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From Slow to Flow: Using Salesforce Flows to Streamline Clunky Processes in Higher Ed

By December 20, 2016

By: Cole Motley, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

RossAs the Assistant Director for Technology for the Undergraduate Admissions Team at the Ross School of Business, my main two main responsibilities are to manage the admissions data and to build and maintain our technology systems.

At Ross, we’ve learned that Salesforce can be a powerful tool for everyone in admissions, from readers and evaluators to decision-makers and leadership. Salesforce has brought value to our organization in many ways, but in this post I’m focusing on how we improved admissions evaluations.

The tool I’m going to talk about is called Visual Workflow and it’s an out-of-the-box resource on the Salesforce platform. System administrators and business analysts can use it to build “flows,” which help you automate processes with little to no coding. It’s easy to use, and flexible enough to handle the automation of an extremely wide variety of multi-step processes.

A little background: we’re using flow to simplify the admissions application evaluation process for our readers. We have 3 roles on our admissions team, and each role needs different access, information, and input ability:

  • Application Readers: Read the application and input evaluations
  • Admissions Review Committee: Make decisions and need to see all of the admissions information
  • Data Manager: Provide access and information to everyone involved

The Old Process

Our old evaluation tool was inflexible and inefficient. It only had one rating box and one comment box. It required readers to access multiple systems to perform the whole evaluation. We had to manually upload applications in order to assign them. It wasn’t dynamic enough to support all of our programs. And it crashed. A lot.

In order to give the Admissions Review Committee a complete view of the student, we had to create binder pages that contained the important admissions information. These were made from performing a mail merge with an Excel and Word document. Going from Excel to paper, and then back to Excel was time-consuming.

Old process

In order to send weekly dashboards, I had to update pivot tables, pull the data into another Excel document, and email it to our leadership. Old data would sit in their inboxes for up to a week. Plus, this was a tedious, manual process for me to complete.

I thought: there has to be a better way!

One of my colleagues encouraged me to watch a video and explore flows as a possible solution for this cumbersome process. It was this presentation by Wayne State University, and it inspired me to create my first flow!

How Flows Work

Visual Workflow is included in all Salesforce instances, so if you have Salesforce you already have flows. Flows can reference basically any object in Salesforce and follow the user permissions you’ve already set up, so you can easily grant or restrict access to flows.

There are four important elements to every flow:

User Interface Screens
  • Data displayed to users from Salesforce records
  • Input data fields
  • Static & dynamic picklists
  • Decision
  • Loop
  • Assignment
  • Wait
  • Create records
  • Update records
  • Look up records
  • Delete records
  • Email alerts
  • Create record actions
  • Connect flows together
  • Apex classes

Combining these 4 areas, you can display information to users, have them input data back, make decisions based on that information, display or look up more information, update or create records, and incorporate other actions. A lot of business processes can be completed by combining these elements.

The New & Improved Process

Once I learned about flows, I had some ideas on how to streamline and automate the review process. First, application readers would see the application they need to review and they be able write data directly back to Salesforce. Then I would use page layouts to display that information to the Admissions Review Committee, who could input decisions directly to the record. Finally, we’d have reports and dashboards update automatically and be sent to leadership!

Here’s the new process:

New process

The new business process is much more streamlined! There are two pieces that happen automatically. The Excel components have been decreased greatly. And my favorite part, no more paper in the process!

Flows are a great way to guide users through processes in order to force correct data entry and limit errors. You could use them for call scripting and logging, web forms that reference data, user onboarding and training, event registration, doing mass record updates, and so much more. Not only do flows increase efficiency, but they can also help you reduce the use of spreadsheets and save paper. I hope this post motivates you to simplify all kinds of processes at your organization!

You can use Trailhead and this workbook to learn to use Visual Workflow!

Want to learn more about how Higher Ed trailblazers are innovating on the platform?

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