Diverse group of people outdoors.

You won't find this on paper

The Office of the Registrar is one of the first university contact points for new students. The office generates and maintains the student record for all undergraduates, including transcripts, financial aid and Student Connect. All these services have the potential to produce a large volume of paper, but that’s changing.

The Office of the Registrar officially started keeping paperless records in February 2015 thanks to a team lead by Jennifer Chai and Chris Brunelle. They gave the Office of Sustainability an inside look at this major project.

What motivated you to go paperless in the Office of the Registrar?

In our office alone, there are 180,000 paper student folders. In each folder, there are a couple dozen files. So you can imagine that there is a lot of paper and time spent finding things, distributing things amongst staff and other areas that need to access those student records.

When we started this pilot, we were engaged by the Office of the Vice-Provost (Information Technology). They said: “Hey, you are an office of primary responsibility. We’d like you to set the benchmark for implementing the Alfresco Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS).”

"It’s breaking habits. Why does it have to be paper? Why can’t it be submitted electronically?

How does paperless document management work?

The product that we use is called Alfresco. It’s a specific piece of software designed for records management. Picture Windows Explorer—you’ve got a parent folder and subfolders. It’s very similar to how the paper files and stacks were structured. But now, staff can also go in and search based on various filters and criteria. They just sit at their desk to find stuff and it’s a lot quicker. Now we’re not running around looking for documents on people’s desks or looking through the stacks. 

What are the benefits of going paperless, both on the Office of the Registrar’s operations and your staff?

There are probably some folks who’ve been on campus for 20-plus years, who have enjoyed living in the paper world or are not comfortable with systems and technology. But there are a lot of reasons why we should switch. Obviously there is cost saving associated with removing paper and while that’s great, the benefits are much larger. Our approach values lean and efficient processing and eliminating waste. Consider transportation where you physically move something instead of electronically sending it. There is a cost associated with that; if you are paying me to walk from one building across campus to another to deliver something, you are paying me to do that instead of hitting send.

With EDRMS, we’ll also be forgoing lost employee time locating misplaced documents, which happens quite a bit. As well, this project will be decreasing storage space for the records while increasing accessibility for other units on campus.

“A lot of times it’s not about changing the technology; it’s about changing the process."

What’s next?

Around scanning in particular, we want to be able to digitize it beyond simply making a PDF. We actually want the scanner to read the information and store it in a format that can be used by other software. Instead of scanning a transcript and having to manually transcribe the data, we want the data transcribed automatically for us.

How has sustainability factored into your motivations with this project?

People who worked on the project are conscious of that, but from a senior level, it’s down to money. Fiscal pressures, government cutting our budget six years in a row—we can’t afford the manual labour around this kind of work. We can’t sustain it from a budgetary perspective.

People are conscious of the paper savings, though. If we look at our printing statistics for our office, printing has dropped substantially. We just removed three commercial printers as their usage was next to nothing since implementing the new system.