Take a Portfolio Approach to Higher Education Forms and Workflow Automation

The low- and no-code market is growing at an incredible rate. The worldwide low-code market is projected to reach $13.8 billion in 2021, an increase of 22.6% from 2020.

“While low-code application development is not new, a confluence of digital disruptions, hyper-automation and the rise of composable business has led to an influx of tools and rising demand,” said Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice president at Gartner.

Although there are so many low- and no-code tools available, higher education institutions still struggle with paper and PDF processes. In research administration, 41% of form interactions are still carried out on PDF-based forms, according to a 2019 study.

There are many reasons that faculty and staff use paper and PDFs. Some individuals need a process quickly and can’t wait for IT to help them. Others don’t know of the IT-approved solutions available to use. Some faculty don’t know how to use the tools available, or choose not to use them because they are unwieldy and complicated. 

While there are dozens of higher education forms and workflow tools out there, each excels in different ways. Some tools do one thing, while other tools do many things (which often results in a complex tool that is difficult for non-technical users to navigate). 

In this post, we’ll dive into higher education form and workflow software, including what types of tools are available and how to know which tool, or combination of tools, is right for your institution. You can also check out a recent webinar on creating an automation software portfolio here.

Types of Forms and Workflow Automation Software

There are five different types of solutions that fall into the forms and workflow automation category. Each caters to a different set of needs. 

1. eSign Tools

eSign tools are best used for contracts and templated forms with simple workflows. Generally, when you use these tools in a process, you need to know who is involved in the approval process. This tool lacks much more functionality than this. You have limited ability to import data into the tool or export data out of it. Adobe Sign is a commonly used eSign tool. 

2. Digital Forms

Digital form tools are best used for simple data collection. These tools are easy to configure and inexpensive or free depending on your institution’s other licenses. Google Forms falls into this category. You begin to see gaps in this tool’s integrations, security, and scalability when you stretch it too far.

3. App Creation 

In this case, app creation refers to true mobile app creation. App creation applications make it easy to create mobile-native apps. These tools are really useful when automating student-facing processes. Although, they can be challenging for non-technical users, and are limited when it comes to importing or exporting data, or moving the app to a desktop application. Microsoft’s PowerApps is a great example. 

4. Document Management 

For complex, document-centric processes like legal or HR processes, document management tools are a perfect fit. Automation functionality centers around a document hub. However, IT typically owns these types of solutions, and governance that allows a broader rollout is limited. OnBase by Hyland is one example. 

5. Workflow Automation

Workflow automation tools cater to processes with complex routing. These solutions can significantly improve efficiencies and task management and allow advanced integrations. Institutions can run into roadblocks, however, when attempting to take existing processes and transfer them step for step into a workflow automation tool. Typically some process analysis is needed. Additionally, a service owner usually needs to be involved, so there is still significant engagement from IT. ServiceNow is a great example.


How To Build a Portfolio of Higher Education Automation Tools

When it comes to automation solutions, with power often comes complexity. A tool like Adobe Sign is easy to use but can only handle simple processes. On the other hand, a tool like OnBase is powerful and you can do just about anything with it...but you need IT to support it. It’s too complex for your average business user. To enable non-technical users as well as IT users, a portfolio approach to forms and workflow automation is required. 

Each category of tools solves a unique problem—and universities have a broad number of automation needs. So, how do IT leaders know which solutions to include in a portfolio approach to higher education automation software?

First, understand the solutions and how those solutions cater to your institution’s unique needs. To do so, we encourage you to ask these questions. 

  1. What functionality does the tool have?

As you consider the tool’s functionality, keep your audience in mind. Who are the stakeholders of this process and how will they use or interact with the process? Are they technical or non-technical users? Do they need the ability to access and update the process regularly or will IT be heavily involved?   

  1. How complex is the tool to use?

Who are you hoping to enable with the tool? Think about how complex the tool is to use from their perspective and invite them to test it.   

  1. How is it priced?

Most tools are priced to do one thing really well. Is the tool you are considering priced to align with what you hope to achieve with it? For example, some solutions offer usage-based pricing which may not align with the way you want to use it. 

Two Higher Education Automation Software Portfolio Examples 

Two of Kuali Build’s customer institutions have put together robust automation software portfolios. Let’s dive into each and explore which solutions they have and why. 

The University of California San Diego

The University of California San Diego (UCSD) uses the following tools in its automation portfolio:

  1. OnBase by Hyland: At UCSD, this solution is used for long-term document storage and archival. OnBase has process automation functionality built-in and the institution uses that functionality for longstanding, non-iterative processes as well as complex, heavily integrated processes that IT owns and supports. These processes are typically not very connected to a document workflow. 
  1. DocuSign: UCSD uses DocuSign for peer-to-peer document sharing and approvals. The processes managed in DocuSign are a fairly simple series of approvals. 
  1. ServiceNow: UCSD uses ServiceNow for tech support and ticket routing. 

Those three tools did not quite meet their need to enable no-code development. That’s when UCSD brought on Kuali Build to empower agile, easy-to-use no-code automation across their campus. Nontechnical users can log in and automate processes without IT’s immediate and direct oversight, allowing staff to move much faster. 

Davidson College

Davidson uses nearly the same toolset for similar reasons. 

  1. OnBase by Hyland
  2. DocuSign
  3. SnapLogic: Davidson uses SnapLogic, an IPaaS solution, to transform and export data. 

For the institution’s no-code needs, they brought on Kuali Build. As they searched for the right no-code solution, they found that 90% of the problems they were trying to solve required end user engagement. The majority of the top solutions available, according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, were too complex to put in the hands of non-technical users. 

Kuali Build allows Davidson College to do two things: enable no-code development across campus for non-technical end users, and provide a front-end user interface to automate application development within IT. Using Kuali Build’s intuitive user interface is faster than manually creating applications, which is a huge help to their small team. 

Get Started With Your Automation Portfolio

In our anecdotal research, we’ve found that many institutions have 3-5 automation solutions. Many institutions have a solution for both the simple and complex ends of the automation spectrum, eSign and workflow automation respectively. However, few institutions have a solution that hits the sweet spot in the middle. An automation solution that empowers end users to build complex workflows without technical experience. Kuali Build fills this gap. 

To learn more about workflow automation solutions on the market, check out Higher Education’s Guide to Forms and Workflow Automation Solutions today.