By going paperless, University saves time and the environment — one meeting at a time

 |   Dashika Gnaneswaran, Communications Lead, Microsoft Malaysia

“It used to be tedious to manually call everyone and check their availability for meetings. Now, we can manage our time better, and this has had a big impact in how we manage the university.” – Mohd Isa Bin Mohd Dom, CIO, Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka

Going paperless has ensured unprecedented productivity and cost savings for Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka, and has enabled efficient communication and collaboration among academic and administrative staff. By utilizing the Ministry of Higher Education’s Enrollment for Education Solutions License Program, the university is able to take advantage of a secure and highly-accessible cloud platform at practically zero cost. This enables the university to focus resources more toward building up the quality of academic programs.

The need to go digital

Meetings are a part of any organization’s life, even for academic professionals and educational administrators. For Mohd Isa Bin Mohd Dom, Chief Information Officer of Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM), meetings can consume a big part of a work day, especially if not managed efficiently.

This was the case with UTeM, particularly during the time the administration still handled meeting coordination through a paper-based system. “Our staff and academicians attend an average of three meetings per person per day,” says Mohd Isa. “However, with a paper-based calendaring system, we did not have a means to easily check and confirm everyone’s availability. Our central staff members had to manage schedules, confirm attendance, book meeting rooms and write minutes of meetings manually.”

This cumbersome approach to collaborating with colleagues was the accepted practice for years.

Nevertheless, the university wanted to enhance the way its staff worked with each other via a digital system.

However, one challenge UTeM had to face in shifting toward a digital system was the difficulty of disrupting the existing culture within the academic community in the university.

“We needed to find a new way for our users to adapt to the digital system,” said Mohd Isa. “The key to our successful shift to digital was a drastic, top-to-bottom and one-time approach,” he adds.

A cultural shift

UTeM decided that for its digital shift to be effective, it should be disruptive and done through a top-to-bottom approach. The university had formerly been utilizing an open source solution for its email, but then shifted to Microsoft Office 365 when its user base started growing substantially. The university capitalized on the fact that Malaysia’s Ministry for Higher Education already has the Enrollment for Education Solutions License Program, which can be used by all public universities under its management.

Because of this license, UTeM no longer needed to invest additional resources to deploy Office 365, except for with respect to its existing on-premises Microsoft Exchange server. The university counts around 15,000 users, which includes 12,000 students, 2,000 staff, and 1,000 academicians. According to Mohd Isa, while the university’s previous open source email system was free, management and maintenance entailed significant manpower cost.

“With regards to Office 365, what we did was to push it from top to bottom,” says Mohd Isa. “Top management agreed to the shift and required everyone to comply. From that point on, everyone had to use Office 365.”

This radical change entailed having academics and administrative staff use cloud email for communications, and calendar for all event and meeting scheduling. The system also included the exchange of learning materials and communication with UTeM students.

“With Office 365, even big meetings and events can be managed by a single person who can check for the availability of attendees even before sending out meeting invitations,” says Mohd Isa.

Inclusiveness leads to better connectivity

Though the Ministry of Higher Education provides free use of campus licenses for universities under its oversight, Mohd Isa notes that not all institutions have taken advantage of it, mostly due to resistance to change in their organizational culture.

However, for UTeM, the gains from going online are clear: the shift from a paper-based approach to online calendaring has led to significant improvements in productivity and efficiency. “Students are assigned their own Office 365 account upon enrollment into the university,” says Mohd Isa. “This gives them access to our online learning management platform. Besides, with our bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach, users can access the system through any device of their choice, including laptops, iOS, Android, and Microsoft smartphones and tablets.”

In addition, being able to see everyone else’s availability makes a big difference in time management, especially when it comes to collaboration among academics, administrators and staff. “It used to be very tedious for our personal assistants to manually call everyone and check for availability. Now, even with around three meetings per person per day, we can manage our time better, and this has had a big impact in how we manage the university.”

Future plans

Apart from email and calendaring, UTeM’s staff and top management also utilize Microsoft OneDrive for sharing files and resources with one another. In addition, the university is exploring the use of Microsoft SharePoint Online to manage documentation and letters, in order to enhance collaboration across departments.

“We are still looking into increasing our utilization of Office 365 and other Microsoft solutions, especially since better knowledge management and better use of big data will be important in enhancing business intelligence” said Mohd Isa.