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Paper-Free Paperwork
Paper-Free Paperwork

History: Paper everywhere!

Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% over the past 40 years, with the U.S. alone publishing 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers every year.

The escalating demand for paper has led to an increase in deforestation and pollutants responsible for acid rain, climate change, and deteriorating water quality that are byproducts of the paper manufacturing process. Paper waste accounts for up to 71 million tons or 40% of the United States total waste. Paper recycling does reduce waste but not the environmental and economic impact of manufacturing, transporting, and reprocessing paper products. Fortunately, we are now able to submit and store documents electronically, increasing ease-of-use and reducing paper consumption.

In the 1980’s, software was developed to scan and electronically manage paper documents and photographs. Several years later, Electronic Document Management was devised as a way to electronically manage and store documents that were created on computers. This led way to the development of forms and faxes. There are now hundreds of document and image file formats. In 1993, the Portable Document File (PDF) was created and is now one of the most commonly used file types, supporting both text and graphics. In the last five years, document sharing websites such as Scribd (2007) and GoogleDocs (2010) have been created allowing users to share documents.

Paperwork at Portland State

Prior to document-imaging software at PSU, every student, employee, and faculty member relied on paper documents for forms, applications, and documentation. Serving 30,000 students a year, PSU’s Student Financial Aid department alone stored over 100,000 paper documents per year. Paperwork submitted to Student Financial Aid took almost four business days to even show as being received.

Singularity document imaging software was implemented in 2009 in Student Financial Aid, Business Affairs Office, and Admissions, Registration, and Records departments. The Student Financial Aid Office was able to scan, store, and then shred all of their paper documentation, transforming their filing room into office space for their staff. The turnaround time for student financial aid forms showing as being received in the system has also decreased from 4 days to around an hour.


The seismic shift from paper format to electronic form submission will increase the accuracy and speed and of information. 

Additionally this shift will facilitate improved record sharing across campus. While some departments have already moved their forms to electronic versions, a simple system that is used consistently by all departments will help students know what to expect and enable staff members to get needed information correctly the first time.

The Future: OnBase

PSU is now migrating to OnBase enterprise document imaging software, which has added functionality above Singularity. As part of the migration process, all documents and images that currently reside in the old software will be transferred to OnBase by January 2013. In alignment with PSU’s sustainability and efficiency goals, OIT will start to implement document imaging in other PSU departments next year. For more information about the OnBase project, please contact the OIT Imaging Team.

Written by Ashley Henderson (OnBase Project Manager) & James Ofsink (Assistant Director of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships)