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11 Higher Ed Manual Processes That Need To Be Automated Now

November 24, 2020

Due to the global pandemic, higher education has settled into a steady cadence of combined in-office and remote work. Processes for students, faculty that were previously only available on-campus are now offered in an online format. With so many processes moving online, now is the perfect time to make progress on your automated tasks. 

Here are the top 11 processes our customers have recently automated.

What Processes Should I Automate?

You may be wondering where to start. Some processes are a better fit for automation technology than others. Typically, processes that are recurring, standardized, and paper-based make great candidates. Below, we break down what processes you should automate based on department. 

Automate Processes For I.T.

1. Purchase order approvals

Many departments are experiencing a freeze on purchases due to the financial pressures of COVID-19. I.T. departments, however, are making more purchases to facilitate online teaching and learning, wide-spread testing, and contact tracing. 

At the University of Hawaii, CIO and VP of IT Garret Yoshimi was not able to keep up with hundreds of purchase order requests coming in from his IT staff across the university system. To combat this problem and provide the quick approvals his employees needed, Yoshimi automated the approval process using higher education workflow software Kuali Build. Yoshimi now delivers approvals in under 24 hours. Learn more here

Automate Processes For Research

2. Award Memorandum of Understanding

A Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between two or more institutions acknowledging an ongoing strategic partnership intended to support research or educational ventures. At a large institution, this document needs to be signed or approved by many decision-makers. 

The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) struggled with their Award Memorandum of Understanding process. They attempted to use an eSign tool to manage the approvals; however, eSign tools lacked the necessary functionality. UMass Amherst found Kuali Build to manage this form and workflow process seamlessly. Now, the institution can automatically route the form to 25+ approvers and capture data throughout the process to continue optimizing. Read the UMass Amherst case study here

3. Principal Investigator Status Request

A researcher must apply for “principal investigator” status to lead a funded research project. The application process, often carried out via paper and PDFs, can require 3-5 approvals and includes conditional instructions. 

Using a paper-based form, the user must sort through multiple sections and decipher which apply to their specific application. 

Using a forms and workflow application, this type of form and the processing of it is significantly simplified for everyone involved. The form could include conditional logic. The approval process could be automated with parallel routing so that an administrator does not need to manually send request approvals.

Not only does a forms and workflow process simplify this process for those involved, but it also moves it through faster. As a result, principal investigators can begin working on their projects right away rather than waiting for weeks. 

4. No-Fee Grant Extension Form

Research projects don’t always meet deadlines, and when that happens, researchers can request a no-fee extension on their grant. Similar to a principal investigator status request, this process includes a form with dozens of conditional fields. Often included in this form are the following:

  • Are there subawards on this award? If so, list the principal investigator(s) and reference number(s).
  • Are there human or animal subjects involved? If so, list the protocol number(s) and approval date(s).
  • If there are additional protocols, attach another document with their numbers and approval dates.

Imagine if conditional fields only appeared as the user indicated they were necessary. 

While sorting through the applicable fields, the user also manually enters information which inevitably leads to the occasional typo. With a digital form integrated with campus systems, names, phone, and fax numbers, protocol numbers and more can autofill, eliminating opportunity for human error—and the time it takes for an administrator to fix those errors. 

Without an automated system, the internal elements of this process alone can take over a week to complete. With automation, institutions can complete this within days and the form can be automatically sent to the form funder. 

5. Supplemental Pay Form

Supplemental pay for grant-related work is a common process at research institutions used when faculty contribute to a sponsored research project and request compensation. 

At Southern Connecticut State University, the institution experienced issues with this process due to paper-based dependencies. After a researcher filled the supplemental pay form, it sometimes took weeks or months to see the results on a paycheck due to lost paperwork, delayed transportation from one desk to another, and manual data entry errors.

SCSU used Kuali Build to automate its form and workflow process. Not only is the institution releasing funds within two weeks of form submissions, but the research department also saves an estimated $675,000 by reallocating staff time from simple paper processing to actual information management. Read the full story here.

a gif of workflow automation

Automate Processes For Registrars

6. Course Withdrawal

41% of students dropped a class during their freshman or sophomore years according to a nationwide survey of 1,200 college students at both four- and two-year institutions by Zion and Zion. Withdrawing from a course can be difficult, especially using a paper or PDF form. 

Forms and workflow software can make the process less stressful on the student by automatically routing the 3-4 approvals needed to successfully drop a class. Instead of reading through paragraphs of instructions on where and how to submit the form, the student can simply push a button. It will automatically be routed to the correct deans and advisors and the student can receive an automated email notification as soon as all approvals are received.  

7. Change of Major Form

Approximately one in three undergraduates change their major at least once, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. What does your change of major process look like? Does the student have to carry a form to offices on campus?

With a forms and workflow automation platform, you can elevate the change of major process. In a recent webinar, we outline how you can upgrade your form with integrations, automate the workflow, and create custom automated notifications. See the webinar here.

8. Change or Correct Records

Students may need to change or correct records during their college careers. This type of form has the potential to collect sensitive information such as social security numbers and dates of birth. Paper-based forms, even in a digital format, may not have the necessary measures in place to keep data secure.   

With the right forms and workflow solution, granular permissions give you the ability to ensure the correct levels of security for each form. Additionally, automated forms and workflow solutions can encrypt data in transit and at rest, so sensitive information is kept secure. 

an animation of fingerprint reader connecting different gadgets

Automating Campus-Wide Processes

9. Flexible/Remote Work Agreements

Though remote work is more common in higher education than ever before, institutions still need a process to request remote or flexible work. This process can inform leadership of borrowed materials, and how many individuals are on campus or at home in case of a COVID outbreak or other emergencies.

This common process offers abundant opportunities for automation. For example, using field validation on dates, phone numbers, and emails, clerical errors are limited. Additionally, field validation means fewer notes on how to fill the form. Ditch the asterisk instructing how to enter a date or rounding to the nearest hour. 

This type of automation makes the overall experience better for the form filler and saves considerable time for administrators.  

10. Vacation Request

Using paper and PDF for a process as common as this one may be costing more than you realize. Here’s an example.

It could take:

- 20 minutes to find, fill, and email a vacation form to approvers. 

- 5 minutes for approval.

- 5 minutes of manual entry into HR software

At an institution with 500 full-time faculty and staff, assuming each person requests vacation time twice per year, taking 30 minutes from various parts of the institution, that adds up to 500 hours. If those employees earn an average of $40 per hour, this process costs $20,000. 

Using a forms and workflow application complete with integrations to campus systems, your institution can automate many of those steps. 

It might take:

- 5 minutes to locate and fill the form 

- 1 minute for approvers to check a box. 

- 0 time for manual entry from HR. 

In this scenario, it takes six minutes to request and approve time off. Across an institution with 500 employees who make two vacation requests each year, requesting vacation takes 100 hours. Assuming those employees earn an average of $40 per hour, this process costs $4,000. 

With a forms and applications software, you’ve saved $16,000 just one form and workflow. What else could you automate?

11. COVID-19 Processes

Colleges and universities across the nation took many precautions moving into fall 2020 to avoid a campus-wide outbreak of COVID-19. Like other institutions, Davidson College had a matter of weeks to develop a system to keep campus safe. 

Davidson’s Digital Transformation team searched for a solution that was:

  • Easy and fast for students, faculty, and staff.
  • Easy to understand for back-end users (i.e., avoid custom code where possible).
  • Delivered data on symptoms, cases, and testing compliance for decision-makers.

Using Kuali Build, they produced a solution that provided the agility to meet urgent needs. Within six weeks of deployment, Davidson received 10,000 submissions using a Kuali Build form. Read the full Davidson Case Study here

How to Automate a Manual Process

Using a higher education workflow software, you can automate nearly any paper-based process on your campus. With Kuali Build, you can create a digital form and automated workflow, complete with integrations to other campus systems, all within a no-code, user-friendly platform.   

To automate a manual process, you’ll need to procure forms and workflow software. Picking the right software can be a daunting process. To help your search, we created a Beginner’s Guide to Workflow Automation. 

Read Guide

What are the Advantages of Process Automation?

You will quickly see the advantages of process automation after automating even one process. Our customers regularly experience the following advantages of process automation:

an infographic of the advantages of process automation

Enhanced Transparency

With automatic reporting, your institution will be able to break down silos across campus. Finally enjoy the ability to view where a document sits within a workflow without tracking it down manually. 

Increased Agility

With the right tool, forms automation is quick. Before long, departments will find other ways to further optimize processes by creating new and improved forms they didn’t have the resources to create in the past.

More Efficiency 

Automate processes to eliminate manual data entry and limit opportunities for human error. As form creation and approval processes become increasingly streamlined at the department level, the institution becomes more efficient as a whole. 

Get Started Today

Kuali Build can provide your institution with transparency, agility, and efficiency. Using this workflow automation platform, you can take action in urgent situations and also automate day-to-day department-specific or institution-wide processes. Ready to get started? Learn more about Kuali Build today.

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