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This article appears in the issue May 2011, [Volume 20, Issue 5]
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As knowledge-intensive organizations, universities have taken advantage of various knowledge management solutions. Academic researchers were early adopters of search technologies and knowledgebases. Students and professors have formed communities of practice around areas of study, and are using social media such as blogs to share their knowledge. Administrative offices in academic institutions are perhaps even more interested in using technology effectively, because they are under increasing pressure to contain costs by operating more efficiently.

One of the most process-intensive departments in any university is the admissions office. A large volume of information floods in there and must be organized and dealt with in a short timeframe. Much of the information is submitted digitally through online applications and attachments, and some arrives in hard copy.

The admissions office's challenge

At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), the catalyst to begin using a content management system was the move to new facilities that would no longer allow everyone to be in the same location. "At the time, we were receiving many of our documents in paper form, and it was no longer practical to share physical files," says Chris Foley, director of undergraduate admissions at IUPUI.

Meanwhile, the number of applications had increased from about 20,000 to 28,000 over the course of five years. Also, new privacy laws in Indiana made even accidental disclosure of student information a risk that the university wanted to avoid, so a more secure system was sought.

The admissions office chose Hyland Software's OnBase content management system, which was also being used by other departments at the university. The electronic management of application forms has allowed much more rapid review, including time-savings gained by parallel review. Processing time has decreased, despite the increased number of applications, with no increase in staff.

Leveraging technology better

OnBase has improved the department's customer service as well. "We now can answer many more questions while the caller is on the phone," says Foley, "because we can look up the information right away. When I'm out of the office, I can check on the status of a document or application and respond, and my staff can do the same when they are on the road recruiting."

The processes used by the admissions office have changed in recent years, as a result of having better visibility into the workflow. "Initially, we were recreating processes as they existed in paper. A few years ago we began doing an annual process review, and we now are leveraging the system more effectively," Foley says.

More automated routing is being done based on information in the student information system (SIS), for example. "We can more quickly identify applications that require different processing routes, or get insights into characteristics about the prospective student that might make him or her more likely to be admitted," Foley explains.

A major project this year is to expand the OnBase document management system to interface better with the student information system, as well as to collect more data directly from imaged documents like transcripts. "OnBase has been very robust," Foley says. "This is critical, because once you commit to digital content management and workflow, you can't get anything done if the system is down. Fortunately, we have not had to face that problem."

Enterprise content management (ECM) should not be viewed solely as a way to store information, according to Tom von Gunden, director of market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education for Hyland Software. "ECM should be viewed as a business transformation and optimization engine," he says. "OnBase reporting tools can monitor efficiency and track key business objectives."

Quick processing of applications, for example, allows colleges and universities to compete more effectively for the most qualified students. Customer service can be improved through ready access to an applicant's information. Bottlenecks can be identified and improved more easily when workflow is tracked and reported. "ECM should help both support and drive the highest-level initiatives of the institution," von Gunden maintains.

Analytics

Houston Community College (HCC) began investigating business intelligence (BI) dashboards in response to the need for consistent, high-level data regarding enrollment, financial aid, retention and other aspects of HCC's operations. "People were getting information from multiple sources and analyzing it different ways," says William Carter, vice chancellor of information technology at HCC. "We had reports-in fact, we produced 500 line reports with a lot of detail, but the information was not in a form that was useful for decision-making."

A change in landscape

The board of trustees had heard about dashboards and initiated a project to investigate options for developing one that would support its governance activities. The requirements included a product that was easy to use, could access and extract data from many different sources, and could be deployed within a few months. "We were aware that the BI landscape had changed a lot," says Carter. "Many of the products that were around five or 10 years ago no longer existed or had been absorbed into other products."

WebFOCUS from Information Builders Inc. was being used by several organizations in the state, including a neighboring community college and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Carter and a colleague at HCC who is in charge of institutional research had both used WebFOCUS previously. That familiarity plus the capabilities of the solution contributed to the decision to select it. "We produced our first dashboard in just two months," Carter says, "and in about eight months, we had the full suite of nine dashboards that the board wanted."

The metrics are presented on a public website and include summaries of financial aid, faculty ratios, student satisfaction and completion rates. "Some of the dashboards provide drill-down capabilities and all of them are dynamic, changing as new numbers are entered into the various databases," Carter says. The measures are aligned with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that "are being used by the state of Texas as part of its performance-based model for funding," he adds.

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