and Higher Education institutions instantly prioritized the students. Step 1 was internet access and distribution of devices such as Chromebooks and laptops which allowed students to participate remotely. Suddenly, new processes around hardware and software distribution, tracking and additional student services were born. At the same time, IT leaders prioritized supporting teachers and faculty in their transition to online classes and started reviewing best practices for student engagement. As a result, a new model has developed which will likely become an integral part of the future. For instance, sick students will be able to stay home and participate in some online learning as they recover. It appears as if it took a pandemic to rally everyone across education to look for what is truly possible through online learning.

As this transition continues, new data is becoming available and/or needs to be collected. Is the student in class? Is the student active? Is the student learning the material? Has the instructor or student had a vaccine or need a COVID test? Do we need “request an appointment” forms for guidance counselors, academic or financial aid advisors? What do we need to get students back into school as fast as possible to meet the desires of the Biden executive order? The measures of success have changed and education is scrambling to find technology to support them.

As a result of the pandemic, educational institutions also increased their work with communities to address student hunger, housing, health care, child-care, and the needs of the whole student. Thankfully, the CARES Act specifically designated money to be used towards these needs but addressing those issues took on new priority and coordination. It would be a luxury to think that we get to stop worrying about those things once the pandemic is declared “over.”

In 2021, we find ourselves waiting for additional new funding. As you plan for a possible influx of funds, let’s examine the trends Softdocs has uncovered as we work with both K12 and Higher Education institutions day in and day out. Here are our top 5.

Paperless Document Management

Though there are exceptions, many higher education institutions, started as much as a decade ago to eliminate paper and transition to a content repository of paperless records. With a model of scanners in the offices, higher ed has been progressing towards digital files in the largest student-facing offices, such as Financial Aid and Registrar. However, there can be more than 100 specialized offices (international students, disability services, student affairs, student conduct, etc.) that are still operating mostly paper-based and highly inefficiently.

In contrast, most K12 districts are still very paper-based throughout. There are very simple steps they can take to start digitizing every document, reducing the need for paper and creating a new hybrid model that can help sustain their district for the future.

Electronic Forms and Workflow

Higher education and K12 share a similar situation here. There are still numerous paper forms that students, parents and employees are required to complete. Data is routinely requested that is already in the system, creating frustration for those repeatedly providing it. In addition, these forms circulate with important personal information, which increases security risks.

This was the #1 problem K12 and Higher Ed turned to Softdocs to solve in 2020. With electronic forms, existing data can be pre-populated on the form. And once the additional information is completed, it can be automatically routed for approvals and notifications through a workflow and a permanent record of the form automatically sent to the current content repository.

E-signature Requirements Require a Conversation

We need to start having more conversations across education around the role of e-signatures and what the real needs are on a district or campus level. Many institutions in their haste to stand up a forms solution, automatically assume that these forms require a specialized e-signature solution and, in some cases, they might (for example, specific construction contracts or a unique donor gift agreement). But in many cases, a box checked as a legal and binding signature submitted through the institution portal is sufficient and legally binding. Since e-signature solutions often have a per-transaction fee, they can become expensive, very quickly. In many cases, Etrieve can serve that need and eliminate other, more costly systems.

Cloud is the New Normal

It has been refreshing to see education progress quickly to accepting the cloud for what it is: faster deployment, less maintenance, new features added routinely and layers of security that on-prem solutions cannot provide. With cloud deployments, the expertise on campus is focused on business analysts deploying solutions using the software, rather than deploying the software itself. The pandemic revealed that the cloud is the smart solution. Softdocs is proud of its leadership taking ECM to the cloud more than 7 years ago.

COVID Requires its own Data Collection

Our customers have started to share COVID specific use cases for an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution like Etrieve. We have multiple client stories where requests to miss classes, documentation of positive COVID tests, and special student services checklists were all done through Etrieve. Other examples like forms for return to campus or requests for student housing were all managed with Etrieve. And recently, a client told us they are becoming a community vaccination site and will be using Etrieve forms and workflow to set up and track appointments. 2020 has changed things. When new forms surface that we need students to complete, and new processes are required, how will we handle them? If you have Etrieve, the answer is simple.

For 2021 – Operationalize Your New Models and Make Them Sustainable

Together, we have kept students learning in spite of all the challenges. We have collected new information and changed our processes. Now, we need to operationalize that new model and make it sustainable. We need to embrace change and new expectations. The next round of Congressional funding just might be your opportunity to bring an ECM solution to campus to solve the problems of tomorrow.