Customer Stories

University of West Alabama

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With enrollment counts continually rising, UWA needed an ECM solution to keep up—and to keep students happy.

Quick Facts

  • Softdocs customer since 2006
  • Implemented in Admissions, Financial Aid, Registration, Finance, Purchasing and Human Resources

Challenges

  • Collecting duplicate student information
  • Paper-intensive, time-consuming manual AP processes
  • Lengthy process for student forms to be submitted and reviewed

Solutions

The Softdocs ECM Platform™

  • Provided cross departmental access to student information
  • Improved Financial Aid workflow
  • Automated the AP matching process
  • Created a paperless employee onboarding process

"We chose Softdocs because it offered us the most reliable, flexible and economical means of meeting our needs."

Christi George | Electronic Data Specialist | University of West Alabama

The university has been able to convert the space previously occupied by records into more office space— something they desperately needed.

In 2006, the University of West Alabama (UWA) was still operating with their original mainframe system, but it was becoming evident it could not handle their growing needs. Its diminishing capabilities were soon replaced with a new enterprise resource planning system, Colleague by Ellucian, which led the school to look for a digital imaging system for electronic document management.

“Softdocs had the best bang for the buck, and since they had integrated with Colleague, we didn’t have to jump through extra hoops to get those two systems to work together.”

The Financial Aid and Purchasing offices were the first to use Softdocs, but reducing the amount of paper files within its departments was their priority. Softdocs’ Records Conversion team assisted in scanning a large portion of records to establish a more manageable number of filing cabinets. Now, 90 percent of document scanning is completed by student workers.

Enrollment numbers have doubled in the past decade, causing an increase in the amount of student paper-
work. Some of this growth resulted from offering online classes. Currently, 60 percent of UWA’s students 
are enrolled in distance education for online classes and the other 40 percent are on campus.

“Because we offer associates, bachelors, masters and educational specialist degrees, you could spend ten years going to school here. Students could have a Financial Aid folder that is three or four inches thick by the time they graduate,” said George.

Admissions

UWA’s Undergraduate Admissions department is the first place on campus where prospective students submit information, so it made sense for Softdocs to begin capturing that content in Softdocs’ Content Management solution as it is received. This way, instead of each department asking students to submit the same information, it is already accessible and can be found with the click of a mouse rather than searching through filing cabinets.

Financial Aid

At UWA, approximately 80 percent of students would not be able to pay for their classes before the cutoff date without financial aid assistance. So, needless to say, aid being reviewed and approved in time is very important. One particular challenge for the school was managing student requests for summer aid. Funding for summer sessions is not automatically awarded and must be requested by the student. Softdocs was able to help 
UWA solve this problem with the use of a secure e-form.

“We now have an e-form for students to request financial aid for the summer that is run through Softdocs’ Electronic Forms solution and imported into the content management solution."

The end result is that Financial Aid staff is quickly aware of a student’s need for summer aid and is able to ensure they have the funding necessary to enroll.

The Financial Aid office uses e-forms for more than just summer term. All work study students complete their tax forms in Softdocs’ Electronic Forms solution and supervisors fill out evaluation e-forms that are then imported into the content management solution and submitted as well.

According to George, without students, there is no university. In order to attract and keep their students, UWA realizes the value in not only operating efficiently, but also providing easy options for the students to prevent stress regarding their funding and important record documentation. “Anything we can do to make a student’s experience at UWA a pleasurable one, we try to do that.”

Grade Change Forms

Another reoccurring problem the university experienced involved timely grade changes. Timeliness is especially important when a grade change could make a difference in receiving another degree or licensure. Before e-forms, it could often take up to a month for a grade change to occur.

This manual process included an instructor completing a grade change card with the name of the student, the class, the current grade and the grade it should be replaced with. The card would then need to be signed by the department chair, the dean of the college and the registrar. Once the information and appropriate signatures were documented, the card would be put in the student’s file.

“It was a horrible mess. Sometimes the card would sit on someone’s desk and you wouldn’t know who had it. From the student’s side, it was ‘I fulfilled the requirements for my grade change,why hasn’t it changed? It can’t be that hard.”

Now, grades are changed online within the Softdocs platform, utilizing e-forms and structured workflow. The instructor can search for a student’s name by selecting the proper class and term and then enter the new grade.

“When they’re already in the workforce, they don’t have time to try to call and see if their grade has been changed. A delay could keep them from getting a bonus or pay raise when they get that next degree. A paycheck could be a couple thousand dollars more a year if that grade had been changed two months ago when the requirements were fulfilled,” said George.

Nursing

“One morning, I got a call from the Admissions office saying ‘Christi, can you give Nursing access to the content management system so they can stop calling and requesting this stuff from me?’ So that afternoon, I gave viewing access to the secretary in Nursing and trained her how to search for a specific student and find their transcript, application, etc.,” said George.

Once Nursing saw the capabilities within the Softdocs solutions, they wanted to begin scanning their student records. Nursing students are required to have certain vaccinations, certifications and credits on file that other academic departments do not need. On top of that, each of the two Nursing classes ranges from 50 to 70 students, meaning the Nursing secretary was managing a lot of documentation. Now, it is all available in Softdocs’ Content Management solution.

Business Office

Not all of the departments at the university were ready to transition from paper files when Financial Aid began utilizing Softdocs. With preparation and a planned timeline, George worked with the Business Office and less than a year later had them live. 

“We tried to plan what offices we wanted to come on board. Some of it was outside our control, but in a good way. Especially when dealing with financials,” said George. “We had to make sure we caught things at the right time, preparation wise, so that on October 1 (the beginning of UWA’s fiscal year), we were capturing and printing and everything with our Finance office. 

You want to capture everything when a fiscal year starts. You don’t want to try to start it mid-year.”

Purchasing and Accounts Payable

Before UWA began using Softdocs for document manage-ment, check printing was the only semi-automated process in place. Everything else was done by hand. Each check contained four carbon copies that required distribution to other offices and the recipient. Any corresponding invoices needed stapling to the check copy so the packet could be stored in university’s filing vault.

“It was a mess. We were running out of space,” said George. “We are not a big university, but when we write 200 checks each week and have to match those, it was bogging down the system because we were doing everything backwards. 

“It would take hours, sometimes a whole day that the AP room couldn’t be bothered because they were manually matching checks and invoices.”

After working with the Softdocs Professional Services team, a plan was created to automate the process. Invoices are now scanned, indexed and then automatically matched to the purchase orders and AP checks generated by Colleague. All documents are filed in the appropriate vendor folder and can be quickly accessed for future reference and audit purposes. 

“It now takes 15 minutes to match 200 checks, as opposed to 15 hours to do everything backwards. You all figured out a better way for us to do it. Everyone is a lot happier.”

Auditing

Having access to everything in one place has also helped make things easier when the state auditor visits once a year.

“That process takes a day, where it used to take a couple of weeks to gather the documentation so the auditor can audit the books. All the auditor has to do now is give our AP Supervisor a list of checks that he wants and she goes to Softdocs’ Content Management solution.” 

“There is no standing at the copy machine worrying about things getting out of order.”

Human Resources

Even though HR hasn’t been using Softdocs for very long, they took advantage of utilizing Softdocs’ Electronic Forms solution. As part of their onboarding process, employees can fill out the I9, W4, A4 and direct deposit information electronically. These e-forms are then automatically filed in the employee’s electronic folder in Softdocs’ Content Management solution. HR plans on creating additional e-forms from onboarding documents after learning more at Bridge, Softdocs’ user group conference.

As a university with a highly functioning IT staff and an encouraging administration, combined with the school’s desire to always find more efficient ways to get tasks done, there are many more changes to come down the road from the University of West Alabama.

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