Colleges and universities have received a lot of praise for how they’ve reacted to the COVID-19 crisis. They had to scramble to put courses online, relocate students out of university housing, and deal with a host of student and institutional financial issues.
Now, colleges are looking to the summer, fall, and beyond as they prepare to maintain some level of continuity in the face of uncertainty. The methods they apply to these challenges will define them for the current and next wave of students, and may reshape higher education for the long term.
Higher education faces disruption
Challenges to American higher education were already on the minds of university administrators and IT leaders before COVID-19. Student enrollment has been in decline, new legislation is requiring them to put efforts into technology compliance, and students’ needs are changing with a new generation entering college.
But then came the coronavirus, and the speed required to meet changing needs has meant that new technology solutions are being applied in almost real-time. For schools that use manual processes and workflows, those changes have been slow to come to fruition. But for institutions that have been willing to apply process automation to their workflows, the ability to shift to meet changing demands has helped them prepare for the uncertainty they face.
Maintaining operations with process automation
Here’s why that’s such a major advantage: most tasks, especially repeatable ones, can be automated so users don't waste time and lose focus. Process automation is all about getting stuff done; at best, it gives people the freedom to do what they're good at while automating the things that can bog them down. Basically, it’s an approach that emphasizes speed while providing guardrails so that key measures aren’t missed. In the complex environment of a university, being able to apply speed to rapidly changing issues is critical.
Universities can improve rapid process change and effectively guide participants by doing the following:
- Maintaining focus: Centralize all activity on a project towards a specific goal. Eliminate distractions and extraneous activity, enable people to work where they are, when it’s most convenient for them, and in a way with which they are most comfortable.
- Utilizing status alerts: Use alerts to improve response time for project milestones and timelines.
- Reducing bottlenecks: Waiting for approvals or feedback can be major momentum-killers. Process automation can eliminate the typical delays that usually accompany decision making; waiting for another participant to deliver feedback on your work can cause collateral damage that the entire team feels. Enabling things like mobile channels keeps projects moving forward because it reduces wait times.
Most importantly, organizations that apply process automation are prepared for current needs, and for an uncertain future. With a process and workflow foundation and the ability to do things like apply case management to specific tasks, and use case management capabilities, process automation can support the need to capture data from multiple sources and communicate it to necessary stakeholders. These are critical for colleges to manage information and act on it quickly.
Benefits of process automation in higher education
When outcomes change rapidly, as is happening as state, federal, and institutional mandates are being continuously updated, process automation offers a foundation on which admissions, housing, financial aid, facilities, HR, and other operational elements that a college can build from. Specifically, it allows agile IT teams to do the following:
- Automate processes, integrate apps with existing systems, and easily connect to data from multiple sources so information and functionality render in a single user experience. Each instance of building a connector can cost as much as $25,000 in developer expenses when using traditional methods. Process Director, for example, uses process automation so that even non-developers can pull necessary data into applications.
- Optimizing ROI from legacy applications to rapidly deliver user experiences and increase user adoption. This is especially critical at a time when students and faculty will be engaging with new forms, systems, and experiences that guide them through things they haven’t done previously, such as registering for online courses, purchasing digital textbooks, applying for financial aid in new ways.
- Designing and building best-in-class apps that can be deployed when needed. Provide the ability to iterate and improve as schools learn more.
- Recognizing and delivering solutions for all aspects of the university experience. This includes things like HR management, student recruiting, facilities and operations, and alumni relations.
- Migrating applications from on-premises to the cloud.
- Delivering applications in mobile formats to increase usage for students, faculty, and school staff.
Adaptation to recent changes is a critical priority for innovative university administration and IT leaders, which is dictating new operational approaches. These include a new-found focus on how services are delivered and what that means for student engagement. To facilitate these changes, the effective application of process-related solutions will be critical to have a long-term effect.