Humans or Technology?

In the Registrar’s world, we’re rapidly moving forward with technology. We work with an ERP (if you’re lucky), an SIS (at minimum), and web portals, online workflows, etc. We schedule classes with tech solutions that take into account things like class size, location, time, faculty availability, student demand, etc. Students register online, get their invoices via the student portal, pay by going to their bank website and transferring the money.

It’s getting so the student doesn’t ever need to come into the office anymore. With all this technology available, why do we bother hiring humans?

We hire humans because we serve humans.

But the nature of our work has certainly changed. When I started in this business, we used to do everything by paper. Students would choose their classes on paper and stand in line to see a Registration clerk, hoping there would still be room in the class by the time they got to the desk. Often, there wasn’t, and we would send the student away to select different classes, and stand in line and do this all over again. We used to post lists of full classes every half hour, and you could hear the groans from students as a new full class would make it on the list.

As you can imagine, this was a very busy time for staff. We used to hire extra staff during this time. Line-ups would stretch outside the office, down the hall, outside the building and into the parking lot. If it was raining, it was a pretty rotten experience for all. Students would be drenched, carpets would be soaked, and patience was stretched thin. The goal was to get the pain over with as quickly as possible. Students often settled for less than the ideal classes and schedule because the process was so awful.

Even though this was a human-to-human process, no one liked it. Staff and students dreaded Registration Day(s). Technology has improved this situation immensely. Staff can work ahead to get everything ready, while students can choose classes from the comfort of their own homes or dorm rooms, or while sitting in the local coffee shop.

All this is great, but it fundamentally changed the nature of the Registrar’s Office front line staff role. No longer are we simply processing paperwork and getting students through the line as quickly as possible. Now we are trouble-shooters, problem solvers, and we point students to resources and people who can help.

In short, we have become consultants, solving simple to complex problems – the ultimate in personal, human service.

When you have the choice of buying technology or hiring a human, consider the important difference. Buy for processing; hire for consulting.

Both are more human.

P.S. Thanks to Stefanie Ivan at Grant MacEwan University for the idea behind this.

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