University of Utah Saves Time and Paper

Purchase orders and paperwork. The two seem indelibly linked for most administrators working every day in school environments around the nation. Nevertheless, a growing number of schools and universities are testing new waters with electronic document management. In their attempts to search, retrieve and distribute information quickly, they have found that putting documents online — whether POs or student records — creates a more productive and efficient atmosphere. One example of this can be found at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.


Online Solution to a Paper Problem

The Accounts Payable department receives between 4,000 and 5,000 documents each day in its role of managing AP transactions for more than 500 business offices at the university. This documentation was being managed with a system of microfilm and paper files, keeping the department of 26 people very busy.

Whenever a business officer requested backup documentation for a voucher that appeared in their financial statements, an AP employee would first have to find the pertinent transaction on the accounts payable system that contained the microfilm cartridge and frame data. Then they would have to go to the microfilm readers and spool through a microfilm cartridge to locate and copy the documents. To say the least, it was a time-consuming process.

Through a host of unique circumstances, the department put its small dollar purchase orders (LOs), unrestricted procurement documentation and voucher information online. All hard copy documents became digital. Searching for information, whether it is an LO, general journal entry, invoice, or other procurement documentation, is now done at the computer in seconds. Once results are found, workers can view, print, e-mail or fax that information across the hall, across campus, or across the world in minutes.

“The time savings and resulting efficiencies are impressive. Searching for and retrieving information takes a fraction of the previous time. There is no comparison,” says John Downing, the university’s Accounts Payable manager.


Electronic Document Management

Electronic document management (also called document imaging management) is a combination of system hardware and software that allows users to capture information from any number of sources — paper, facsimile, e-mail and even handwritten notes — used in the daily course of running an organization or business. Captured documents are then stored digitally on a computer system, simplifying storage and retrieval procedures. Users can file, store, copy, retrieve and integrate documents into their existing business applications, resulting in time savings and higher levels of productivity.

When the department converted to a new PeopleSoft financial system to solve impending Year 2000 problems, they decided to pursue this imaging solution. However, prior to going live in PeopleSoft, the University discovered several key features that the new system was lacking.

The legacy accounts payable system included a microfilm-indexing program that would cross-reference a voucher on the system with an offline microfilm cartridge and frame. This was a highly automated process that occurred after the voucher was created on the legacy system, and after the documentation was filmed. The PeopleSoft Accounts Payable Module did not include this business process.

To overcome the problem, the University implemented a complementary document management software system that would allow immediate access to paid invoices, LOs, vouchers and related information, and that would also provide permanent archives. They installed Fortis for Centura SQLBase by Westbrook Technologies as the client/server document management system.

The two systems are not integrated. Fortis and PeopleSoft operate independently of each other. Yet, the University designed a unique Document Control Number for each voucher in PeopleSoft. These numbers are also used as the index in the Fortis database. “If anyone has a question about the accounting information in PeopleSoft, we simply enter the assigned Document Control Number in Fortis to pull up the supporting documentation,” says Downing.

If business officers or administrators do not know the Document Control Number, they can go to a campus Web site to find the number. They can also contact Accounts Payable for information, or go directly to the office to do the research on their own.


Saving Time and Money

Because of the imaging system, the department is realizing significant time savings to employees, who no longer have to spool through great lengths of microfilm to find documents. When asked about the Return on Investment, John is quick to point out that the university’s goal is not to invest for profit. “Our justification includes savings through convenience of retrieval and the resultant reduction in labor, and concerns for image quality and the environment,” he says. The Accounts Payable Department started with four image databases in May of 1998, and now has six image databases. John points out that the process is painless, and new ideas for the imaging system are popping up constantly.



Contact Info
Westbrook Technologies
Branford, CT
(800) WHY FILE

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.