A Vital Process: Process Streamlining Inspires Two New NGSIS Projects

 

Process Streamlining Word CloudIn February, In the Loop featured a story on ‘process streamlining.’ a methodology designed to incrementally improve a process. Goals include providing a better experience for clients of the process; releasing time for those delivering the process by making it more efficient,;and aligning the process with the organization’s vision.

This month, we look at U of T processes that have been streamlined using the process streamline methodology and how the recommendations led to two successful NGSIS projects.. These projects have already had positive impacts on staff and students in residence admissions and University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).

Building Consensus on Residences

Back in 2010, there was a growing consensus among students and staff that the residence admissions process wasn’t aligned with the university’s goals for recruitment and conversion.

“There was an overall sense that [residence admissions] was not a student-centric process,” observes Arlene Clement, Director of Housing Services at the University.

The decision was made to conduct a process streamlining project to review the steps undertaken by first year students applying for residence on the St. George campus.  Arlene Clement and her team developed a Case for Action, which included staff and student feedback on the current process, outlining the compelling reasons for streamlining the process. The team also mapped out the existing steps a newly accepted student went through to apply for residence.

This work uncovered a brutally drawn out process with as many as thirty steps involved for a student to apply. In addition, a student would have had to complete multiple residence applications on various websites and via paper forms.

With the Case for Action in hand, Arlene and ten other stakeholders involved with the process (Resident Staff, Registrars, IT personnel) worked full-time for one week streamlining the process in sessions facilitated by JM Associates (JMA)

For Arlene, this week around the table was far and away the most vital part of the process:

“Getting everyone in the room for a week [ensured] everyone was on the same page… Process Streamlining built consensus around a working plan.”

That consensus would lead to the development of the new NGSIS tool, “MyRes.”

MyRes is a web application that drastically simplifies the process of residence application by putting all information about which residences a student is eligible for in one place. This means that students only have to fill out one application – on the web. And residences and Student Housing have access to near real time application information for making admissions decisions and long term planning.

UHIP

When students from other countries enroll at the University of Toronto, health insurance is likely the last thing on their mind. From the University’s perspective, however, students are required by law to be covered by some form of health insurance. While the majority of students from Ontario are covered by OHIP – and some from other provinces and countries also have coverage –the University offers UHIP to more than 11,000 students annually who aren’t covered.

UHIP was a great in theory, but when Miranda Cheng, Director at the Centre for International Experience, reviewed the program two years ago, she discovered it had many gaps and was prone to errors.

For one, the UHIP process was disconnected from actual University registration. Sun Life Insurance would be apprised of a student who had been granted admission to the university – whether or not he or she actually registered. Second, insurance (unlike tuition for a course) could not be refunded. Because of a lack of communication among divisions, money already paid a premium to Sun Life was being refunded out of the university’s coffers to students who had financially backed out of registration. Worst of all, some international students slipped through the cracks and and were attending U of T but did not have insurance coverage.

Sensing the need for action, Miranda pushed for a process streamlining project to address these issues. She had participated on a process streamlining team facilitated by Kevin Ciotta (JMA) only a short time earlier and was convinced that the approach was “a very powerful tool” to get stakeholders to agree on an improved process.

In conversations with John Marrazzo (JMA), it became clear that UHIP needed not one process streamlining process, but three. Miranda recalls that, initially, she resisted:

“When you’re buried in a lot of work you do whatever you need to do to keep afloat. So I have to give lots of kudos to John. He really pushed me to do the three projects to ensure that the results would be as helpful as possible.”

One project looked at university health insurance for the dependents of international students. The next was for single students who simply needed 12 month coverage. The final team addressed students with adjustments or who were on approved leave (co-ops, exchanges).

The team’s recommendations resulted in a plethora of improvements for U of T’s UHIP. Several identified the need for better data management.  With these recommendations, the NGSIS Student Accounts team was able to enhance the communication of student admissions data to Sun Life.  It also developed a report for Cheng’s office to identify students on UHIP who had financially cancelled registration. These small improvements have already palpably improved the UHIP process by providing more accuracy in student coverage and improved accounting.

Short Term, Long Term

In both of the above scenarios, an NGSIS technology project was part of the solution – but not the solution. Technology alone cannot patch up a process that isn’t effective and efficient. Changes in timing, training and documentation, where work is performed, and other elements also contribute to improving the processes. In addition, when stakeholders see only the part of the process in which they are involved, it’s difficult for them to understand the end-to-end process (from the student and institutional perspectives) and their role in supporting it. Assembling everyone in a room to look at all the steps in a process may seem tedious at first – yet it seems to be the fastest way to ensure that everyone can see that, for the student, it is one process. It also offers the opportunity for those involved to meet – in person – colleagues they may have only interacted with electronically. They also gain an appreciation for their colleagues’ goals and challenges – and the impact of their work on these.

As Proust once said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”