How robotic process automation is unlocking more efficiencies and deeper insights for Australian Catholic University

Australian Catholic University (ACU) ranks in the top 2 per cent of universities worldwide. It serves around 33,000 students, including more than 4,300 international students from more than 90 countries. ACU also has over 125,000 alumni.

The university needed to synchronise the data in its primary system for managing prospective students and alumni with a new system used to engage alumni in mentoring and volunteering opportunities. If it didn’t synchronise this data, ACU risked being fined millions of dollars for breaching Australia’s anti-spam laws by sending emails to alumni and students who had opted out of receiving them.

The challenge was that ACU’s alumni engagement solution, Graduway, didn’t provide an application programming interface to sync data with the university’s main system, which was powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement.

By leveraging Microsoft Power Platform’s automation and data analytics capabilities, the university was able to easily integrate data from both systems. This gave it more efficient processes and deeper insights into alumni engagement.

To learn more about the project, Microsoft caught up with ACU’s Chief Information Officer, Niranjan Prabhu.

Microsoft (MS): How did you undertake this project?

Niranjan Prabhu (NP): With the help of our longstanding Microsoft partner Espire, we were able to sync the data of both systems and automate many of our repetitive, time-consuming processes in two weeks.

On a daily basis, a Power Automate cloud flow triggers a desktop flow, also known as a robotic process automation (RPA) bot. The bot fetches user subscription and alumni analytics data from our Graduway system and creates a file, which is then uploaded to a SharePoint location. From there, another cloud flow is triggered and updates our Dynamics 365 database.

We also use a Power Automate cloud flow to upload user subscription data from our Dynamics 365 system to a Microsoft SharePoint location. Then, another cloud flow picks up the file and triggers an RPA bot, which processes the file before updating our Graduway system.

MS: Why did you choose Microsoft Power Platform for this project?

NP: ACU’s enterprise architecture is very Microsoft-centric, and the ability to natively integrate Dynamics 365 with Power Platform was a big plus. In addition, we already had in‑house capability for using Power Platform, and it is slightly better priced compared to similar products offered by Microsoft’s competitors. There is also the opportunity for us to integrate the new AI Builder feature in Power Automate down the track.

MS: What benefits has Power Platform delivered for ACU?

NP: Importantly, it enables us to comply with Australia’s anti-spam laws. By synching the data in our Graduway and Dynamics 365 systems, requests from ACU alumni and students to opt out of marketing and communications are actioned within the time specified in the regulations to prevent any financial ramifications for the university.

Because the data from both systems is in sync, ACU’s alumni engagement team can generate analytics reports with more insights to help them run successful campaigns and improve the university’s career development services. We can also use these insights to improve our engagement with prospective students and to boost student enrolment.

MS: Do you have any plans to automate other systems and processes at ACU?

NP: We’ve actually completed a number of other projects recently using Power Platform. One of them was automating our online event booking system to accommodate different time zones, sessions and catering options. Another was automating the credits and partnerships portal for ACU’s education and arts faculty.

Our Faculty of Theology and Philosophy is now managing its workflows for travel approvals using Power Automate. We’re also using it to manage the inventory procurement, travel and staff delegation systems that sit within our finance system. Even our IT training register uses Power Automate, which allows IT staff to log training requests and gain approvals.

We’ve just launched ACU’s Virtual Assistant (AVA) to reduce the high volume of service requests for our client services team and improve staff access to system owners of SharePoint sites. We’re also using AVA to instantly assist students sitting a Microsoft Certification exam on campus with any issues they may have.

ACU’s Acting Deputy Provost, Professor Chris Lonsdale, and his team are using Power Automate to improve the request and approval process for students who want to complete higher degree research, which is currently being done using paper forms. They are also piloting a ‘voice of customer’ tool to build rich forms and connect them with data.

And we are looking at using Microsoft HoloLens and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist to provide our nursing students with data at their fingertips through augmented reality.

So yes, we do have some very interesting and exciting projects coming up. It’s great to see how well the university and in particular the academic staff are embracing the technology and using it to support better staff and student experience.