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Why Schools Should Aspire To The Paperless Office

Tony Reissner of business solutions provider Whitegate explains how school offices can implement processes to help them become paper free.

The office is the industrious hub of a school for pupils, parents and staff. The amount of administration that schools have to deal with has increased significantly over the past two decades, with the efficacy of admin processes impacting on all areas of school life. However, the prospect of going paper free remains a daunting prospect for some educational establishments.

Ticking all the boxes
Managing documentation to go paperless ticks several boxes; improving efficiency, simplifying tasks and addressing environmental issues. These were all revealed as key concerns for admin staff in a recent survey that we carried out, which showed that:

  • 96% of respondents strongly agreed that they wanted to ‘give answers quickly and accurately when asked for information’
  • 87% hoped to ‘reduce the number of physical documents moving around the office’
  • 83% wanted to ‘become ‘greener’ by not wasting paper, toner and inks’.

Accessibility and security
When documentation is managed digitally using an electronic document management (EDM) system, not only is it becoming a paperless process, but it is instantly accessible to all authorised users. It also means that student information such as email correspondence, medical and disciplinary records, application and enrolment details, parental permissions, fees and funding, academic records, references and SEN assessments can be securely stored, protected and backed-up.

In addition, the paperless office process enables integration across all areas. With many EDM systems there is workflow functionality which allows documents to be sent to individuals for electronic approval. This provides an audit trail and a way of identifying exactly where the document is in the approval process.

The best way forward
This largely depends on the size and type of school, the key issues and the commitment to change within the school management team. Solutions range from simple methods of document sharing that utilise a current IT set up, to online file sharing systems, to more personalised server based or cloud based systems that will integrate with existing systems and can be set up to meet a school’s exact needs.

If a school is considering going paperless, there are three key steps to consider in the first instance.

  1. Engage with someone who is able to offer expert objective advice. Making the decision to move towards paperless working by using EDM needs to challenge current processes. EDM will be most effective if a school looks at document use holistically, rather than in a linear way.
  2. Create a clear specification of requirement. This will clarify objectives and requirements which will in turn help to compare and identify optimum solutions. A good supply partner will assess your needs from the specification, ask questions, explain how far they can deliver with their system and offer their options with a clear costing.
  3. Choose a supply partner that understands change management. Implementing change, especially across an organisation such as a school, is a sensitive process involving an understanding of organisational behaviour and change management. There is a need to understand the unique environment and to explain, collaborate and inspire buy-in.

EDM is becoming the norm across industry and those working in the education sector must ensure that they are not left behind. Aspiring to create a paperless office is highly desirable, offering significant benefits to the way schools work - whilst enabling staff to focus on the things that really make a difference to their students.

About the author
Tony Reissner is MD of Whitegate. With over 25 years’ experience working in business systems and change management, Tony has worked with a range of organisations, including 99p Stores, the Carbon Trust and The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, helping them to work towards the goal of becoming more efficient in their admin procedures, working towards a paperless office.