Make Your Information Work for You: Using Content Services to Redefine What’s Possible on Your Campus

If there’s one thing that higher education doesn’t lack for, it’s information. A typical campus has more than 30 different functional areas with users including students, parents, faculty, staff and external partners. In most cases, each area operates as its own “business,” with unique needs for collecting and managing information.

Content management encourages schools to use a single repository for all content, enabling more collaboration across functional areas and easier access to information. But with the growth of specialized applications for higher education and rapid changes in application functionality, trying to make all business units fit a single mold is an uphill battle.

Content services provides a better approach for meeting the unique challenges of higher education institutions. The focus is on using — not just managing — information, wherever it’s stored. The goal is to transform the way people use all forms of content and information assets to make better-informed decisions and provide better services. This allows institutions to tailor services to empower their users and give them the tools they need for the unique work they do, rather than force-fit individuals from different business units into the same user experience and work style.

A robust content services platform bridges gaps by supporting integrations between existing and emerging systems as well as hybrid architectures. This way, systems can share information, empowering your organization to get the most value from your technology investments. A content services architecture also supports rapid application development, giving schools the ability to respond quickly and effectively to the evolving needs of internal and external customers.

So while it’s clear that content services has a big role to play in higher education, the challenge is figuring out how to use these tools most effectively. Here are five best practices to help you on your journey to digital campus transformation:

1.  Don’t recreate old processes using new tools.

The processes you use today were designed around the tools available at the time of implementation. Moving to content services gives you a new tool kit and new opportunities, so instead of just recreating your current processes in a new system, you should design processes optimized for the new environment. In addition to the standard process discovery questions (e.g., what task needs to be done, by whom, when does it need to happen, etc.), don’t forget to ask why you’re doing a task.

We often see institutions using outdated processes because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or keeping information “just in case we might need it” — which ends up creating inefficiencies and risk exposures. The start of a content services implementation is a great time to change your way of thinking.

2.  Start digital, stay digital.

Paper slows down processing. The best way to avoid this is by keeping information in electronic form from start to finish. Automating the capture, indexing and processing of documents and data ensures your information flows securely and smartly across the institution.

• Electronic forms simplify capture by making it easier to collect and submit information. Best practices include using integrations to prepopulate information on the form and implementing form controls (drop-down fields, field validation, form validation, etc.) to prevent users from submitting bad data. But be careful — if you don’t have a way for users to submit an electronic form without printing, you’re letting paper sneak into your process.

• If you can’t avoid paper, scan it at the start of the process. This allows you to route it through workflows or easily share documents for collaboration without delay. If you’re only scanning documents at the end of the process for archiving purposes, you’ve missed out on key efficiency gains.

• Automate capture wherever possible by setting up import processes for PDFs, emails and other electronic files and using tools like optical character recognition (OCR) to gather data off documents without manual indexing. You should never have to print and scan!

• If you require signatures as part of a review process, there are several options for electronic signatures. While the ESIGN Act and UETA provide the general guidelines, each institution has its own interpretation of acceptable electronic signatures, so it’s important to first check with your school’s legal department for the institutional rule. With options that include authorized portal integration, knowledge-based authentication, signature boxes and audit trails, you’re sure to find an electronic signature option that’s valid for your process.

• When the process is complete, it’s easy to provide users a copy of the final document if needed without printing a hard copy by using the content services system, a file sharing service or an emailed copy.

3.  Offload low-value but necessary work to electronic workflows.

You need to know that a document has all required information before moving it to the next step, but you don’t necessarily need a skilled human user to do that work. Use automated workflows for tasks like:

• Confirming required information is captured.

• Checking if a task is completed within a specified time period.

• Moving an item to the next step (which can be through automatic distribution for a balanced workload or rules-based routing).

• Sending notifications when a task is assigned or when there’s a change in status.

Workflows help ensure adherence to policy by calling out exceptions to the rules and escalating when services level targets are missed. Electronic audit trails provide details on what happened to the document during the process, which is critical for certain business functions. The data collected for these audit trails also helps you analyze your processes for improvement:

• A high number of exceptions shows you may need to modify the policy or process.

• Repeated process errors by users could signal the need to retrain users.

• Unbalanced workloads can show that you may want to review how work is distributed.

• Work reports enable you to highlight important work to management.

4. Integrate for optimal results.

Since using content services means that you no longer have to rely on a single repository, it’s important to integrate systems to effectively share information. Rekeying data into multiple systems not only wastes time but also increases the risk of data entry errors or information that’s out of sync across the enterprise. While the two most common integration points for a higher education content services system are the student information system (SIS) and the customer relationship management (CRM), there’s no limit. Keep in mind that the information sharing should go both ways: import data from the SIS/CRM for use when capturing and indexing documents, and export data to the SIS/CRM from documents or workflow processes.

And while content services allows you to keep content where it currently resides, there are times when it makes more sense to compile it in a single workspace rather than switching between multiple screens or applications. In those situations, your content services system can provide a collaborative workspace that draws in data and documents from other systems for more efficient processing.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Your digital campus transformation doesn’t require changing everything at once. It can move quickly or at a measured pace that meets your budget and resource constraints. But transformation does require you to make and act upon decisions that keep moving you forward toward becoming a digital campus. The institutions that have the most productive transformations follow these guidelines:

• Identify the most critical challenges on campus, and know how they affect your institution’s strategic goals.

• Start your content services implementation in the area that provides the most benefit to your strategic plan.

• Many processes are repeatable across campus with minor changes (e.g., electronic forms and review workflows).

• Content services users who see the benefits of their solutions are the most powerful voices for change. Use them to help evangelize digital transformation across campus.

• Policies change, users come and go and content services tools evolve. Review your processes on a regular basis to ensure they’re still working as needed, are being used as expected and are optimized for efficiency.

• Plan for how you’ll use the time saved by more efficient processing. There’s higher-value work that you’re missing out on today, whether it’s creating better student experiences, having time for professional development, or even just creating a better work/life balance by avoiding overtime during peak seasons.

• And above all, take this as an opportunity to redefine what’s possible for your campus.

As schools struggle to adapt to declining enrollment and increasing costs, making smart technology decisions is key to remaining productive and providing a high level of service. Using content services to prioritize the use of information as part of a digital campus approach gives you the power to build out solutions that truly meet the unique needs of every functional area while still controlling costs. This will drive your efforts towards becoming a truly connected campus. 

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Amy Roberson is solution marketing manager at Hyland.