UWA makes a case for further change with process automation overhaul

The University of Western Australia turned to Oracle to automate its manual offer letter creation process, and is building out the foundations for further automated tasks.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

When sending students an offer for a position, staff at the University of Western Australia (UWA) would manually draw up letters, monotonously entering each line of information for roughly 23,000 letters each year.

The letters have 90 different fields, and, when created manually, would take staff at the university up to 30 minutes to complete just one.

Realising there was a need to overhaul various manual processes like this one, UWA Solutions lead Julie Millias turned to Oracle around 18 months ago, interested in leveraging cloud technologies to automate initially the offer letters process.

"At any university, you'll find that an offer of acceptance is that core business function, because we're all getting our students come in," Millias explained. "Around the same time, they've all completed year 12 and it's a highly competitive space -- we want to get our offer letters out as fast as we can, and also the sooner we can get an offer letters out, the sooner they can accept, and if they haven't accepted their offer letter then we can follow up and do some activities around offer conversion."

UWA also wanted to beat the other universities to sending out offer letters, especially as it is impacted geographically already by being three hours behind the eastern states during summer.

Fed up with paper-based, manual processes -- and even Excel spreadsheets -- Millias told ZDNet the university is also losing market share.

"We knew if we could automate a lot of those processes, we could get information in real time, and we could help those admissions officers create those letters using cloud-based technologies; but also we're going to reduce our error rate, and we're also going to be able to get our offer letters out sooner," she added.

Such a seemingly simple task was always the last process taught to new staff, Millias said, as there was so much involved and it was prone to human error. Via automation, it's now one of the first tasks taught, meaning staff have more options for cross-training.

"Now we can get them on the telephones, we can get them helping students who are stuck in the process. We can now engage with our students, our potential students, and have that one-on-one relationship starting a lot earlier," Millias said.

After sending the project live in September, the letter generation process is now down from 30 minutes to five.

Instead of embarking on a university-wide transformation, UWA decided to instead overhaul the pain points staff members are caught up on.

"But what we learned from the offer process was how to use the Oracle integration cloud and we learned how to use Oracle Policy Automation (OPA), and we've been able to apply that to another website that we've just released called UWA Accept," she added.

An online portal, UWA Accept allows students to click the "accept" button, rather than going through what Millias said was previously a painful, drawn out acceptance process.

"Again, we're using OPA to determine the rules and where they are in the acceptance process. And now it is very clear for them how to accept their offer and get to the final acceptance ready for enrolment," Millias explained. "So I've managed to automate that as well. Better end-user experience for the new students, because it looks more intuitive and it just speeds the process up for them as well."

With "digital natives" the university's target audience, Millias said there's no point in sending them to a phone number via a paper-based method.

"They want to go online, they want to self-serve, but at the same time, being digital natives, it's second nature for them to go to a website and do these processes," she told ZDNet. "They don't want to do a paper-based form -- they don't even really want to get on the telephone and speak to somebody unless they're really stuck -- and, to be honest, they don't phone up, they tend to send through an email which lands in our CRM so now we're tracking them through our CRM."

Read also: Oracle's Larry Ellison: The way to prevent data theft is more automation

The project, Millias explained, allowed teams to work collaboratively.

"We weren't just working in singularity -- we were working with other teams," she added.

"Being a collaborative project, it's a bit hard when you've got multiple teams working on a project. You have to have a very collaborative work environment, and from previous to that we'd all sort of worked in silos.

"So now we're bringing teams together and we're cross-training our team members, we're sharing technologies a lot."

With a rich knowledge base of around 3,000 FAQs, UWA is also looking at implementing chatbots for its students and its uni-start team.

"We're finding that again, that's a channel that end users, especially young students, are interested in. They want to get onto chat technologies so they can quickly just ask questions that they've got on the fly," Millias explained.

"In higher education, there is a huge shift towards cloud technologies and we're also thinking about the new generation that's coming through, these digitally native students, who want to have information presented to them in the way that they choose.

"So we have to be agile enough to be able to keep on top of the technology to present information in the way that they want it."

Related coverage

Editorial standards