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Pursuing a Major Business Process Improvement Implementation: Why Take the Plunge? (Part 1)

The EvoLLLution | Pursuing a Major Implementation and Improvement: Why Take the Plunge? (Part 1)
While the amount of time, investment and effort that goes into a major implementation (and the accompanying business process changes that follow) can be significant, the outcomes and benefits tend to make up for the work that went in.

This is the first installment of a three-part series that will explore why you might take on a major project, reflect on who needs to be involved (and when/how), and discuss what it takes to identify and prioritize the processes.

Is your organization thinking of taking on a major business process improvement project? Are you wondering if it is worth the effort? Does this stack up against other priorities?

Ithaca College recently completed a multi-year project to implement an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution and to improve business processes. Do we think it was worth the effort? Absolutely!

As with any major project, it had many challenges, but the end result was a major improvement to many business processes across campus that benefited students, faculty and staff.

Why Take On the Project?

So, why take on this type of project? There are some obvious reasons (Efficiencies and cost savings), but there are also several that you may not think of initially that are even more important (Improved student experience, customer service decision-making capabilities, and the proliferation of rich data about your processes). To give you an idea of what you might be able to gain, here are some examples from the efforts of Ithaca College.

Ithaca College improved/automated 40 business processes that reached teams and units across campus: Admissions, Student Financial Services, Registrar, Student Accessibility Services, Human Resources, the Provost Office, and the Dean’s Offices of our five schools. The results:

  • Over 335,000 processes that would have been completed manually (Walking paper forms around campus) have been completed with online forms and workflow.
  • Over 2,687,0000 pages electronically stored.

Those are big numbers, to be sure, but what are the real benefits?

Cost Savings

There are multiple cost savings that you can realize: labor, cost of handling paper, and space. Each can be significant:

Labor Savings: Our focus was more on improving customer service, but efficiencies did help capture and close several positions resulting in the college saving approximately $185,000 a year.

Paper Handling Savings: While there are obvious cost savings directly related to the cost of paper, the real savings comes from the time staff normally spends on maintaining paper documents–printing, filing, searching, refiling and so on. It is estimated that the cost of the paper is only 10% to 11% of the lifecycle cost of the paper. At $26 per 4,000-sheet case of paper, 2.687 million sheets of paper would cost $17,465. The life cost is $174,650.

Office Space Savings: Office space recovered through this effort (incomplete list) included:

  • Admission: 360 s/f x $199 s/f = $71, 640
  • Human Resources: 557 s/f x $199 s/f = $110,843
  • Alumni Affairs: 360 s/f x $199 s/f = $71, 640
  • 1,277 total square feet of recovered office space. $254,123 value of recovered office space

As the saying goes, a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words. The areas below were completely full of filing cabinets before this project.

Admission Space

Human Resource Space

Improved Process Efficiencies

Automation is very helpful, but improving the workflow/process is also critical to gain the best benefit. This actually was one of the more challenging aspects of the project. Getting beyond “We always do it this way,” “We have to do it this way,” etc. can be a challenge. It is as much a cultural change as it is a process change. This is an area you will want to emphasize from the beginning and obtain buy-in from senior administration and key stakeholders.

Ithaca College did have support from our President on down. While it was a challenge, we did gain momentum by completing quick wins. A couple of examples include:

  • We had six variations of a form to cover the course registration override process. Upon review and analysis, we were able to consolidate the forms to one version, covering all of the schools within the college.
  • On multiple processes, we were able to reduce the number of approvals to simple notifications, improving the completion time for workflows.

Change Management is critical. Keep in mind that in most cases, you’re taking something away from someone that they feel is very important and replacing it with something different and asking them to do something new. We as human beings are resistant to change and you need to take that into account with the people who are the most impacted.

Improved Student Experience

Time saved from no longer having to walk documents around. Frustration reduced from dealing with lost documents. Confusion minimized from quicker responses to requests. All of this allows the student to focus on more important activities and reduces stress. While this is hard to quantify, it should be apparent that it greatly improves the quality of the student experience.

Here’s one student response to our new system: “It saved a lot of extra time by not having to fill out a hard-copy version and then hand it in to the Dean’s Office. It was also great to get a response back on the same day I submitted the request, and not having to wait a couple days or even a week to hear a response.”

And another: “I’m studying in NYC, so it was extremely convenient to be able to fill this out online and have all of these important discussions over email, since I was unable to come talk to people in person or physically hand in a form. I can’t imagine how much more stressful signing up for classes would have been without this this semester.”

Improved Customer Service

Staff can now pull up documents immediately to answer questions. This one sentence is huge for both the staff and the people they are serving. Staff no longer have to put a student or parent on hold or call them back because they do not have the information at their fingertips.

“I have never (NEVER), even though I have tried very hard, been able to get the core group of grad admits processed by the end of April before. And that is what happened this year. So hurray for us all!”

Diana Dimitrova | Director of International Student Services, International Programs

“Having the admission process online has assisted administrators by more efficiently and effectively reviewing the applicant pool and selecting the best students to attend Ithaca College.”

Bryan Roberts | Associate Dean, Park School of Communications

Improved Use of Staff Time

Efficiencies can allow your organization to cut employee costs, but in our case it was an opportunity for staff to focus on more important work—speaking with students, parents, faculty and staff, focusing on making decisions.

Follow-up and continuous improvement opportunities exist after you go live. It’s important to follow up with the stakeholders involved in each process improvement following go-live. While we did this, it manifested into nothing more than a log of items we will someday work on to implement improvements. One lesson learned is that we should have staffed resources and scheduled cycles into our delivery process to account for continuous improvement. Because we had a large backlog of processes to improve, we found ourselves moving onto the next process and leaving the improvements and enhancement on a back burner.

Implementing a major ECM/business process improvement program can be very challenging, but the rewards are well worth it. Early buy-in from senior leadership and the key stakeholders is critical to success. Understanding the benefits (both obvious and not so obvious) are key to achieving this.

In the next two sections of this article, we’ll explore who should be involved (and also when and how), and what it takes to establish priorities.

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