The Digital Surge In Higher Education

Malcolm Woodfield

Science fiction fans will remember the 1960s television series “Lost in Space,” which featured a talking robot—very unusual in 1965. Robbie the Robot was a sensation.

In 2016, things that are not alive but that can talk are no longer science fiction. Voice recognition software is very common, and we no longer simply talk into our phones—we talk to them, asking questions and getting answers.

Similarly, higher education today has gotten more sophisticated. It is no longer limited to just books and lecturers, and the college scene includes much more than just students and instructors. University life is now all about digital connectivity. Devoted to student success, colleges and universities are also complete communities. Beyond the people, they comprise facilities, buildings, and many other assets that support education. And while today’s buildings may have little else in common with Robbie the Robot, they can talk to us.

Most competitive campuses are now networked and digitized. Of course, this includes books and learning materials, but today’s technology revolution also includes much more.

Campuses are communities

A modern college campus is like a small town, with everything from restaurants and libraries to roads, sports facilities, and security forces. It is not unusual for today’s campuses to even have their own fire departments.

All of these features and amenities require repair, maintenance, security protection, and eventually replacement. Digitization makes all of these tasks easier and more timely. It offers accurate information in real time, to those who need it when they need it.

The task of a college is education, but a college is still a business. Every business has secondary objectives, which include the protection and maintenance of its assets. Digitization can streamline these tasks.

Smart buildings that can talk to people in real time are becoming increasingly common. Buildings can remind us of repairs, maintenance, and other important tasks that need to be done. Today’s networked campus can also reveal the behavioral trends of students, faculty, and staff. In many ways, a completely networked campus behaves more like a living thing than an institution.

Devices worn by students can tell us about their health and their learning patterns. This information, in turn, can help us create new and better education processes to help students learn more effectively. The campus will then achieve its student objectives while more efficiently protecting its physical assets.

Education is a business

Any successful business must keep its facilities up to date. Running a campus community is expensive, and maintaining all its buildings and assets is a complicated process.

Any homeowner knows there is plenty of  maintenance and upkeep required, and a college campus has many more buildings to maintain. According to U.S. News and World Report, homeowners spend, on average, between 1 to 4 percent of a home’s value annually on maintenance and repairs. That is a small fraction of the expenses for maintaining all the buildings of a modern college campus.

Because of the recent economic recession, many colleges have put off some needed maintenance and repairs. This “deferred maintenance” only adds to the growing problem of paying for this upkeep. Noting that his school had to spend $150 million over five years, Brian Hutzley, vice president of finance and administration at New York’s Colgate University, said, “If you are constantly delaying [maintenance], you’ll have more emergencies,”  Each dollar of deferred maintenance becomes a $4 expense later.

The business of education is expensive, and cutting costs through digitization makes good business sense. Smart buildings cost less to maintain and repair, as they help staff members recognize maintenance issues when they first occur, when repairs are least expensive.

Today’s universities are helping to cut the expense of education by adopting a business model based on the networked campus. Each building is becoming, in a sense, a talking Robbie the Robot, offering information on student and staff activities and trends to power the campus more efficiently.

The networked university campus speeds processes and facilitates communication for better efficiency. From funding to campus organizations to education delivery, advances in information technology are changing the way universities work.

For more information, please visit Higher Education. Reimagined for the new economy.


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.