Keeping your business organized and running smoothly is so important, especially as a school owner. Staff, students, auditors, and evaluators from your accrediting agency will all require access to files at different times. Knowing where these documents are, that they are complete and that they are correct can save you frustration, time, and money.
Over the past year, many schools have looked closer to moving to a digital file solution. At Lightheart, Sanders, and Associates, we have been encouraging schools to go this direction for several years, because we have seen firsthand what a difference it can make.
If you are considering going digital, keep reading to learn our best thoughts and guidance on what to consider as you make this change.
Why Go Digital?
In our company’s beginning, our firm would use the accounting world standard of workpaper folders to perform and document our audits. We would fill out the same workpapers each year, and place these documents in a binder. This binder would then be shuffled from my desk to the audit manager’s desk, and then to the audit partner’s desk for review, initials, and signatures. Picture our employees taking out a clean sheet of green ledger paper, opening the prior year’s workpaper file, and then copying the same paragraph to document the value of the land on an apartment building.
You can see how going digital would save us significant time in copying, a good amount of frustration in the organization, and even money. Digital files can automate things like
- Who receives access to files.
- Processes to make sure files are complete.
- Signature requests.
- Duplication of standard files.
- File storage and organization.
- And more.
Making these processes quicker and more efficient means employees spend less time trying to do it all themselves, and saving time means saving money.
We eventually moved from a fully paper system to a Windows Folder document dump and then later to a cloud-based system with software meant specifically for paperless accounting. This move has increased our efficiency and allowed our staff to work remotely, which was required as our geographic range of clients and staff increased.
A Beauty School’s Story
The same benefits that we saw from going digital all apply to a beauty school perspective as well. We had a school that struggled with disorganization before they moved their paper files into a customized, digital student file solution. Before making the change:
- Paper files were constantly moving around the office.
- Staff would have to spend time filing stacks of papers.
- Searching for files wasn’t quick or easy.
- Documents would somehow miss being filed, putting them in danger of being lost.
- Sometimes, student’s documents would find their way into other student’s files.
- Files requested for student financial assistance (SFA) audits were sometimes incomplete, which meant staff would need to make an impromptu meeting with the student to complete the missing document.
All these issues made audits more time-consuming and difficult for both our team and the beauty school’s team. After moving to a digital system, the school was able to simply create a user for the auditor, select the files the auditor needed access to, and finally select the students the auditor would have access to.
We asked the school how long they spent on student files for the audit after moving to their digital system. The answer was 6 minutes! In addition to the savings on the school’s side, the time spent on our file review was significantly reduced because documents were in the same consistent order, and we spent almost no time trying to find where things were. This flexibility and time savings were reproduced each year during the audit, each time NACCAS came to visit, and each time anyone else wanted to view the school’s records.
Choosing a Digital System: What to Consider
Appoint a Staff Champion
Before we get into what different features you should consider in software, it is important to consider your staff. Last year gave schools great insight into how well their staff and their students can adapt to changes with technology. If we are all honest with ourselves, sometimes adapting posed a challenge to our teams.
With any change, it is important to have a champion. This is the person who is going to carry the vision of the change to the rest of the team. The champion helps create a smooth transition by:
- Encouraging everyone to embrace the change.
- Listening to and resolving team concerns.
- Reminding the team of the benefits of the change.
Not having the team get on board with the new technology is similar to buying a sports car but still driving like it’s a tricycle. You can limp down the road but you won’t get the maximum benefit of having all the bells and whistles. We have seen many schools get tripped up implementing a great solution because of the hesitancy or struggle of a team member to adapt to the “new way” of doing things. Appointing a staff champion is a great way to avoid this struggle as much as possible.
What Features Will You Need?
Now that we’ve discussed how the change will impact your staff, let’s move on to the specific features you should consider when looking into different software. Fortunately for schools, many student management software providers have released options to move their files into a digital environment. The key is to find the right solution for your school’s wants and needs. When choosing a system for your school, here are just a few things we find important to consider:
Your school’s needs in each of these areas will help you determine where you can save, and where you should invest in quality software.
One feature you will want to consider is the software’s interactivity. In understanding your school’s needs in this regard, a few questions are helpful to consider:
- Who Will Interact With the New System?
- How Will the Document Get into the System?
- How Can a Document Be Looked At?
Who Will Interact With the New System?
It is important to consider who and how people will interact with the new system. If your goal is to simply have a digital depository of student files, you may be able to limit the people who need access to or involvement in the student file system. If many people will be interacting with files, though, you may want a living file system. Living file systems can allow students and staff to see and interact with, sign, and send off documents. They can also help streamline processes and assist in catching missing information or ensuring compliance.
How Will the Document Get into the System?
A great question to ask is “how will the document get into the system?” There are several sources of documents:
- School generated documents such SAP reports, ISIR, Academic tests, and results.
- External documents such as high school diplomas, or student requests.
- Signed documents such as contracts, loan acknowledgments.
In considering the sources of documents, you should then determine how your school is going to get those documents into the system. While digital signature solutions may seem costly, they could end up saving hours if you are subsequently scanning and saving documents.
How Can a Document Be Looked At?
In addition to asking how a document gets into the system, you should also ask how can a document be looked at. Consider all of the individuals who may want access to that document and how they may need to see it.
For example, a financial aid officer will want to be able to review contracts, award letters, ISIR, SAP reports. A student may want to see a copy of their contract, academic records, and financial aid information. An auditor has a specific list of items they want to see. A NACCAS evaluator will have an additional list. Many systems have great tools to customize security and access.
A school should consider how connected the student file system should be with other areas of the school. Will the system integrate with academic tracking, financial aid awarding, or enrollment processes? Having a system that houses several other areas can make a big difference in streamlining these important processes.
A great example that we feel is a must-have is with your student management software, specifically when a student reaches SAP. The student management software would generate the SAP report. The SFA office would then reach out to the student to review SAP, discuss any issues, and have the student sign their SAP report digitally. The report would then be automatically stored in the student file. Figuring out if your systems will work with each other to make processes smooth can help you choose the best software for your school.
Another big area to consider when evaluating digital solutions is the process and controls in place. For example, how easy is it for a financial aid officer to see what documents are missing from a student who is wanting to get their disbursement? Some systems allow you to set up rules to help maintain compliance with regulations. You can set requirements for the student file to have specific documents before a financial aid officer could draw funds for the student.
Consider a new student and all of the documents you are required to obtain before drawing funds. A system that keeps track of missing documents can easily help the financial aid officer get any missing information from the student.
From an integration standpoint, your system may also allow students access to review information. It could also give reminders to submit any missing documentation based on rules set up in your student file system. This could look like a student checking into the software and noticing they need to complete missing documents for financial aid.
Have Questions? Reach Out to Lightheart, Sanders, and Associates!
If you have more questions about why your school should move to a digital file system, or what systems could be best for you, feel free to contact us! At Lightheart, Sanders, and Associates, we specialize in accounting, audits, and other financial services for beauty schools. Our goal is to help you cross all your Ts and dot all your Is so you can get back to doing what you do best: running your beauty school!