Universities tackle big challenges with Microsoft Power Platform

Student using Microsoft Power Platform

Today’s unprecedented public health and educational crisis is creating enormous challenges for institutions of higher education. Chief among these are campus closures and the need to switch to remote or hybrid learning, concerns over the health and well-being of students, faculty, and the community, and the need to understand the impacts on academic research.

As higher education institutions prepare for the upcoming academic year, they will have to address the needs of their communities, while meeting operational requirements across the university. Some solutions can be found in new, agile low-code tools, which are helping institutions quickly meet specific challenges they face. Microsoft’s Power Platform allows users to address challenges and streamline processes across an institution through low-to-no-code apps, bots, and the automation of backend processes—all integrating with Microsoft Teams as a single hub for students, faculty, and staff.

We’re hearing incredible stories about how institutions are addressing challenges like student engagement and well-being, back-to-school requirements, and research in real-time with the Power Platform, including low-code apps with Power Apps, automated processes with Power Automate, powerful chatbots with Power Virtual Agents, and up-to-the-minute analytics with Power BI. That’s all happening without the need for developers or data scientists.

The Upstate Medical University story

Upstate Medical University serves 17 counties and nearly 1.8 million constituents in New York State. The institution recently released a back-to-school solution to ensure a safe return to campus. With limited staff to deploy as screeners, Upstate and Microsoft introduced a new, self-screening assessment tool to ensure the safe return of faculty, staff, students, and medical residents to campus.

To keep the campus safe early in the COVID-19 pandemic many staff members worked from home and campus buildings had only limited access. Individuals who did report to campus were screened for symptoms by an Upstate staff member.

However, with the use of the new tool, since June 8, Upstate has completed more than 8,500 screenings with more than  2,000 screenings completed on the first full day the tool was launched. As the campus begins to reopen, Upstate will need to provide symptom screening at more campus locations. This self-assessment tool assists Upstate in these screenings through allowing daily symptom checking online in accordance with CDC guidelines

Upstate Medical responds quickly to community during pandemic

At the outset of the pandemic this spring, Upstate Medical University launched a COVID telephone hotline on behalf of Onondaga County to provide information on COVID-19 to the public and to help triage symptomatic patients to the right location for follow-up care and possible testing. As the hotline call volume increased significantly, Upstate recognized the need to provide an additional method to address the public’s questions.

Working with Microsoft, Upstate quickly developed an online coronavirus assessment tool to enable users to assess their symptoms and determine whether they should seek testing. The health bot solution allowed for a quick remedy to the high call volume of the telephone hotline while continuing to provide the public with information. The assessment tool logged 8,000 users in its first week of operation. The success of the tool enabled Upstate to scale back hours for its telephone hot line, enabling the staff who volunteered to answer calls to return to their normal positions. Upstate Medical was able to reduce call center and testing center volumes optimizing human capital, resources, and facilities. 

Dr. Robert Corona, CEO of Upstate University Hospital, said, “There is much anxiety from the public, and understandably so, during this critical time. The coronavirus assessment tool, coupled with our COVID-19 triage line, can help the public get quick accurate information about their current health situation, and reassurance on next steps.”  

Understanding the financial impact at Purdue

Announced last month, Purdue University, a top public research institution in Indiana, partnered with Microsoft to create a Power App, the Higher Education Crisis Financial Impact Tracker, to help determine how the current situation is affecting academic research programs and provide an aggregated view of the financial impact on the university. Purdue researchers can access the application through Teams and input information on specific research initiatives and how they’ve been affected. 

In a recent press release, Theresa Mayer, Purdue’s Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships, said, “At this point, we have more than 1,100 faculty members on campus using the tool, and it is allowing us to get a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 event has affected our research programs. Until now, we have not been able to quantify impact at the research project level this efficiently.” Purdue University was the first university to implement the Higher Education Crisis Financial Impact Tracker. Microsoft announced that this Power App will soon be available to all universities. Learn more at https://aka.ms/educfit

ANS provides student engagement solution

To support student engagement, ANS, a UK cloud and digital services provider, developed a Power App solution to help improve student engagement and identify at-risk students during the COVID-19 crisis. The solution works by gathering various data from Microsoft Teams such as which students have virtually attended lectures. It then automates a workflow that helps the university pinpoint and address specific student needs, allowing them to act quickly to ensure the best outcome.

See ANS’ blog to learn more. And get the new IDC report, “Transform Student Engagement: Achieve Personalized, Efficient, Inclusive, and Accessible Higher Education with AI,” to learn more about top use cases for AI enabling student engagement.

Microsoft’s platform is flexible to assist higher education institutions in adhering to local guidance and requirements regarding faculty, staff and student privacy and safety. With the help of these tools, Microsoft aims to continue to be a resource for higher education institutions as they address the emerging needs of students, faculty, and staff across university and healthcare settings.

Learn more about Power Platform and Teams for Education and adapt quickly with agile, low-code tools available using the following solutions:

  • Microsoft Power Apps empowers everyone, regardless of their technical abilities, to build low-code apps quickly and easily.
  • Power Automate enables you to streamline repetitive tasks and paperless processes.
  • Power Virtual Agents enables you to create powerful chatbots, like a crisis response chatbot—without the need for developers or data scientists.
  • Power BI enables everyone at every level of your institution to make confident decisions using up-to-the-minute analytics.

For more information:

And see how a Tacoma, Washington school principal built a Power App to improve reading assessments.

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