Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.16

May 19, 2005


Aaron Brauer looks back at a seminal IT experience

By Barbara Black

Aaron Brauer, Acting Director of Academic Technology in the Faculty of Arts and Science, was recently interviewed for an article in Computer World, a Canadian industry publication.

The article was about “enterprise content management,” or ECM, for short. Brauer is something of an expert, because seven years ago, inspired by then Dean Martin Singer and under the leadership of Andrew McAusland, the Faculty undertook to digitalize more than two million pieces of paper.

Brauer told Computer World how the challenge was approached, and what lessons were learned.

“Previously,” he told the magazine, “the dean’s office captured information which was duplicated in the faculty personnel office.

“However, when it was time for contract renewal for tenure-track members, or when faculty were applying for tenure or annual workload assignments, the entire dossier would have to be pulled so that documents could be found. Given that some faculty members have been at the school more than 25 years, this created an enormous task.”

Brauer estimated that retrieving and searching physical dossiers was costing more than 1,500 hours annually in lost staff productivity.

Human error sometimes led to data duplication, and after retrieving information from the dossier, staff spent extra time ensuring that they had the most recent version. There was duplication — the same document was sometimes found in several offices — which showed there was a need for a central data repository.

A program called Documentum was chosen for the project, because at the time it provided the best performance and functionality.

Based on his experience, Brauer’s advice to Computer World readers was: “Start with what you have today, and don’t go back.

“In hindsight,” the article said, “the school should have stored the most current articles first, and archive the historical data on a gradual basis. As a result, the entire process took a couple of years and required a permanent archivist to manage the project of converting the records into electronic form.”

Deborah Shulman was hired to undertake this project and now manages the system with the aid of a part-time assistant.

The system organizes data intuitively in a logical folder structure. “The school no longer relies on paper-based records,” Computer World told its readers. “Paper documents are scanned and immediately archived offsite. Documents are accessed electronically; faculty can access the Documentum repository from the desktop PC.

Mouse clicks

“The technology provides fast access to documents and the ability to query the repository on the basis of file attributes.

As a result, the entire process is now completed in seconds with a few mouse clicks, and complex searches are further simplified because all documents are filed by attribute.”

The plan was to streamline processes by storing documents centrally and electronically, then filing them by name and document type. The paper goes to archives, hopefully never to be needed again.

“For Concordia, the goal was not to be a totally paperless environment, but to streamline processes that took too long when stored exclusively on paper. The Documentum solution allows Concordia to not only store information in a repository but also to provide a database to query attributes about the content.”

Brauer told the magazine that the process now extends to student admissions. Decision-makers now have electronic access to all the supporting documents. He also feels the other three faculties will benefit from the experience of Arts and Science as they digitalize their own personnel records.

Brauer is a full-time faculty member in the Academic Technology unit, where he teaches computer-based and technology-related courses. As part of his service, he supports and manage the decanal computing infrastructure.