Leon County Implements System to Streamline Its Forms Management Process

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Have you ever traveled to another school within your district and not filled out the paperwork to be reimbursed for mileage because it was too much hassle? Ever waited for a purchase order and had no idea where it was in your system? Or better yet, have you ever tried to manage a process where the majority of your district's forms were hard copies, not standardized and processed manually?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you're not alone. Administrators, teachers and IT departments face these frustrations on a daily basis at schools nationwide, including at Leon County Schools, a district that serves the metropolitan area of Tallahassee, Fla.

The technology and information services department at Leon County is charged with the overwhelming task of managing all forms for the entire public school district. The district consists of 40 school-center locations, employs nearly 4,000 teachers and administrators, and serves a population of 40,000 K-12 students. As expected, the district was having difficulty keeping track of all its documents and receipts, because the forms were not standardized and updating was a manual process.

It became clear that Leon County needed to implement a system that would streamline its entire forms process — from expense reports to purchase-order request forms — to save time and money, as well as reduce hassle on its IT department. However, with its number of different school locations, combined with a wide range of users, the process of rolling out any new technology in the district is extremely complicated and labor-intensive.

Web-Based Solution

While researching and evaluating solution options, the IT department aimed to choose a technology solution that used a standards-based system and would integrate with current school technologies. This eliminated the learning curve and installment issues. The research resulted in the implementation of a joint technology solution combining Xerox Document Centres, which are digital multifunction systems, with Cardiff Software Inc.'s LiquidOffice eForm technology to manage forms for the entire district.

The Xerox and Cardiff Web-based solution allows users to simply scan a receipt, or any other paper document, through the Document Centre multifunction system — which combines printing, copying, scanning and faxing functionality in one device — directly into their personal online LiquidOffice folder. Then, these digital (XML, HTML, PDF) documents can be attached to an eForm and electronically routed, processed, tracked, approved and archived using a common Web-based HTML interface. This Web-based solution also allows users to conveniently take advantage of its eForm capabilities from any Internet browser, enabling anytime, anywhere access to LiquidOffice's entire feature set, including purchasing, finance and information services (IS) forms.

LiquidOffice is able to seamlessly integrate with a series of Document Centre systems already being used by a number of the district's school-center locations. And learning curve issues are minimal since the system utilizes an intuitive interface based on technology standards familiar to most users. Leon County also is beginning to store forms in a centralized repository where they can be easily maintained by administrative staff, drastically reducing the IT department's problem of managing and keeping track of numerous official forms. In addition, online archiving of supporting documentation may also significantly reduce paper consumption and storage costs.

The Right Technology Fit

The technology solution at Leon County serves a variety of different applications, including updating the submission and approval process for travel expense reports and mileage reimbursement forms. Currently, when a teacher or administrator travels throughout the school district — whether it's a school right down the street or one 20 miles away — he or she fills out an authorized mileage form using a travel chart to determine the mileage between two end points. That hard-copy form is then submitted to a supervisor. This process can take several days. It also requires numerous steps on the part of the person submitting and the person processing the form. In fact, this method can be such a hassle that district employees often will not even fill out the forms; instead, forfeiting their mileage reimbursement.

This new technology solution provides a much easier and more efficient process — as forms are pre-populated with the user's information, travel destinations are selected from pull-down menus and mileage is automatically calculated. Users can also put their forms aside and submit for reimbursement later, once a number of trips have accumulated. In addition, due to electronic submission, internal routing and the e-signature approval, in which the users' ID and password become their "signature," users can track where a form is in the process and find out when they will be reimbursed. This gives users a sense of empowerment since they now are aware of what is happening.

Overall, form processing and approval times are expected to dramatically decrease. By minimizing data-entry requirements and errors through pre-populated form fields, users no longer have to print, fill out, fax or mail back forms; it's all done electronically. And, just as the submission of mileage reimbursement has been streamlined, so too has the purchase-order request process, as users can track where their requests are in the approval process and keep things moving forward. In addition, the finance department can track where reimbursement-related forms are in the system, as well as make better budget projections based on the number and monetary value of expense reports currently being approved throughout the organization.

Finding the right technology fit can be a challenge. However, with a little help from Xerox Document Centres and Cardiff LiquidOffice, Leon County has started to successfully reduce processing costs and IT hassles, while eliminating errors and providing better overall service. In the future, the district plans on extending the benefits of eForm management by creating and rolling out more customized forms for the district. Leon County also plans to offer long-term plans for parents, eventually letting them electronically complete the student-registration paperwork process. This would significantly reduce the time it takes a parent to register a child for school. For Leon County Schools, the possibilities seem endless.

Visit Leon County Schools online at www.leon.k12.fl.us.

Bill Nimmons
Director of Computer Operations
Leon County School District

Contact Information

Xerox Corp.
Stamford, CT
(800) ASK-XEROX; www.xerox.com

Cardiff Software Inc.
Vista, CA
(760) 936-4500; www.cardiff.com

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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