In recent years, we have seen workplaces bounce back in new and innovative ways with the use of technologies such as automation. [AS1]
While higher education institutions have slowly but [AS2] surely adopted many technological advancements over the decades, intelligent automation within this sector does lag significantly behind many others. Technologies such as RPA and AI are needed increasingly to keep up with fast-faced environments, enabling the automation of manual processes.
So, as we move into a new age of technological advancement, what role will intelligent automation play in the higher education institutions, and how exactly can it transform student, while relieving teaching and faculty staff of the often-overwhelming administrative burden?
What is intelligent automation?
Intelligent automation includes a variety of technologies including artificial intelligence [AI], machine learning [ML], robotic process automation [RPA], and optical character recognition [OCR], among others. In simple terms, these solutions are used to create software bots that are specifically designed to interact with platforms and applications as though there were human.
It can be useful to consider these bots as “digital workers”, with the fundamental purpose of mimicking the output of a human performing repetitive, rule-based tasks. The applications of this type of technology are vast, enabling the automation of many types of time-consuming processes, while boosting efficiency, productivity, and crucially, the morale of human workers.
Reducing administrative overload
When applied to the higher education sector, there are numerous areas ripe for automation using these technologies. Administrative staff are often overwhelmed by laborious, time-consuming paperwork and other manual processes, and though these tasks are often tedious, they are nonetheless vital to the smooth running of educational institutions.
Functions such as attendance, and the multitude of necessary administrative processesare just some of the areas that require burdensome and low-level, repetitive labour from human workers, that very often sucks time out of the day for focusing on more strategic and valuable activities. Implementing a digital worker in the form of intelligent automation allows the elimination of much of the manual aspects of these tasks - liberating employees while delivering a better learning experience that will promote increased levels of engagement.
Many higher education institutions still reply on outdated legacy systems and processes that require considerable manual input. It is unsurprising that they are under an immense amount of pressure to modernise, not only to increase the efficiency of their systems and alleviate the burden placed on staff, but to also bring themselves in line with the expectations of the current generation of students.
Today’s students are digital natives, growing up with technology seamlessly integrated into nearly every aspect of their lives, and are increasingly expecting the immediacy of digital solutions that they see in other areas of their day-to-day experience.
Institutions that are able to provide 24/7 service to their students by employing intelligent automation solutions can provide levels of service that are simply not possible when relying on manual processes alone. Furthermore, students are more easily able to access the support they need around the clock, with no additional burdens placed on staff.
Improving student experience
Excessive manual processes not only place additional burdens on to administrative staff within the institution , but also vastly reduce operational efficiency, undermining the seamless digital experience that students increasingly expect from their institutions.
Without the need for human input, intelligent automation can deliver a faster service for both staff and students, rapidly taking care of back-office functions that might otherwise take tens or hundreds of hours to complete with a human worker, and delaying the rapid service students require.
Perhaps one of the most telling instances of how this technology can streamline time-consuming processes is the Clearing process. This often involves the manual transfer of hundreds of records from university databases into the UCAS system, requiring a huge input of time and cost. With intelligent automation, this is dramatically reduced, while also boosting the speed, efficiency and accuracy of the Clearing process.
Automation is not replacement
At the heart of higher education are the relationships between, staff and their students. The aim of introducing intelligent automation is not to reduce or eliminate the human element from education, but rather to alleviate manual burdens and redirect the time and energy of staff towards value-adding tasks that directly impact the student experience.
Integrating intelligent automation into repetitive, soul-sapping, but entirely necessary tasks within the education sector not only works to increase accuracy and productivity, but actively contributes to better experiences for both staff and students alike. Lecturers and administrative staff are liberated from time-consuming manual processes, while higher education institutions and the services they offer are bought in line with the growing expectations of a new generation of students.