UNH CIS Signals

CIS Document Imaging Group: Making Paperless Possible

Martin England

November, 2008

Making Paperless PossibleIn a world ripe with new technologies, there may be no single item more in peril of being added to the office furniture endangered list than the filing cabinet. These metal behemoths are quickly going the way of the typewriter, rolodex, or computer punch card while occupying the same relative floor space as a refrigerator. They also represent inefficiency (manual filing) akin to hand mimeographing (we now know copiers work much faster).

The Computing and Information Services (CIS) Document Imaging Group (DIG), part of the Enterprise Computing Group, are true change agents, and have the unique challenge of altering the way many campus departments do business. Comprised of Jessica Michelsen and Bob Dorval, DIG spends their days helping folks rethink their business practices while searching for the best solution for individual departments.

“Not all business solutions are the same,” Dorval said. “It’s important for us to understand what the customer wants before we suggest specific technical solutions.”

Document Imaging is the process of obtaining a hard copy of a document and creating an electronic copy of it, and also includes storing current electronic documents (such as Word files) into the set of electronic records. All of this helps push current business practices into a paperless realm, which creates many benefits.

“One of the benefits I see is convenience,” Dorval said. “You can quickly run a query and find a document that was indexed. It’s a real time and money saver, as documents that had to be copied and forwarded along can now be viewed from a central location. It’s also a more secure environment. Without the proper authority at various levels, access to these documents cannot occur. Additionally, these documents are safe from potential environmental accidents like damage from fire or flooding.”

Michelsen added to the list of benefits. “It also saves space,” she said. “I think every department that has implemented document imaging has ended up with more space. File cabinets take up a lot of room. And it’s expensive to store paper either off-site or to take up precious real estate in the office.”

Document imaging also supports the University’s strong commitment to sustainability. The University Undergraduate Admissions Office saved over $10,000 in office supplies alone last year by taking advantage of this technology.

Perhaps the toughest role facing DIG is changing the way people do business.

“Change is a challenge,” Dorval said. “Folks are comfortable with doing things a certain way. If an imaging solution is implemented, it may require office practices to change for the solution to work, which also means the office has to embrace the change. Embracing this change ultimately makes life easier in the long run.”

Michelsen also believes the benefits outweigh the challenge of change.

“For some departments, rolling out document imaging has given them the opportunity to rethink the way they work,” she said. “Work doesn’t have to happen in such a linear fashion when it’s electronic – a document can be shared by several people at once - and that frees people to think about other possibilities.”

While technologies certainly play a large role in how DIG provides its customers with solutions, ultimately, technology is really just a tool for people to accomplish their goals.

“Too often this fact is overlooked and the technology itself becomes the focus of the project,” Michelsen said. “First and foremost, the people, goals, and needs of the institution are the real focus.”

Dorval added to this by saying, “The technology we have may not be the best fit for everyone, but we are open to researching and finding a solution that works best. A good example of this is what I call the ‘downstream effect’ of the UNH Admissions project. How will offices that would normally receive paper now get their needed documents? Do we continue to print paper from the imaged documents or provide users with access to those documents? This may require a solution that’s different from what’s currently available, but if so, we will provide due diligence in finding or developing a solution so the paperless initiative can continue to move forward.”

File cabinets, heed the warning: your days are numbered.

For more information on the CIS Document Imaging Group, please visit cis.unh.edu/dig or call Ken Mikelinich at 862-4220. Stay tuned for next month’s Signals featuring a related article on Document Imaging at Work: UNH Admissions Success Story.