If your accreditation organization has been around for a while then you will probably remember some of the challenges we found when Cobalt took on our first partner for this industry in 2006. We quickly learned that there were some systemic struggles that accreditation organizations had been dealing with for decades.

One of the biggest issues was that all the record-keeping and reporting was done by hard copy — and always had been. The first accreditation management system we built for was a huge step forward for that client. It immediately solved some of those issues — but it also created some new challenges for their team and the clients they served.

As our experience in the accreditation industry deepened, we eventually had a breakthrough around what a modern accreditation management system should do — and not do. Any organization that makes the investment in Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Cobalt’s Engagement Dynamics software solution will benefit from what we learned.

Read about that breakthrough and the refined process for innovation we use with every industry. If the issues we are describing sound like part of your organization’s story, too, then get in touch with our team for a product showcase. We’ll help you see a relatively painless way forward that will address the processes and problems your organization is struggling with today.

The Magical Paper-to-Digital Transformation

I’ve seen the rooms with my own eyes: rows and rows of boxes and shelves with almost endless binders full of dusty, yellowing paper. The records and documentation for accreditation are long, complicated, and the kind of thing you need to save for a while. Sometimes, for a long while.

A little over a decade ago, an increasing number of organizations started to make the move to digital records. And, when they made that move — they went all in. Saving time and increasing reporting accuracy were two major motivations for making the switch to a modernized, digital accreditation management system in those days. Basically, everyone just wanted to make it easier to collect all that data and make things easier on their own staff as they worked to process all that information. Some organizations were also savvy and forward-thinking enough to recognize that there would be new possibilities for utilizing that data in a new system. Having a room full of binders meant it was difficult to search for data and almost impossible to run anything beyond the most basic reports. 

Off and Running … and a New Wrinkle

We helped build some of those earliest digital systems and we were happy to see the ways it solved some of those systemic headaches. However, a new problem soon started to emerge. Over time, it became clear that digitizing everything end-users were sending over in the accreditation/reaccreditation process was an overcompensation.

In order to move through the initial accreditation or reaccreditation process, applicants needed to collect a large stack of information and details. Typically, they would aggregate all that information into a document or report as they prepared to file their application. With the new all-digital systems, schools were frustrated because they often had to copy and paste fragments of those reports — the ones they’d already spent days creating — into many, many separate form fields … which were then used … to create reports that were very similar to what they’d already painstakingly compiled.

It turns out, not everything needed to be automated. This led to a big paradigm shift in how the Cobalt team started to approach the problem of helping organizations make the shift to digital, cloud-based record keeping.

The Breakthrough

As our partnerships matured and our partners moved deeper and deeper into their new digital processes, they were learning and adjusting, and so was our team at Cobalt.

That’s really the ideal way of working and one of the most fundamental benefits of a truly modern accreditation management system: you use it to collect data, then analyze the data, then make improvements in your processes and products based on what you find, and then start the process all over again.

That’s continual improvement. That’s part of what Cobalt makes possible for our partners. It’s a system and cycle we know intimately because it’s exactly the same system we use as we keep innovating. Our Engagement Dynamics solution for accreditation partners and the other industries we serve is just one example of what’s possible.

Eventually, we had a major insight that led to a game-changing breakthrough. We recognized that digitizing every scrap of data that applicants needed to hand over in the accreditation process was creating a circular duplication of effort and a lot of frustration. So we have been pioneering a new hybrid system. 

Applicants typically need to submit two distinct kinds of information to an accrediting body. There’s actual data, which could be something like enrollment totals, program completion or graduation rates, etc. That kind of data needs to be submitted in form fields. But the second kind of information requires responses in more of a narrative form. 

Your accreditation organization likely has detailed standards and requirements that applicants need to meet. For example, you might require something like: “You must have a student handbook updated for each school year and that handbook must be readily accessible to all students.” And, to show that they are in compliance and meeting the criteria, schools will need to provide a response such as “Our student handbook for [the current academic year] was updated [on this date] and each student received both a hardcopy of the handbook as well as an email in their orientation with a link to a digital version of the handbook on our website [at this URL].” 

This information does not need to be stored in your database for reporting and benchmarking. However, it does need to be easily accessible for your staff, site visitors, and other stakeholders in the accreditation process. Keeping these narrative responses and their supporting documentation in document form is the most practical solution.

What’s Next for Accreditation Organizations?

With the hybrid approach we’ve engineered, organizations like yours can have a system where applicants input data like graduation rates through an online portal, and submit narrative information into a digital document repository. Everyone gains the efficiencies they needed while reducing some of the painfully duplicated efforts. And those new digital document repositories? Today’s search functionality is a big step forward from where things were 15 years ago. In addition, advances in artificial intelligence mean you can even start to move well beyond search and into some very exciting data analysis with all of those narrative responses and documents. 

The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) have been seeing some of the benefits of everything we’ve been talking about. They partnered with Cobalt in 2019 and launched their new system in 2020. 

“Our new Cobalt accreditation management system has made a huge impact for the ACEND staff and accreditation stakeholders. Data and functionality that were previously spread across several different systems are now available in a central location that is fast, easy to use, and will grow with us as our needs change. Cobalt’s team was great to work with and we’re looking forward to working together for years to come.” 

Amy Anichini, MS, RD, LDN
 Senior Manager, Education Program Accreditation
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

Connect with Cobalt to Explore a Modern Accreditation Management System

Maybe you already know your organization is due for an upgrade to your accreditation management system and processes. Or, maybe you can start to see some of your organization’s struggles and needs reflected in parts of what we’ve been describing. We love having the conversation about what’s possible in the accreditation industry, and I hope you’ll get in touch with us now for a product showcase. Those typically last around 45 minutes and we can cover topics like:

  • How to easily track and approve accreditation requirements
  • Improving the annual report experience with our streamlined administrator portal
  • Our user-friendly, public-facing directory that promotes better self-service and exposure

We know the decision to implement a new system is often a lengthy and complicated process for organizations like yours. Let’s talk soon about your priorities and whatever questions you have at this point.

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