Administrators in higher education know the burden of document management better than most.
Student housing forms, faculty contracts, and staff time-off requests are only the start of a never-ending list of documents for which colleges and universities are responsible.
In the past decade, we’ve seen more businesses ditch their filing cabinets and embrace the benefits of digitization in the workplace. But many in academia still rely on traditional paper-based administrative processes.
In this article, we’ll explore how institutes of higher education can digitize forms and automate workflows, including:
- The key business processes in higher education
- The risks of relying on paper-based processes
- The benefits of digitizing forms and automating workflows
- Some tips on becoming a paperless institution
Key Business Processes in Higher Education
In many ways, colleges and universities function like large corporations. Things like purchase orders, staff onboarding documents, and time-off request forms are vital for all businesses, and academia is no exception.
However, in addition to these standard business processes, higher education institutes are also responsible for many sector-specific documents, like student loan applications, housing forms, and curriculum approvals.
To make things more complicated, they must also contend with an array of departments that each operate with unique workflows and methods of data collection.
It goes without saying that orchestrating the flow of so many documents between so many departments is daunting–especially when relying on paper forms and records.
Risks of Relying on Paper-Based Processes
While schools have historically relied on paper forms to gather critical data, there are multiple dangers associated with this practice.
Here are some of the most common risks involved with paper-based forms and workflows.
Loss of Critical Documents
When paper documents must be transferred from desk to desk for signatures and approvals, there’s a big chance that they’ll be forgotten or mistakenly thrown away.
There’s also the risk of data loss due to damage. Things like stains, tears, or disaster situations like flooding or fire can destroy vital records like registration forms or loan applications.
An efficient flow of information ensures things run smoothly in a school, but paper-based processes make this complicated.
For example, if a form needs a signature but the approver is not present, it will most often be left on their desk.
Without any sense of urgency or accountability, the approver may wind up pushing it aside and forgetting about it. This results in a lengthy turnaround time for review and return, putting productivity on pause in the meantime.
Benefits of Paperless Forms and Automated Workflows
There’s a lot of risk associated with paper-based processes, but schools can eliminate many of them by replacing their manual workflows with digital procedures. Here are some of the most valuable benefits of digital forms and automated workflows for colleges and universities.
Shorten Turnaround Times
According to a study conducted by Boise State University, professors spend 30% of their time on non-academic activities, such as administrative paperwork. This is incredibly frustrating for faculty members, as it takes time and attention away from their classes.
The consequences are equally frustrating for students, who may be met with long waiting periods for simple requests.
However, paperless offices have the tools to combat these frustrations.
By using web-based forms, information can be collected and indexed automatically, eliminating the need for manual data entry or filing. This allows teams to focus on more engaging and productive projects.
Automated workflows also eliminate communication bottlenecks. By automatically and instantly transferring digital documents to the parties that need them, your school can greatly shorten its review and processing times.
This eliminates stress for students, faculty, and and staff. Employees no longer need to worry about tracking down signatures, and students can enjoy faster approvals on important documents.
Improve Data Accuracy
Having an accurate record of information is crucial, especially when it comes to records like financial aid applications that tremendously impact the lives of your students.
Electronic forms and e-signatures are one way to facilitate easier and more accurate data collection.
For example, forms may be incomplete when submitted in a paper-based system. Unless someone is manually scrutinizing every submission, schools can wind up accepting paper forms that are missing required fields or signatures.
Online forms, by contrast, cannot be submitted unless all required fields are completed. This measure helps to automatically ensure that your records are filled out in their entirety when received, which improves the reliability of your data.
Lastly, implementing paperless workflows can yield big budget savings.
By removing the need for physical resources like paper, ink, and toner, schools can stretch budgets further and reallocate these funds toward more valuable expenses.
Digital workflows also help administrators make better choices for their organizations.
Automating your procedures can grant real-time data insights into budgets, expenses and process lifecycles. This information can be used to measure & identify previously unseen pain points, allowing you to make more informed decisions.
Tips on Becoming a Paperless Institution
The transition to going paperless can seem daunting, especially if long-standing paper practices are in place. Here are a few tips to get your teams started.
Assess Your Needs
Begin with a technology survey to assess the current state of your organization. How many of your internal processes currently depend on paper printing? How many faculty, staff, and students have access to the technology needed to complete forms and paperwork online?
Start your transition by getting the full picture of your current processes, your desired outcome, and what it will take to make that happen.
Determine Which Forms and Workflows Should be Digitized
Once you have assessed your needs, look at your current paper-based forms and workflows. Pick a few to start with that can be automated to ease your teams into digital procedures.
Internal processes may be a good place to begin. Faculty resource request forms for things like instructors’ edition textbooks can be easily created with frevvo’s custom drag-and-drop form builder, and workflows can be configured for the unique needs of each department.
Get Your Staff On-Board
While your staff may be resistant to change, you should communicate the benefits of workflow automation and dynamic forms to get them excited.
Be sure to explain the time savings they will enjoy when their data collection and workflows are fully digital.
Your teams will likely be eager to get rid of tedious tasks like manually entering data from forms and will look forward to redirecting their energy toward more fulfilling tasks.
For schools who choose to implement frevvo, you can also highlight the system’s ease of use.
It’s natural for teams to fear the learning curve that comes with new software. But the best form builders put user experience as their top priority: frevvo does just that.
Our simple drag and drop form and workflow builder is an intuitive platform that can be picked up by anyone, offering peace of mind for team members who dread process changes.
When institutes of higher education take steps to automate workflows and digitize paper processes, they bring about improvements that benefit faculty, staff, and students alike.
If you’re interested in upgrading your students’ experiences, reducing your reliance on paper, and streamlining your back-office procedures, frevvo can help. Find out more by scheduling a live demo to learn how our solutions can be specifically tailored toward the needs of your organization.