Higher Education And Research Set To Gain From Digital Transformation

Malcolm Woodfield

As we move further into the 21st century, higher education is in constant flux. The education industry as a whole faces several key challenges. For starters, as the competitive landscape for higher education institutions continues to expand and diversify, students and parents alike are questioning the economics of traditional 4-year degrees. Educational institutions are also dealing with a shift in student expectations for increased attention and focus on student success through graduation. Furthermore, disparate legacy technology infrastructures are stuck within cycles of inefficiency and technology silos that inhibit innovation and limit the ability to adopt a student-first agenda.

From an operational perspective, outdated legacy systems are hindering efficiency across campuses, as traditional on-premise systems are expensive to maintain, difficult to update, and risky to change. The need for digitization is clear, but the education industry continues to struggle with advancing digital transformation initiatives. While many are attempting rip-and-replace cloud solutions in an effort to reduce costs, this approach can be limiting rather than enabling.

Who will benefit from going digital?

As the industry looks forward to the future, it’s clear that digital transformation will be necessary. The three areas of the education sector that will benefit most from going digital include:

  1. Student engagement, with integrated communications and oversight. Treating the student like a valued customer.
  2. Integrated operating environments, with embedded analytics to drive “smart” operations.
  3. New models for work and working, embracing contract labor and shared service models.

It will be difficult for companies and institutions to “go it alone” in the digital economy. That’s why it’s vital to have the right partner, with the right digital innovation system in place, to succeed. The companies that will be critical to the industry’s success will be those that include key branded players in mobility and communications and specialists in cybersecurity. They will also be the ones that accommodate specific student (and faculty) needs and offer tailored and innovative support models to provide more responsive and personalized levels of service.

Benefits of running in the cloud

For any industry today, adapting to new technologies includes a shift to working in the cloud, and this is no different for the education industry. There are several benefits for educational institutions running in a cloud environment, provided they do not follow a rip-and-replace approach. One benefit is the low investment entry point: It is inexpensive to enter the cloud. Additionally, running in a cloud environment also offers a minimal risk entry, particularly if lines of business such as HR and procurement are addressed first. A shift to a cloud-based environment can also help reduce the need for internal IT staff. That’s good news for educational institutions that find keeping up with technology a fiscal, and talent, challenge.

Key benefits of a cloud-based digital transformation initiative should include economic efficiency and survival. And while the digitization of education can involve a wide range of complex technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, machine learning, design thinking, and predictive analytics, consider the following:

  1. Retaining a student is far less expensive than recruiting a student.
  2. Graduation breeds successful reputation (and ranking).
  3. Integrated systems that best “serve” students drive value and client satisfaction.
  4. Current economic models are no longer sustainable. Unabated tuition and fee models (increases) won’t be supported.
  5. Educational institutions must find more efficiency and cost savings with smarter operations. They must rethink what it means to support both students and faculty.

For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”


Malcolm Woodfield

About Malcolm Woodfield

Malcolm Woodfield is the Global Vice President, Head of Industry Business Unit Education & Research, at SAP. He manages a global team accountable for the overall business, market, customer, and revenue success of the Higher Education / Public Services portfolio (including all Applications, Analytics, Mobile, HANA, and Cloud) globally.