Taming the Paper Beast
The Kettle Moraine School District, located west of Milwaukee, Wis., had created a monster — a mass of paper documents that threatened to outgrow its confines. Unless something changed, filing cabinets would gobble up more classroom space. In time, the district would have to consider building to house more paper.
After two years of exploring solutions, the district installed an NCS image management system in June 1997. With the NCS image management system, one shared electronic file replaces multiple hard copies throughout a school district. The system stores all kinds of documents and computer files, plus a variety of other objects, including signatures, photos, sound files and video images. They can be entered with a scanner, fax machine, video camera or directly from a computer. Users on personal computers can then retrieve, enhance, fax, print or e-mail documents.
Less Paper, More Efficiency
In Kettle Moraine, a district with a K-12 enrollment of about 4,300, administrators, principals and support staff in the school district office and in the five schools access electronic files on a wide area network. Assistant Superintendent Roger Dickson says the system will enable the school district to achieve four benefits:
. The district office has been filling a 1,250-square-foot warehouse in the building with documents, and each school has set aside rooms for records. "Rather than having to find an additional warehouse, we hope to free up this space," says Dickson. "I suspect that eventually paper documents for the school district office could fit in two file cabinets, which would free up that 1,250 square feet." The school district would gain classroom space without building.
Improve access to information
. When you need a document, you can do a search from your own building. A personal computer on the network brings any document in the system to your fingertips.
Increase efficiency. It can easily take an hour to paw through filing cabinets, then flip through folders that often contain a four-inch stack of paper. With an electronic search, the system’s logical structure helps you find the right document in seconds.
"We’re a growing school district," Dickson explains. "With imaging, we’re able to do things more efficiently, so we don’t have to add staff as quickly as we would otherwise." For example, now that duplicates are obsolete, the person responsible for making copies has time to do other things.
Make document storage more secure
. "An electronic record is more permanent than the original document because paper deteriorates," says Dickson. In addition, the NCS image management system allows the school district to make a backup, typically taken off-site once a week for safekeeping.
Over time, Kettle Moraine plans to take advantage of the system’s capabilities in a growing number of ways:
Long-term storage of computer files
. Kettle Moraine used to produce payroll reports twice a month on a stack of computer printouts. The files also had to be backed up on magnetic tape. By law, these and other financial and student reports have to be kept three to seven years, even though they’re rarely referenced.
"Our initial quest was a more efficient way to do long-term storage," says Dickson. "Computer output to storage medium (COLD) was very attractive to us because it automates recording computer files onto a permanent medium and provides easy access in the future." The system converts a computer report directly to an image file. It automatically catalogs and compresses the file, then stores index data and associated reports in searchable database applications. That means no more printing and no more backup tapes.
. As a manual process, accounts payable is a tangle of cross-referencing purchase orders, invoices, checks and other documents. Imaging simplifies the process. Now the district generates a purchase order and puts it in COLD storage. The staff scans all related documents they’ve received and indexes them with the purchase order number and the vendor number.
Long-term storage of paper documents
. A second scanner is being used to convert existing documents to image files. The district started with student transcripts, which must be retained for 60 years. School board minutes and policies will follow. As Dickson says, every page scanned is progress toward liberating space from filing cabinets. And the district only recently filled the first of 20 storage media.
Tracking applicants. Hundreds of teachers contact the district about teaching positions each year. Finding the most qualified candidate resembles hunting for a needle in a haystack. Eventually, a new application form will ask for specific credentials — major, minor and subjects the candidate is licensed to teach, for example. Once the applications are scanned, the principals can pull up the top candidates without leaving their desks.
Dickson believes that more applications will follow, like giving graduates a computer disk containing a comprehensive record of their K-12 careers. "We’ve had a lot of pleasant surprises in the additional uses," he says. "As you become familiar with the system, you realize you could find a lot of other applications for it."
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.