B B Ambedkar University cutting down on paper use

Professor R C Sobti explains how they are digitalising university processes and creating a Wi-Fi enabled campus that allows eco-friendly communication.

The 5WH in brief

Who: Professor R C Sobti, Vice Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow

What: Spearheaded a few early IT initiatives that helped Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University get chosen as one of four central universities to be developed into model ICT-enabled campuses, and is now leading that implementation.

When: Since 2013

Why: To improve how the university communicates with staff, students and faculty and also society at large; to enrich faculty-student interactions and the quality of learning; and to cut use of paper.

Where: Lucknow

How: By believing the fact that More IT-Less Paper, setting an attainable goal, implementing ICT methodically and choosing the right solution.

As awareness about environmental sustainability grows, digitalization is making inroads in every aspect of life. Corporate work processes and social interactions have already been extensively impacted. Communicating online is cost-effective, time-efficient and environment-friendly.

“As on Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has introduced an ambitious e-governance initiative under Digital India Initiative, it is high time the university community also takes proactive steps towards environmental sustainability  observes Professor Ranbeer Chander Sobti, Vice Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University

Challenges to digitalization

Within the broader spectrum of institutional sustainability, cutting down consumption of paper  is one of the top to-dos, achievable by going digital. Doing so helps save forests and cuts down on harmful chemical effluents from the paper industry. Of course, it presents challenges.

“Going paperless is particularly challenging because it asks individuals to change the way they have been doing their jobs for years, if not decades. Printing emails, distributing handouts at meetings, filing paper records—these are tough habits to break,” says Dr Sobti.

Go easy on paper

Recognising the advantages to be gained from digitalizing work processes and communication, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU) has set the ball rolling in the right direction. Here’s how:

SET AN ATTAINABLE GOAL: At the outset, the top management at BBAU recognized that going paperless is a movement, not an event. “Introducing electronic systems is a gradual process, you cannot expect paper to totally disappear overnight,” says the futuristic Vice Chancellor. Therefore, the university sets a more attainable goal: to become a less paper using university.

MAKE A START WITH HIGH IMPACT FUNCTIONS: A phased approach can help implement solutions of large magnitude. Digitalising core functions at the outset can help boost interest in ICT across the campus as both users and beneficiaries experience its advantages. BBAU therefore  began its journey by automating internal assessment and external exam procedures, finance and file tracking. Professor Sobti lists some of the early gains: “Conducting assessments and exams online makes the evaluation system more transparent, to student’s advantage. Posting office orders on the university portal provides instant feedback and action. Exchanging files digitally helps get things done faster.”

IDENTIFY A SOURCE OF FUNDS FOR THE PROJECT: BBAUs early IT initiatives may be why the UGC selected it as one of the four central universities to be developed as model ICT-enabled campuses. Therefore a part of the (Rs.35 crore) budget for completely automating BBAU is expected from UGC/Ministry of Human Resources Development, under their policy for ICT interventions in Central Universities.

GET A THIRD PARTY ASSESSMENT AND IDENTIFY THE MODULES TO BE IMPLEMENTED: It makes sense to start by commissioning a detailed study of the university’s existing IT systems and its future requirements, and basing the new solution on such study. “In our case, after the UGC opted to develop BBAU as a model ICT-enabled university, the UGC assigned Goa Electronics Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of EDC Ltd. (a Government of Goa undertaking) to assess the level of preparedness of the university’s current IT systems and propose a solution for automating BBAU,” shares Dr Sobti. Goa Electronics Limited has been made the implementing agency.

The outcome of the study: “We identified the University Management System, IT infrastructure, a surveillance system and a campus Wi-Fi system as the major sub-components of the system,” says Professor Sobti. Within the University Management System, BBAU has identified 10 areas that would be automated: finance & accounts, human resource & payroll, administration, purchase & inventory, assets, academics & student life cycle, hostel & guesthouse, library management, project management and RTI.

ENSURE SUFFICIENT TRAINING AND HANDHOLDING: Training and handholding are vital to successfully implement ICT across the campus. At BBAU, Goa Electronics Limited is expected to train end-users as well as impart systems knowledge to technical staff. For instance, BBAU faculty has been provided tips on how to optimise documents for on-screen reading and how to print more efficiently. Goa Electronics Limited is also to provide on-site maintenance and support for five years post go-live.

ADOPT A SOLUTION WITH STANDOUT FEATURES: Some solution features can help make the implementation a success. Vice Chancellor Sobti’s recommends: “Get a solution that supports different browsers such as IE, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc. It makes the solution easily accessible by a greater number of people. Get a solution that supports the controlled access of information through the assignment of specific roles and permissions to different users.  Our solution uses MS-SQL, a relational database, but it is compatible with other databases. Such compatibility/openness helps take care of future requirements that may emerge. Get a solution that can be configured at every level, and which will support your legacy data. Get a solution that is scalable. Last but not the least make sure the solution is user-friendly.”

A whole new level  

Achieving eco-friendly communication is an end in itself, but digitalization also improves communication. Paperless documents can be circulated to faculty, student or staff at the click of a button. No peons are needed. Electronic documents also seduces the need for storage space and are cheaper to generate.

BBAU faculty members are distributing course readings electronically, which helps save a lot of paper. They are also encouraging students to submit assignments electronically. “We expect faculty and student interactions to become richer and more frequent through the system,” says Professor Sobti.

Connected modules will help BBAU eliminate data entry duplication, and in turn reduce manpower needs. “Integration also helps departments co-ordinate better and increases overall system efficiency and gives the top management a single window view on what is happening, where. When it is fully implemented, the system will generate a wide range of MIS reports to help the management take more informed decisions and control the  university processes better,” shares the Vice Chancellor.

The campus wide Wi-Fi will allow students to browse the web portal and get up-to-date relevant information. Messages can also be conveyed to students, staff and faculty by SMS.

The smart surveillance system will enhance campus security through the use of smart cards/RF proximity/bar codes and hassle free IN and OUT monitoring.Implementing ICT can take a university to a whole new level of operations and efficiency.

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