Goodbye paperwork!

Tony Reissner explains how and why school offices might set about switching to an electronic document management system

The office is the industrious hub of a school for pupils, parents and staff. The amount of administration that schools have to deal with has increased significantly over the past two decades, with the efficacy of admin processes impacting on all areas of school life. However, the prospect of going paper-free remains daunting for some educational establishments.  

Ticking all the boxes

Managing documentation to go paperless ticks several boxes: it improves efficiency, simplifies tasks and addresses environmental issues. These were all revealed as key concerns for admin staff in a recent survey carried out by Whitegate which showed that: 

• 96 percent of respondents strongly agreed that they wanted to “give answers quickly and accurately when asked for information”
• 87 percent hoped to “reduce the number of physical documents moving around the office”
• 83 percent wanted to “become ‘greener’ by not wasting paper, toner and inks”. 

Accessibility and security

When documentation is managed digitally using an electronic document management (EDM) system, not only is it becoming a paperless process, but it is instantly accessible to all authorised users. It also means that student information such as email correspondence, medical and disciplinary records, application and enrolment details, parental permissions, fees and funding, academic records, references and SEN assessments can be securely stored, protected and backed up.

In addition, the paperless office process enables integration across all areas. With many EDM systems there is workflow functionality which allows documents to be sent to individuals for electronic approval. This provides an audit trail and a way of identifying exactly where the document is in the approval process. 

The best way forward

This largely depends on the size and type of school, the key issues and the commitment to change within the school management team. Solutions range from simple methods of document sharing that utilise a current IT set-up to online file-sharing systems and more personalised server-based or cloud-based systems which will integrate with existing systems and can be set up to meet a school’s exact needs. 

If a school is considering going paperless, there are three key steps to consider in the first instance: 

• engage with someone who is able to offer expert objective advice. Making the decision to move towards paperless working by using EDM needs to challenge current processes. EDM will be most effective if a school looks at document use holistically, rather than in a linear way
• create a clear specification of requirement. This will clarify objectives and requirements which will in turn help to compare and identify optimum solutions. A good supply partner will assess your needs from the specification, ask questions, explain how far they can deliver with their system and offer their options with a clear costing
• choose a supply partner that understands change management. Implementing change, especially across an organisation such as a school, is a sensitive process involving an understanding of organisational behaviour and change management. There is a need to understand the unique environment and to explain, collaborate and inspire. 

EDM is becoming the norm across industry and those working in the education sector must ensure that they are not left behind. Aspiring to create a paperless office is highly desirable, offering significant benefits to the way schools work, whilst also enabling staff to focus on the things that really make a difference to their students.

Tony Reissner is managing director of Whitegate W: www.whitegate.co.uk

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