U of Calgary cuts down paper in admissions process

The University of Calgary has set up an electronic document management system recently to streamline the admissions process and improve workflow, not to save space. Still, there is a lot more elbow room at the admissions office these


The university admissions process is traditionally a very paper-intensive one. Paper applications are submitted, along with paper supporting documents like transcripts and test scores. That paper then gets shuffled around campus as an admission decision is made.

Fred Rosmanitz, associate registrar at the U of C, said they decided to invest in an electronic document system to cut down on the paper moving from office to office and make more timely decisions. With an electronic system, rather then hunting down a file, multiple users can view it at once.

The initial request for proposals generated 15 responses, which was narrowed to a shortlist of eight for more detailed submissions. Four companies were invited to campus for further discussions, and in the end the university selected Synergize from Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Microdea Inc.

Rosmanitz said Microdea best fit the U of C’s requirements for a company that would work with them less as a vendor, and more as a partner.

“”We wanted someone competent in the imaging and document management industry, and someone that would be flexible and work with us through the process,”” said Rosmanitz. “”They had the right kind of people, the right kind of knowledge, and the right kind of attitude to work with us.””

Rosmanitz said the U of C also liked the look and feel of Synergize, the architecture behind it, and the fact the images are stored in a non-proprietary format

Another key requirement was that the electronic management system would be easily integrated with the university’s existing legacy system, which is 25 to 30 years old. Rosmanitz said he didn’t want two completely separate systems, but instead a hotlink from a student’s Student Information System page to their electronic file.

“”Microdea was able to do it fairly quickly and within the existing cost they quoted, so that was good,”” said Rosmanitz.

All new admissions and new files at the U of C will be electronic, but the existing paper files will also be kept. Since the paper files are destroyed after a period of inactivity, Rosmanitz said the system should be completely electronic within five years.

To date, Rosmanitz said the reaction from the staff on the ground has been generally positive. Some think it’s great and long overdue, some don’t comment and just keep plugging away, and some have raised little bugs and wrinkles that hadn’t been anticipated but are being ironed-out over time.

“”It changes the way they do their job completely,”” said Rosmanitz.

Microdea’s vice-president of business development, Colin Ruskin, said there are few things that need to be done differently in the education sector.

The first major challenge was to integrate with their existing legacy system, and the second was to actually scan the student transcripts into the system. Student transcripts are often created with a special type of paper to prevent them from being forged, and a software fix had to be written to make it work.

“”There’re quite a bit of difficulty getting an accurate scanning result because they’re actually designed not to be reproduced,”” said Ruskin. “”But for every lock there’s a key.””

Security is also an issue in the education sector, and on that front Ruskin said Synergize is fully compliant with the new federal privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Doucments Act. A series of logs track which user accesses what information and when, and information that shouldn’t be shared can be suppressed from those that don’t need to see it.

“”For instance, if a student comes that is HIV-positive, that information is highly confidential and should not be shared, it belongs only to the registrar,”” said Ruskin. “”That information in our model can be hidden so other people aren’t even aware of it.””

Ruskin said the system took a few months to get up and running and to be integrated with the legacy system, but it will now make a big difference to the admissions process.

“”The process will be way simpler for them, and they can actually focus on the admissions process rather then chasing paper folders,”” said Ruskin.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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