The Times They Are A Changing
Change. Change on college campuses in administrative systems has historically been slow. Most universities still admit and manage students using a complex web of people, mail, paper, manual routing and data entry. They know it is inefficient and costly. So why is higher education lagging behind when there is a huge opportunity to gain efficiencies, particularly with the technologies and best practices we have today?
Risks. Rolling out many small software projects across a campus can delay addressing the big picture, and give the illusion of avoiding risk. The need for collaboration and the high cost of managing multiple systems with duplicate data sets are not addressed initially. The risk then becomes in controlling the waste. Somebody is eventually going to add that up.
Future. Though higher education is still in its infancy compared to most sectors, a new awareness of the need to manage unstructured content is gaining momentum. Along with that realization are the departmental process reconfigurations and then it can’t happen fast enough. People in an organization touch and re-use information despite their department of origin. The future is to manage a piece of content once and make it available to those who need it.
The Old World
Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of student information for example. This information will continue to grow and follow the student for years. It begins with admissions applications that are filled out using an on-line form or document such as a PDF, and transcripts that are sent as paper documents or attachments.
Transcripts provide a lion’s share of important information initially and transcript management is key to evaluating a student. It is also unwieldy due to the sheer numbers. When received, a transcript is physically matched to the student application and information is hand keyed into the student information system (SIS). Electronic data transfer (EDI) is sometimes used, but the information is still manually entered into the SIS.
The file will travel through many departments and be evaluated and approved, evaluated and approved. At each step departments may add the student information to their own systems and eventually after a series of manual processes, the student will be notified of admission status. The process will take dozens and sometimes hundreds of hours per student.
The New World
The biggest challenge of the past was how to capture unstructured information such as a line item from a paper or electronic document and get the data into an ERP system. Not so today. That problem has been solved very effectively to the tune of 93% accuracy. And that 93% becomes 100% with a little QA. Continuing with the student file and transcript example, how do we get the critical information into a system quickly so it can be accessed where needed? The first step is to insure the transcripts are in electronic form, a combination of EDI and scanning.
Unstructured data is then extracted from the transcript and placed in a table. An industry-standard TS 130 transaction is generated; the student information is validated against the SIS and then uploaded to the SIS. As the student file progresses through workflow, data is updated in the SIS, automatically notifying the student when additional documentation is needed and the evaluator when the file is complete.
Changing the status quo for something better takes strategic planning and collaboration by leaders who are willing to realize the real risks inherent in short-term solutions. They are willing to ask the hard questions and spearhead a lasting solution that will meet campus-wide objectives well into the future.