UW Information Technology

Taking the UW Paperless


Getting rid of paper brings smiles to the Grant & Contract Accounting team: (front, from left) Kristen DeFries, Nicole Flagg, (back, from left) Gregg Reynolds, Kristen Bendixsen, Brian Baldwin

Sometimes going paperless takes a team effort. Just ask Grant & Contract Accounting (GCA), which manages more than $1.2 billion in research grants each year.

Managing complex grant requirements generates a ton of paper and involves cumbersome, time-consuming manual efforts.

Now, thanks to “amazing teamwork” on a five-month pilot project between GCA, Records Management and UW-IT, GCA is taking its work paperless.

The team used UW’s new Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS) to digitize and store electronic business documents, and enterprise workflow tools to automate business processes. With these approaches, GCA transitioned its manual processes to an automated workflow, increasing efficiencies while reducing security and compliance risks.

“What was great about this pilot was that we were ‘taught to fish’ so we could continue developing paperless business processes without having to go to UW-IT,” said GCA’s Director of Campus Services Kirsten DeFries. “It’s not just about losing the paper. UW-IT pushed us into the deep end of evaluating all our workflows to help us automate our processes. That’s going to make managing grants faster, easier and more secure and accessible for everyone involved.”

“GCA was already very efficient,” said Jeanne Marie Isola, UW-IT’s Director of Finance/Enterprise Business Services. “The pilot wasn’t about just throwing tech tools at them. That can make a process worse. We wanted to leverage limited resources to get maximum impact.”

The hands-on approach by UW-IT technical experts was key, said GCA Senior Computer Specialist Kristen Bendixsen. “They weren’t behind the scenes somewhere coding. They were here, interacting, asking questions.”

GCA Grants Manager Nicole Flagg agreed. “The technical people had an amazing ability to listen and hear us walk and talk through our process—and then make it work.”

“Paperless processes require having a well-thought-out electronic workflow, and UW-IT really helped with that,” said GCA Web Developer Gregg Reynolds. “That was one of the biggest wins, to get that training, in addition to going paperless.”

The pilot was extremely efficient, said Brian Baldwin, Associate Director for Systems, Research Finance & Operations. “I’ve never seen anything put into production and launched that quickly. And the beauty is that UW-IT isn’t moving on now that the pilot is over. They’re asking for our roadmap so they can best support us.”

The EDMS project is in a pilot phase, working closely with partners in preparation for general campus availability by 2016. Recently, UW-IT worked with Seattle Undergraduate Admissions in a discovery and roadmapping effort, and is partnering with UW Facilities to explore replacing its legacy document management system and support paperless workflows.

Meanwhile, at GCA, “Our processes are going to be faster, so researchers and their staff are going to get the information they need quickly and easily,” DeFries said. “That’s going to help them focus on what’s most important—doing world-class research.”

Originally published in the UW Information Technology 2014 Annual Report. View our Annual Reports archive.