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ECM Earns high scores on campuses

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Each vertical market has its own level of IT sophistication and requirements for enterprise content management (ECM) solutions to deal with all the paper-based processes that surround its core transaction processing systems.

Higher education is one sector still trying to get a handle on unstructured data and eliminate inefficient manual data entry. But because universities tend to be highly decentralized, they often end up with solutions that have an impact in individual departments but fail to reach across campus. Or individual departments may purchase their own point solutions to solve particular problems and find they aren't compatible with each other. But sometimes a solution introduced in one department shows such promise that it spreads gradually to encompass the whole university. That's what has happened at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

Villanova has adopted a Web-based ECM solution called Nolij Web, starting in the admissions department and expanding gradually to financial aid, international studies, learning support and the development office. Initially, Nolij, which was acquired in 2012 by Perceptive Software, helped the admissions department reshape its basic business processes, says Timothy Toth, imaging coordinator for Villanova's information systems department. "We have gone from 8,000 applicants per year a few years ago to 16,000 a year now," Toth says, "yet our admission office has been able to handle that increase and reduce its office staff by one person."

Ready access

After documents are scanned in and linked to the student record, a tool called Nolij Web Workflow moves applicants to the correct admissions counselor for processing. Faculty members and administrators of the university's four colleges access those electronic documents as they make decisions on admissions. They no longer have to pass paper folders around.

The admissions department also is working on giving student applicants access to the folder of documents submitted for or by them through an applicant portal. That way they can double-check that all the information has arrived and is accurate. "This system gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate business processes every year," Toth says, "and look at anything new in the department's processes that the system can support."

Once a student is accepted, an electronic folder is created for their documents, which follow them through their four years on campus. Toth's goal of spreading Nolij Web across campus is made easier because Villanova uses Ellucian's Banner administrative software suite in every department. "It is nice because that allows us to link all the documents to the person," he says. "I know that what I build will work in any department. I don't have to cross-bridge it with other applications. It can be used by anybody on campus."

Next in line are the procurement office, for the documents in its payment processing and orders, and the facilities department, for the coordination of work orders.

Tackling Web content woes

Enterprise content management is a big undertaking. But even getting a handle on a university's Web content can make a huge difference on

campus. Georgia Southwestern State University traditionally had problems maintaining a high-quality Web presence, says Stephen Snyder, director of university relations. Individuals on different parts of the campus had responsibility for maintaining Web pages, yet many didn't know anything about HTML coding, so the process of updates and design changes was difficult. "Our sites didn't look professional," Snyder says. "We only had one Web designer who was kept very busy."

Recently, Georgia Southwestern deployed Percussion Software's CM1 Web content management software. The template-driven system allows unsophisticated users to make changes such as modifying page layouts, integrating social content or embedding third-party Web applications. "Now our departmental users can work within templates after just an hour of training," Snyder says. "We get consistency across all our sites. We have designed specific templates that departments can choose and just fill in the content or embed videos. Other design aspects are off limits to them."

From the students' perspective, the look and feel and ease of navigation are much improved, according to Snyder. "We used Google Analytics to look at the months from March to July 2012 compared with the same period last year," he says. "The number of page visits doubled, and the time on each page more than doubled." Next up for Georgia Southwestern is creating a mobile version of the Web site.

Unclogging a data bottleneck

San Juan College in New Mexico is another example of a school that has tackled a data bottleneck head on. Until this year, the beginning-of-semester registration periods were fairly stressful times in the registrar's office. Sherri Gaugh, the college's registrar, says, "We would have lines of 50 to 60 students snaking down the hall and the financial aid office would have just as many, which put a lot of pressure on our office."

The students were waiting as the office tried to find and process all the paper related to the course credits they hoped to transfer. All the transcript data had to be manually entered. "And we have a lot of transfer credits to evaluate," she adds, "because the average age of our students is over 30. In addition, we have several online programs, so we have people applying from all over the country. We knew we needed to do something to get us more up to speed."

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