Reduces annual paper, duplication, and storage costs by $100,000
Non-profits face specific business operating challenges in order to safeguard their ongoing status and compliance. At the heart of the challenge is the need to maintain valid documentation on everything from bylaws to accounting practices. In addition, non-profits need to communicate with a variety of constituents – from members to volunteers, staff to general public. These challenges create an abundance of documents that must be disseminated, organized, and stored in a secure and efficient manner. To compound the challenge, non-profits must accomplish all this with limited resources – from constraining budgets to diminishing manpower. The result can be a document management bottleneck that impedes an organization’s ability to function on a daily level.
The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) is a non-profit, non-governmental, public service, membership society that also provides comprehensive accreditation services for testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, inspection bodies, proficiency testing providers, medical testing laboratories, reference material producers, and product certification bodies. In addition to its in-house staff, A2LA has over 120 field assessors scattered across the U.S. and internationally who perform on-site visits and issue comprehensive reports on their findings as part of the accreditation process. Each step of the process has to be documented by both A2LA and the organizations seeking accreditation.
The challenge for A2LA is multiplied as it operates as a non-profit, membership-based organization that also offers a primary service – accreditation for organizations that have to meet strict national and international standards. All of which requires documentation – a lot of it.
Digitizing accreditation paperwork
“We not only receive reports from our field assessors that have to be indexed in-house, but also send the report back to the organization seeking accreditation so they can take and document corrective actions. We are a document-intensive organization where a single lab’s folder (package) can have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 pages,” said Daren Valentine, director of IT for A2LA.
A2LA relied solely on paper processes before implementing Fortis document management software with the help of D3 Technologies, a Maryland-based Westbrook Technologies Partner. “Prior to implementing an electronic solution, we had a room that was about 10’ x 20’ with a rolling paper filing system. We store accreditation documents for a four-year period in the office. After four years, all the paperwork would go to an outside storage facility where a 20’ x 40’ room would hold the cumulative amount of documents,” Valentine said.
Fortis document management software was a logical investment for A2LA when you consider the volume of paper they process – 300 new documents and 60-75 packages on an average day. Each package has numerous types of documents that have to be separated and indexed. They also have a complaint handling process that requires full documentation; resulting in full text documents that go back and forth between the association and the lab.
Today, applications are submitted electronically and are then distributed to the appropriate assessor. Sometimes, however, applications arrive in paper form and they have to be scanned in. “We use Fortis DocPack to distribute files on CD and our in-house system to send the correct documents to assessors. A2LA saved $50,000 in mailing and duplication costs annually on this step alone,” said Valentine.
After the assessment is completed, documents are sent back to the lab and they are required to respond through A2LA’s online portal or electronically. A minority respond by paper, which has to be scanned in and verified before the documents are destroyed.
Fortis’s flexibility to open a spectrum of file types is also a plus. “While most of the packages come in as Word, PDF, or Excel documents, some are in programs that we don’t have. Not only does Fortis unzip and open large files, it has a document viewer for many programs and opens documents that we otherwise could not open,” Valentine said.
The endpoint is a package that is reviewed by an A2LA staff member. “The package is then sent to three association members, who may be located in the U.S. or abroad, for their review and approval. We need three exact copies of each package,” he explained. The estimated savings accrued as result of automating this step in the process is another $50,000 a year.
In 2009, A2LA initially implemented Fortis in Operations, but expanded last year into Financial/Accounting and Quality Control/Systems. A2LA has 50 staff members who have access to Fortis and, on a normal basis, up to 30 are regular users. Each department has to index documents separately – whether its invoices, reports, payments.
“We use the security features of Fortis extensively throughout the association, but compliance controls are mostly used in Financial/Accounting. We are able to take documents and separate out information to give different people different access because we developed a database to segment information. We can run queries to separate and distribute documents,” Valentine said.
A2LA plans on linking into their homegrown application using Fortis EnableIt, which allows customers to share data bi-directionally between Fortis and other business software, such as PeopleSoft. “In the future we can use Fortis EnableIt for employee data, such as payroll and benefits,” Valentine said. “We plan on adding a feature that will scan documents directly from their LOB applications and automatically file the record away into Fortis. The benefits of staying within one application are that we can reduce redundant data entry and eventually streamline document storage and retrieval.
“While we are not typical of a non-profit because we provide accreditation and are membership based, what we share in common is that non-profits are paper-intensive. So it’s helpful to reduce dissemination, mailing, storage, and copying costs. When it comes to design of a system, you need to think of processes and the output that needs to go to constituents,” Valentine said. Oftentimes, the challenges of moving to electronic document management go beyond putting best-of-breed technology in place. “People who are normally accustomed to paper will be resistant to change,” Valentine noted. However, as demonstrated by the internal cost-savings and improved service accrued by A2LA, it’s an extremely worthwhile investment.
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