Higher Ed technology trends in 2016 and beyond

Posted by  Amir Tajkarimi

The Higher Education CIO’s attention has moved from day to day technology challenges to finding strategic solutions to institutional problems. While cloud has been driving digital business model innovation in the commercial sector, Higher Education institutions are only now reaching a tipping point where they have no choice but to implement this new way of thinking. With cloud and a digital mindset, institutions can collect and utilize data like never before. The opportunities for improving student services are endless and this will be the focus for institutions over the next few years.  

Closing the gap on students’ technology experiences and expectations

Students operate in a diverse, consumer-oriented market for technology—see Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook—all accessed primarily through their mobile devices. But when asked to interface with their institution’s enterprise applications, they often experience a digital downgrade with desktop applications with poor user interfaces and clunky workflows. To meet the digital expectations of today’s tech-savvy students, institutions will develop device-agnostic mobile strategies that are agile enough to accommodate both current and future products, and in the process upgrade the user experience of their student-facing applications. Doing so is in the best interest of the institution—building a solid connection with students and keeping them satisfied is likely to increase retention, which in turn will increase the institution’s profitability. After all, it’s less expensive to retain a student than to recruit a replacement.

The rise of an “enterprise-wide” approach to CRM

Admissions and advancement offices have been the traditional users of customer relationship management (CRM) software. Admissions officers use it to help attract and recruit students, and advancement professionals use it to build relationships and raise funds with alumni and donors. In 2016, we predict that institutions will progressively seek fully-developed CRM solutions that track a student from the initial contact with the institution, through enrollment, and entry into alumnus status. In other words, the entire student life cycle. Collecting communications and exchanges between the student and all campus stakeholders—including professors, registrars, athletic coaches, career services, advisors, and housing staff—will provide the institution with a “360-degree” view of the student that enables them to fully maximize student lifetime value. By creating tighter relationships with students, the institution will reap the awards in retention, future recruitment and, ultimately, advancement.

A tipping point for SaaS delivery of student information systems

In the past the higher education industry has demonstrated a preference for customized and/or self-built IT solutions. However, attitudes are changing. Institutions are struggling with the weight and complexity of maintaining on-premise solutions. Research firm Gartner estimates that by 2017, at least 75% of new and replacement student information systems (SIS) in higher education globally will be SaaS- or cloud-based. We believe 2016 will be the year when institutions facing major SIS upgrades or contract renewals will overcome any reluctance to consider cloud delivery. If they are interested in quality, agility and innovation, they will be drawn to the many benefits of a cloud-based SIS solution: more frequent upgrades; a predictable total cost of ownership; a modern design with improved user interfaces; support of new business models and non-traditional students; staff relief from maintaining a growing portfolio of customizations; avoidance of high capital costs and disruption related to major upgrades; and enhanced analytics. Accordingly, more institutions will jump on board the SaaS bandwagon in 2016 as they see peers implementing new, reliable and stable cloud-based SIS solutions in a product category where innovation is sorely needed. 

Amir Tajkarimi

Amir Tajkarimi leads Unit4’s Center of Excellence for Education. Prior to this position he was the founder and president of Three Rivers Systems, a leading provider of student information systems to colleges and universities around the world. Amir’s entire career has been focused on helping higher education institutions to accelerate growth, elevate student success, and boost campus-wide productivity with easy-to-use academic management systems that manage the entire student lifecycle.