Mapping the Journey to Optimised Higher Education

Process Empowered Universities Earn Top Marks in Joined-Up Optimisation

Universities play a vital role in our society; that of imparting knowledge and learning to each new generation of the students who will go on to run our world. According to Universities UK, in 2016-17 the UK’s 162 higher education institutions provided places of learning for 2.32 million students.  By comparison, that’s roughly the population  of Greater Manchester; with every man, woman and child, engaged in higher education.

So, it is no wonder the sector generated £34billion in revenues in 2016-17, with institutions investing those hard won funds in all aspects of the teaching process; including employing 206,000 academic staff to provide direct teaching and engage in world-class research.  And with so many students and academics and associated infrastructure required of a modern University, it should be of no surprise that the sector employs a further 212,000 professionals engaged in providing critical support services across administration, facilities, libraries, accommodation, and student welfare and pastoral services.

For most institutions, especially for those without huge research income, revenue is generated through the payment of student fees, and as with all pay-per-use models, it is the acquisition of student numbers that dictate overall income.  Lower than expected student numbers dilute income against fixed operating costs.  Hence the importance of student satisfaction league tables in marketing institutions’ appeal.  Ensuring the year starts with the right quantity of students is critical, but, students starting a course and then dropping out in the first year can cause unexpected shock to the balance sheet.

Hence the importance of those first 90 days of engagement and experience.  Once signed up, Universities know that investing in better accommodation, built environment, administration services and access to world-class technology convert a new student into a stable and engaged student. Student welfare and pastoral care is also increasingly being recognised as crucial to providing young people with a safe and supportive environment during what for most are their first steps away from home and family.

In my view, higher education is one of the most complex operational environments in any business sector.  How many businesses change 1/3rd of their customers every year, with their newly acquired paying consumers coming with ever higher expectations of quality, experience and engagement?  A demanding model to say the least. And when operating income is dependent on student numbers driven by a changing student demographics, but investment needed to run large institutions are fixed and long-term, the management of these institutions is of equivalent complexity to any FTSE 100 company.

And that challenging environment is now regulated by a new watchdog, The Office for Students (OfS) whose Chair, Sir Michael Barber, told the WorkFest Higher Education conference in London, ‘In the early months of our existence, we have heard a number of times from university leaders that if they fail to adapt to a changing environment or misjudge decisions – for example about student numbers, courses offered and facilities built – and get into financial trouble, ‘ultimately it will be OK because the OfS will bail them out. This is wrong. The OfS will not bail out providers in financial difficulty.”

And today’s UK newspapers were full of opprobrium for Universities for having the temerity to invest a large amount of their money in the services that support teaching.  A University with a library? How dare they!

Who would want to be the Vice Chancellor, Head of Student Experience, or a CIO in HE in 2018?  It’s a tough, demanding and now unforgiving operating environment.

So, has there ever been a more important time for Universities to re-imagine student experiences whilst at the same time re-defining their operating model.  That is a rhetorical question of course, the real question is how do they do it?

At Roc, we believe that the comparison with FTSE100 is one worth noting and acting upon.

Some of the world’s most successful businesses put process at the heart of their value proposition and operating model.  They have mastered the art of joined-up business.

Why has online become so successful?  The leading companies such as Amazon became process empowered.  They mapped out their customer journeys and built operating models perfectly optimised to their delivery.  They then use those defined processes and the technology platforms that power them to create seamless experiences; that delight customers and operate at a cost model that produces great business outcomes.

In Roc, over the last 10 years, we have worked with organisations as diverse as Pharmaceuticals and Life Science to Government Services to Global Manufacturers, and the one common factor in those who lead their peer group is their deep understanding in exactly how their business operates. They use process to empower customers experiences, back office operating models, analyse costs, build new IT systems, deploy new technologies, and guide investment decisions not only in technology but in everything from office space to new factories. They also use process to engage their staff, look after their welfare, health and safety and compliance obligations.

All organisations use process, but the best-in-class use process as a way of driving an optimal business front to back.

Leading retailers use process to map and analyse the very steps of a customer in a store, their thinking time, their engagement time, the systems used, the time given to a colleague to serve them, and refine and improve experience outcomes through analysis and optimisation.  And then they keep on doing that over and over again, creating continual improvement and optimisation of back office services so experience and cost are aligned and managed.

Today, we are working with a number of farsighted Universities who are taking the same approach.  Mapping out student journeys, connecting experience to the use of the built environment, ironing out the creases in a students first steps in their institution, and being scientific about the impactful initial interactions with academics and administration. And they are using process to make a difference at key stages in the student journey.

They are using process to map out the first critical 90 days of a student’s experience,  being analytical about every step a student takes and optimising the experience for maximum impact.  In taking a process empowered approach, and building those journeys, they are able to then optimise the other investments they make in buildings, systems, form filling, digital systems and general administrative management.

The use of digital automation in general businesses is becoming acknowledged as a must-have optimisation tool; augmenting departments where the volume of work cannot be done by existing staff alone or used to create new services or experiences that delight customers but without creating a massive back office burden.

Imagine 4,000 students all wanting to update forms, change addresses, enquire on accommodation, request support, all in the first 90 days of arriving?  The administration overhead in those first few months can be overwhelming but then gradually dissipate through the rest of the year.  Now imagine the use of automation to assist existing administrative staff in handling many of those essentially robotic requests, 24×7, freeing staff to do the high-touch value engagements that students really notice, and remember when being surveyed about their satisfaction.

Finally, imagine being the Vice Chancellor of a University that can deliver 20,000 personal experiences 24×7 through digitisation, whilst being sure that your non-academic colleagues are better engaged and more productive at a personal level than ever before.

Process Empowered Universities are able to analyse each step of a journey and understand where technologies such as automation can bring significant value to students and staff in a way that is managed and meaningful.

So, just like other class leading organisations, higher education institutions need to embrace process empowerment, creating a joined-up model of operations from student experience to administration services, facilities experience to facilities management.

The launch of new short degrees will once again change the revenue potential of institutions, creating more students, but creating even more uncertainty in funding.

So, has there ever been a more important time to for Universities to become process empowered?

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