This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE and the author(s). See for additional copyright information.

Enterprise Process Engineering: A Template Tailored for Higher Education
by Frank Tait

This article suggests a methodology for rethinking business processes in higher education--Enterprise Process Engineering--whether across an institution or at the departmental level. Nine steps to ensuring a successful effort are presented, followed by a discussion of critical success factors and the benefits of this methodology.

Radical and revolutionary forces are reshaping the traditional education model. These forces include lifelong and distance learning, increasing costs, and new expectations of all learners for integration of technology, convenience, and access to administrative functions and the curriculum. In response, higher education must become exceptionally efficient at its "back office" administrative operations, so that all dollars and efforts possible are funneled to the "front office"--teaching and learning and research--that sets colleges and universities apart from their competition.

A Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) study found that higher education institutions are often ill prepared to respond to these changes in the marketplace. Their findings indicate that:

Enterprise Process Engineering

Enterprise Process Engineering (EPE) is the methodology we use to describe the application of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) across the enterprise. While it might seem like a fine distinction, the difference between "enterprise" and "business" is an important one. "Business" Process Reengineering has not been very successful in higher education for one significant reason: higher education is different from "business" in character, governance, and scope. The institution operates within a controlled universe of external controls, shared governance, participative process, and shared power.2 In addition, the fundamentally not-for-profit nature of much of higher education limits the usefulness of the business and industry model.

"Enterprise" stresses the need for an across-the-board shift in thinking and commitment to innovation. To achieve this result, an organization must change its focus from a hierarchical structure to one that consolidates related cross-enterprise tasks into cohesive processes. For example, admitting a student requires more than one person (and more than one department) to find the prospect, review the application, compile the financial aid package, and send the offer letter. An efficient workflow management system speeds this process--and hundreds of others like it--and elevates its quality by automating, simplifying, measuring, directing, and managing the flow of information from department to department across the enterprise.

The EPE methodology also requires that the processes and objectives be "engineered." Too often, processes simply evolve. Tools and practices are built, but underlying processes are not always "rethought" from a business perspective. Because it is enterprise wide, an EPE effort must address all parts of the organization: jobs, skills, structure, information technology, management systems, business processes, and even values and beliefs. An undertaking of this magnitude probably seems overwhelming. However, the EPE methodology is scalable; that is, it can be applied within a single department or process, or throughout the organization.

Because EPE crosses many departments and impacts many individuals, an EPE team must be established that represents the various departments affected. The team must be seamless and characterized by solid relationships. While members of the team must feel empowered to challenge old assumptions, there must be an executive-level sponsor who can move across departments to resolve issues as they arise, and a project manager to work with the team to define the EPE plan and manage its implementation.

Nine steps to successful EPE

There are nine steps necessary to ensure successful Enterprise Process Engineering, each of which is elaborated below.

Identify strategic objectives
Depending on the scope of the EPE effort, the strategic objectives could be broad and apply to the entire institution--improving student success, for example--or they could be limited to a single department, such as improving the payroll process.

Determine important metrics
Next, the team determines how to measure the success of EPE. Measurements can be determined in part by answering the questions, "How will we know when weíre successful?" and "How will we know if we did something better than it was done before?" Examples of measurements include enrollment figures or the time it takes to complete a process, such as enrolling a student or hiring a faculty member.

Implement a change-management program
Efforts, goals, and progress should be communicated from the very start of the project. The team needs to answer the question "Whatís in it for me?" for each set of involved parties. For some, the answer will be that tasks are easier to execute and less frustrating. For others, it might mean new training and the opportunity to explore new methods.

This step encompasses cross-functional training for assurance that users understand enterprise processes, new workflow, and best practices. This is the community for whom the new processes have been developed and who will, in turn, become the best-practice experts in using the new solution. Because change is difficult and often threatening, it is critical not only to build understanding and consensus early on and throughout the life cycle of the EPE project, but also to clearly identify roles and responsibilities.

Define processes
Before moving on to the next step, it is important that the team have a complete and common understanding of a process. According to Michael Hammer, often called the father of reengineering, a process is "a related group of tasks that together create a result of value to a customer."
3 "Process reengineering," according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, deconstructs processes and rebuilds them in a way that creates the most value for an institution. It promotes change aimed at improving the quality and timeliness, and reducing the cost, of cross-functional business processes.4

A process typically starts with a trigger action and ends in a result, involving numerous departments along the way. For example, a staff member might ask, "How do I go about getting office space for a new faculty member?" In contrast, process reengineering poses the question, "What needs to happen when a new faculty member comes on board?" The answer includes assigning office space, a computer, and a desk, and initiating human resources activities like payroll. By taking a process approach rather than a departmental approach, the institution achieves minimal waste and a highly efficient value-oriented workflow.

Capture the current method
This step is the most labor intensive and probably the most critical. Unfortunately, it is also the area that most institutions neglect. Working together, the team must record processes, subprocesses, and tasks, and then review each one. This can be done with paper and pencil manually, or with software that automates the process. The team needs to ask how people downstream are using the information and work generated by each task and to determine who does what and why. This process is also referred to as a "business process review" or "as-is analysis."

In addition, the team should assign each process a name that clearly reflects what the process does. Some authors use an "end-to-end" naming convention, such as "Recruit to Admit." This convention can become unwieldy, but it has the advantage of conveying a continuous flow. Another common method is to use a gerund form of the verb together with the object--for example, "Admitting Students." This convention is appropriate especially if a continuous flow or end points cannot be well defined.

The team also must clarify every term associated with the process. For example, what is the precise definition of "student," and are there special cases? If so, this may imply the need for additional processes. In the example of "Admitting Students," one client discovered ten distinct categories of students and really had no consensus as to what constituted "admit." This step often helps to establish a more accurate, and perhaps more restrictive, name for the process. For example, "Admitting Students" could become "Admitting First-Time Resident Freshmen."

Identify affected and involved parties
Ultimately, some person or some department will be affected by the changes the team implements. Because achievement of the teamís strategic objectives depends upon success across the institution, each of these parties must be considered, if not included, in the design process.

The affected parties fit into one of three categories. Process owners perform and own the process. For example, the people in the admissions office are the primary process owners in admissions. A process owner can be a person or an organizational entity. All processes identified must have at least one owner. Process actors are the "customers" or "suppliers" of the process who are outside of the process ownerís organization. In our example of admitting a student, a recruiter would be a supplier. Process stakeholders are process actors who have a special, mission-critical interest in the process, either as process-output recipients, or as super process owners. For example, while the federal government may be an "actor" in the "Hiring a Work-Study Student" process, it is not a stakeholder. In the example of "Admitting a Student," the registrarís office is a stakeholder because part of its mission depends on the proper execution of the process. The vice president for student affairs might be a stakeholder in the role of "super process owner."

Every player, regardless of category, has a metric by which to measure performance. The metric could be informal--such as the length of a line at the office or the time spent on hold on the phone. Other measurements are more concrete and definable, such as the number of students admitted.

Model business processes
Earlier, the team detailed all the tasks involved in a process. This current state reflects the "as is" approach at the institution. Now the team must define the processes as they "can be" and as they "should be." The gaps identified between "as is" and "should be" will serve as a roadmap for reengineering.

In this phase, the team carefully considers the obstacles and the necessities of institutional operations. The team must answer not only "What should we do?" but also "Can we do it?" A successful reengineering plan takes into account the need for phased-in approaches--and the challenges of implementing processes--while maintaining ongoing operations.

Apply best practices
Best practices can provide the reengineering team with a starting point and a vision to guide its efforts. Once the team has identified what needs to be improved, searching for best practices and opportunities to learn what works in other organizations--in education, business, health care, and government--becomes vital. Simply put, the process of identifying, understanding, and adapting best practices from organizations anywhere in the world to help your organization improve its performance is called benchmarking.

The Houston-based American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) believes that benchmarking is not simply a comparative analysis, site briefings, or crunching numbers. Benchmarks are helpful in setting goals and selecting which organizations to learn from because they typically show how much improvement is needed. In contrast, benchmarking best practices involves actively learning how to change the process to yield better results.

According to APQC, colleges and universities that use benchmarking to discover best practices provide exceptional customer service, have reallocated resources, use enabling technologies, and have a system to measure improvements. An APQC study of best practices in the use of technology to provide student services5 found that a key enabler for institutions is to examine the business process itself, not just automate existing functions. Best-practice institutions used the implementation of electronic student services as an opportunity to reevaluate their underlying core processes.

By definition, a best practice is a superior method or an innovative process that contributes to improved performance. The test of a best practice is not whether it is the ultimate example; rather, the test is whether it works in the situation. We also like to call best practices "credible alternatives" because a best practice at one college or university might not be a solution for another institution. Academic institutions vary greatly in constituencies (e.g., part-time versus full-time students) and in affluence. As a result, a best practice for non-residential community colleges usually differs from a best practice for a fully residential liberal arts college. The team should research the ways other campuses are doing a particular process and then consider the findings from its own institutionís viewpoint. This method allows the team to use the best practices it has identified as a template for determining which processes can be reengineered--and how.

Review and refine outcomes
After the reengineered processes have been deployed, the team needs to review its original objectives and metrics to determine whether all efforts were successful. Among the items to be evaluated are document processing, work relationships, and data flow. Based on its findings, the team refines workflow and practices, improves quality, and facilitates the management of change within the institution.

Critical success factors

Though the rewards of EPE are great, so are the roadblocks. Unfortunately, more companies have started to reengineer than have successfully finished. Higher education in particular has issues of cultural values of tenure, diffusion of authority and responsibility, and lack of incentives, performance standards, and measurements, all of which can deflect attempts at significant change.

Following are some critical values that must be present in an institution in order for an EPE effort to be successful:6

The rewards of EPE

Ultimately, Enterprise Process Engineering is applied to increase value to the customer, or the student of the institution. Regardless of the service or process, value is determined by the studentís measurement of quality, service, cost, and time savings. Improving student satisfaction and retention, then, becomes the primary goal of EPE.

Colleges and universities that have reengineered processes successfully are enjoying these outcomes:

While this overview provides only a cursory look at a complex methodology, it sets forth a framework for the successful adoption of process improvements throughout the organization. Conscientious attention to EPE will pave the way for rapid, evolutionary deployment rather than revolutionary turmoil.


1 "The Transformation of Higher Education in the Digital Age--A Message to Todayís Higher Education Leaders," Coopers & Lybrand Learning Partnership Roundtable Report, 1998.

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2 Daniel James Rowley, Herman D. Lujan, and Michael G. Dolence, Strategic Change in Colleges and Universities (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).

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3 Michael Hammer, Beyond Reengineering: How the Process-Centered Organization Is Changing Our Work and Our Lives (New York: Harper-Business, 1996).

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4 "Transformation of Higher Education."

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5 "Creating Electronic Student and Customer Services: Learning from Higher Education and Business," American Productivity & Quality Center Best Practice Report, 1997.

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6 K. Flynn, "Critical Success Factors for a Successful Business Reengineering Project," CASE World Conference Proceedings, Boston, Mass., October 1993, and MG Rush Systems, Inc., 1996.

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Frank Tait ( is Vice President, Business Development and Strategy, at SCT Education Systems. the table of contents