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Saying Goodbye to the Challenges of HR: Managing Collegiate Human Resources is Easier with Document Management and Workflow

Since the mission of collegiate institutions is typically tied to offering the best possible education for its students, filling vacancies with the best-qualified candidates as quickly as possible is vital. Managing your chosen human resources consistently, fairly, and efficiently, from the posting of vacancies through hiring, employment, and retirement, contributes to candidate and employee satisfaction. Since quality people are your most valuable asset, managing their affairs effectively assists you in attracting and retaining them. It also helps you to maintain a positive reputation that will reach the ears of future hires. This article details some of the common challenges faced by human resources offices in college institutions and shares ideas for using technology effectively to address them.

Storing, distributing, and accessing files efficiently : When candidates apply for jobs, substantial documentation is created upon receipt of the initial application. Cover letters, applications, resumes, reference letters, writing samples, and other supporting documents typically are part of the process, and may arrive via fax, emails, paper, or online forms. Since multiple people are involved in reviewing the candidates, copies have to be made and distributed to the correct people for evaluation. Copying and faxing documents not only creates a lot of paper; “ghost faxes” and occasional missing pages or poor-quality reproductions slow down the decision-making process. The paper and printing cost is high, but the cost of losing highly qualified candidates to other institutions simply because they were able to make attractive offers more quickly bears an even greater cost.

The quality of education and services that an institution provides is contingent on making well-informed decisions expeditiously. Supporting documents that are in the mail, papers in transit for review by another department, documents awaiting signatures by staff members who are ill or on vacation, and misfiled documents all result in costly delays. Furthermore, prioritizing the paperwork becomes challenging when documents are constantly on the move.


An electronic document management system puts the pieces of the information management puzzle together by bringing all of your candidate’s information under one roof. Papers that are scanned and converted to digital information, forms that are completed online via the institution’s portal, documents and photographs that are uploaded, and even correspondence, emails, and faxes related to the position all are stored in one central, searchable system. Storage in a Web-based document management system also means easy access, granting diverse parties admittance to critical information simultaneously from their desktops. Thorough, encyclopedic-style indexing of documents as they are received guarantees that staff with varied information requirements can find what they need, using the terminology that is most logical for them.

By adding digital workflow to your document management system, routine processes can be automated, dramatically shortening the turnaround time to making decisions. The receipt of all required applicant materials in the document management system can automatically inform the HR office that it is time for the candidates’ documents to be given a preliminary review. Positive responses from the search committee can launch an automated letter, email, or phone request to schedule an interview and specify additional standard materials that may be required for the position. Selection of the preferred candidate can initiate a request for a background check, notifying the appropriate person what needs to be done. By pushing the right information and tasks to the right people at the right time, in accordance with your business rules, work is completed more quickly and efficiently. Automation of routine processes not only saves time; it also ensures that procedures are executed consistently and everyone is treated fairly.

After you have hired new employees, a document management and workflow system helps you to manage their files effectively. Workflow can be used to mechanize business rules such contract renewal dates, the number of vacation days the employee can take, annual reviews, and other events. The data in the system launches the appropriate series of tasks and sends reminders in accordance with your pre-set instructions, ensuring that tasks are prioritized and deadlines are met.

Guaranteeing information security :
One of the risks of paper documents is that they are occasionally greeted by unwanted pairs of eyes. Sensitive information may be viewed by unauthorized persons as documents travel from the mailroom to the appropriate desktops. Copies may be inadvertently filed and subsequently viewed by people who unintentionally come across them. With a document management system, your HR office gains total control over who can view which information. The software acts as a watchman over your files in accordance with your institution’s rules, even down to the page level. It specifies exactly which documents each user is permitted to access. Rules can also be established to allow and deny rights to annotate documents, or to approve or sign materials as they travel through your standard workflow process.

By integrating your job application process with your institution’s Web portal, this same secure access can be provided to candidates and employees who are searching for other opportunities within your institution. Secure logins ensure that they can access only the information that you permit them to view. If a former applicant or employee decides to initiate a new application, the document management system tracks the information they already have on file, and workflow can remind them of the additional information that is needed.


The reporting tools inherent in document management and workflow software make it easier to comply with regulations governing information and file access. Electronic audit trails make it clear who has viewed or edited which documents at what time, and which pages have been viewed. Although an audit trail is no substitute for an internal records management policy, it helps ensure information governance for your institution. In the event of litigation, proof that you have a policy, that it has been communicated to the appropriate people, and a clear record of access work together to demonstrate your institution’s intent to comply. With all of these pieces in place, difficult situations are more likely to have a favorable outcome.

Ensuring timely and consistent decisions Anyone who has been in the position to hire candidates knows the frustration of finally selecting an excellent candidate, and then losing that person to another organization. Sometimes a candidate decides to go elsewhere because of more favorable employment terms. Too often, however, a candidate goes elsewhere because another employer presented an acceptable offer first.

Keeping credentials up to date can also be challenging for individuals and institutions to manage. Tracking credential requirements for each position, as well as graduate hours, ongoing professional development coursework, and related work experience that is completed means your staff has to have a regular eye on requirements, deadlines, and calendars, and make sure files are updated. With a document management system, tracking credentials and certifications is easier, and records can be accessed with a few clicks of a mouse. When coupled with digital workflow, contract dates and deadlines for updated educational certificates can be used to trigger messages to the employee and/or supervisor to take the appropriate action. As reviews are signed, contracts are renewed or terminated, and continuing education requirements are met, the data in the system is automatically renewed. The appropriate messages or action items are initiated as information in the document management system is received.

By automating the process of collecting and distributing documents, staff no longer has to spend time searching for information. Requesting documents from another campus location, or even off-site, becomes an event of the past. Web-based access lets your candidates, employees, and staff access whatever information you determine they need, whenever it is convenient for them to access it. Your HR staff has more time to invest in serving the campus-wide needs of faculty and staff, rather than participating in the cat and mouse game of information on the move.

Managing contracts and benefits :
Keeping track of deadlines is critical for HR employees and their institutions. Effective document management makes this arduous process easier. Since document management software lets you request data and lists in accordance with the fields by which you indexed it, creating a list of action items by date or type (such as contract renewals or reviews that need to be scheduled) is simple. With the addition of workflow, you can choose to have the system notify you in advance that deadlines are approaching, or generate customized emails or letters in response to specific dates.


An upcoming contract renewal can generate a letter requesting a supervisor or department head to schedule a review with the appropriate staff member. If a performance review results in a change in remuneration, the new data in the system can be used to send a message to the payroll department that a change is about to take place, and when it is effective. When an employee needs to be summarily dismissed, a notation in the document management system can put the process in motion and ensure that all of the necessary documentation is collected and potential problems are avoided.

The possibilities are defined by the specific needs of the collegiate institution and its HR department, and are limited only by the imagination of the persons who will manage and use the system.

As faculty and staff retire or leave, a new series of challenges arises. Early retirement payments and retirement benefits have to be managed. Health plans may also continue to be part of the information puzzle. Just as current employees have a series of events that initiate reminders or a series of required tasks, these dates can be used as events to launch the appropriate action. Real-time information stored in the document management system, and managed effectively by automated processes, ensures that deadlines continue to be met. Information remains secure, and retirees’ questions can be answered instantly.


Facilitating compliance : Complying with the bevy of federal and state human resources regulations, and keeping track of institutional policies that stem from those regulations, can be difficult. Management expectations that existing staff can handle increased paperwork and reports, and staff’s knowledge that non-compliance can result in stiff penalties, results in additional stress for HR staff. Keeping track of HIPAA, COBRA, and specialized regulations such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Right Act (UNERRA), and demonstrating compliance with these and other regulations on request can be overwhelming.

A document management and workflow system’s adept capabilities in organizing documents and data helps provide an instant solution to your compliance needs. It can alert you to issues that need to be addressed (such as a uniformed officer returning from active duty to work at your institution), meanwhile keeping careful watch over the transactions relating to each individual’s records. When management conducts an internal review, auditors schedule a visit, or a court subpoenas specific information, the searchable document management repository provides instant answers and detailed backup. In addition, by creating simple queries in response to their inquiries, inspections can be conducted remotely. This eliminates hours or even weeks of staff time searching for information, and lets your office maintain its normal routine without interruption.

Growing your institution without increasing HR resources Competitive institutions have a tendency to attract larger numbers of students. Usually, the quality of student that an institution can attract increases as its reputation improves. This, in turn, attracts higher quality faculty and staff and also greater numbers of them to address the increase in students, causing an institution to grow.

Just like any business, educational institutions are eager to manage growth as effectively as possible, and with minimal or no staff additions where necessary. However, increasing workloads in a paper-based system can result in overworked and disgruntled employees. Managing growth can be challenging, but with electronic documents and process automation, the backbreaking search and manual tedium are removed from the process, enabling your existing staff to accomplish more. As you become more efficient, staff can be reassigned to more meaningful duties such as designing or improving services. Combined with natural attrition through retirement and people assuming employment elsewhere, you are likely to find that your existing staff can process significantly more work with less effort, all from the comfort of their desktops, laptops, or PDAs.

Summary With document management and digital workflow,
you can say goodbye to the challenges of managing information. As your institution grows, you can greet the increase in applications with a smile, ready and able to handle steady growth. Automation puts you in control of your information, ready to embark on the journey with candidates who become your employees, and ultimately your retirees.

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Contributing Writer: Laurel Sanders, Optical Image Technology, Inc.

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