Colleges and Universities Are Forward-Thinking Places. Pick a Tech Solution That Follows Suit.

Progressive politics. Social change. Innovation. Colleges and Universities are known to be places that lead thinking across multiple fronts. But, like so many other organizations in the private sector, higher ed has adopted a variety of software solutions over the years to help manage a breadth of unique challenges and functions – registration, financial aid, fundraising, finance. The list goes on and on. And as a result, data exists in unique silos – namely, data about students exists in unique silos. And, that’s why there is no single, tidy, comprehensive view of a student where all relevant documents and data exist.

Because each individual department or university function may have a quality tech solution for managing their specific documents and processes, they don’t have a comprehensive view of a student and they rely on often time-consuming and labor-intensive processes to procure required data and documents from other departments on an ad-hoc basis. And, we all know that it’s not reasonable to think that a university might scrap all existing systems, across departments, and start over — employing a single solution that can theoretically deliver on all needs. 

The more pragmatic approach would be to employ an ECM (enterprise content management) platform that can seamlessly integrate with all of the existing systems. This integration would allow for:

  • the capture and structuring of data (whether that data be locked in hard copies or be in an unstructured digital format like a jpg or pdf file)
  • shared access, across departments, to documents
  • implementation of workflows that automate standard processes like reviews, approvals and submissions
  • comprehensive reporting with an advanced analytics tool

Revisiting the first bullet above, it’s easy to focus on all of these unique silos of digital data when considering how to collapse all of that data into a single repository. What is very real and equally (or more) difficult to address is the fact that there is another big “silo” of student data that we haven’t even touched upon yet – paper! 

No matter how sophisticated a college or university may be, there’s typically still paper and as long as that paper only resides in file cabinets and the corners of people’s desks, it is of limited value and a source of problems and errors. And this leads us to the subject of structured and unstructured data mentioned above. Information that resides only on paper is the ultimate example of unstructured data – it’s of limited value and it is very hard to share or put that information to work.  

A jpg or a pdf file that exists as the result of a scan of a document is now digital but it is not yet structured. It’s essentially just a picture of the document and unique pieces of data that reside within it, can’t be reviewed in isolation, shared, etc. But, by employing an ECM system, you can utilize ICR (intelligent character recognition) and OCR (optical character recognition) technology to extract unique pieces of data, push that data into an intelligent form – and then that data can be effectively used – whether it is sharing it, aggregating it or reporting upon it. This notion of unstructured and structured data really deserves a dedicated blog post (stay tuned!) but suffice it to say that you want important data in a structured format.

While there’s a myriad of issues to consider, there are a few pillars of a modern ECM system that should be the price of entry. Among those things, seek an open, cloud-based platform that seamlessly integrates with all of your existing technologies, easily scales as your demands and computing requirements change and approaches its licensing fees in a fashion that allows you to extend access to those who really need it – including students!