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How Three Leaders are Automating Processes Amidst the Pandemic

May 11, 2020

We recently met with three campus leaders to discuss what they’re doing to automate processes. They shared the critical requests they receive, what they’re doing to manage change, the challenges they anticipate facing in the next few months, and more. Read the summary below of our conversation, or access the full recording here.

Moderator

Katie Gaston, Build Product Marketing Manager at Kuali

Guests

Garret Yoshimi, VP of IT and CIO at the University of Hawaii System

Amy Taylor, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Southern Connecticut State University

Brian DeMuelle, Executive Director of Enterprise Architecture and Infrastructure at University of California San Diego.

What critical requests have you received from departments in terms of automation?

Most of the requests that come into Garret Yoshimi’s office are related to automating a process. While many of them can be addressed right away, “a lot of the ad hoc requests are simply difficult to fill with some of our legacy tools,” said Yoshimi. “So [Kuali] Build actually has a very critical role for us being able to respond quickly to some of these requests that are coming.”

The University of California San Diego is in a unique circumstance. They face this pandemic while also going through a large ‘rip and replace’ ERP implementation. When possible, they use Kuali Build to respond to automation requests. 

“One of our primary focuses going forward as part of this ERP rip and replace,” said Brian DeMuelle, “is to incentivize the campus departments to start shifting a lot of their local ‘lighter weight’ workflows through Kuali Build.” 

This is an opportunity to start to insert some of the technology in places where it will actually do what was intended, which is to provide additional value and efficiencies throughout the organization. - Brian DeMuelle

What are your change management recommendations as policies are updated for a remote work environment?

At Southern Connecticut State University, individual departments can choose their preferred medium for internal processes. Many choose to use email. However, this presents a difficult challenge for auditors who need the record of approvals but may not have access to the email thread. 

In the Sponsored Programs office, Amy Taylor chooses to use Kuali Build, which records an easily accessible audit trail. 

“My provost and my vice president of finance are very supportive of what we're doing,” she said. “In fact, I had conversations with both of them yesterday and they're very pleased with the transition on the support, particularly what we can provide through Kuali Build.”

The University of Hawaii system has been moving away from paper-pen processes for a while now. A few years ago, they issued an executive policy stating that wet signatures were not required for internal routings. But, of course, there were still pockets of old school folks who preferred paper. Those individuals were forced to change their tune when the pandemic came along.

As a result of the coronavirus, “internal [processes are] pretty simple for us now,” Yoshimi said. “Kuali Build actually gives us a way, because it's tied to a single sign-on, to enforce [automated processes] pretty quickly with a tool that you can deploy quickly. We now have a couple of tools that allow us to push [automated processes] out quickly, Build as the more agile of the tools.”

Brian DeMuelle with UCSD sees this period as a time to show how valuable automation tools can be. “This is an opportunity,” DeMuelle said, “to start to insert some of the technology in places where it will actually do what was intended, which is to provide additional value and efficiencies throughout the organization.”

Any efficiencies that we can introduce now and the longer [our automated processes] get to stay in place, the more they'll be appreciated when we transition back into what we thought was ‘normal life.’ - Amy Taylor

How do you plan to maintain these changes?

The pandemic presents a unique opportunity, as any good crisis does. For DeMuelle, campus leadership sees IT as the hero who provides the path to transition. If IT can drive change now, fewer individuals will want to return to outdated processes post-pandemic, lowering ‘change maintenance’ requirements. “You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot and try to establish some of these efficiencies early on,” said DeMuelle

Taylor agrees. IT leaders may not need to put as much effort into change maintenance as some may think. The virus just might be doing the work for them. 

“Any efficiencies that we can introduce now and the longer [our automated processes] get to stay in place during the current temporary emergency process,” said Taylor, “the more they'll be appreciated when we transition back into what we thought was ‘normal life.’ And on that score, as far as I'm concerned with Southern, that's sort of the silver lining to it.”

At some point, things will even out. It will likely take months before we know which changes will stay and which crisis-induced policies will go. 

Would some level of remote work benefit higher education?

Yoshimi, DeMuelle, and Taylor had seen some form of remote work at their institutions before the spring of 2020. Pockets of staff worked from home previously, but COVID-19 brings this topic to the forefront for all employees. 

“[Remote work] creates an opportunity for us to make our institutions more attractive as a place to work for both existing as well as prospective employees,” said Yoshimi. 

“I think a hybrid model is likely the one that works best,” said DeMuelle. However, the bigger question for DeMuelle is this, “How can you get an organization to get more available efficient hours out of the team in total through a better blend of synchronous and asynchronous work? [...] Can we start changing practices such that when we return back to a hybrid model or an office, we’ve actually shifted the way the organization works and are much more efficient team in total?”

Taylor added that there are times when a face to face model creates a spark of innovation that just can’t happen in a remote environment. And finally, there are those of us “who just like being around people now and then.” 

Is the hybrid model the best of both worlds? I think so.

What tools do you recommend to others looking to automate processes?

The three guests mentioned using the following tools on their campuses.

Kuali Build

DocuSign

OnBase (for document-centric processes)

Sharewell

ServiceNow

Banner 

Adobe Sign

As you’re choosing which tool to use, Yoshimi suggests it’s a balance between the “core need,” the “integration touchpoints,” and urgency. At the University of Hawaii, Kuali Build is used for lightweight processes. For document-heavy processes, they might opt for OnBase, Adobe Sign, or DocuSign, depending on if external vendors are involved. 

Without a general-purpose, agile tool like Kuali Build, departments can do a fun thing we like to call ‘going rogue.’ We’re sure you’ve seen it before. Yoshimi shared what it looks like. Someone hires “their cousin who knows how to program in PHP” and when that cousin disappears, “nobody knows what’s going on with this piece of software that, by the way, all of a sudden created this mission-critical thing for one particular program.”

An agile tool that can automate internal processes quickly and effectively will become IT’s go-to solution in a time like this.

At Southern Connecticut State University, Build is used as an interim step. As the IT team implements an automation element of the financials ERP, a process that might take 3 years, Build can be used as a ‘baby step’ to begin the automation process. Once everyone gets familiar with using email notifications instead of paper to move things along, the transition to the financials tool won’t be as difficult. 

To automate processes well, use the right tool when you can. At UCSD, the IT department uses ServiceNow for ticketing and it works. Invoice routing and approvals go through the financial system and it works, too. For other “local departmental” forms and workflows, Build is a great tool. It fits into the “general-purpose workflow” category. 

An agile tool is super important for us to be able to improve our outcomes and processes so that we're better in the summer than we were in the spring. - Garret Yoshimi

As we look forward to the next few months, what are some challenges you expect to see?

As many leaders would agree, Yoshimi stated, “There’s a bunch of duct tape out there.” Institutions responded quickly because they had to. The systems and mechanisms deployed were effective for crisis mode, but can be improved over the coming months and years. 

“An agile tool,” said Yoshimi, “is super important for us to be able to improve our outcomes and processes so that we're better in the summer than we were in the spring. We're better in the fall than we were this summer and continue that. That’s very critical for us to pay attention to.” 

Additionally, DeMuelle shared concerns about recovering from the financial hit that most institutions have taken to address the current environment. ”You know,” he said, “when you get into crisis mode, that checkbook opens up temporarily. And you can kind of spend what you need to but that checkbook closes down at some point.” That will be one of the biggest challenges over the next few months. 

We hope you learned something helpful from this informative discussion. We certainly did. If you’d like to view our next webinar with industry experts, you can sign up here

Direct quotes in this post were minimally edited for clarity and grammar.

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