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Not Ready for AI: Business Process Automation May Be the Next Step

Cook sized 10.2023
With the need to stabilize and grow enrollments in a post-pandemic higher education world, institutions must favor business process mapping to ensure enrollment management meets students’ needs.

Higher education institutions in the shadow of the looming demographic cliff, economic recovery and changes in popular opinion of the value of higher education are focused on sustainable, continuous improvement in their enrollment management operations. Artificial intelligence has become the latest buzzword in higher education, the term creating large-scale fear or excitement among audiences. Enrollment management units in higher education are looking for ways to increase enrollments and reduce errors reduced staffing.

Vendors are developing AI solutions and finding ways to incorporate the concepts of artificial intelligence in both existing and new products. Many institutions are not at a place in their business enterprise to begin implementing AI into their daily operations. Huron managing director Matt Jones (n.d.) shares in his “In Brief” blog that it is imperative for institutions to find ways to realize organizational efficiencies and better utilize higher education staff time. 

Institutions may not be able to fully consider AI due to lack of budgets, staffing and expertise. Business process automation (BPA) is one way enrollment managers can successfully implement AI within these constraints. By beginning with a process map design initiative, institutions can save time, money and frustration while generating positive outcomes.

Business process mapping is the practice of visually creating the relationships between multiple and often complex business practices and interpreting what steps need to occur and in what order to complete a process or service. The approach provides transparency for internal staff and external constituents. Before an institution is ready to implement business process automation or use artificial intelligence, a business process map initiative should be undertaken and business process automation instated.

Strategically Using Business Process Mapping (BPM) Before AI 

Higher education institutions typically utilize business process mapping for a variety of reasons. They may be looking at ways to understand a total process like student applications from start to finish. To truly understand a process, the best approach is to start at the intended completion point and work backward to the initial stages. At each step of the process, a determination should be made regarding its effectiveness in meeting its intended purpose or outcome.

Additionally, business process mapping helps document instructions and definitions that support the process. Involving both existing and new staff in process mapping discussions allows for feedback and voices to be collected at each step, especially when multiple units are engaged with the steps. This approach will also help identify breaking points or areas where errors are more likely to occur and where a process has become overly complicated or unwieldy.  

The next BPM step is assessing and evaluating the identified processes. Testing the processes and developing appropriate metrics related to each step is critical. Determining the process’s scalability, software tool automation and the overall system’s value will determine the next step.

For example, to improve a student’s experience applying to and being admitted into a program, the unit would begin with admittance communication and work their way from the outcome of bringing students into the program all the way through each step to the application itself through to the student receiving a letter of acceptance. By focusing on the student experience, the institution will be able to design processes that are effective and create a value-added experience. BPM provides the bonus of correcting environments that allow errors to occur that would further slow down the system in place. 

Create Efficiencies With Business Process Automation With Any Size Staff

BPM is effective with any size staff, but for institutions struggling with processes due to small staff size, BMP can effectively help eliminate manual, repetitive tasks and build on the institution’s best practices through effective human capital and resource usage. Staff focused on students’ needs rather than administrative system functions are more likely to be satisfied with their work and feel as though they have been successfully served student needs.

In a survey taken earlier this year, 90% of workers indicated automation increased overall productivity (Perez, 2023). Additionally, a small staff can set the stage for growth by identifying where automation may assist with tedious tasks. Building business process automation through the mapping process will allow professional growth and job satisfaction for staff while positively affecting overall productivity.

Business Process Automation Strategies on a Budget

BPA is one way to improve efficiency and eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks, so staff time and talent are used more effectively to meet students’ needs. Additionally, organizations often purchase software systems with little to no regard for interaction and integration with other systems on campus. BPA supports a strategic approach to integration that ensures appropriate business process integration among software and other campus systems. This strategic approach helps make better and more effective investments in software purchases.

BPA’s focus on process through the students’ point of view can help institutions with limited resources grow enrollments. By improving the student experience and creating opportunities for staff to end lower-level redundancies, valuable staff time can be more effectively deployed to meet student needs by personalizing and customizing services. Mailvaganam (2017) posited that higher education institutions should be as strategic about behind-the-scenes practices as they are about major campus upgrades. He believes institutions that accelerate workflow processes or business process automation will be more competitive in today’s higher education environments.  

Adopting this approach helps nurtures a culture of continuous improvement throughout an institution. By increasing the enrollment management staff’s effectiveness, higher levels of service can be delivered to both prospective and continuing students, leading to additional strategies setting the stage artificial intelligence implementation to enhance overall investment in enrollment management.

As higher education institutions continue to strategize and reach for enrollment stability, they do so in the shadow of the looming demographic cliff, challenging economics as a result of the pandemic and continued fluctuation in opinions related to the value of higher education.

Finding strategies that focus on sustainable enrollments must be related to a continuous improvement strategy for enrollment management operations. Setting specific outcomes and goals for the BPM initiative will help your team determine their effectiveness and allow for a more strategic approach to building a sustainable approach to growth and retention.

While often overlooked in enrollment management’s everyday work, a strategic and measurable approach to business process mapping is critical for success. This approach can pave the way for artificial intelligence’s integration to further bolster your enrollment management efforts. Setting the strategy to first complete a business process map, which leads to increased business process automation, will then allow for a paired strategy with future AI tools to further the organization’s ability to effectively serve students.



Perez, J (4.2023) How Automation Drives Business Growth and Efficiency. Harvard Business Review. Available at

Impact (1.2020) Business processes automation (BPA): What it is and how to implement it. Available at 

Jones, M. (n.d.) How intelligent automation and robotic process automation can benefit staff, students and institutions alike. Available at  

Mailavagnam, M (8.2017). Process Automation as a Strategic Differentiator: How Efficiency Impacts the Experience. Evolllution. Available at