Taking Sharing to a Whole New Level

June 6, 2023

Process Automation Team helps departments avoid re-inventing the wheel

Sharing Tech

Have you ever wanted to automate a process or a set of operations for a more productive way to get the job done?

Maybe you have a series of spreadsheets that collectively provide answers to financial questions. Perhaps you are wanting to streamline steps with an application to aggregate data. There is a working group that can connect you to others who may have solved the process automation you need. If you are new to the idea of process automation, they can help you learn more about the University supplied applications that are available and what steps to use to meet your goal. 

Michael Dorland, senior implementation analyst at UITS, was an early mentor of process automation. Inspiration for process automation began with the Business Process Automation Collaborative (BPAC). In 2019, staff across departments came together to solve challenges with office processes and automation of those processes. The collaborative strove to bring divergent groups together to identify and develop tools that make processes work better for everyone. 

With the onset of the pandemic and the seismic shift that came during those months of change for the traditional workplace, the BPAC meetings ceased. As the pandemic subsided and interest in process automation returned, the Process Automation Team (PAT) was created. The renewed focus of PAT drew upon not only those who are IT technical people, but also those who are “no code” or “low code” people to help expand the mission of supporting and automating daily functions of business and administration offices. 

Asya Roberts, senior implementation analyst at UITS, was also an early advocate of the PAT. “We really wanted to have a community of practice for business professionals to be able to come and tell us what their business process automation needs are.” Meeting attendees include people who understand various methods of process automation and provide support for use of the applications available to everyone by the University. “We share solutions that have commonality of need by many departments.” 

“The PAT functions like the blood vessels of the university transferring data and actions from users from one part of the university to another… Their embrace of the latest low-code, rapidly deployable technology makes the University of Arizona not need to wait for any external vendor to sell or provide an appropriate IT solution, and thus makes us truly independent! Bear Down!”

—Dr. Bijun Sai Kannadath, MBBS, MS,
Assistant Research Professor, Internal Medicine, College of Medicine-Phoenix

To help navigate the diverse user groups, PAT formed a governance committee as a representative body to collaborate with the many areas wanting to participate. The team built a Sharepoint site to capture information and expand the audience looking for process automation support. “As PAT matured, we wanted to move past the specific tools and discover more of what business process automation is.” Michael explains, “We are trying to focus on the overall holistic nature of processes and what can be done to automate them.”

The renewed focus of the PAT established a meeting time for presentations on different tools to help interested attendees with an opportunity for professional growth and understanding of what can be achieved with process automation. Tools such as Microsoft Sharepoint, Power Automate, and Teams continue to be popular for their capabilities and because the University provides them at no charge to end-users. Additional features for the power platform products are available at an additional cost. Other recent presentations include Adobe and the use of Adobe Creative Suite, Red Cat and its form capabilities, and using Qualtrics and single-sign-on (SSO) for surveys. “It’s been really nice to get feedback and have presentations of different tools available across campus,” explains Asya.

Automation solutions are found in a variety of possibilities with an eye towards sharing them across campus to other potential users who are unaware of their capabilities and application of uses. Meeting discussions can focus on what you're trying to do with your forms for example, often with a follow-up question of, “Do we know if anyone else built an automated process that solves the problem you are working on?” 

"My experience with the PAT has been extremely positive. I've found it to be a welcoming community of kind individuals who are genuinely dedicated to helping their fellow co-workers find solutions to their problems. Attending the PAT meetings has been a great learning experience for me, and I've gained valuable knowledge along the way."

—Gabriel Gonzalez, Gracia
Senior Application Developer, Housing and Residential Life

Maysoon Eshelman, executive director of Campus IT Partnerships, is also the PAT executive sponsor. “The goal is to find commonalities in processes.” PAT members have found many research departments that were doing a lot of the same things that other areas on campus were doing—such as approvals for travel or a batch of student worker approvals. “They all had these business workflows that they needed to do, and everybody was doing it themselves in their own way.” 

Because of this, pockets of the University were seeing the same thing created over and over again. Maysoon adds, “We started seeing themes through the process automation team that could help inform digital student and academic technologies. This could be a maturation process through our enterprise offerings as well, minimizing the burden put on people to create so many business process automations over and over.” 

Learning is for Everyone

Foremost in its mission, PAT engages attendees who want to learn. Maysoon describes, “There are some amazing classes that are available for staff who are interested in learning more and don't know where to begin to empower themselves.” She points to a recent PAT demonstration of the training tools in EDGE Learning, which holds a lot of information such as the LinkedIn modules that are available to staff. 

“I was a little nervous to join PAT because I felt like I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to be a part an automations team. I quickly realized that the team comprises a diverse group of individuals with all experience levels, and they are all genuinely friendly and supportive. They willingly meet you at your current level and offer assistance and encouragement. The team has proven to be an invaluable resource for me, providing a space where I can proudly showcase my creations and freely ask any questions, no matter how trivial they may seem."

—Aaron Varner
Athletics Facilities and Production Technical Director, Administration and Athletics

The success of the PAT takes a whole community. That community includes steering group member, Veronica Johnson, who coordinates the many presentations and training resources on behalf of the team. Michael explains, “It has been really great to give campus knowledge of tools they may use to automate processes easily and not have to worry about having to dig deep into the tech or learning how to code.” 

“PAT is a resource that enables me to be more independent in problem solving,” volunteers Elliot Shrader, contract analyst in the Office of Research Contracts. “My office is having ongoing discussions on how we can improve processes. By doing it ourselves, instead of putting in a ticket for someone else to do it, we are able to take ownership of our processes and better understand the limitations and possibilities.”

Be Empowered, Join PAT 

The Process Automation Team meets regularly and is open for anyone in the University community to attend, including students. They host general training and awareness meetings weekly on Tuesdays 4:00-5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays from 12:00-1:00 p.m., they hold a PAT boot camp (roundtable community of practice). There is also a general group meeting that hosts professional development presentations every fourth Thursday of the month from 3:00-4:00 p.m. 

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