As the institutions that sit at the very top of the education ladder, universities have been widely respected and highly regarded for centuries. It is no secret that the digital age has brought about fundamental shifts across all levels of university life, from administration and enrolment through to course delivery and the nature of the courses themselves.
This makes universities uniquely positioned when it comes to digital disruption. The sheer size and fluidity of an institution creates enormous challenges for fundamental change, and the transition from trusted and accepted ways of learning and organising is not always easy.
A major area of change over the past two decades has been the shift from paper towards one of digital documentation. Whereas once all records, exams and enrolments were actioned and stored in paper archives, those processes are now largely digitised. While digitisation solves a lot of problems, such as increasing security and productivity at the same time as reducing waste, it also creates new issues, with departmental policies and a host of disparate systems not always allowing for simple, fast access to necessary documentation.
The de-centralised systems at many universities have evolved over time, often using whatever platforms were available and seemed appropriate at the time. GitHub is widely used as a repository hosting service for example, as are many other solutions – however they are largely unregulated, and therefore do not conform to departmental guidelines. Privacy policies are also placed under severe threat from dispersed solutions, with administrators struggling to apply protocols over a range of unregulated software platforms. In short, departmental solutions to an institutional issue are not efficient, and in fact create their own issues.
Another area that can impact a university’s productivity when it comes to digitisation is the issue of funding. With the current system that many facilities employ, whereby each department is allocated their cut of the funding on an annual basis, there is often a scramble to use that money as the end of the calendar year approaches, which makes effective planning very difficult.
These problems do leave a broad opportunity for private enterprise to make a positive impact on a facility’s productivity, however. Introducing universal toolsets that everyone can use will have a big impact on issues around clarity, protocols and policies. Institution-wide workflows and document sharing will also have a flow-on effect on management practices, with all stakeholders empowered by better visibility and access to important files.
There is a strong case in the tertiary system for the introduction of a comprehensive content services solution, which involves an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform for the digitisation, indexing and universal access to campus documents. An ECM solution provides fast, safe and secure delivery of information to approved stakeholders throughout the organisation. Integrating the ECM solution with existing systems, and drawing from existing digital resources in place across the organisation, provides authorised users with instant access to the information they need – whenever and wherever they need it – from within the systems they already use every day.
This is a big advantage within many university systems because it allows individual faculties to maintain their existing systems but now have access to a facility-wide repository of information, as well as affording them the ability to share documents and information from their own systems with the rest of the campus.
Visibility is a critical factor in the digitisation and improvement of a tertiary institution. The need to track, access and manage paper documents and electronic data through shared drives, spreadsheets, geographically dispersed data centres and the potential burden of varying legal responsibilities across different faculties places significant stress on even the most advanced IT and administration processes. A content services solution can deliver all information and related communications securely to staff that need it, whenever they need it. This supports the institution’s need for high visibility and easy but secure access to critical information.
Workflow automation is another big part of improving an institution with digital transformation. With an ECM solution, manual tasks are automated and the potential for human error is reduced. Tasks that once had to be performed manually – often tedious tasks where the chances of human error were high – are replaced by automated processes that have a much smaller failure rate and therefore reduce risk. Automated systems can work twenty-four hours a day, which makes for a faster reporting process and enables figures and data to be sent after offices close, so that workflows are not interrupted.
Enrolments can benefit from automated processes, as they reduce the number of manual keystrokes required to complete each enrolment task, and automatically index components of a student’s paperwork so that the complete record for that student is filed together, and instantly visible upon demand.
In the past, institution-wide visibility has been hindered by the diverse array of files that institutions need to generate and store. Whereas a finance department may require access to word and spreadsheet documents, a digital design course will require students to work in a wide variety of high-end graphical programs. Bringing these diverse file-types together into an interface that can make them readily available and easily visible is another step towards improving productivity on campus.
As the tertiary system continues to evolve and more elements of campus life are brought into the digital age, systems must work harder and more efficiently to keep the information flow visible and productive for all stakeholders. A content services solution will improve workflow, provide better access to documents right across the institution and allow for better collaboration and understanding between departments.
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