Posted in Higher Ed, Workflows

Workflow Automation for Higher Ed: The 2020 Guide

Higher education has made great strides in embracing digital transformation, yet, much time is still wasted due to administrative inefficiencies. Workflow automation offers the opportunity to eliminate inefficiencies and save time and money by automating tedious manual administrative processes. 

What is Workflow Automation in Higher Education?

Simply put, workflow automation is the process of automating the sequence or chain of events that need to take place in order for a process to be completed. For instance, automating the admissions workflow might streamline the process by electronically routing documents to the right people at the right time without manual email or phone calls. Additionally, the process of notifying students of changes to their application status – as well as other communications – might be automated.

Workflow automation in higher education not only reduces time-consuming busywork, freeing staff up for more important tasks – it also reduces the margin of human error, which has real world consequences for both students and administrators. Critical decisions like admissions and financial aid often hinge on these central processes. 

Staff may struggle to juggle admin with the rest of their workload, resulting in students becoming frustrated by long waiting periods for simple requests that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to process and provide feedback. 

In fact, fifty-five percent of education managers spend an average of a full workday on “manual, repetitive tasks” per week, according to a 2018 report.

Moreover, when academic staff are preoccupied with administrative tasks, their research and teaching suffers. As such, workflow automation that reduces the administrative burden academics face can be an effective way to attract top talent. 

Assessing Workflow Needs for Colleges and Universities

In order for workflow automation to be successful, your staff needs to buy in and your processes need to be clearly defined. While automation can do wonders in terms of making processes more efficient, its success is dependent on having a systematic roadmap. .

To determine how you can best benefit from workflow automation, it’s important to assess your institution’s workflow and identify your unique set of needs and challenges. This will allow you to establish which automation solutions will improve your operational efficiency.

Assessing Workflow Needs for Colleges and Universities

Step 1: Assess the Current State of Existing Workflows

Take time to audit the workflows you currently have in place, paying special attention to any areas that could be more efficient.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which workflows do we currently employ?
  • Which processes require the most paperwork?
  • Which document management systems do we already have in place?
  • Which workflows involve the most people/roles signing off?
  • Which processes involve the most communication?
  • Which workflows are used frequently by various people?
  • Which workflows are already automated to some extent?
  • Which data security measures (backups, cybersecurity) do we currently have in place?

Step 2: Monitor and Evaluate Current Workflows for Inefficiencies 

Now that you’ve identified which workflows your institution uses, the next step is to gather some information about how you can upgrade (read: automate) these processes to improve efficiency and save time.

Some things to consider include:

  • Redundancy/repetition (e.g. the same information being entered multiple times)
  • Manual tasks (e.g. copying and pasting information, formatting and reformatting, sorting information)
  • Wasted resources (e.g. paper forms where digital could be used, space taken up by physical storage)
  • Employee satisfaction with current workflow (e.g. complaints, recommendations) 
  • Communication issues (e.g. scheduling, notifications, channels used to communicate)
  • Barriers to success (e.g. avoidable bottlenecks and delays)
  • Overall efficiency

Of course, having specific metrics and real-time data that you can analyze will make this much easier. For instance, by timing workflows, you might discover that manually scanning, renaming, filing/uploading and approving a document typically takes ten minutes, whereas automating this workflow could reduce the time to 30 seconds.

Conducting surveys of faculty, administrative staff, students, alumni, and even applicants can be an invaluable means of discovering inefficiencies and areas for improvement.

Step 3: Create an Automation Roadmap 

Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, the next step is to map out your workflows. 

A swimlane diagram is a good way to visualize individual workflows and map how they intersect with one another. Label each stage of the workflow with information such as which roles or departments are responsible and how long it typically takes to complete each stage.

Remember to include conditions that must be met in order for the workflow to progress to the next stage, and what happens if these conditions are not met (e.g. if a set deadline elapses or there is information missing).

Create an Automation Roadmap

Once you have your process maps in place, you can set about automating your workflows.

Workflow Solutions for Higher Education 

Higher education institutions including colleges and universities can benefit substantially from workflow automation solutions. Not only do admin and faculty benefit from higher education workflow automation – improved operational efficiency impacts students too.

Admissions Processing, Financial Aid and Registrar Admin

Much of the admissions and financial aid application process can be automated, including the collection, indexing, and approval of substantiating documents such as academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, not to mention the capturing of application forms themselves.

Automated admissions workflows can reduce incidences of misfiling or documents being lost by ensuring that everything is uniformly digitized and that missing documents are flagged early on. When implemented correctly, automated digital systems improve data privacy and security.

User-friendly, streamlined admissions forms that guide applicants through the admissions process with helpful messages and prompts, timely notifications, and even live assistance, will give today’s tech-savvy applicants a lasting positive impression of your institution. Automating your admissions process also results in much faster turnaround times. Of course, the sooner highly desirable applicants receive acceptance letters, the sooner they begin seriously considering your school and the higher the chances they choose you over competitors.

Processing financial aid applications is another key process that can benefit from automation, as delays and missing documents can determine prospective recipients’ futures.

Each time a student wishes to register for a class, drop a subject, or change majors, they create a significant amount of admin work for the registrar’s office. The same applies to administration surrounding graduation, academic reinstatement, transfers from other universities and even non-routine updates to student information. However, it’s entirely possible to automate these workflows and expedite the approval and routing process.

Communications and Marketing

Alumni, donors, prospective students, current students, and faculty – regardless of your audience, automating aspects of your communications and marketing strategies allows you to improve community relations. 

By automating communications workflows, you can maintain a consistent presence and tone across various communication channels including email, social media, SMS, app notifications, and even live chat. AI and chatbots can significantly boost engagement (and reduce the pressure on support staff) by automatically answering common queries and directing more complex questions to the most relevant human staff member.

A representative of St. Catherine University discussed the institution’s recent successes with using workflow automation to streamline its communication on a podcast. Through automation, the university is able to establish and maintain a conversation with students from the first point of contact (marketing) through admissions, registration, throughout the course of their education, and beyond. 

By implementing an uninterrupted communications strategy, the university is able to offer students a sense of continuity and personalization that makes them feel seen and listened to – delivering a level of customer service that makes students more likely to engage, not to mention share their positive experiences with others. 

A good communications strategy should also take change management into account, timeously informing staff of new policies.

Student Support 

Enabling students to feel connected and equipping them with tools to seek assistance or counseling if they need it, improves their chances of graduating. Nearly one in 10 students who left higher education without a degree had completed at least 90% of their program requirements, according to a study published in 2018 by Civitas Learning. Reasons cited for leaving school included a perceived unhelpfulness and lack of support for students, in part stemming from slow responses to questions and requests. 

Implementing automated roll-call and attendance record-keeping allows instructors to gauge student engagement with the curriculum. This enables them to intervene early if they notice absenteeism. Likewise, mandatory online assessments can improve student engagement with subject matter and give faculty a better understanding of comprehension levels, enabling them to make informed decisions about whether interventions such as remedial classes would be helpful.

Providing support for international students, disabled students and marginalized students is also a key concern for institutions of higher learning, and workflow automation can make it simpler to facilitate this support. Moreover, in the wake of numerous recent allegations about sexual assault on college campuses, higher education institutions would be well advised to implement mechanisms for reporting such incidents and ensuring that action is taken.

Curriculum Approvals 

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we could automate the curriculum proposal approval workflow? The good news is that we can. It’s possible to standardize the curriculum proposal process by creating templates while allowing flexibility through customizable forms that can be tailored to meet each individual department’s workflow needs. Doing so not only increases collaboration and transparency but also efficiency.

When you have an efficient approval workflow in place, proposals are automatically routed to the relevant department, person or committee for feedback and approval, notifying relevant stakeholders at each stage of the process. Forms can also be configured to include labels and helpful messages as well as fields for additional input, facilitating easier completion and collaboration.

Purchase Orders and Faculty Travel Requests 

Purchase orders and travel request forms – and any other processes that require the release of funds – typically involve back-and-forth between numerous different people in numerous different departments and at different levels, often spanning spreadsheets and various communication channels. 

Creating automated workflows for approving POs and travel requests can significantly save time by ensuring that forms are fully completed with the requisite information the first time around, and reduce unnecessary bottlenecks by automatically routing request forms to the relevant signing authority. Automation also makes it easy for institutions to implement new or temporary policies such as blanket bans, sending out notifications to all affected parties. 

PTO and Time-Off Requests

In some regards, higher education is just like any other industry. One key similarity is the need for effective, user-friendly human resource management and all the associated administration. Tasks such as handling payroll, approving paid time off (PTO), sick leave and vacation requests can be streamlined using workflow automation. 

Something as simple as processing PTO requests can amount to hundreds of wasted hours per year if performed manually, particularly when requests are returned for additional information and changes, and delayed responses create frustration and even resentment. However, when this workflow is automated, email updates (and reminders) are sent automatically and requests and approval can be made effortlessly from anywhere – using a mobile device.  

PTO and Time-Off Requests

Staff and Faculty Onboarding, Development and Training 

As is the case with student recruitment and registration, much of the faculty recruitment and onboarding workflow can be automated. This is particularly critical in an industry where it’s not unusual to have to onboard hundreds of new employees ranging from student workers to service personnel, to academic and administrative staff. Given all these roles, it’s a wonder that anyone manages to do it without automating the numerous forms and contracts required to comply with state and national requirements while providing a smooth onboarding experience.

Beyond onboarding, various aspects of performance management such as peer and student reviews can be automated, as can certain types of training and development workflow, such as applications for grants and additional certifications.

Using frevvo for Higher Education Workflow Automation

While the potential of workflow automation is clear, all this talk of automation can be intimidating. Scarce I.T. resources are often overloaded, mobile apps are expensive and difficult to use, integration with internal data such as a student ERP system is difficult, and security breaches are far too common. That’s why it’s important to choose a user-friendly system that doesn’t require any coding knowledge or help from IT. 

frevvo is a great choice because its 100% visual form builder is so simple that anyone can use it. With a drag-and-drop user interface, 25+ field types, customized styling, data sources, and powerful layouts, create any form you need without any coding.

With frevvo’s visual workflow designer, it’s also easy to automatically route digital forms and data to the right people at the right time. Drag-and-drop steps in your web browser and configure business logic using point-and-click wizards.

With our connectors and APIs, it’s also easy to integrate with existing systems and software, including student information systems like Banner, Colleague, and Jenzabar, as well as apps like SharePoint, Xerox DocuShare, and Google Apps – not to mention security protocols including Shibboleth and other SAML authenticators. 

frevvo’s forms are all mobile responsive right out of the box, allowing today’s tech-native students to submit applications from their smartphones and offering traveling faculty the luxury of approving requests such as internship applications with a tap on their mobile device. frevvo also helps to facilitate ADA and WCAG compliance right from the word go. 

A Step-By-Step Guide to Building an Automated Workflow with frevvo

Creating an automated workflow is easy with frevvo. Here’s how it’s done, in four easy steps.

Step 1: Start with a pre-built Template or Create Your Own

frevvo offers a free 30-day trial so it’s easy to get started. You can choose from more than 30 pre-built workflow templates or create your own from scratch.

Start with a pre-built Template or Create Your Own

Step 2: Drag-and-drop to Customize Your Form

Now you can use the drag-and-drop function to customize the pre-built form to meet your needs. Add or remove fields according to which information you need. 

Drag-and-drop to Customize Your Form

Step 3: Use the Visual Rule Builder to set up Business Logic

You can also include dynamic behavior – without code – using frevvo’s powerful visual rule builder. Visual business rules can show/hide sections, auto-populate form fields, perform calculations and more. This gives you full control over the information that you collect and how it’s treated by the form. There’s no coding required. 

Use the Visual Rule Builder to set up Business Logic

Step 4: Define Your Workflow

Drag-and-drop workflow steps and use straightforward, visual wizards to create the rules your workflow will follow and set the conditions under which forms are routed to which specific people or roles, and whether notifications are sent and to whom. You can also set conditions under which forms are returned, for instance, if a specific field is not populated.

Define Your Workflow

The visual workflow tool allows you to easily map out each step of the process to make sure that the information is routed to the required party at each stage of the process. 

Basic Travel Request Workflow In Action

To show how the process works, let’s look at an example.

Here are the basic workflow actions your automated travel request will follow.

Step 1: Employee Completes Request Form

Employee Completes Request Form

You can include as many (or few) information fields in this form as you want. Once all the fields have been populated, the employee clicks a button to route the form to their manager.

Step 2: Manager Approves (or Denies) Request

The manager considers all the information and either approves or denies the request in accordance with the form’s rules. If they approve the travel request, we move to the next step. If they decide that more information is needed, the form will return to the requestor. If they deny the request, the requestor will receive a notification to inform them of the manager’s decision.

Manager Approves (or Denies) Request

Step 3: The Request is Optionally Routed to the Next Approver/Stage

Next, the request will be routed to any additional parties that need to sign off on the travel request. Given the fact that expenses are involved, there may be several stages of approval before a final decision is made. At each stage, notifications are sent to the relevant parties, as well as reminders should they take too long to move the form along to the next stage of the workflow.

If the user requires travel assistance, the workflow may route to the Travel Desk.

The Request is Optionally Routed to the Next Approver/Stage

Step 4: HR and Finance Do Their Thing

Once the decision is finalized, the finance department can authorize payment(s) and HR can take the next steps. Thanks to the fact that everything is online, this is a painless process.

HR and Finance Do Their Thing

Automate Your Workflows with frevvo

Give frevvo’s user-friendly workflow automation for higher education a try. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to change the way you view admin forever. You’ll save time, money, and remove employee frustration – not to mention reduce paper waste!

Request a demo.

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