How Academic Institutions Can Implement RPA

Tina Rosen, Education Tech Insights | Thursday, April 21, 2022

In higher education, robotic process automation is rapidly used to produce more modern, complex administrative procedures.

FREMONT, CA: Robotic process automation (RPA) functions similarly to a virtual employee, reliably completing high-volume activities and processes without requiring human intervention, resulting in a range of efficiency and quality gains over more human-centric alternatives. RPA can typically handle around 60 percent of an organization's process activities.

In an increasingly competitive higher-education environment characterized by flat enrollment in the United States, changing student demographics, and pressure to innovate in academics and student experience, public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) are seeing expenses outpace revenue growth. Simultaneously, expectations for "service quality" continue to climb among students and parents. These economic challenges and higher service expectations drive HEIs to seek cost savings, efficiency benefits, and improved service delivery through digital solutions. As is the case in many other industries, robotic process automation is increasingly being used in higher education.

Universities are employing RPA to automate various internal activities, enabling them to establish more sophisticated administrative operations while avoiding the disruptive and costly process of implementing a new core system.

RPA was initially used in higher education to assist institutions with managing back-office tasks, similar to how it is used in other industries; however, use cases are increasingly focused on student-facing functions. It enhances the student experience, minimizes human error, and enables time savings in the registrar and student-advising offices. Institutions that have effectively utilized RPA to optimize one or two procedures within a single back-office function have identified and implemented applications in additional functional areas. Universities rapidly recognize use cases for RPA in course scheduling.

Best practices for institutions considering RPA implementation:

A growing number of domestic and international institutions are now embracing RPA as a critical component of their "toolkit" for improving service quality and efficiency. These institutions are gaining knowledge from early implementations, enabling them to adopt new RPA automations more successfully. There are a few early lessons from higher education's RPA inventors.

Collaborate cross-functionally with top-level support: To get the most out of RPA, an HEI should begin with a cross-functional team, enabling the HEI to identify projects where RPA will add the greatest value and will also aid in adoption. This cross-functional endeavor must receive top-level backing. A strong vision from the top is necessary to guarantee that implementation proceeds smoothly and that released capacity is leveraged to enhance the HEI's value proposition to its constituents.

Early victories are critical: when HEIs choose which RPA initiatives to undertake initially, they should start small but be high-value so that employees can see the outcomes and possibilities of RPA early. The initial handful of proof-of-concept initiatives is critical because they enable organizations to develop further ways RPA may benefit their job.

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