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3/15/2013
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How University Of Oklahoma Protects Records From Disaster

Enterprise content management helps University Of Oklahoma make student records safer, more accessible.

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For the head of the academic advising program at the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences, digital recordkeeping means never having to say "I'm sorry" – as in, "I'm sorry but I don't have that record," or even, "I'm sorry all your student records were lost in the flood."

Rhonda Kyncl, assistant dean for academic services, said she wants to make sure her department is ready when a student comes to that critical checkpoint of entering senior year and reviewing his or her records. This is the moment when the adviser says, "Sure, just complete these courses with a grade of C or better, and you'll be all set to graduate in May," or "Sorry, looks like you're going to come up short." And it would be nice if that answer was correct, based on all the right information being available to prove, for example, that the student had permission to substitute one course for another that's normally required.

"We want to leave the student with a comprehensive record so the student doesn't have to do all that jumping around" of tracking down documents from different teachers and academic departments, Kyncl said.

By moving to a Laserfiche enterprise content management (ECM) system, she has made the advising function digital, replacing paper folders of records with online folders of documents. In addition to keeping the records more organized, the ECM system makes the documents accessible from an iPad or any other tablet or computer. That makes it easier for busy students and busy advisers to meet in a coffee shop or any other convenient location and have all the necessary information instantly available, she said.

[ Are ECM and social really so far apart? Read Myth Of Systems Of Record Vs. Systems Of Engagement. ]

The trick is that not all the required information for a student advising session can be represented in one neat report, Kyncl said. There's always going to be the need to track down documentation for exceptions -- like substituting one course for another -- represented in a departmental memo. The record also includes documents like notes from previous student-adviser meetings. In the course of a meeting for an aspiring graduate, the adviser will also produce documents like a checklist of outstanding requirements the student must meet.

As much as possible, the university now tries to produce these documents digitally from the outset, Kyncl said. However, some still start out on paper -- for example, course add/drop forms and documentation from outside agencies such as the Veterans Administration -- and get scanned in.

Kimberly Samuelson, VP of strategy at Laserfiche, said she is seeing more interest from higher education as the institutions position themselves to operate more efficiently. "They're also seeing technology as being an advantage in the way they position themselves to the student base," she said.

While Kyncl believes she is ahead of many of her peers at other colleges in installing a system like this, she admits she was driven less by forward-thinking inspiration than fear inspired by a near disaster. "The reason we started looking into digital records is we had a flood in our building at the end of 2009. Fortunately, it didn't damage student records -- but it came within about 50 feet of doing that," she said.

Rather than an overflowing river, this flood was caused by a burst water pipe in the water-handling system on the roof, which flowed down into the building for four hours before being discovered by the maintenance staff. Plenty of other records in the building were reduced to a useless, sodden mess, and only by luck did the student records escape. "That really would have been bad -- I don't know what we would have done," Kyncl said.

In some cases, duplicate records would have existed elsewhere around the university, but most of the records for the advising department itself existed only in that one place. "We would have been redoing thousands of files. It would have been a nightmare, and it certainly got us thinking," Kyncl said.

Some of the peers whom she consulted through a university technology email list had started doing digital archiving of documents to protect against such disasters. Yet as Kyncl investigated the options, she thought, "why wouldn't I do that for my processes as well?" So she looked for a system that would manage document creation, organization and everyday access, in addition to archiving.

Kyncl was introduced to Laserfiche by the college admissions director, who was also investigating (and has since implemented) the electronic recordkeeping system. Two other colleges (out of more than a dozen that make up the university) have also implemented it, she said. Although the university's central IT organization has been involved only tangentially, she said, "I think other people are watching what we're doing, since we are a large college."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

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