EPFL

Swiss Engineering School, EPFL, tackles thousands of student and alumnus requests, and raises staff satisfaction, with Alfresco.

The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) ranks amongst the best Engineering Schools in the world. Founded in 1853, it is active in education and research in numerous scientific and technical fields. In 2014, it houses nearly 10,000 students across five faculties, two colleges, twenty-seven institutes and 340 laboratories. It is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Challenge

EPFL needed to modernize student file management, implement a solution that provided paperless document management and ultimately reduce the Academic Secretariat’s response times.

The student registration process was as follows:

  • EPFL has developed a web portal—called “IS-Academia”—to allow new students to register with the school
  • Once a registration is confirmed, new documents are added to a student’s folder throughout his enrollment (exam results, communications between the student and EPFL, degree, etc.)
  • Alumni files were archived on optical disks that were only accessible by a specialist
  • Some documents were stored as a single paper copy, without backup in case of loss

EPFL grew from 5,500 students in 2002 to 9,868 students today. The system could no longer cope with the increase in information requests from students and alumni. The Secretariat no longer had enough time for other administrative tasks and response times to student requests were unsatisfactory.

EPFL needed a modern and centralized document management solution, with data immediately accessible online by all the staff of the Academic Department, and by one hundred other authorized personnel.

Solution

An initial study identified Alfresco as the best designed and best built solution. An IT Services provider, ELCA, was selected to help with EPFL’s project because of their technical and relationship skills.

Alfresco was integrated with EPFL’s Single Sign-On solution, Tequila, synchronized with the LDAP directory, and interfaced with Kofax, the document capture solution. All the data previously held on the old optical disks were successfully transferred using scripts. The documents are now indexed according to EPFL’S new data template, allowing for full text searches.

Alfresco communicates with the IS-Academia portal via web services. Each time a new student registers, a folder and associated structure are automatically created in Alfresco. Paper documents submitted by students are captured as follows: a bar code is printed with IS-Academia, the document and associated bar code are scanned by Kofax and automatically indexed and filed in the appropriate student folder by Alfresco.

Jean-Paul Tomasi, Key Account Manager at ELCA, observed “Because Alfresco can be personalized and customized; we were always able to meet EPFL’s requests. Today, the same features are available out of the box in Alfresco’s current version, 4.2.”

Information can be securely accessed in read-only, read-write or administration modes, depending on the user’s role based permissions. Confidential data are protected via specific rights associated with the profile of a handful of users. The Secretariat of each entity within EPFL can only access its own data.

Users adapted to the new solution easily. Information is accessed via IS-Academia 80% of the time. Documents are viewed in Alfresco the rest of the time, when cross-searches are required. User experience remains similar, except for one major difference: all files are immediately accessible by all and advanced searches can be performed across all data.

A cluster ensures that the solution is working and automatically switches to the backup server in case of failure (active-passive).

Alfresco’s deep integration with CoSign will streamline the approvals process for external sponsors, enabling ERT to maintain a complete electronic workflow within the organization while seamlessly connecting external stakeholders. Digital signatures can be applied and verified in one simple step, ensuring ERT can demonstrate client cognizance and approval of operational agreements and change orders.

Results

The current process is estimated to be 10 to 20 times faster than their previous solution. The Academic Secretariat and the students are pleased with the results. EPFL also took advantage of the project to reorganize the Academic Secretariat. Dedicated staff now deal with information requests from students and alumni, while other staff handle administrative tasks. The efficiency of both teams has increased.

The new solution is durable because all data are now stored and backed up. It is not necessary to understand how a secretary organizes her files because Alfresco handles all indexing and searches.

Users appreciate the value added of the new, user-friendly document management solution. With a faster process, the quality of service to students and alumnae has improved, as well as EPFL’s image.

Pierre Mellier, KIS (Knowledge Information Systems) Manager at EPFL, remarks: “We had done all the tests, but there is always some uncertainty in a new project. Happily, Alfresco has given us total satisfaction thanks to its ability to meet our mission’s objectives while providing the ability to scale.”

The IS Department is contemplating a migration from Alfresco One 3.3 to Alfresco’s latest version, Alfresco One 4.2, in the near future, in order to take advantage of the new features.

EPFL is conducting a new study to explore the opportunity to expand Alfresco’s document management capabilities to new uses in the various secretariats of EPFL’S entities. To ensure the success of the project, requirements will need to be clearly defined in order to establish precise objectives. This was a determining factor in the success of the Alfresco solution, now in production.

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