The 2020 fall semester will likely be the most disruptive that universities have faced in the past few generations. When last year’s rapid, mass exodus out of classrooms changed in-person to remote learning overnight, higher education IT teams went into reactive mode. At the time, they were still months away from understanding and planning for what will become the next normal. Now, as colleges begin to open for the new school year, we’re seeing that communication and orchestration among processes and teams will be among the most essential factors in having a successful re-opening. The key to that coordination is automated workflow.
Pairing agility with orchestration
University IT teams provide solutions based on function and milestones. In the university setting, much of this activity is structured around the vital campus departments like administration, financial aid, admissions, and student services. Their corresponding milestones typically map to calendar events like enrollment, the semester cadence, and FAFSA deadlines. All of this effort requires documentation and the sharing of data across a variety of different stakeholders, which is the fundamental job of business processes and workflows.
But the coming year will have many unforeseen changes, so having a workflow-driven approach that includes automation, continuous learning, and predictability will create significant organizational advantages for college IT teams.
The advantages of workflow automation
Automated workflow supports the various needs of higher education administrators because processes drive virtually all aspects of campus and academic life. It provides an agile approach to process development and management that ensures that higher education IT departments can serve a wide variety of stakeholders (administrators, parents, students, financial aid organizations, among others). Workflow has the added advantage of providing continuous monintoring to maintain adherence with governmental, organizational, and industry governance requirements and compliance frameworks.
By automating workflows -- and every university, no matter the size, has a LOT of workflows -- teams can create a rules-based environment that facilitates repeatable actions and shares data among different applications and repositories. After all, the educational lifecycle is vast; it includes student management, hiring, facilities, vendor management, capital expenditures, compliance and governance, and a host of other issues that demand continuous oversight and action. Being freed from the responsibility of manual intervention allows IT teams to identify new and better ways to deploy data to support new processes. And in a time where so much is new, being able to develop and implement solutions to new issues, that can deliver meaningful value.
Focus on outcomes, automate everything else
Coordinating data and documentation among different campus departments typically requires a large set of process-driven milestones, most of which must be integrated among various school departments, students, and sometimes the government. For example, student financial aid can be funded by the school’s FAFSA offering, through the school’s privately funded scholarships, or grants. To ensure that all interested parties (admissions, enrollment, housing, among others) have the financial aid information they need to make decisions that support the student experience, they need a framework for coordination.
Forms, paper documents, approvals, data sharing among applications and databases, tracking, and general lifecycle management -- these are among the actions and artifacts needed to make decisions. These are usually unconnected and disjointed pieces within the overall process, but with so much at stake, it’s critical that milestones are achieved and deadlines are met. Workflow creates order among, and between different data sources and process stages to develop a system that is inclusive of the various participants and enables consistency and compliance. Ultimately, the process is about speed and efficiency, which is precisely what fast-adapting universities will need as they encounter issues they have not yet accounted for.
Automating (and protecting) student records
Let’s consider an example from a large university system; UCF Global is part of the University of Central Florida system. In addition to managing the data of thousands of students (the entire university system supports more than 64,000 students every year through 93 bachelors, 86 masters, and 27 doctoral courses of study) in their system, they are obligated through a sense of responsibility, and through compliance mandate, to keep that data protected.
Using automated workflow helps solve for these requirements with a rules-based framework that provides:
- Comprehensive and automatic logging, with digital signatures, of every action taken by any actor, human or automated.
- The highest levels of encryption of data at rest and data in transit.
- Digital signature of documents.
- Granular permissions structure, with temporary privilege escalation.
By ensuring a safe environment for transactions and storage of student data, UCF has been able to build processes that automate the flow of student information through all processes in the student lifecycle, from admissions to graduation.