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Manual vs. Automated Certification Workflow: Advancing Your Program

by | Certification

If you were to imagine the perfect certification process, what would it look like? Qualitatively, it would likely come down to two things.

  1. Make it easy to collect applicant information.
  2. Automatically approve qualified candidates and reject unqualified candidates.

That doesn’t sound too complicated now, does it? And yet, for many programs, the idea of setting up an automated certification process seems daunting. They may have started to build an online process only to find that it is much more complicated to build than they thought. Some parts are easy, and others are complicated and never quite work.


One of the ways to make sure you implement a working online certification process is to make sure you automate the right parts of your process and automate them correctly. So let’s explore the manual vs. automated certification workflow and what kinds of processes lend themselves to automation and then talk about how to set them up to be consistent with your rules.

Manual vs. Automated Certification Workflow: Automate the Right Parts

When you delegate tasks, you look around the room and give jobs to people based on what they are good at. Automating processes uses the same principle—figure out what you need to get done and what aspects would be better performed by a system. We might take a leaf out of Reinhold Niebuhr’s book:

  • Give me a system to automate the things that can be automated.
  • Give me people to do the things that can’t be automated.
  • Give me the wisdom to know the difference.

So let’s start to match up the things we do in certification processes and how they match up to tasks computers can do well. We know that systems are good at calculations, applying rules consistently, and bulk communications. Now let’s think about the information we collect for certification processes that are a good fit for system automation.


System Automation Certification Examples
  • Add the number of work experience hours completed across multiple positions.
  • Aggregate the number of CE/PDU credits accumulated
  • Apply payment discounts for membership early submission
  • Count the number of completed procedures
Consistent Rules
  • Require specific levels of education
  • Manage deadlines, such as submission dates and recertification cycles
  • Impose minimum levels of experience
  • Impose maximum credits for certain kinds of activities
  • Apply input validation requirements
Bulk Communications
  • Alerts of impending deadlines
  • Confirmation of application submission
  • Notification of passing or failing an exam
  • Request for clarification of an application
Status Changes
  • Change application status when a condition changes, like an applicant to be certified when a passing score is received.
  • Demographic change, like certified to lapsed or expired if recertification is not submitted on time.


The objective in each of these cases is to make it easy for a person to complete an application. 

If you can isolate the parts of your process that lend themselves to automation, you’ll put yourself in a great position to make the most of a system. 

Keep the Right Parts of a Certification Process Manual

When thinking about manual vs. automated certification workflow, there are good reasons to keep parts of a certification processes manual. Just as systems are good at some tasks, they aren’t good enough at others. For instance, computers are generally not as good at extracting unstructured information and managing exceptions.


Those of you who are deep into AI and machine learning may take issue with that, but let’s face it, for purposes of certification processes, we have a long way to go before technology catches up to humans. So let’s take a look at some of the common certification tasks better left to humans.


Unstructured Information
  • Evaluate a job title or job description for relevance to the program.
  • Evaluate the learning objectives of an educational activity for alignment to the scope.
  • Interpret a transcript for evidence of academic prerequisites.
  • Analyze written materials.
  • Assess observational competencies.
  • Evaluate valid excuses for missing deadlines.
  • Explain nuances of deficiencies for unstructured submissions.


For tasks better left to humans, the role of the online application process is to make the human review as easy as possible. The right system will improve the human review process by allowing a more thorough evaluation and providing clear pathways. An online application process will:

  • Make it easy to find submissions for review.
  • Provide a consistent rubric to collect evaluation data.
  • Deliver a way to communicate deficiencies and requests for clarification.
  • Track the application statuses as applicants respond to comments.

When implemented successfully, the system doesn’t just improve through automation, it also improves the human review.

Getting Automated and Manual Certification Processes Right

Figuring out which parts of your process to automate and which to remain manual doesn’t mean you’ll magically set up everything perfectly. That’s just the first step. Once you decide what you want to do, you’ll need to make sure you provide precise guidance regarding your business requirements. The two factors you’ll need to succeed are:

  1. A clear way to communicate your needs.
  2. A system that can handle them.

Now let’s talk about what you’ll need in a system and how to communicate your needs.

Communicate Your Certification Process Needs

When automating a process, you need to provide precise instructions for how to set up the system. Remember, what makes systems great is that they process the data the same way every time. That means if you set up a rule incorrectly, it will process the record incorrectly every time. So how do you convey rules so they are clear to everyone? The industry offers a few tools to help with communications:

  • A project charter – This is an overview of your program circumstances and the impact you plan for the system to achieve. You will describe the current state of your program and any specific metrics that might improve, such as improvements in successful applicants, greater numbers of test-takers, or improved attrition rates.
  • Workflow diagrams – These can describe step by step how an application progresses through your process. In a workflow diagram, you’ll want to explain the essential tasks, the requirements at each stage, and all the parties that handle an application. (Stay tuned for a follow-up article on how to put together a great workflow diagram)
  • Business rules statements – These statements describe the logical circumstances. Most likely, the rules described in your candidate handbook regarding eligibility and recertification are a good start, but it is likely you have a whole set of requirements that aren’t fully expressed there. These might be internal conditions for audit selection or particular interpretations of rules. (Stay tuned for a follow-up article on what makes a good business rule)

With those tools in place, you’ll be able to convey most of what you care about. The next step is finding a system and an implementation team to implement those rules and processes effectively.

Expert Tip: Do your workflow diagrams and business rule statements align with your candidate handbook? If you can use your candidate book as the sole source for application submission business rules, you are a step ahead in communicating your requirements to both your applicant and your technology partner.

Find the Right System to Automate Your Certification Process

The right system will be designed to manage the kinds of processes you describe. Ideally, eligibility processing, exam administration, and recertification concepts are baked into the system, not something you need to invent from scratch. To ensure you have the right system, consider the following:

  • You want a system that is “configurable” rather than “customizable.” Configuration is using a product that is intended to manage variables like yours without programming. Customization is when you need a programmer to make changes. Configuration means flexibility, adaptability, and scale. Customization means brittle, complicated, and limited. Configuration is usually represented as a “rules engine” or a “workflow editor” that includes the tools to tailor an experience to your needs.
  • Make sure applications are easy to follow. From the applicant’s perspective, it should be easier to submit an application and progress through the process when the system is enforcing the rules. If it isn’t easier, assess your rules and reevaluate the system fit.
  • Check out how a review process works. Behind the scenes, your staff will benefit from automating aspects of application review. At a minimum, you’ll need to be able to see applications as they come in and hone in on those manual processes that may be required.

Manual vs. Automated Certification Workflows: The Best of Both

Like most “either/or” problems, the question of manual vs. automated certification workflows is not a black and white issue. You need a system to automate the tasks systems are good at and support a clean and efficient method to perform tasks that a human must perform. If you can find the right system and use the right tools to convey your requirements, you may be pleasantly surprised at how capable an online system can help you grow your program while reducing your operational costs.


Heuristics Solutions provides software solutions for certification boards that can improve your process efficiency and drive down costs. To learn more, connect with us on our contact page or schedule a meeting with one of our expert team members.

Heuristic Solutions is a leader in software and technology for certification, licensure, and accreditation. Partner with us today, and we’ll modernize your system to better serve your organization.


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