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Seven Ways to Use Forms and Workflow Applications in Higher Education

July 20, 2020

In the last few months, you’ve likely had to digitize many manual processes you participate in at work. You know, the ones you approve, print, and drop off to the next person in line. Now that you have some sort of digital process, the next step is automation.

Forms and Workflow Applications

Forms and workflow applications are used to automate processes so you can be more effective. Automation software is best used to automate repetitive, high volume processes. This type of software can increase the accuracy and efficiency of a process, boosting productivity and allowing you to focus time and energy elsewhere.

Let’s dive into seven ways to use forms and workflow applications at your institution.

When to Use Forms and Workflow Applications in Higher Education:

1. Purchase Order Approvals

Filing and processing purchase order requests is clunky and slow when paper and PDFs are involved. Users have to print, fill, scan, and send manually. The requester must sort through the form to determine which fields and instructions apply to them, not the back office, and they may have to get approval or notify multiple departments. 

With a forms and workflow application, you can dramatically simplify this process. 

Save your users and approvers time by doing the whole process digitally; the user can access, fill, send, and get approval all online. You can even eliminate the number of fields a user has to manually fill by synching your forms and workflow software with the institution’s identity database. The form filler’s name, department, and office phone number can autofill, minimizing tedious work.

Purchase order forms may require document uploads, such as receipts or vendor documentation. By adding required fields, the user cannot submit until documents are uploaded. 

Use automatic routing to decrease the manual steps in your purchase order process. In the workflow, administrators can set approved purchase orders to automatically route to payroll. With this routing feature alone, an administrator somewhere on campus has 10 minutes back per purchase order filed, quickly adding up over the course of a week. 

From start to finish, forms and workflow software saves time and manual entry work.   

2. Flexible / Remote Work Agreements

Over the last few months, required remote work became the norm. Still, institutions may need a process to notify leadership of how many staff are on campus or in their home offices in the future and to note any supplies borrowed from the institution. 

A PDF process provides many opportunities for error. To request ongoing remote work, the employee may need to enter start and finish dates, the number of business days they expect to telecommute, telecommuting time to the nearest hour, phone numbers, addresses, and more. 

Using a forms and workflow application, you can implement field validation to limit clerical errors. For example, an error will appear if a date is not entered correctly (i.e. month, day, year). Additionally, field validation means you don’t have to add so many reminders to the form. You can leave off the asterisk instructing how to enter a date, rounding to the nearest hour, and adding dashes to phone numbers, making the overall experience better for the form filler.  

Your form may have sections for specific types of flexible work, such as change to start and end time or a compressed work schedule. Using a PDF, every user has to sort through every section, even if it doesn’t apply to them. With a forms and workflow application, use conditional logic to open sections only as the user needs to see them. This will limit the amount of noise and potential confusion for the form filler. 

3. Vacation Request

Using paper and PDF for a process as common as this one may be costing more than you realize. Allow me to illustrate. 

Let’s take an institution with 500 full time faculty and staff, for example, and assume each person requests vacation time twice per year. 

Let’s estimate it takes the requester approximately 20 minutes to find, fill, and email the vacation form to their supervisor. In a two-step approval process through a supervisor and senior staff member, the approval takes five minutes. Then, onto human resources where someone manually enters the approved time off into an HR software. Let’s estimate that takes approximately five minutes, which may be a stretch. 

If 500 employees request time off just twice per year, taking 30 minutes of time 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. 

With a forms and workflow application, many steps in this process become automated. Via a forms and workflow platform, the requester’s name, employee ID number, department, and supervisor can be automatically entered into the form through integrations with the institution’s identity systems. The form could also be integrated with the HR system and display how many days of vacation the employee has left. The employee won’t need to access the HR system and find this information themselves as they fill the form. Let’s estimate this process takes 5 minutes. 

Then, through an automated workflow, the form is immediately sent to the employee’s supervisor and a senior staff member. Let’s estimate it takes these individuals one minute to approve.

Pending approval from both parties, the form is routed to human resources. However, via integrations with campus systems, dates and hours of requested time off are automatically entered into the human resources software, saving time for HR staff and eliminating one opportunity for error. Let’s estimate this requires no time from staff. 

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, this 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 with just a single form and workflow. There are plenty more opportunities to use this software, such as in the research administration office.  

Research Administration Processes 

4. 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. For example, if the applicant is not a faculty member, they need to send the form through additional approvers. 

Using a forms and workflow application, this type of form is significantly simplified for the user.

Using conditional logic, the user sees only the fields that apply to them. For example, more information may be required if graduate students are involved in the research project. If the user indicates graduate students will be involved, a new section appears with applicable fields. If the user does not make this indication, they won’t be bogged down sorting through extra fields. 

Speaking of getting bogged down, use parallel routing to decrease the amount of instructions on the form. Instead of a paragraph of approval routing instructions, just use automation. 

Parallel routing allows you to send a form through a path when a specific answer is chosen. For example, a provost must be included in the approval process only when the applicant is not a faculty member. When indicated, the form can be routed to go to a director, dean, and provost, before making it to the vice president for final approval. 

After the form has been approved, use integrations so administrative staff can skip manual entry. By integrating the form with your research administration software, the research office can spend their time helping faculty win grants instead of manually entering data. 

5. 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 requires a form with many fields and conditional information.

When completed on a digital forms and workflow platform, this process becomes easier for everyone from the user, to the approver, and the administrative office. 

In this process, the requester will need to enter basic data like their name, email, and school. This type of data could be easily autofilled in a digital forms and workflow application. Taking it one step further and perhaps integrating research administration software, the form could also autofill the project’s title, sponsor’s name and ID, and current project end date. That’s a total of seven fields that could be completed in the blink of an eye, decreasing workload for the user.  

Administrators will need to know if this grant extension will impact subaward projects. Using conditional logic in a forms and workflow software, the user will only see questions about subaward projects if indicated. Additionally, administrators could add conditional logic to show more fields on human and animal subjects as the user indicates. 

Finally, use email notifications to notify of approval. Once the research and development office has approved the grant extension, they can simply check a box and the requester will receive an email notification that can be customized if necessary. You can even input fields from the form into the email template, such as the number of months granted in the extension.  

Other offices can use some automation help as well, such as the registrar’s office.

Registrar’s Office Processes

6. Course Withdrawal

In a nationwide survey of 1,200 college students at both four- and two-year institutions, Zion and Zion found 41% of students dropped a class during their freshman or sophomore years. These new students are likely still becoming accustomed to the academic environment, including the homework workload and business processes within academia. 

Using paper or PDF forms to withdraw from a course can be difficult. The student may need four or five approvals to withdraw. 

Forms and workflow software can make the process less stressful on the student by automatically routing those approvals. Instead of reading through paragraphs of instructions on where and how to submit the form, the student can simply push a button. Automatically, it will be routed to their advisor, professor, and dean. 

Additionally, with parallel routing, the software can route the form everywhere it needs to go. For example, if the student indicates they participate in an athletics program, their form may need to go through athletics. Perhaps the student is an international student and withdrawal may need to route through international student services. Parallel routing takes little effort for administrators and lifts the burden off of the student. 

When withdrawal is approved, the form makes its way to the registrar’s office. Rather than arriving by paper, which can be easily misplaced, the information can arrive via an email notification. Better yet, the form is integrated directly with the student information system. Upon the final approval of a student’s withdrawal form, their credit hours automatically drop. 

7. Change of Major Form

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 30% of undergraduate students will change their major at least once within the initial 3 years of enrollment. At an institution of over 10,000 students, assuming even distribution, this means at least 1,100 change of major forms will be filed annually. 

As a PDF-based process requiring at least two or three levels of signatures including deans of the current and proposed departments, this process can easily inundate administrators with the execution and tracking of tedious manual work. If processed via email, requests can easily be lost, causing significant delays. In addition, once processed, an administrator will manually need to update the student information system with the approved change, taking more time.

Forms software with built-in workflow can empower a registrar’s team to significantly reduce major request processing time for all parties involved. 

Utilizing built-in integrations with the student information system, a student’s ID, GPA, cumulative credits, and current major/minor can automatically populate in the form, reducing risks of manual errors. The system can filter forms based upon special criteria as well, such as if a student is receiving veteran benefits.

The student can electronically sign the agreement and have it automatically sent to the appropriate college deans, based upon information in the form, for their review. If approvals are missed, an administrator overseeing the process can automate push reminders to move the process along. Finally, once complete, the process will automatically update the student information system with the newly approved major, removing time required and possibly manual entry errors.

The best part? A solution like this, using a tool like Kuali Build, can be built and rolled out literally in less than a week - quickly proving the ROI from administrative time saved. This time can be reinvested in focusing on quality curriculum and initiatives to support long-term student success.

Automating processes using a forms and workflow platform will clearly increase efficiency across your institution. 

If you’re ready to look for the right automation solution, take a look at Kuali Build. Our customers are already using one or more of the processes described above. Click here for a no-pressure self-guided tour of Kuali Build.

Related: Rising Above the Pandemic Series: The Cloud-Based Tools You Need to Support Your Institution (and what to make sure they have)


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