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Paper Trail

Paper Trail

Helping schools become efficient through software innovations.

Education institutions have become increasingly aware of ways to save energy, protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. Moreover, the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction, has witnessed a huge increase in the number of schools interested in going green. Lighting a classroom, shipping and creating products, fueling buses and photocopying paper all contribute to a school's carbon footprint.

Many schools are committing to use technology to help them create a “paperless office.” New administrative software can significantly reduce a school's carbon footprint. A paperless office is environmentally friendly, saves time and money, and improves day-to-day efficiency.

Where to start

By working smarter to make computers work harder, an education institution can significantly reduce the amount of paper it uses. The average school would save about 5,000 sheets of paper (or one box at about $45) per user each year. Maximizing the use of an administrative software program can help eliminate paper, storage, postage, ink and numerous other supplies.

To begin the process, start analyzing the efficiencies that finance-management software can deliver. Many applications can automate a number of manual administrative processes and eliminate redundancies in staff responsibilities. Software often is customizable to meet specific report requirements and create user-specific security access. Look for capabilities that enable users to budget, monitor and control finances effectively. Search for software with a range of features such as managing grant reporting, controlling the creation of financial reports, and creating a budget from requisitions.

By working on only one database for finance, payroll and personnel, human resources can be accomplished quickly and seamlessly. Look for user-profile records that enable the system to be tailored to a school's specific requirements. Features such as multiple payroll cycles for regular, recurring and one-time additional pay components can process salaried and unit-paid employees in a single payroll run. Automatic leave accrual and attendance tracking is another great feature that monitors absence trends for employees.

Using software that incorporates accounting, budgeting and payroll eliminates redundant input. Look for features such as auditing trails of all transactions, comprehensive reporting capabilities, budget-creation tools, and the ability to process W-2s and 1099s. Handling such sensitive information, a software application should have security capabilities that enable users' access to be dictated by their logon information. In turn, staff members can gain access to only the applications, menus, programs and functions appropriate for their position.

Converting documents into PDF files is another way to initiate the paperless process. Start by scanning files from accounting, finance and human resources. Scanned images and PDFs then can be stored in the software's database and attached to specific records. E-mailing electronic PDFs rather than sending documents by mail can save hundreds of hours in time and dollars in postage. Storing reports as PDF images also can make them easier to find and retrieve.

Saving resources

Managing documents in a traditional paper environment can be time-consuming. It tends to pull staff away from projects and occupies their time with less important tasks such as searching through files, looking for lost documents, faxing, copying and mailing. If it takes five minutes to retrieve or replace a paper file, and if one employee works with 10 paper files a day, about 216 hours a year are spent searching through files — an equivalent to five weeks of work time. If the employee is paid $20 an hour, you can instantly cut a cost of $4,320 a year. And, what about the cost of paper folders that are misfiled or lost?

Going paperless helps increase productivity by offering quick access to electronic documents. Software programs, e-mail and server networks all enhance employee collaboration, as documents are just a few clicks away. Electronic forms and PDF files can help minimize office administrative and storage costs, as well as office supplies such as paper, toner and ink. However, be sure to back up all files. Files will be easy to retrieve, and office personnel can make better use of space. Eliminating paper also can reduce the risk of identity theft and minimize the chances of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

Although paper is an office necessity in some cases, it does have a costly environmental impact. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States consumes 30 percent of the world's paper. The cost of storage, printing, disposal and recycling of paper often is up to 31 times more than the cost of purchasing. Reducing paper consumption saves the use of trees, water and energy, and decreases greenhouse gases. Saving 40 reams of paper is equal to 1.5 acres of pine forests absorbing carbon every year.

Do your homework

Be sure to do research before choosing a software system. Analyze the capabilities of your existing software to gain a better understanding of where the institution can run more effectively. Can your school maximize what it has, or is it time for new solutions? Call the software company to get recommendations on how the software can work smarter and more efficiently. Consider budget, and allow ample time for training. Plan during the winter, but execute in the summer when operations are likely to be less hectic.

Set realistic goals — starting off with small steps can add up quickly in savings. Choose one department to initiate the changes — whether it's enhancing software or a new installation. Most software is customized into modules that can be incorporated into training over an allotted period of time. Identify a leader to oversee the execution of the software.

Ideally, software providers will offer training continually to maximize the use of the technology tools. Webinars, live meetings or conferences via the Internet, on-site training, consulting services and refresher courses are great ways to enhance employee skills.

Weidenhammer is president and founder of Weidenhammer, an information technology firm headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].

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