Top 5 EDUCAUSE Takeaways
In this article
The EDUCAUSE 2022 Annual Conference was packed with strong thought leadership to guide higher education institutions in their work over the coming year. We've selected the five takeaways (in no particular order of importance) that we see as most compelling for focus within computing technology.
- Culture of care and transformation (CX) that balances with digital transformation (DX)
- Modernizing infrastructure and lifecycle management using managed services, operational technologies and broadband networking.
- Cybersecurity, privacy and compliance.
- Classroom and computing lab technologies.
- Enterprise applications and their actionable data: ERP, CRM & LMS.
For each of these takeaways, we offer some following thoughts about approaches to consider in order to create positive momentum.
1. Culture of care and transformation (CX) that balances with digital transformation (DX)
Fostering a Culture of Care and supporting the Culture Transformation, or CX, component of institutional evolution is critical alongside the work in digital transformation and involves attention to both student and employee experience. Across different areas of research, students have expressed that they want to see institutions care for them by providing better digital services. For employees, creating concentrated institutional networks and a culture of care to support their mental and emotional well-being can bring significant work satisfaction which, in turn, results in higher employee retention. Much of this individual connection and culture building is rooted in how the institution connects and communicates with employees, and technology can facilitate these interactions.
- Collaboration and communication
Students must have easy, low-stress ways to connect with and seek service from employees and should have access to consistent, easy-to-use institution-wide collaboration tools and devices and scheduling tools.
- Network connectivity
Network connections must just WORK and not distract from the task that students are trying to participate in -class, study groups, accessing systems online, or logging in to tools and systems.
- End-user device support
Individual users must have easy ways to seek fast support help for technology issues. Institutions can leverage ITSM tools like ServiceNow to facilitate workflows and activity to provide this support.
- Coordinated help and warm transfers
Central case management and workflows can be facilitated with ITSM and CRM tools so students can start from anywhere in the institution and employees can help connect them to the services and help that they need. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can facilitate friendly follow-up with students to ensure their questions are answered and issues are resolved to student satisfaction.
- Chatbots and student self-service
Many of the artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools can facilitate easier 24x7 accessibility to answers and connection to services that are easy for students to find and can access in context when they need them most.
- Digital documents and workflow
Offering digital document review and e-signing can be part of integrated, efficient institutional processes and their associated documentation requirements.
- Digital and hybrid workplace tools
The collection of easy, low-stress ways for employees to connect with their colleagues should use consistent, familiar institution-wide collaboration tools and devices with integrated scheduling tools.
- Integrated institutional employee directory
Organizational directories that are integrated behind the scenes and are always current, easy to use, and have an available student-centered lens provides employees with information at their fingertips to help their institutional colleagues and their students quickly connect with the right person.
- Process automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) tools can facilitate warm follow-ups with students at key times such as the first week of classes, at approaching course to add/drop deadlines, tracking important graduation deadlines, and other academic milestones to ensure they have the information they need and are taking timely actions. These matter especially for first-time college students, first-generation students, and other students who have limited outside support networks to guide them in their academic journeys.
2. Modernizing infrastructure and lifecycle management using managed services, operational technologies and broadband networking
Students, faculty and staff are more tech-savvy than ever, and they bring their consumer digital expectations to campus. To support the digital demand, institutions are considering new approaches to designing and delivering infrastructure solutions and services. Hybrid modalities of learning and working are here to stay, and IT leaders and staff need to be prepared to support "everything anywhere" and to pivot quickly when necessary. To support the breadth and sophistication of technology needs and expectations, IT leaders are considering sustainable operating models that consider the talent requirements and the lifecycle funding for maintenance and upgrades, and replacements down the road.
Higher Ed IT organizations are provisioning and maintaining robust and ubiquitous campus connectivity solutions that students, faculty, and staff need in order to learn and work. For those solutions that have ties to physical location and operations, comprehensive approaches to infrastructure modernization areas of focus include:
- Upgrades and enhancements to Wi-Fi
- Private LTE and 5G
- Multi-cloud connectivity and provisioning
- Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN)
- Secure access service edge (SASE/SSE)
- Infrastructure automation
Provisioning and maintaining technology services on campuses require skilled teams of IT professionals. Recruiting and retaining the right professionals to provide services has been especially challenging in Higher Ed given the draw of the private sector to talented individuals. A strategic approach is needed to meet institutional demand with the appropriate level and quantity of skills. Obtaining staffing and skills through valued industry partners can provide faster and broader access to fill talent gaps and accelerate the momentum of delivering high-value projects and initiatives. Strategic outsourcing also avoids a longer-term commitment to coveted recurring funds. Skill needs such as solution architecture and design, project implementation, hard-to-fill positions, and staff backfill are prime areas for strategic outsourcing.
Building and supporting technology infrastructure and keeping current with lifecycle upgrades and replacements are prime areas for institutions to leverage industry partners who can provide more end-to-end managed solutions with a predictable budget model. Managed services, including managing all or part of a network, helps IT organizations address the technology and talent challenges and provide a financial model that "bakes in" the lifecycle replacement of technology components. A managed service approach provides a more proactive approach to infrastructure services with clear criteria for performance, capabilities, and support while allowing IT leaders to focus their attention on recruiting and retaining talent for higher-value services.
3. Cybersecurity, privacy and compliance
Within their cybersecurity strategies and activity, institutions need to incorporate support for a breadth of regulations – HIPAA, FERPA, CMMC, NIST 800-171 and more - into their computing technology priorities. A few areas of technology provide critical foundations for strong cybersecurity, privacy, and compliance structures.
Secure computing and storage environments
Creating a robust multi-cloud strategy is key to ensuring that documents, data, and computing activity happens as securely as possible. Local data center infrastructure is paired with choosing cloud platforms that are designed for this type of use. Institutions can consider sovereign cloud environments which are architected and implemented to deliver security and data access that meets the strict requirements of data privacy, access, and control that must be adhered to.
Secure exchange of information
Adopting simple deployment mechanisms and familiar user interfaces like those in broad use like Microsoft O365 and Google suite will reduce the effort of adoption of new tools and managing the change effort across expansive institutional processes and teams.
Secure authentication, authorization and access to information
Implementing a zero trust security environment ensures that institutional information is protected from unexpected threats and exposure. Zero trust approaches are designed to limit access to sensitive information, leverage network micro-segmentation to limit the 'attack surface' that can be accessed, and dynamically assesses the security risk of users, devices, and services to mitigate risks that may occur post-authentication.
4. Classroom and computing lab technologies
Students, staff, and faculty alike want the flexibility of remote and hybrid working and learning. Classrooms and learning spaces need to be equipped with the technology infrastructure and physical layouts needed to create active and highly flexible learning environments that match the various modalities of working and learning.
Momentum continues to happen around evolving learning spaces. Collaborative initiatives like FLEXspace are bringing together professionals across K-20 academia and industry to share ideas and innovation in classroom technology. Video walls and well-placed flat digital displays, AI tracking cameras, array microphones, short-throw projectors with wireless sharing and pen or touch-based interactivity, dancing walls, and modular furniture bring significant flexibility to instructors. Some institutions are using more sophisticated technologies like Learning Glass lightboards and broadcast studios to reach their distance and hybrid learners.
Contrary to initial thought, computing labs are not shifting to completely virtual access. Students still want a physical place to collaborate and many need to have access to computing workstations and printing; the evolution is that they also are bringing their own equipment and need bandwidth and desktop space to spread out, dock and connect to monitors, and work with their student colleagues.
Docking spaces, additional monitors, reconfigured tables and larger workspaces for small groups to work, and computers with specialized applications for degree programs are all part of the evolution of physical computing labs. Institutions are also exploring virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions to provide students with more flexibility to get to low-cost open educational resources (OER) and specialized software applications from remote locations so they can continue their work without having to commute to on-campus labs.
Computing connectivity for live participation
Technology teams can evaluate the bandwidth capability of various learning spaces - on and off campus - to determine what improvements and changes can be made to improve conditions for learners. Even physical proximity within a classroom, study space, laboratory, or multi-level can affect the size and placement of displays, screens, and WIFI access points so that all learners in the facility have as optimal an experience as possible. Learners who are assigned to laboratories or project rooms in the basement of a concrete building should have the same connectivity as those on the main floor of a media space. Network connections must work during the need for live participation and not distract from in-class, real-time activities, and live exams.
5. Enterprise applications and their actionable data: ERP, CRM & LMS
Many of the existing legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications in Higher Ed are decades-old, monolithic single-vendor platforms that reside on local farms of servers and require an army of administrators and developers to maintain. The newer ERP and CRM systems enable institutions to transform their back office operations and provide enhanced analytics capabilities for more robust data-driven decision-making. Important data then comes from individual cloud solutions which have been adopted by different parts of the institution. This presents a challenging data management and data-integration barrier that gets more challenging as cloud systems proliferate.
By collecting shared enterprise transactional data from these multiple sources, institutions can establish a common source of operational truth for transparency, visibility, decision-making, and action in institutional operations by tracking all aspects of operations, logistics, and financials.
Identity and Access Management
Identity and Access Management (IAM) is an essential area of focus for managing the digital identities of people and things in an organization and the access required to systems and data. Having a clear vision for the management of identities and the appropriate access is critical for operational efficiency and also crucial to an institution's cybersecurity and risk posture.
Many Higher Ed organizations face a legacy of distributed and often duplicated array of identity and access management systems. These systems developed over time in a reactive fashion as new applications and systems were created and identity information was needed for determining access. Cybersecurity threats were present but not always top of mind and rarely did IT leaders have the ability or authority to create an overarching vision and program for the thoughtful creation, management, and security of unique identities.
Trends to move to the cloud, compliance initiatives, security threats, and the replacement of large enterprise applications (i.e. ERP, CRM) have encouraged institutions to begin adopting new programs to mature identity and access management. Key functions desired in new IAM programs include:
- Automated provisioning and workflow
- Role-based access control
- Multi-factor authentication
- Single-Sign-On (SSO)
- Fine-grained authorization
- Auditing and reporting capabilities
IAM programs require significant investments in time, technology, and talent, which is why many IAM initiatives have been jumpstarted as part of a larger application portfolio overhaul during which ERPs and/or CRMs are being implemented. Larger programs typically bring awareness at the institution's cabinet and board levels and carry funding that can be applied to include IAM provisions. Access to funding provides opportunities to bring in consulting and implementation expertise, which has been more challenging within Higher Ed.
Data strategy & data-driven culture
The focus of data analytics needs to change from a historical approach (using data to understand what has happened) to a future-oriented approach (using data to project where we are heading) in order to guide institutional strategy as leaders decide on the major initiatives to undertake in the next five to ten years. Leaders have to act forward as well. They need to work with stakeholders in looking at the data and deciding whether and, if so, how to act on it.
The more seamless data can be analyzed, models built and insights integrated into the day-to-day workflows, the more rapidly organizations can innovate and make decisions on the fly. Often departments and units work with data throughout the enterprise in an uncoordinated fashion with no shared definitions and processes. The goal for institutions is to move to a more mature data-based operation where data-driven insights are ingrained in processes and accessible across the business to measure and drive action, resulting in the ability to seamlessly integrate data and insights into new business policies and processes.
Data warehouse or lake systems with well-defined management and governance are utilized to provide a foundational system for reporting, data science, and key operational users.
Power users have access to expanded data for exploration with data access granted based on levels of expertise. Reporting teams focus on operational analytics while business users run queries and extract data as needed.
As institutions upgrade these enterprise platforms, new capabilities and functionality will be available to leverage. Understanding which applications create and process which data and how the data flows between them is critical to defining the most meaningful and accurate business rules and calculations and dashboards to provide insight into operations. This understanding extends beyond the ERP, LMS and SIS systems themselves into the portfolio of institutional applications that integrate with them. Application rationalization efforts can help institutions incorporate important migration planning into their modernization programs and accommodate what system interfaces need to be shifted, decommissioned and modified. This work helps ensure that critical functionality is not lost and new gaps in capability are not introduced. Institutions may also have the opportunity to realize operational savings by decommissioning unnecessary applications from their portfolio.