Clearing the path to enrolment with Robotic Process Automation

Equantiis helps UEL streamline enrolment with Robotic Process Automation

The University of East London (UEL) has been pioneering futures since 1898. With campuses in Stratford and Royal Albert Dock, they are a careers-led university, dedicated to supporting their students in developing the skills, emotional intelligence and creativity needed to thrive in a constantly changing world.  

The challenge 

In 2018, the University began implementing ‘Vision 2028’, it’s ten-year strategy. One of the central pillars is ‘sustainability’, where they aim to increase resilience and maximise value. 

In order to manage the annual clearing process, the Admissions Team have to manually transfer around 1,300 records from their internal system to the UCAS website annually between August and September. This part of the process takes approximately 15-20 minutes per application to transfer data and check its validity.  

During the peak of the clearing period, the University would normally recruit temporary staff to undertake and complete this task within the given restraints. In addition, the University has to account for a peak in enquires that need responding to in a timely manner to ensure a positive prospective student experience.  

The Outcome

UEL engaged Equantiis to run a ‘proof of concept’ using ‘Robotic Processing Automation’ (RPA), a process that involved the development of a ‘bot’ which would automate the transfer of application data between the UEL internal system and the UCAS website. 

Equantiis partnered with Automation Anywhere as a technology partner to develop the ’bot’ which would run the process unattended at scheduled intervals. Not only would the ‘bot’ reduce manual processing, it would also skip records with incomplete fields and log this information for further review. In addition, resilience and exception handling were built in to ensure data quality and accuracy of transferred records between systems. 

The first iteration of the ‘bot’ was ready within 60 hours from the initial briefing meeting and was quickly able to demonstrate how it would meet the success criteria: 

  • To reduce the time taken in transferring a record with the ‘minimum’ information that UCAS required 

The outcomes 

  • 15:1 

Once underway the ‘bot’ met the criteria with a 93% reduction in the time to transfer records, with an individual record now taking one minute instead of fifteen. The equivalent manual processing time for 500 records would take an additional 17 days. Not to mention a 100% data accuracy rate between systems. 

  •  Future use cases  

From the moment the bot ran for the first time, and it was clear that the time to process a record had reduced considerably, the team began to visualise how else this technology could enhance processes across the University. This would allow them to redistribute staff time to focus on other higher-value activities that improves the student experience.  

The impact of Covid on examination results also meant that for some courses the process may also need to be extended, meaning that the ‘bot’ can continue to transfer data whilst the time can focus on helping more prospective students at the beginning of their university experience. 

  • Demonstrable ROI 

The proof of concept also highlighted that utilising RPA would have a clear and demonstrable ROI for the University, leading the University to begin developing an automation strategy coinciding with other workstreams in their transformation. This will offer UEL more opportunities to enhance the student experience in more ground-breaking ways. 

Designing a University induction experience in 2020

Equantiis helps City University London welcome students in challenging times

The challenge

The challenges posed by social distancing, necessary to keep students and staff safe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, means that an in-person welcome to new and returning City University students might not be possible for 2020.

City were looking for help to digitalise as many activities as possible, so that they could be ready to implement an appropriate welcome and induction programme, in time for term start.

The Outcome

Equantiis recommended that instead of digitalising all activities, we use the opportunity to review and assess, and then improve and map out, a desired welcome programme for new and returning students.  This would enable City University to ensure activities were optimised as well as designed in such a way that they could be delivered digitally or self-serviced.

The Result

The project was phased as follows:

  • Phase 1: Review and assessment of what currently happens
  • What activities are delivered?
  • When do they happen?
  • What’s the student experience?
  • What are the desired outcomes we want to achieve?

This enabled us to assess the complexity and value (strategic importance) of each activity, and the opportunities to improve and digitalise.  Equantiis then presented recommendations to prioritise and  an opportunity report for phase two.

  • Phase 2: Design

In the next phase Equantiis worked with activity owners to design priority activities, mapping out the underpinning to-be (desired) processes required to deliver.  Staff were challenged to consider whether the activity was necessary, ways to improve it and to think about optimising the students’ experience.  Mapping also ensures that City have documented processes for consistency, training and an as-is state for future optimisation.

  • Phase 3: Mobilise

Once created and mapped, Equantiis created a functional and technical requirements specification in the form of User Stories to collate the resources required to deliver the to-be welcome activities.  This enabled City to review what’s needed to deliver and ensure viability.

  • Phase 4: Recommendations

Finally, Equantiis shared the outcomes of the project and a high-level implementation roadmap.  This included recommendations for continual improvement and future year’s planning.

RPA – Building your strategy

BUILDING YOUR STRATEGY

As with all strategies, it should be accompanied by a robust business case that supports the investment and vision providing the justification to deliver. You will no doubt already know a Business Case provides justification for undertaking a project, programme or portfolio. It is critical that at this point we also go back to our Strategy to ensure that any business case clearly focuses on what we started out to achieve. In respect of RPA we should ensure that this includes customer experience, process discovery (identifying which processes we have) and value mapping (focusing on how RPA adds value to ourselves and our customers)

Building your RPA strategy is easy. It requires a small amount of time invested up front, so it sets you on the right path for delivering a successful implementation.

Be clear on what you want to achieve with this

This type of project has to have a clear purpose, it needs to be well defined and more importantly you need to be able to link it back into an overall business strategy goal – otherwise why do it?

To do this, you need an Exec Sponsor to bring the business together.  Once an Exec Sponsor has been secured, they then need to form a project team of representatives from the business.

Together, outline what can be achieved, why this is a positive thing and agree some principles the team buy into to avoid conflict, subjective opinions and start the foundation of building out your strategy.

Customer Experience

Many organisations will be looking at these projects to see how they can save money and drive efficiency for staff to carry out value add roles, that’s great but it misses the key point of this – improve your customer experience.

At a recent Digital Leader Summit in London attend by 160 business leaders from different sectors, only a shocking 12% had ever carried out a customer experience journey.

Let’s be clear, no change should be happening without doing this first and understanding the root cause of the challenges within the organisation where RPA can be there to assist. This is also key for your benefits realisation which is outlined below in point 6.

Do not let the IT department define your RPA strategy alone

Your technical department will add huge value to this change, but it needs business input for it to be successful.  Let the IT department be involved but let’s be clear this is a business change and there is no such thing as an IT project!

Hearts and minds

Now with anything that is going to be changed within your organisation, the first part of the strategy should be your Hearts and Minds.  This is without doubt the easiest piece to get right but always the bit that gets missed.

Many people will be worried about bots coming to take their jobs, this should not be the case.  But put yourself in their shoes, if you don’t communicate properly with them people will naturally jump to conclusions.

Take time to get them involved, listen to the concerns, coach them and make sure they really understand what is happening and why.

Get your business processes in order

Don’t be a statistic and end up being involved in a project that goes over budget, delivers no value and that somebody will lose their job over.

Before you get seduced by the technology vendors on what can be achieved, understand what you want from it first.

To do that you need to do 3 simple things:

Business process discovery – outline all your business processes (not map) including their owner, input, output and outcomes they deliver

Fix the immediate issues – RPA will not fix your business processes if the processes are broken in the first place. Once you have completed your process discovery, a simple analysis can be undertaken to understand where changes are required to business process before you automate them

Process validation – not all processes are suitable for RPA. Work on the ones that are going to deliver the best efficiency, customer experience and value to the organisation.  Unless you prioritise, you will end up trying to fix everything which is unachievable.

Benefits realisation

At some point in the future, somebody will question why this project was undertaken and what this has delivered back to the business.

Benefits realisation is critical to your success.  Make sure you document the problem you have, the impact on the business and how this project will resolve this.

It needs to be quantifiable with something tangible. Using your customer experience mapping as well as the efficiency are good places to start.

Go back 3, 6 and 12 months after go live and retake the measurements to ensure it is delivering the desired effects, if not, adopt and improve – this project will never be complete.

Understand the skill and resource gap

Not all organisations have the luxury of skills and resources to undertake what is required for this type of project.  Again, not just from a technical perspective but also business capabilities.

Ask yourself candidly, do you have the skills to map out processes effectively? Are you equipped enough to challenge the ways you are currently working?  DO you have enough resources to do this even if you did have the skills?

If not, work out the resource plan and build this into your cost model.

Compare the market

Once you have done the internal work, then you are ready to engage with the market.  It is imperative to do it this way round so you don’t get seduced on the features and benefits of the technology but turn the tables and make sure you are clear on the outcome you are trying to achieve and allow the tech to demonstrate how they can support you in achieving this.

You should have enough information now to get an understanding of the costs, timescales, risks and assumptions that gives you sufficient confidence

Build the business case

There are many things that can be added to your business case but the above gives you a starting block to allow you to make an informed decision.

Make sure the vendor you select signs up to your business case.  “Skin in the game” should be used to ensure they deliver what the business case said it would.

Take your time

You have your business case approved, budgets and resources released – but don’t rush.  There is a lot of learning to take place along the way.

Start with a proof of concept with a select few processes and outcomes, make sure you run the required governance to deliver this and then undertake a lesson learnt exercise before going out to the rest of the business.

RPA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. If used correctly, RPA coupled with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will add considerable operational efficiency to your organisation but ultimately deliver an unrivalled customer experience your peers will aspire to.

THE FUTURE

As with all good technology e.g. personal computers, smart phones etc. RPA is no longer at the embryonic stage; RPA is here to stay.  More and more organisations are turning to the technology to gain competitive advantage, lower operational costs and improve overall customer experience. Whilst we do not know the extent of the ability of the software vendors at an individual basis, we know that those organisations who now seriously look into this technology will benefit the longevity of their organisations and their ability to grow.

According to Gartner, “Hyper automation refers to an approach in which organisations rapidly identify and automate as many business processes as possible. It involves the use of a combination of technology tools, including but not limited to machine learning, packaged software and automation tools to deliver work.”

The true success of RPA in the economy is predicated by our ability to define the Strategy of what we are looking to achieve based on customer-centric outcomes. And not automating for the sake of automating.

Change Management – A 10 Step Guide

In major transformations, the focus is normally on devising the best strategic and tactical plans. But to succeed, you must also consider the human side of change management – the alignment of the company’s culture, values, people, and behaviours – to encourage the desired results. This guide contains 10 steps to make this happen.