An Education in Paperless Efficiency

By Ariella Brown Print this article Print
Paperless Document Management

We've heard about the paperless office for decades, but few companies have achieved this goal. That's not the case at Temple University's Fox School of Business.

U.S. New and World Report ranks the MBA program at Temple University's Fox School of Business among the best part-time programs in the nation. Technology's role in increasing the efficiency and speed of the process plays a role in that ranking, according to William Rieth, director of Graduate Enrollment Management, because it enables the school to increase enrollment with the most qualified applicants.

About 1,500 students are enrolled at the Fox School, though the number of applicants is close to double that figure. Working with thousands of paper application documents—including student essays, letters of recommendation, test scores and transcripts—consumed a great deal of time and resources. "Our recruiting team was drowning in the documents," Reith reported.

Documents had to be copied and printed out of Salesforce and physically transferred to up to four different people who are involved in admission decisions. Each of them could end up taking weeks to put their decisions in the files, particularly when they were not going to the campus regularly during school breaks.

Reith recalled that the school would have 3,000 application folders that had nothing but color coding to identify what was in the folder. The people needed to make decisions were sometimes absent for weeks, and that made turnaround on decisions very slow.

The Digital Advantage for Collaboration and Speedy Processing

The Fox School sought a solution to the massive paper files—both during the admissions process and when stored in the school's attic for recordkeeping after student admissions, and found it in Conga's document management solution, which merges multiple fields from Salesforce to produce a single digital file of about 30 pages in a PDF.

The PDF contains all the required information about the applicant in an easily accessible and transferable format. The result is faster and easier collaboration, a lot of freed-up space and less time spent working with paper files.

When the documents were all on paper, the school had to maintain a secure file room to contain everything that was mailed in. During the peak application season, it would get daily mail carts filled with application material that had to opened, sorted, filed and then noted for follow up. Processing everything on paper also entailed additional costs for supplies, folders, labels and copier use. Those costs have been reduced significantly.

Stephen Boro, the CRM manager at the Fox School, recalls that after implementing Conga, they were able to clear out 15 filing cabinets—space that was converted into additional office space for college workers. Whereas there was only room for three people when the files were physically present, they now have room for 11 staffers.

With less time needed for rote application sorting, the staff only has to do exception handling and can devote more time to relationship building with students. Morale has improved for both the staff and the faculty involved in the application decisions.

The individuals who review the applications can access the files electronically from wherever they are and render a decision within a week. There's also a greater level of transparency about progress, as they can see how an application is being reviewed. With that information, the school can nudge people for their input and request that their comments be added.

Boro notes the convenience of having all the components of an application consolidated "into one nice, secure application." The Conga template also renders the format familiar to the faculty members, which gives them the benefit of a "comfort level at seeing something recognizable," he adds.

The biggest advantage, though, is on the student end. Reith explains that the school wants to show students at the first engagement point of the application that it is on top of the process. Also, the fast turnaround means that the business school can be the first to extend acceptances to the students they are most eager to bring on board, giving it an edge over its competition.

Reith reports that the number of students in the program has doubled in the last two years, and the quality of the students has improved. The efficiency of the application process "allows us to be more proactive with students," he adds, and to attract the ones that will prove an asset to the program.

The proven success at the Fox School is a model for other independently managed areas of Temple University, encouraging them to think about how they can improve their own school's operations.

"Many people have a sense that things can be better, but change management is hard," Reith points out. He reports that the biggest challenge in the paperless experiment was "shifting the culture from a physical paper orientation," and adds that the success of the experiment is the school's part in "driving the digital transformation."

This article was originally published on 2016-11-04

Ariella Brown, a Baseline contributor, writes about analytics, marketing, branding, social media, big data, and the impact of the internet on education and society, among other topics.

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