Automation and integration leads to greater staff, student and researcher outcomes

The Project Lab has a long-standing relationship with The University of Tasmania, having worked on multiple projects and engagements previously. With more than two decades of combined experience in the fields of project management and business analysis, The Project Lab's Barrie Brumby and Dhiren Shenoy helped guide the university through its automation and integration journey.

Leading the integration and automation rollout at The University of Tasmania was Associate Director of Enterprise Business Services, Richard Eccles. We spoke with Richard about how the university, with the assistance of The Project Lab, helped identify and implement new technologies that continue to benefit students, academics and staff alike.

Setting the scene

The Project Lab was commissioned at the beginning of 2020 to help plan, scope and implement integration and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies in conjunction with Richard's team. These new processes would look to minimise manual entries and human errors, improve data quality and mitigate security risks. The ultimate aim was to enhance the online learning experience for students and academics and reduce manual data entry for staff.

The challenge

Before the implementation of new technologies could begin, Richard and The Project Lab had to first uncover and then prioritise what systems could benefit the most amount of people and at the same time yield the greatest results. Automation was the answer.

The initial learnings were around being able to not only identify an opportunity for automation, but then look at the benefits it delivers and make sure that they're measurable, so that we are prioritising the opportunities to give the best experience back to people and return the highest value also back to The University of Tasmania. This was about prioritisation, identifying the ones (efficiencies) that are of most value, and developing and getting these into production.

With a deep understanding of the university's internal processes, and industry experience to match, The Project Lab helped Richard and his team identify key areas of focus.

"From a system analyst point of view, I have found it quite difficult in the past to find really skilled system analysts that could go into a project of this complexity and help pick the business needs and translate that into the technical development and the technical opportunity that we were trying to carry forward is most valuable. Having an experienced system analyst who could understand the business requirements that were either gathered through a business analyst, or that they gathered themselves, and turn that into technical specifications so that we could get the technical teams working on that opportunity was really important", Richard Eccles - UTAS.

What The University of Tasmania and The Project Lab came up with was two-fold - focus on implementing integration and robotic process automation technologies across a wide range of internal and external university systems, from the learning management system for students, MyLO, to the UniStart enrolments staff had to manually process.

 The implementation  

While The Project Lab was able to assist the university with integration implementation, Richard said the real learnings and challenges came with the rollout of RPA technologies.

New robotic process automation streams, which would mimic human functions on various systems, were a first for the university.

"So that could be collecting information from a form, it could be information they have that they're having to upload via spreadsheets into a system, and we automate that upload and those checks around the data quality going into a system. We hadn't gone into the RPA before, so we were testing our maturity in our business processes in being able to adopt RPA, and then our methods and our tools that we use to actually do the RPA process."- Said Richard.

From an RPA perspective, Richard's team and The Project Lab focused on streamlining the student operations' heavy transactional processes and improving the student enrolment experience. This was achieved by implementing particular checks to collect relevant information, and having this entered automatically as opposed to manually into systems. New RPA technologies also transformed the way data was collected and transferred around internal teams. Richard described the process changes as crucial to the success of the operations;

"It's taking information that was traditionally gathered by forms into another format and automating the upload. Part of that is also the checking of the quality of the information that's being gathered to make sure as we upload into systems, we're not getting errors. It was about data quality, the speed we can get things into systems".

The feedback

With The Project Lab ensuring that projects hit key business objectives, were on time and within budget, Richard and his team were able to concentrate on the job at hand. From an internal resource perspective, this was important - that he could entrust The Project Lab to manage the projects, particularly as COVID-19 hampered timeframes.

"I'm really impressed with the skills we get from The Project Lab, the depth of skills they've got as well, and they're quite agile in how they deal with us as a customer. I treat this really as a partnership, it's a two-way thing. Not only are we getting value from the services they provide to us, I think they get value on what we expose them to at The University of Tasmania, in a way of complexity, opportunity and all sorts of different areas", Richard - UTAS.

As for key learnings and advice for other businesses regarding the adoption of new technologies, Professor Eccles highlighted three key areas - people, process, and technology.

"The technology is just a tool, this was a people and process project as well. It was getting people to understand what the toolsets could do, how to then ideate and generate that idea within the business. Make sure that your people are culturally ready. You're not going to foster the right culture unless you've invested time in that. When it comes to process, you don't automate an existing process, instead you've really got to look at that process and say, is that process working for us? Do we need to change the process first? Then pick a technology stack and be agile, because there are lots of different ways you can do RPA, and part of that is through established industry products, and the others are various other methods that you may already have in your organisation like we had" Richard - UTAS.

The Results

Integration wins  

  • Enabled new students to access Learning Management System MyLO in ten minutes as opposed to 24 hours previously.
  • Students and staff can also select non-binary as their gender, these changes reflected across all UTAS relevant systems to ensure such information remains fixed to that user.
  • More than 500 hours in manual processing saved thanks to data fed from electronic HR forms, such as contract extensions, roster changes, work fraction changes, and adjunct renewals, into the university's HR system - a job once done manually.
  • Automate the identification of students and their enrolment automatically into groups for orientation units, saving manual processing time.

RPA wins

  • The automation of some 4,000 UniStart enrolments. From manual to automated entry, 350 hours are saved every year enrolling students thanks to RPA.
  • Transferring course and unit design information from the Course and Unit Builder (CUB) system to the Akari Curriculum Management system, saving 600 hours in  manual entry time per year.
  • The process of modifying users in the Akari system automated, saving 250 hours in time per year.

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