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Process automation cuts costs, fills gaps at SIU med school

Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine points to software cost avoidance and the ability to supplement SaaS products as benefits of its process automation approach.

A process automation software rollout at Southern Illinois University's medical school began as an experiment with putting paper forms online.

That was in early 2020 when the school began testing Laserfiche software to replace traditional timesheets with their digital counterparts. Since then, SIU School of Medicine has expanded its use of the process automation product to score quick digital transformation wins, fill gaps in software functionality and cut expenses.

As for the latter, automated workflows let the medical school's employee health office avoid an estimated $80,000 software expenditure. Jennifer Washburn, IT manager at the school and head of its process automation team, said the office had planned to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to vendors for a specialized HR system. But the team's development work eliminated the need for that.

"We built so much custom process automation for them, it was not necessary," Washburn said.

Washburn learned about the shelved RFP when she got her annual flu shot from the director of employee health. The cost avoidance turned out to be the biggest financial benefit the school has thus far seen from process automation, she noted.

A more intentional approach to documenting such results is getting underway, however. Washburn's team recently created an automated process review using Laserfiche. The system sends out an annual survey to each process-owning employee, assessing overall satisfaction and asking about any time or cost savings due to automation.

Processes automation for a range of customers

The process automation team's initial timesheet use case took off when the medical school's 2,000 employees became remote workers with the onset of COVID-19. Timesheet pilots proved successful, and every school department was using the online time-and-reporting process by October 2020.

The rapid conversion of a formerly manual process, typical of pandemic-era digital transformation projects, paved the way for further adoption. Follow-on automation efforts focused on absence request forms, employee performance evaluations and provider onboarding for the school's healthcare practice.

Jennifer Washburn, IT manager, Southern Illinois University School of MedicineJennifer Washburn

Washburn said her team has spent the last few months working on HR processes. One project involved supplementing a SaaS product's out-of-the-box capabilities. The school's HR office recently deployed a job applicant tracking application, which automates tasks on opening new positions and hiring. But the medical school requires an additional onboarding step the SaaS system doesn't cover: providing budget details on how a position will be funded.

"We built that [functionality] in Laserfiche, so it handles how we are going to pay for the positions," Washburn said.

Speed as a selling point

The process automation team's ability to rapidly roll out new processes has been a plus when using Laserfiche, according to Washburn.

We built so much custom process automation for them, [new software] was not necessary.
Jennifer WashburnIT manager, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

The vendor offers pre-built processes and forms that give users a head start on automating common business needs. More than 120 processes, which Laserfiche calls "solution templates," are available on the company's online marketplace.

Nucleus Research, a technology research and advisory services company in Miami, interviewed Laserfiche customers and identified solution templates as a key feature influencing purchasing decisions, said Evelyn McMullen, research manager there. The templates, which span industry and departmental use cases, "can be used to more quickly deploy automated workflows," she added.

McMullen also pointed to Laserfiche's preconfigured and customizable analytics reports, which identify process bottlenecks that automation could address.

SIU School of Medicine's process automation team, which consists of five developers, has used Laserfiche to automate 102 processes since 2020. Requests for automation continue to arrive. "There's still a long list of things to build," Washburn said.

John Moore is a writer for TechTarget Editorial covering the CIO role, economic trends and the IT services industry.

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