From Documents to Data: The Future of Content Management in Schools

cms_140598370By Scott Patterson.

If you are ultimately responsible for the storage of documents in your school, it can be very frustrating when an important one goes missing.  If you have ever been in the unfortunate situation where the one document you need to access seems to be hiding or missing, it will already be too late to rethink your school’s document management strategy.

If your school is still somewhat reliant on paper document storage, chances are you will have already seen the state of deterioration of some of your documents rendering them useless.  Looking over these last 10 years, document management in schools has evolved enormously and schools with large repositories of boxes and containers full of loose paper documents stored somewhere in the guts of the building will soon be a thing of the past.

A document management system has been used in schools primarily as a tool with which to address the growing storage problem that seems to be commensurate with not only the various kinds of documents floating around the school, but also the obvious need for multiple levels of access to those documents.  This includes considerations like security and the various requisite retention periods among all of your school’s different types of documents. How does your school handle its documentation to meet the needs of all of the various the stakeholders within the school community?

With the current level of integration happening in so many schools right now, the education sector, perhaps en masse, will want to position itself to evolve past the current ‘document capture phase’ it is predominantly in, which utilises the convention of recording a physical ‘image’ of a document and storing the image onto a hard drive somewhere or onto a local server. This can free up a great deal of clutter and free up a sizeable footprint in one or more parts of the building, but that’s pretty much all it can do. The benefit of data retrieval is very interesting indeed – but we will get to that in a minute.

At EduTech 2014, Education Technology Solutions asked Mike Dooner from Konica Minolta for the inside scoop on where the industry is heading and how it might meet the needs of education in the coming document and content management revolution.

“We are seeing more and more everyday that today’s schools are growing beyond document management in its relative infancy and now it’s about content management and true end-to-end process automation. For users, it’s going to be all about being able to actually pull data from the document, from the point of creation, and be able to extract the information you need. This really is the next step.”

As schools move beyond the quickly antiquating document storage solutions of the past, new questions are being raised on how to harness the power and maximize the holistic query power of Big Data.  Improved efficiencies, especially in schools where everyone is trying to do more with less, might mean looking at solutions for cost efficient storage of data. It might also be a good idea to think about the ‘retrievable info at your fingertips’ future that emerging content management solutions offer.

Solving for Outdated Distribution Models

From accounts payable and receivable to student registration and all of the different functions of administration that need to occur everyday in the school environment, there will always be a constant flow of work and a raft of associated documentation that needs to be captured and recorded.

This means that nowadays, instead of favoring traditional one-way distribution models like printed and pigeonholed memos or mass emails, schools can choose to ‘flip’ their communication strategy because email as it is used today will soon be dead. Take for example, a situation where a Headmaster can now choose a platform upon on which they could collaboratively build a new set of school policies. This may have been done in the past is through a series of printed and emailed documents followed by more meetings, followed by yet another a volley of emails back and forth among all concerned. Follow this with more memos and more meetings. However, in schools of the future, we are already beginning to see content delivery models and communication strategies improving the level of collaboration and no doubt the level of satisfaction among stakeholders. For the Headmaster in the above example, this means increased transparency, constructive feedback, more version control and less rework and more efficient ratification among stakeholders.

Mike Dooner comments, “New policies in schools have up until fairly recently been solely distributed via paper memo. Those same policies are now distributed by email, however. The first problem with continuing down this path is the high number of emails each staff member receives each day. To the Headmaster, who sends an email, one of the most important things is going be to know for certain that any new policies or requests put forward are being read. If you need to know this, your standard email is not able to deliver that.”

“The other problem with email is that there is no in-built way of knowing whether or not the email has been received, opened, understood or even read by the recipient.  In an age where it is now possible to not only actively measure how long the recipient has engaged with the document, you can also enable the facility for the recipient to hit an acknowledgement button and say that they have read and understood the new policy with an electronic ‘signature’. A Headmaster can positively confirm the recipient’s understanding of a policy.”

Data Retention for Protection

If we look at any type of document within the school environment, and consider its required retention period, the concept of true content management gets even more interesting. Take for example student records, which need to be retained until the student either turns 25, or 7 years after the time at which the student has left school. What do your school’s student records look like and what plans have you put in place to migrate to smarter management of that content? There will also be some other forms of documentation, which schools are obviously advised to retain for life. What state are those records in right now? Managing that content correctly can provide significant protection against possible future insurance claims – which is one of the major reasons you might be holding the information in the first place.

Secure Content Management in a Mobile World

In real world terms, today’s content management systems can provide schools with a range of benefits including the ability to harness tiers of contextual, structured and unstructured data, more engagement and collaboration over social platforms, plus the ability to store data and operate from the Cloud to address their increasing need for mobility.

Mike Dooner adds, “There is no question that these four things are going to be really key in the coming year in the education sector.  On top of this, schools have a need for content security, which means achieving an assurance of access control at various levels of information.”

Changes to the Privacy Act

“Visibility of certain components in a school’s stored content and stored documents will be managed, and it is possible to control this from file down to phrase – and this will inevitably go a long way to address the concerns that people will naturally have in the face of the new changes to the privacy laws which schools will really want to get on top of.”

Richard Ashley, National Manager of Government & Education Business Solutions & Services for Konica Minolta adds, “Very often when we speak with faculty in schools about their data storage, there are some significant moments of enlightenment when they learn about the recent changes to the privacy act, and what schools are finding is that when they look at their current document and content management practices, compliance is going to be an issue that will need to be addressed, sooner rather than later.”

Data Extraction for Competitive Advantage

Schools that are getting on track with their content management today will be the first to benefit from access to the kind of data that can be utilized in and around their NAPLAN activities. Realistically, can you give a fair indication of how far away your school is from being able to extract the data from the activities leading up to NAPLAN? Put it this way: if you could choose a really useful set of data to look at, what kind of data would you like to see in order to better position your school against others in your area, both Public and Private? What if you could use this data to work more effectively toward your school’s goals and obtain competitive advantage faster?

Considering the Cloud

The cost and the challenge of having to manage paper based data in terms of time and effort is something that, once it is addressed and overcome, will start to pay back the school with efficiencies through automation and helping the school in its primary function of teaching, rather than managing mounting piles of data.

If the mandate to be mindful of the school’s budgetary constraints is starting to roll in for your school post-DER, your IT acquisition budget is probably looking a little different from previous years. However, if your school is storing data in the Cloud, this could mean that you are using an external data center rather than maintaining one in the school itself and can bring advantages in terms of minimizing the upfront cost of some IT hardware.

Still, the debate continues among those who express concern about Cloud offerings, generally because many house and store data overseas, meaning that the school’s stored content and data may (and probably will be) subject to laws of the country in which it is stored.

Richard from Konica says “It is an exciting time for schools that want to explore their options because they are soon going to have access to things like content management as a service, which offers significant advantages that were previously unheard of. Other things that are coming online are things like Cloud combined with secure, onshore T4 Standard and ASIO approved options.”

The difference between hoarding and storing is a fine line. If you cannot effectively retrieve information is a timely and useful fashion, then your school is most likely simply hoarding information for the sake of compliance. Poorly disseminated and tracked communications rarely achieve their intended outcome. This is simply because there is not a way to monitor and manage the effectiveness of the communication. There should be little doubt that the ability to store, protect, and retrieve data as well as the ability to effectively distribute and monitor communications can provide schools with a multitude of benefits ranging from the ability to analyse data, improve operating efficiencies and minimize future potential litigation and insurance claims.

 

Scott Patterson is the Assistant Editor of Education Technology Solutions Magazine. Scott brings his experience working at the forefront of creative design, web and application development, social interaction & engagement and digital education platforms to the magazine and the ETS community. Scott can be contacted at: spatterson@interactivemediasolutions.com.au

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