Russell Lawrie of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) specialist Endpoint Automation Services (EAS) looks at how Further and Higher Education institutions can benefit from the advances in RPA, to benefit their students and improve overall efficiency.
Universities and colleges are discovering that Intelligent Automation (IA) can give them the edge in their touch points with students while also helping to improve efficiency.
Moving to IA means the institution can meet students’ increasing demand for being able to carry out most administrative interactions online and for it to be as seamless as they experience with the mobile-first services they use every day from shopping and banking to taxis and food delivery.
So, what is it that IA offers? By IA the ‘bots’ key benefit is that it can create, access, extract and store information in a centrally-located system all within seconds. It can also be done through existing platforms so there does not have to be an investment in a new core system.
It was during the pandemic that universities and colleges started to realise that the advances in IA meant it could have a role in supporting and improving the student experience while streamlining high-frequency roles and processes. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Virtual Assistants (VA) also mean that engagement with students is much more conversational and natural than when IA was first launched.
Institutions that have moved towards IA have transformed their back-office systems and operations as they have automated mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks freeing staff to focus on more value-added roles. These technologies enable machines to perform tasks that were previously thought to be only possible by humans, such as understanding and interpreting natural language, recognising patterns, and making decisions.
Applications and enrolment can be high-volume processes which can place pressure on the organisation as well as leaving students frustrated. By using IA much of the process can be through an app or web-portal which is both automated and streamlined.
It means that students only need to provide their information once, whether that be academic results, financial documents or even foreign students immigration paperwork. That information once in the system can be accessed to answer any relevant queries without the student having to resubmit to fulfil different purposes.
IA also monitors each student’s file to ensure all information is complete and up to date, and can be programmed to send reminders to fill any gaps which is particularly useful when there may be deadlines approaching.
It also frees staff from having to manually store, access and cross reference multiple documents as the data as data is stored centrally and within seconds can be accessed at any time. For institutions with many foreign students, IA can be multi-lingual so removing the chance of any misunderstanding about the information required.
When used in the application process, IA can screen candidates in a matter of seconds against the required criteria and provide a shortlist of candidates based upon a checklist. It means that a student is less likely to be excluded because a manual check has missed a vital and relevant information
Adopting this process has seen one university that EAS works with witness a 5% increase in successful enrolments.
All these capabilities provide students with a smooth engagement and, where necessary, a swift response. The capabilities provided by conversational virtual assistants also means that any queries that they may have can be answered quickly and efficiently.
It means that students do not have to chase around people or departments to find the answer to their initial questions as the virtual assistant can be programmed to understand the context and meaning of relevant questions so that questions can be answered. For more complex needs, the virtual assistant can point the student towards the relevant department. Again, this service can be multi-lingual and being bot-driven also means questions can be answered 24/7 and do not have to wait for office hours to satisfy any query.
This function can also be helpful when on-boarding new students as the virtual assistant can help ease them into their new life by providing guidance, suggestions and answer specific questions to help them adjust to their new academic and social life.
Once the virtual assistant has all the information about an individual student it can also provide a personalised timetable related to events such as lectures, seminars and tutorials as well as details about student accommodation, events and pastoral support.
It can also register their attendance, helping the overall student experience while also reducing the administrative tasks for staff so allowing them to focus more on providing support services.
This Intelligent Automation -driven streamlining of services can help the overall efficiency by mirroring the experiences seen in the business sector. Using IA can support the institution’s student focused back-office functions such as grant administration, bursaries and other student information which can be held across various functions and software platforms and be tagged to a student, course or department so making access easy. A student can automatically be notified when more information is required as well as be given updates.
Automating these processes can grow the capacity to deal with requests and, importantly boost accuracy by removing the need to multi-input information. It can also take out peak times delays in the system such as the beginning of the academic year when demand can often exceed capacity and leading to practical and financial delays.
This reduces the administrative burden on the back-office team while providing timely communication with the student and allowing the staff, where necessary to spend more time on handling special cases.
The benefits of IA can be taken beyond enhancing the student experience by using the business sector in using IA to automate many of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks undertaken by the administrative and finance department teams. Tasks such as, purchase order systems, payroll, new supplier requests and invoicing can be automated. It can even identify issues which can be overlooked by human staff members.
Creating better experiences
IA gives Higher Education institutions the opportunity to create an administrative system, which can save costs, make them more efficient and meet the expectations of students to have timely and seamless communication from their institution of choice.
It also helps to give students that tech-first experience that they now look for in dealing with administrative matters. In delivering this it’s important to remember that this can be achieved by integrating IA with your existing systems and does not require the need to create a new core system.
What it can achieve is to give an advantage in a competitive market which can ultimately boost admissions and revenues.