How to Save Both Time and Resources When Running a University
Time is the most valuable thing we have, and there is no way to get more, so we must use what we have both carefully and efficiently.
Finding ways to maximize the amount of time saved while delivering a top-quality product to faculty and students is crucial for any institution but often easier said than done.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): How has Destiny One helped find ways to better use time, resources and overall streamline your work?
Travis Carter (TC): The added capabilities of the Destiny One system, along with its archived database, has allowed CPE (Continuing and Professional Education) to reach a new level of efficiency. This isn’t to say that we are at the mountaintop with regards to productivity, just that we are doing everything possible to improve our operations every day.
Before going too far, I should explain how CPE and my role within the department may differ from other universities that use the Destiny One system. From talking to my counterparts across the higher ed landscape, it is quite common for each department to have a different admin for each of its systems (Destiny One, LMS, etc.) and receive support from a central IT team with little to no knowledge of the department’s actual operations. Compared to these other organizations, I would be considered the one-stop-shop for CPE, as I serve as the admin for all the systems that we use and work closely with members of each team within CPE. While CPE is supported by a central IT staff, my relationship with that team is also quite unique, considering I worked within that department for two years as a GA while pursuing my master’s degree in IT. Therefore, the combination of my position within CPE, along with my IT experience and knowledge, has allowed me to serve as both a functional and technical lead within CPE’s various improvement initiatives.
This all sets the stage for what we are discussing today: Destiny One and its archived database. At the very beginning, I didn’t fully grasp how CPE could benefit from Destiny One’s archived database, besides occasionally creating a few custom reports. That all changed when I connected with Mike Wall and the UC Davis team who showed me all the amazing things they had accomplished with their archived database. I knew then that CPE needed to start utilizing the archived database to reach its full potential. Once I was able to gain access to the archived database, I spent countless hours acclimating myself with its setup. Unfortunately, ER diagrams or data dictionaries weren’t widely available at that time. As a result, I learned mostly through trial and error, which was a pain.
Nevertheless, my biggest advantage during those early days was low expectations, since most people didn’t know I had access to the archived database, much less what that even meant. From a technical viewpoint, it gave me the time I needed to familiarize myself with the data table structure, and business-wise it allowed me to continue identifying areas of improvement and listen to new ideas from my co-workers across CPE. Ultimately, I had a leg up compared to other universities, since I had such intimate knowledge of the true business needs and knew how to write the code necessary to generating reports. As a result, I was able to start creating reports in a highly valuable and sustainable way. For example, I created highly customized reports for the finance team that saved them countless hours of manual work and could be filtered for any program that the associated CPE offers. Overall, this opened the door to increased involvement with the finance team, and it has become part of my official job duties.
Evo: Do you think streamlining data and collecting reports affects how CPE operates on a daily basis?
TC: Definitely. Recently, I set up another report that is automatically sent to the registration team each morning and shows every single program currently being offered by CPE, each program’s relevant dates (program start and end dates, registration end date, last date to invoice registrants, etc.), location and all questions being asked to registrants of each program. The data are generated from the archived database and compiled into a nicely formatted spreadsheet that the registration team can quickly filter whenever they receive an inquiry about a program. Previously, they had to navigate to several different pages within Destiny One’s staff view for a particular program. I have received great feedback from the registration team—they finally feel like they have all the necessary information at their fingertips, which is especially important when they are on the phone with someone and want to address their needs as fast as possible without having to place the caller on hold. Additionally, they can provide potential registrants with those key dates to keep in mind for an upcoming program. For example, a program may have an early rate of $45 right now, but the report will clearly show that the early rate expires later that night, which can be communicated to the potential registrant to encourage same-day registration.
One of the most impactful recurring reports I set up early on was automated registration reports that are emailed to a program’s clients and anyone involved with the program. These registration reports show a summary of registration counts, a list of all registrants (including contact information) and the responses to all registration questions. Prior to setting these automated reports up, a program coordinator or program manager would download the relevant registration reports from Destiny One’s staff view, perform any necessary calculations via Excel formulas, remove any information that we do not wish to share with those outside Virginia Tech, nicely format the Excel file to give all reports a uniform look and manually email each report. It took a considerable amount of time each day and week, but the archived database has reduced the time to set up a new report to less than a minute. And it continues generating until a predefined date and time. Some people are worried about technology replacing jobs, but my goal is that these new reports and tools to allow CPE’s employees to focus on what they do best, rather than routinely complete repetitive tasks within the system.
Evo: How are you using the time you’re saving?
TC: I use any time savings as an opportunity to improve an existing process or report and to try out my own ideas or those others within CPE have shared with me. Early on, every single automated registration report had to be set up manually by copying/pasting template files and performing mass find/replace within each relevant file. However, once I had set up other reports and had time to experiment, I was able to create a VBScript tool that streamlined the setup and scheduling for each registration report. It allowed me to offload the work of setting up these reports to my team member, who already builds every program within the Destiny One system. This shift streamlined the entire process, since that team member already had all the relevant information needed to set up each report, and freed me up to work on new initiatives and reports.
For others within CPE, the time we are saving is allowing them to answer registrants faster, to reconcile program financial accounts sooner and—for program managers—to spend more time planning additional programs, which is the unit’s ultimate goal for growth. The most noticeable of these has been the ability to perform program reconciliations more efficiently. Since this entire process involves members of the registration, finance and planning teams, the customized reports that have been created from the archived database provide each team with the information relevant to their specific need within the process. Instead of having multiple teams manually work on separate reports, they now simply reference one comprehensive report that everyone uses. Overall, this has greatly reduced the number of days needed to reconcile programs as well as encourage collaboration between the three teams.
Evo: Do you think the customer experience has changed since switching to Destiny One?
TC: I was hired by CPE a few months after their Destiny One go-live, so I never experienced CPE without Destiny One. But if we’re looking at how our customer experience has changed since we started using the archived database, then I would say there has been considerable improvement in the quality of service we have been able to provide to our students. By having such detailed and customized reports readily available, CPE’s employees can answer questions quicker and reach out to students faster without needing to view multiple pages within the Destiny One staff view.
As CPE started embracing the capabilities of the archived database, I worked to create hourly, daily and weekly notification reports. The entire purpose of these reports was to alert CPE’s staff of strange occurrences and incorrect registrations as quickly as possibly. For example, I have created an hourly confirmation report for all credit card payments and resulting registrations. If a credit card payment is successful but the user’s registration fails, then the registration team is notified to follow up with the registrant within the hour. Previously, these types of occurrences were not caught until the next day, when the depositor ran the previous day’s credit card reports. By catching errors the day they’re made, we can provide our registrants with a higher level of service as well as make sure that the daily credit card reports are correct the following day.
Recently, I used the archived database to create several hourly and daily notifications automatically emailed to students missing some piece of critical registration information. For example, if all registrants should have selected breakout sessions as part of their conference registration, I would create a report that looks for anyone who has registered without selecting any breakout sessions and automatically send them an email with instructions to log back into the system to modify their selections. Not only can CPE ensure each registrant has a complete schedule prior to the event occurring, it also removes the burden of monitoring this manually from the CPE team. I set up something similar that automatically emails students with invoices past due with instructions to log into their public view Student Portal and pay the invoice. Each report I have set up so far has been received extremely well and has saved our staff countless hours while improving the overall student experience.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
To learn more about Destiny One, you can read Modern Campus’s case study featuring Travis Carter here.
Author Perspective: Administrator