Jul 20 2020

How to Quickly and Safely Digitize Higher Ed Workflow

Without compromising network security, how can postsecondary schools effectively digitize workflows to meet evolving online learning demands?

Although workflow digitization has long been on the radar for postsecondary schools, other priorities, such as student access and data consolidation, have overshadowed it in the past. But the shift to distance education has forced colleges and universities to re-evaluate their operational objectives. Because remote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future, it is critical that CIOs and CISOs identify workflow tools that can improve current operations — and set the stage for future gains.

In January 2020, EDUCAUSE found that 38 percent of postsecondary schools were exploring digital transformation, while 32 percent had digital strategies in development. Fast-forward six months: Transformation is now a top priority for schools nationwide, but many are still in the data gathering stage.

The challenge for many colleges and universities is managing security in a digital-first world. With cybercriminals leveraging a combination of old-school attacks with emerging threat vectors, many schools are facing substantial security threats at a time when resources are extremely limited.

As a result, it is not enough for schools to simply select tools that meet data and document demands. They must also be secure. As universities and colleges search for digital workflow solutions that offer both efficiency and security, here are the key factors to consider.

Setting the Stage for a Secure Digital Workflow

While the ideal outcome of a digital workflow is streamlined processes and improved performance, simply adding new solutions to existing network stacks will not necessarily deliver intended results.

“A significant portion of the work precedes implementing the workflow,” says Steve Smith, the University of Nevada, Reno’s vice provost for IT and CIO. “Particularly for automated workflows, the approval steps and the individuals must be clearly defined so only those with the need and authority are included in the workflow.”

To address security concerns surrounding digital workflow tools, it’s critical to ensure “that only authenticated and authorized individuals are part of the actionable workflow processes,” Smith says.

For example, while Smith is able to deploy specific workflow automation for staff in his department, he has no ability to do so for other divisions.

And, as always, multifactor authentication remains critical. Smith notes that UNR is currently putting in place multifactor authentication for employees who use core applications. Some solutions — such as Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) — natively require MFA.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn the basic do’s and don’ts for boosting adoption of multifactor authentication.

With that said, Smith acknowledges the need for postsecondary schools to deploy basic security hygiene processes. It is important for colleges and universities to have policies that allow “responsive security patches for all university systems, and monitor that activity to ensure those procedures are followed,” he says.

It is also worth emphasizing the need for regular training to ensure staff are up to date on current security expectations. Smith notes that both students and employees receive frequent training at UNR, and some of that is tailored for individual roles and data access levels. For those who work with highly regulated resources — such as data regulated by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard — frequent training is mandatory.

What to Consider When Scaling Digital Workflow

According to Smith, UNR currently uses several workflow automation solutions in addition to Workday HCM to help improve performance, including Hyland OnBase for electronic content management and Formstack for quick creation of online forms.

The school also uses secure document signing solutions such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign to manage e-signatures at scale and is planning to increase workflow integration, especially between primary workflow apps and core applications.

But ensuring digitization tools do not introduce more security risks can be problematic. While e-signature solutions offer function-specific security, connecting them to network services at scale can introduce additional security concerns.

To resolve this, Smith points to artificial intelligence solutions as possible tools that allow “immutable data records.”

MORE ON EDTECH: See what digital transformation looks like for higher ed.

Other Factors to Evaluate for a Strong Digital Workflow

At the end of the day, let us not forget essential higher education workflow components such as smooth user experience, reduced total transaction times and enhanced record keeping.

It is also important to ask:

  • What simplifies processes for students? For example, can this help digitize library resources, making them available to more than one student at a time?
  • What allows faculty and staff to complete tasks without going through paper-to-digital-to-paper transitions?
  • Can a digital workflow help higher education institutions achieve their goals more effectively? For example, can this help schools use social media and digital marketing to recruit and retain more students?

As with any digital transformation initiative, security, user experience and efficiency are key.

Prostock-Studio/ iStock / Getty Images Plus