Mastering the Automation Revolution: 7 Months of Insights and Wisdom

Published: 25 July 2023

In this latest LinkedIn article Jennifer Robertson, Head of Automation shares her experience and lessons learned by the team from the past 7 months.

I am grateful to be in the fantastic position of leading a great team as we stand up our Automation Service at the University of Glasgow. This initiative first came to life following a visit some of our senior management team made to Australia. On this trip, the team saw some great things being achieved at Sydney and Melbourne University using Automation, specifically robotic process automation. Six months later and one business case written, we commenced a proof of concept and what came next……our small but perfectly formed Automation Team.

I thought this was as good a time as any to share what has been happening since January when we started our journey, post proof of concept, to build and develop our team and an enduring Centre of Excellence (Automation). Let’s start with some fun facts:

  • We have formed a strategic partnership with Ernst and Young to guide us on our journey for the first few years
  • We have successfully deployed 15 automations across 2 Directorates and 2 Colleges
  • We have been developing internal collaborations and building relationships to support our automations and to identify opportunities
  • To date we have seen benefits delivered across; time saved, reduction in errors, improved processing times, improved staff and student experience, process standardisation, and reduction in cost as well as many others!

So what though - what does this all mean? 

Well, let’s start with the obvious. Automation has a clear purpose in a higher education setting, to improve processes, and experience and give time back to teams and students who can spend that time on more value-add activities. However, this is a new(ish) and innovative approach within our sector and brings with it many benefits, but also some challenges:

Learning number 1: this is as much about Change Management as it is about technology, or to be bold probably more so! The technology does what it says on the tin, however embedding a virtual workforce to support and benefit humans brings a lot of new feelings, thoughts, and misconceptions!

We would not be where we are today without the support of our Information Services colleagues, our Data and Data Protection colleagues, and our Academic Policy colleagues to keep us right across the many systems, processes, rules, and regulations that ensure any automations we deliver are safe, ethical, and aligned to what we as an Institution agree is right for our staff and students.

Learning number 2: This is a truly collaborative initiative, and you need to build on a strong foundation. Making sure that you work with supporting services and include them across decisions that are critical to ways of operating is essential.

We have no service without our pipeline! Developing a strong automation pipeline of opportunities is critical to deliver automations that add value and impact. This is not a lone sport, you need to engage, engage and did I already mention engage? There are three streams you need to tap into: 1. what are the people across the services saying, 2. what is system throughput data telling us, and 3. what other data sources can also inform us:

Learning number 3: All of our automations to date have been created with subject matter experts and their teams across People and OD, Admissions, and Colleges. They know their services; they know where data exists, and they can test the automations before we go live. It is essential to build good communications and relationships with your staff and student communities and hear voices across different roles to get a rounded understanding of what can and should be automated.

As I mentioned earlier, we are still at the start of our journey and there is a lot more to share. I have been contacted by a lot of colleagues across the sector, asking to hear more about what we have been doing, what our strategy is, and what happens next. This has been great, it is always fantastic to meet with others and share learning, but I have also been taken aback by just how much interest this has generated:

Lesson number 4: I need to find a good way of communicating what we are doing externally as well as internally.  In practice this means a few things and my current thoughts are:

  1. Writing more articles like this, publishing to a blog or something similar
  2. Reaching out to colleagues across events and knowledge share sessions so that the team can present on different aspects of the service
  3. Developing a community of practice to bring together like-minded people who have shared experiences and interests across automation and AI.

How does that sound? Anything I’ve missed, what would you like to hear more about? 

Please do share any thoughts, reflections, or feedback on topics you would like me to cover. Hold me to account if I am not sharing enough and watch this space for more frequent and hopefully helpful musings and articles across our automation journey.

Jennifer Robertson, Head of Automation, The Transformation Team


First published: 25 July 2023

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