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Greenwich College’s new hire ‘Raybot’ helps international students get enrolled into courses

An AI-powered bot unlocks productivity gains and future-proofs one of Australia’s largest private tertiary education providers to help process enrolment applications within 24 hours of receiving them.

Greenwich College is one of Australia’s largest private English language and vocational training businesses, catering to over 10,000 international students per year – and growing.

Like others in the tertiary education sector, it has ridden a wave of explosive growth in inquiries and enrolments post-pandemic. When borders reopened, the dream of studying in Australia became a reality again for students worldwide.

As in many sectors heavily exposed to international movements, Greenwich College was forced to wind back operations in order to stay afloat during the pandemic. Its slimmed-down state enabled its survival but left it challenged when international travel resumed.

“When the borders reopened, the floodgates opened so we had to scale incredibly quickly,” recalls Head of Admissions and Systems, Jane Choi.

Scale is not just a tap that can be switched on and off; it takes time to rebuild teams and capability.

For Greenwich College, that meant turn-around times for confirmation of enrolments temporarily increased from 24 hours to up to two weeks.

The international education sector is competitive, and enrolment and visa application processes are highly intertwined. Prospective students apply for study, their application is assessed, and, if eligible, they receive a formal letter of offer. If the offer is accepted and a tuition deposit paid, the education provider issues a confirmation of enrolment, generated by a government system. This document is required to apply for and receive a student visa.

The expectation on all sides is for an application assessment to occur quickly. Greenwich College’s benchmark is under 24 hours, so when timelines blew out, Choi and her team had to find ways to do things better.

Choi has a team of 15 assessing officers, most located in Australia, but a couple also in Brazil, a key source market for the organisation. Operating in dual time zones enable some ‘follow-the-sun’ processing of applications, but it’s still a people-intensive process. An officer working seven hours a day, five days a week, can process around 30 applications a day. This was no match for the large number of applications being received, which peaked at “hundreds” per day.

Assessment processes are highly regulated, and education providers face strict compliance requirements. With high competition for talent, Choi attempted to scale up the assessment team with less experienced employees, augmented with intensive training. “We had some hits and misses,” she says. Other methods were also used to drive down the application backlog: incentives and overtime for existing employees, and offshore recruitment.

The backlog was eventually cleared, courtesy of the mix of strategies employed, together with an easing of application volumes which were returning to a more normalised level. But the challenges faced in this period made a strong impression. As Choi says, “We needed to think about future-proofing the business and ensure we were never in that situation ever again.”

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“We had a good idea that certain things we did could be automated. We knew what we wanted but we needed the right partner who spoke our language that could help us capitalise on this.”

Jane Choi · Head of Admissions and Systems,
Greenwich College

Greenwich College took it as an opportunity to innovate: to test-and-learn with emerging technology to seek to improve process efficiency and effectiveness. The result is Raybot – ‘Ray’ for short – an intelligent automation bot that is handling enrolment data entry on behalf of the Greenwich College assessing officers, enabling them to focus on higher order tasks and doubling their capacity to process applications.

Data matters

Aspects of the application assessment process are significantly repetitive. When an application is received, Greenwich College needs to check if the prospective student is already in its student management systems, and if not, to create a new record. Some data entry is required: start dates, student details and other vital information fields to enable Greenwich to process the enrolment application.

Accuracy of data entry is critical, since the data is used to generate government documents that are needed for the student to apply for a visa. While assessing officers could be trained to improve their accuracy and speed, it left open the potential for human error and did not represent a cost-effective way to scale. The repetitive nature made this portion of the application process a candidate for intelligent process automation.

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Finding a values-based partner

Greenwich College had mixed experiences with prior technology partners, and prioritised cultural fit, values, and technical capability in its search for a partner to help it implement intelligent process automation. “It’s difficult to find the right partner when you want to test a particular idea but also get results at the same time,” says Choi. “That’s how we like to approach things: test an idea, get it working, get some value out of it, but with a view to being able to scale it.”

Tecala was able to show Greenwich College similar examples of bots that were already in use. It also took a bespoke approach to the college’s needs, bringing in domain experts from across the company to contribute to the solution design and provide expertise to guide Greenwich College through the project and implementation.

The approach instilled confidence with Greenwich College that the experiment could operate not only in a cost-effective manner but also that it had the greatest chance of producing the desired results quickly.

Tecala created a robotic process automation (RPA) workflow that “reads” the applications being received like a human would. Raybot then downloads the student’s supporting documents, classifies them using OCR and keywords and extracts important information, such as a passport scan, by feeding it into a machine learning model. The underlying technology is provided by UiPath.

“We were able to get from zero to production in about three months, and it wasn’t disruptive – we didn’t have to change systems or retrain staff. It was business-as-usual for us,” says Choi. “We focused on improving a small aspect of a process that we were already doing.”

“We were able to get from zero to production in about three months, and it wasn’t disruptive – we didn’t have to change systems or retrain staff. It was business-as-usual for us,” says Choi. “We focused on improving a small aspect of a process that we were already doing.”

Jane Choi · Head of Admissions and Systems,
Greenwich College

“Instead of processing 25-30 applications, an assessing officer is able to double that now that Ray’s taking on some of the more repetitive and time-consuming data entry,”

Jane Choi · Head of Admissions and Systems,
Greenwich College

Ray makes its mark

With Ray taking care of data entry, Greenwich College assessing officers can now leapfrog this step and move straight into performing quality checks. “The more experienced team members can now focus on the actual assessing and decision-making that’s required to determine student eligibility into a study program,” Choi says.

Ray’s presence means assessors save on average 10 minutes per application processed. The sheer volume of work means those savings quickly add up, boosting the productivity and effectiveness of the whole application assessment function.

“Instead of processing 25-30 applications, an assessing officer is able to double that now that Ray’s taking on some of the more repetitive and time-consuming data entry,” says Choi.

Further gains are predicted as Ray’s scope is progressively expanded. For example, Choi sees an opportunity for Ray to begin handling more aspects of student onboarding, including generating payment plans and invoicing students. Oversight by assessors will still be a required and valuable part of the process, as the organisation uses variable pricing by geography as well as temporary promotions, and the dynamic nature of these makes them unsuited to full automation.

The balance between what’s best handled by a human or bot is guiding Greenwich College’s next steps and future directions. “It’s really about what a human can best do versus what a bot can do. We’ve been able to test this, and Tecala’s been the right partner for us to bring our ideas to life.”

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Interested in your own intelligent automation bot? Intelligent automation services with the freedom and flexibility to grow.

By delivering the right mix of business analysis, data analytics, business process automation, application integration and business process optimisation, our team provides end-to-end business intelligent automation services, including consulting.

Supported and augmented by our unified Managed IT, Cloud, Communications and Cyber Security services, Tecala’s Intelligent Automation as a Service is a fully integrated model that allows you to scale your automation as your business grows and evolves.

We provide assessments on your readiness for automation, along with intelligent automation consulting to guide you through the implementation, while our project management team works alongside you to ensure the right outcome.

Tecala’s intelligent automation services are delivered with support in Australia through our Service Operation Centre, where our local Managed IT Services teams specialise in managing and transforming your company’s ICT infrastructure operations.

With automation delivering the potential to drive performance, profitability, and growth in your organisation, Tecala’s back-end integration and automation, along with artificial intelligence, will provide your business with a scalable, end-to-end intelligent automation solution.

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