May 1998 // Featured Products
Using Best Practices, Workflow, and Object Technologies to Improve Higher Education Management
by Frank Tait
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Frank Tait "Using Best Practices, Workflow, and Object Technologies to Improve Higher Education Management" The Technology Source, May 1998. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Change is nothing new. The impact of change on organizations has always presented new challenges and demanded new ways of looking at old problems. However, the speed at which change is presently occurring is unprecedented and, in many institutions, unanticipated. As we start moving into the 21st century, the pace of change continues to accelerate. The multiple decades that it took to implement change in the Agricultural Age have been compressed into single years, if not months, in the Communication Age. One of the key drivers of this pace of change is technology.

The rate of change is not the only challenge to higher education. Colleges and universities face a massive expansion of their market, especially among senior citizens, employees in the work force, immigrants, and the 75 million members of the boomer echo generation. Not only are the numbers staggering, but so are the expectations. Today’s students want education on their terms—convenient, online, and self-service.

Gone are the days of "school—work—retire." Learning is no longer an event, but a continuous process. Today, anyone could be looking for a new job, and the skills to attain it, at any age from any location. Over 85% of workers in the United States are employed in the service economy, 65% of these in high-skill, high technology areas. In fact, the service economy accounts for over 70% of the GDP; the high-technology arena accounts directly or indirectly for nearly eight out of ten new jobs created. The demand far exceeds the supply. Current estimates from organizations such as the Information Technology Association of America and the U.S. Department of Commerce put the prevailing technology worker shortage at 350,000.

Colleges and universities are essential to creating the workers needed to fill these jobs. Creating knowledge workers is not enough, however. Experts currently estimate that one in seven workers needs the equivalent of seven credit hours per year just to stay current in his or her field. Colleges and universities must focus on making the changes necessary to maintain the knowledge and skills of their alumni and the workers in their community.

The Paradigm Shift in Education

Higher education today can be characterized as an environment that is teacher-centric, where 16 million students take time out to get their education, and administrative activities are in silos focused on the efficiency of automation.

Given the increasing numbers of traditional-aged students already in the pipeline due to immigration and population growth, and given the continuing education needs of the workforce, we may have over 100 million people needing higher education services within the next five years. To accommodate this number of learners, education will need to change from a teacher-centric orientation to one that is learner-centric, oriented towards individualized, perpetual learning. To support this environment, administrative activities will need to be flexible and focus on effective enterprise processes.

The forward-thinking institution will anticipate these changes and develop strategies to remain effective as the service economy makes new demands on its education providers. Today’s college and university campuses typically provide 13% of administrative services through self-service solutions (e.g., voice response registration), 2% through the intervention of a generalist solution (e.g., one-stop shopping), and 85% through the intervention of a specialist solution (e.g., a registration clerk). In tomorrow’s economy wherein institutions prepare knowledge workers and serve vastly expanded markets, 90% of services should be supported through self-service, 8% should be supported by generalists and only 2% of services should require the attention of a specialist.

At the core of the effective institution of tomorrow is technology. The administrative systems of today—separate silos of information—must give way to Internet-centric, process-oriented systems enabled by workflow and founded on best practices (i.e., a collection of tasks or services that represent the most efficient and effective way to accomplish what must be completed). Net-centric systems would allow for self-service provided through the World Wide Web, as Web browsers (such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer), are intuitive to the ultimate degree (i.e., they have a zero learning curve). Process-oriented systems like the self-service approach of Banner2000 and Plus2000 are enabled by workflow analyses, founded on best practices, and support all major on- and off-campus constituencies. Students can register for classes, apply for admission, update their personal information, or review degree information. Employees can change their benefits, view pay information, or change personal information. Faculty can access class information, submit grades, or advise and register students. Alumni may check events, find a classmate, review their pledge history, or check the status of a campaign. Executives are able to monitor such key performance indicators as graduation rates, expenditures, revenues, and characteristics of entering freshmen.

With campus constituencies managing their own tasks at their own pace from anywhere on the Internet, the Net-centric approach reduces the clerical and administrative time involved in performing more routine tasks, lets administrators reallocate and shift resources to focus on strategic goals, and improves service across the board. Studies by the Institute for Education Best Practices have shown that students using self-service tools are not the only constituents to report greater satisfaction. Administrative staff on campuses with self-service solutions in operation, such as the University of Vermont, also report higher levels of job satisfaction, because they are freed from routine tasks and can spend their time providing more personal services to students that require additional assistance.

Best Practices and Workflow

A defining characteristic of the new model for higher education administrative systems is process orientation. Once administrative leaders start examining their institutions by its processes instead of offices, they can begin to take advantage of the work in best practices at peer institutions. These are enabled by technology, and they result in measurable improvement.

The SCT Workflow software program is an engine that utilizes best practices once they are identified and developed. By automating, simplifying, measuring, directing, and managing the flow of information throughout the enterprise, workflow connects departments and ensures communication among participants in a given activity. Productivity escalates. Control and consistency, byproducts of workflow, eliminate the paper chase.

Object Technology

Object technology forms the foundation for new administrative solutions, such as SCT Workflow, that can change dynamically. In object-oriented programming (the most popular examples of which are C++ and Java), code and data are merged into a single indivisible thing—an object. Object-oriented software is then utilized by sending "messages" (in the form of simple intuitive commands, often facilitated by a Web interface) to the object, which in turn prompt the program to perform predefined tasks of far greater complexity than is possible with traditional programming that separates code and data, requiring some knowledge of both on the part of the user. Objects can easily be customized to fit particular subsections within a system that require similar tasks, since only the interface, not the internal programming needs to be modified to do so.

From innovative client/server configurations and Web-based configurations based on platforms like Windows NT, colleges and universities can develop solutions founded upon a comprehensive object repository. With objects forming the core of the system, institutions—and the vendor partners who serve them—can reuse objects as often as necessary to build complete processes and establish workflows within them. A good example of this is an object like "write a check" which can be used to refund a student loan, pay an employee, or pay a vendor. Accordingly, offices throughout the enterprise will use not just the same systems, but the same objects and activities within them.

There are thousands of companies and tens of millions of workers requiring continuous learning. Colleges and universities have the knowledge capital and the infrastructure to support lifelong learning. With forward-thinking administrative systems that incorporate Net-centric solutions, business processes, and workflow—all founded upon best practices—our institutions of higher learning will meet the challenges that the new economy brings.

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