Client: Virginia Commonwealth University  Region: Americas Industry Higher Education

Building for the Future: VCU Lays the Groundwork for End-to-End Automation

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), one of several leading public research institutions in the state, wanted to throw its support behind digital learning while reducing its operational costs. Recognizing the efficiency and productivity benefits that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could deliver, university leaders mapped out a plan to scale automation.

Shifting higher education landscape drives dramatic change

The digital revolution has dramatically changed the education landscape, presenting new opportunities and challenges for institutions of higher learning. The recent COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated an already rapidly emerging development, forcing universities across the U.S. to rethink how they can deliver the best educational experience. 

The forward-thinking stakeholders at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) recognized that higher education was entering uncharted territory, and they had already begun mapping out a vision of the future focused on digital learning before the pandemic struck. Now, faced with reduced operating budgets and increased pressure to provide an unparalleled digital experience, VCU is aggressively exploring opportunities to do more with less. 

Digital leaders like Senior Business Analyst Eric Gold identified Robotic Process Automation (RPA) — and cloud-based end-to-end automation, in particular — as the best way to boost productivity, lower operating costs, and provide a better educational experience across every channel. 

Digital is the future of education. RPA can help our university pivot toward digital learning without missing out on the classroom experience. 

Eric Gold
Senior Business Analyst, Virginia Commonwealth University

Finance processes give RPA
a foot in the door

Finding the right starting point is critical to launching an RPA initiative, especially one as ambitious as VCU’s plan. From the outset, the RPA team set its sights on eventually bringing automation to every corner of the organization and automating every process that could be automated — in other words, end-to-end automation. 

From the beginning, VCU’s partnership with RPA provider WonderBotz kept the project focused, on track and poised to deliver major long-term returns. With WonderBotz’s guidance and support, VCU has taken a modular approach to RPA development, so every robot contains reusable components that can be easily repurposed for other processes.

Like many other organizations across both the public and private sectors, VCU’s project leaders determined that the best place to start the university’s RPA journey was in finance. Given the number of repeatable and time-consuming financial processes, not to mention the fact that all other departments touch finance in one way or another, it’s a natural launching pad for broader RPA initiatives.

“We wanted to start by looking at the most painful processes for our employees,” Gold explained. “It’s not necessarily about dollars saved; it’s about giving people time back in order to do problem solving.”

In particular, the RPA team targeted VCU’s grant creation processes, which had historically required a lot of hands-on, manual work to complete. If the university could automate grant processing tasks in its Ellucian Banner environment, it could save employees an enormous amount of time — time that could be spent supporting the institution’s digital learning initiatives. WonderBotz was instrumental in developing this proof of concept and laying the foundation for VCU’s RPA program.
                 

It was a no-brainer to start by automating our grant creation processes. Once we scored those early wins, we could expand RPA into other processes and departments.

Eric Gold
Senior Business Analyst, Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU builds for the future with
reusable software robots

Automating grant creation processes proved to be a winning strategy for VCU’s RPA team. In addition to doubling its grant processing capacity, the university also achieved a completely unblemished track record, hitting 100% accuracy despite the dramatic increase in automated workloads.

Targeting finance processes not only helped VCU score some quick and undeniable wins, but it also laid the groundwork for a lasting RPA program that can be easily managed and built upon. The university’s Ellucian Banner processes now run on 40% reusable code that can be repurposed to expand automation quicker than ever. In fact, stakeholders estimate that these reusable assets cut time to production by 73%. As VCU continues to embrace the modular approach that WonderBotz helped establish, team leaders expect these kinds of process development improvements to increase down the road.

These initial projects have effectively demonstrated RPA’s value and given VCU’s stakeholders a chance to better understand the technology and how it can be used in other ways.

“We’ve identified a lengthy list of automation candidates,” Gold stated. “The list is growing by the day, so we’re prioritizing where we can get the biggest return. If we’re spending 3 hours every day on a process that can be automated, then that’s something we should look at.”

With that foundation in place, VCU is well on its way to realizing its end-to-end automation dream and taking on whatever the future has in store for the university.

We’ve already saved our staff so much time by automating grant processing and grant create tasks. And because so much of the code is reusable, we can easily repurpose those software robots for other jobs.

Eric Gold
Senior Business Analyst, Virginia Commonwealth University

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 2xFaster grant processing times
  • 100%Accuracy with grant and financial processing tasks
  • 40%Code that can be reused for Ellucian Banner processes
  • 73%Reduction in time to production

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