Box Hill Institute is one of Victoria’s leading vocational education providers. Located in Melbourne, its four separate campuses teach approximately 35,000 students each year. The process for accrediting new courses with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority was highly complex and subject to stringent regulation. To complete this process, the institute used hand-written forms that were forwarded through numerous departments via internal mail. However, this was slow, difficult to track and created uncertainty around whether new courses would be approved on time. In 2009, the institute deployed Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, with electronic forms designed in InfoPath® Form Services directed automatically to staff according to predetermined workflows. Since the status of each file is instantly visible, managers are in better control of course accreditation, and have greater confidence that courses will be promptly approved and available for students on time.
Part of the Australian technical and further education (TAFE) network, Box Hill Institute is a leading provider of vocational education in Victoria. The institute has four campuses close to Melbourne’s central business district and provides around 400 full- and part-time courses to 35,000 students each year.
Each course taught at Box Hill Institute has to be audited internally for quality, and then accredited by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, which regulates all education and training providers in the state. This is a complex process involving many stakeholders across the institute. However, until the accreditation process is fully completed, a course cannot be taught at Box Hill Institute.
This accreditation process was frustrating for the institute’s 15 teaching centres, which were responsible for coordinating the accreditation, marketing and provisioning of new courses. The process required files containing hand written forms to transit via internal mail between numerous stakeholders in different departments.
“There were legibility issues,” says Simeon Amor, IT Project Manager, Box Hill Institute. “And if there were any errors in a particular form, then it would have to be returned to be reprocessed because accreditation has to conform to strict Australian Qualification Framework standards.”
||The processes were complex, but the challenge was to ensure that courses were accredited on time.
||Simeon Amor, IT Project Manager, Box Hill Institute.
Because accreditation files spent so much time in internal mail, their progress was extremely difficult to track and manage. Besides delays caused by errors or illegibility, a file might be misdirected, or sent to a staff member who was on holiday or extended leave.
In addition, the process for accrediting courses varies. Some courses are proposed internally by Box Hill Institute staff, who then seek approval with an Education Quality Manager before gaining accreditation. In other instances a course that has already been accredited and whose teaching material is maintained on the National Training Information System (NTIS) may be updated, in which case teaching and administrative staff need to be updated and only part of the usual accreditation process completed.
“The processes were complex, but the challenge was to ensure that courses were accredited on time,” says Amor. “A training centre might assume that it was all set up to deliver a course, and even market it, but with very little visibility on the process, the danger was that students would sign up to course, and only then discover that the teaching centre did not have clearance to teach it.”
In 2008, Box Hill Institute began to examine its course accreditation processes and core accreditation requirements. The objective was to eliminate bottlenecks and increase transparency.
“It took us a long time to build our business requirements,” says Amor. “We realised that whatever the technology we decided to use, we would still need to re-engineer the way we did things.”
Having designed a set of workflows, the institute invited a technology company to build a proof of concept. “The first technology solution we tried had the side-effect of making a lot of the processes over-complicated, because of the way the technology worked,” says Amor. “Simplicity was very important to us. The teaching centre managers needed to be able to get information as quickly as possible. The more complex it was, the less eager they would be to use the system, and we wouldn’t accrue the benefits of having a system.”
In December 2008, staff at Microsoft partner Dimension Data showed Box Hill Institute managers how workflows in the document management system, Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, could be used to control, direct and keep track of files during the accreditation process.
The managers decided that Office SharePoint Server 2007 met the institute’s objectives and engaged Dimension Data to deploy it.
“It was quite tricky,” says Brendan Barry, Technical Consultant, Dimension Data. “There were a large number of faculties and departments that needed to be connected to the workflows.”
Dimension Data transposed all the course accreditation forms into electronic format using Microsoft Infopath® Form Services, so that they could be emailed between faculties and modified at every stage. The forms were designed with special data validation fields which meant that the form could not be forwarded unless the requisite information at every stage was typed in correctly.
The technology partner also helped define Box Hill Institute’s requirements into a series of processes. These described the steps that needed to be completed for successful accreditation, and were used to develop workflows that automatically route the Infopath forms from one input source or stakeholder to the next.
In addition, Dimension Data introduced the institute to independent software vendor K2, whose blackpearl platform helps non-technically skilled staff to design their own workflows without professional assistance.
The new application was rolled out to 50 users across all teaching centres at the beginning of March 2009.
By using electronic forms and email workflows to help automate the accreditation process, Box Hill Institute has reduced the administrative workload, given teaching centre staff greater control over the accreditation process, and reduced the time taken to register new courses.
||Having validation fields mean that most form-filling errors are avoided. So less time is wasted sending the file backwards and forwards through the internal mail.
||Simeon Amor, IT Project Manager, Box Hill Institute.
Using electronic forms with data validation fields is expected to reduce accreditation workload by 20 percent.
“Paperwork is legible to begin with, so there is little need for rework,” says Amor. “Having validation fields mean that most form-filling errors are avoided. So less time is wasted sending the file backwards and forwards through the internal mail. This system should save two to three hours per week for administration staff.”
Office SharePoint Server 2007 also improves file processing because the training centre managers who sponsor new courses can determine the progress of each file in the accreditation process. This means they are much more in control.
“Staff use the K2 blackpearl ViewFlow within SharePoint to view the current status of every application,” says Barry. “The system tells them whose ‘inbox’ the file is sitting in, and they can see if no action has been taken for several days. As a result, they always know who to contact to get the accreditation process moving.
“Furthermore, the K2 blackpearl platform means that teaching centre staff can adapt and change workflows by themselves. This means they can take advantage of new opportunities to streamline business processes.”
Because the accreditation process is faster and more predictable, training centre staff have greater assurance that courses will be ready on time. This removes potential sources of conflict between the marketing and admissions departments.
“It’s all about making sure that the right people know when the course is ready,” says Amor. “We have largely removed the danger that a student will turn up to take a course that has been advertised, only to discover that it is not yet available.
“In addition, staff can be confident that the course is up to scratch. The accreditation process, as defined in the SharePoint workflows and Infopath, conforms exactly to the Australian Quality Training Framework. And SharePoint leaves a complete audit trail so we can prove that regulations have been observed.”
Office SharePoint Server 2007’s ability to manage complex processes has encouraged Box Hill Institute to use it to manage the recruitment of new staff.
“Recruitment is subject to strict internal governance rules,” says Amor. “These are very stringent in Victoria, and we have to meet certain criteria. Because these criteria are configured into Infopath forms and the sign-offs that each form needs, then we ensure that we meet them.”
Office SharePoint 2007 workflows assist with gaining clearance to hire new staff, arranging contracts and establishing new systems accounts for staff. Amor expects it will help cut the overall recruitment process time by at least 50 percent.
“There are two main benefits to doing recruitment via SharePoint. First, just as with accreditation, training centre management have greater visibility, so they are in control and can be confident that sign-offs can happen on time.
“Secondly, the institute as a whole has greater assurance that no matter how familiar its staff are with recruitment guidelines, the correct procedures will be followed, and Box Hill Institute will not be at risk of failing to comply with state regulations.”
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For more information about Dimension Data products and services, call 1800 638 457 or visit the Web site at: www.dimensiondata.com/au
For more information about Box Hill Institute products and services, call +61 3 9286 9222 or visit the Web site at: http://www.bhtafe.edu.au