“Face-to-face teaching suspended until further notice” has become a common headline for organisations delivering education and training services over the last few weeks.

Millennials were already demanding more flexibility with online classes and digital resources, but the COVID-19 pandemic may have marked the death knell for traditional classroom courses. At least, that is, in the short-term, leaving educators to adapt quickly in order to meet their customer’s needs.

Digital communication providers like Zoom and Slack have definitely been clear winners so far, during this time, as universities and training companies worldwide continue to roll out online and on-demand training products.

However, transitioning to an online delivery model is accompanied by a unique set of challenges and new ways of working to which organisations and students alike must adjust.

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Using RPA to assist remote learning

One such challenge is how to connect the various systems and applications involved, or the data at least. Students need to select their preferred training slots, add these to their calendars with reminders, then manage updates and changes – and all preferably in real-time. This can certainly become an administrative disaster and a very poor customer experience if not managed successfully. What’s more, of course, due to the suddenness of the crisis, this all had to be delivered quickly.

Luckily, RPA is able to help solve this issue, and in this use case, we share how RPA helped one company to deploy a solution within just a few weeks, ensuring their students could book and attend online courses and continue their education.

Mid-March was when most educational and training organisations had to implement drastic and sudden changes to how they delivered courses and served their student customers, with a complete suspension of classroom-based and face-to-face courses. This was not just bad for organisations trying to deliver training, but also for their students, many of whom had been preparing for examinations just a few weeks away. There was really only one answer to this problem – provide all further training online, but how?

Practically delivering online training with RPA

The company we worked with was already planning and developing solutions to deliver online courses, but had to accelerate delivery because of COVID-19. However, they needed a fast and robust (automated) solution to connect the various front and back end applications with the online video conferencing system and manage two-way communication with the students. In essence, an automated connection was set up between the separate student recording and booking systems with Zoom.

Due to the non-invasive nature of RPA and the speed with which it can be deployed, it was a natural solution. Unlike traditional software, RPAorchestrates other applications through the existing user interface in the same or similar way a user does. So, in this sense, there is no integration involved.

The open APIs for the video conferencing system also meant that a much simpler and more robust RPA solution could be deployed quickly, allowing more time to develop the essential connections with back-office applications, where the student master records reside

.The overall outcome was a real-time automated course booking solution that provides a simple and repeatable customer experience, without creating a manual administrative burden for the employees.

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RPA Transformational by Design

Using RPA meant that not only was the urgency of the situation resolved by deploying a customer-focused solution on time to satisfy both student and organisational needs, but the robots can also be adapted and modified or simply redeployed in future should the requirements completely change once again.

Why RPA was the best solution for rapid change

This use case illustrates several key points of opportunity:

  • First, if your company is adapting to delivering online training and education courses and needs a fast and effective solution to help manage the integration of data that traditional methods can’t solve (at least quickly), then a robotic process automation could be the answer.
  • Second, this use case also highlights how effective RPA can be to address urgent business problems arising from COVID-19 or any other crisis on the horizon, and is a perfect tool to manage manual, repetitive tasks.
  • Ultimately, we don’t know for how long the current situation will endure nor how long current business operations and workarounds will be in place once restrictions are lifted. The major advantages of an RPA solution, however, are the agility it provides to change rapidly and as frequently as needed.

Whether online solutions are here for the short-term or long-term, are you ready to adapt and thrive to the new normal?

Challenges with RPA enabling remote learning

Coordinating timings between the RPA and the database

One of the challenges we faced was making sure that everything was timed to operate in the correct sequence within the overall process. One example of this was where a database updated certain records every two minutes which the robots would then use. If, however, the robotic steps in the process ran before the database had completed its update, the transaction status was reset and the robot would incorrectly try to process the same transaction again and fail.

To overcome this type of challenge, we added a timer trigger to set the robot running only after the database had successfully completed its updates.

Resolving record changes:

For example, if a webinar is scheduled for a particular date and time, but subsequently changed whilst the robot is processing the transaction. To overcome this, we added an extra control for the robot to double-check no record changes have occurred, before continuing and completing its process steps. If a record change was detected, the item was moved to a pending queue for processing with the new records on the next run.

With so many variables inherent within such a process, it can be difficult to ensure that any errors or exceptions are escalated in a timely manner to the correct place for resolution. To overcome this and accommodate future variability, we developed an exception matrix, which the robot uses to notify the most appropriate people according to the transaction result and status code.

This way, based on the exception and ensure records, the client could quickly update and change who the robot should notify.

End Result

The end result worked perfectly, saving the client hours of tedious and difficult programming work with fewer mistakes and without lengthy integration across multiple applications. The robot takes approximately two seconds to schedule a webinar from receiving the request and is able to robustly scale with the enterprise as demand increases. This results in the management of thousands of webinars with minimum delay.

Advantages from using RPA to shift to remote learning

The Automation SpecialistsA more traditional system integration approach was considered by the client, however, they estimated it could have taken up to ten times longer to successfully connect each of the systems and would result in a much less flexible solution.

The robot control centre, also deployed, automatically retains record update log files so that transaction history can be easily reviewed. The major benefits of using RPA for this process automation solution was, therefore, the speed of delivery and the flexibility to change key variables with ease, without needing to rebuild the robot.

Lawrence & Wedlock are specialists in business process automation and transformation, check us out at www.lawrenceandwedlock.com.