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  • Writer's pictureRussell Cooke

The School Business Office and AI

Our latest blog post features some insights from Russell Cooke, Managing Consultant at Sage Consultancy into the transformative power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the international school business office. Following our recent presentation at the ECIS Leadership Conference on Automation in the business office, we delve into another topical subject.

Since November 2022, there has been a significant surge in discussions and interest surrounding generative artificial intelligence following the release of ChatGPT by OpenAI. ChatGPT and similar services, such as Microsoft's Bing with integrated OpenAI technology, Google's Bard, Anthropic's Claude, and other providers, have democratized access to advanced technology. These platforms enable users to create various types of content, including text, images, videos, spreadsheets, and slides, expanding the reach of such technology beyond technical experts.

In an international school business context, the applications of ChatGPT extend far beyond mere research and drafting tasks. Its versatility and capabilities make it a valuable tool for various aspects of operations and management.

ChatGPT serves as a powerful tool for drafting and analyzing community surveys through Its ability to process context and generate coherent, contextually relevant content. This helps ensure that survey questions are clear and impactful, and the results are quickly and concisely interpreted.

It can also be used to review and analyze existing agreements and contracts. By tapping into its vast database and language processing capabilities, a business office can gain insights into existing documents, identify potential gaps or areas for improvement, and enhance the quality of contractual agreements.

ChatGPT serves as a valuable resource for finance team members aiming to enhance the use of Excel within the business office. They can directly engage with ChatGPT to acquire accurate responses and even generate practical code snippets. For instance, finance managers often inquire about advanced Excel functions like VLOOKUP, PivotTables, and financial modeling techniques. They may ask about optimizing Excel formulas for budget analysis or automating reporting processes using macros. ChatGPT aids in clarifying these queries and provides step-by-step guidance on implementing Excel solutions tailored to the specific needs of finance managers in an educational setting.

Supporting the business office, the school's IT department will have benefited from how AI has significantly enhanced the accessibility of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) by streamlining and automating various processes. Through AI-powered tools and platforms, developers can now access APIs more efficiently and effectively, reducing the complexity traditionally associated with API integration and usage. Along with other improvements with APIs over the last few years, the ability for data to be shared between different schoolwide software programs has increased dramatically.

As well as appreciating that AI is not perfect and at best AI output needs a detailed human review, every international school should be adding a comprehensive AI Policy to its documentation library.

Creating a comprehensive AI policy for a school involves addressing crucial business aspects alongside the academic considerations. One vital aspect is privacy, particularly concerning the handling of sensitive information within open-access AI tools like ChatGPT or Bing. The Business Office must ensure that such tools do not compromise the confidentiality of school data, especially when generating content or drafting communications. Additionally, cybersecurity becomes paramount as generative AI can automate network monitoring but also poses risks of exploiting vulnerabilities within school systems. Fraud prevention is another critical area, with deep fakes and social engineering techniques becoming potential threats that schools must guard against through robust protocols. Moreover, the issue of bias in AI algorithms necessitates careful scrutiny, especially in HR-related processes, to avoid discriminatory practices. These considerations highlight the need for an AI policy that not only enhances educational experiences but also safeguards the integrity and security of the school's business operations.

As schools typically operate as low-conflict and harmonious environments, business office leadership should proactively consider the long-term impact of generative AI on staff planning. While current technology may not yet render roles redundant, this possibility could emerge within the next five to ten years. Maintaining awareness of evolving needs enables strategic transitions, such as leveraging natural turnover through retirement or employees moving on, rather than resorting to layoffs. This forward-thinking approach allows organizations to adapt organically to technological advancements, optimizing workforce management without disrupting the harmonious culture within educational institutions.

As schools embrace generative artificial intelligence and its myriad applications, they must anticipate its long-term impact on the business office. Amara's Law, which suggests that we tend to overestimate the short-term effects of technology while underestimating its long-term consequences, is particularly relevant. While AI may not immediately reshape job functions, its potential to do so in the next decade necessitates proactive planning.

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