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Sink or swim? Why dashboards are lifesavers in new consumer-led HE market

Posted by  Mark Baars

According to vice-chancellors, higher education has changed “beyond recognition” in less than a decade, leading to a new focus on financial sustainability and efficiency gains through IT systems. Learning to swim in this new competitive, consumer-led market is the talk of the day, and dashboards are your lifesaver.

Vice-chancellors are worried. And rightly so. With expectations of “significant reshaping” of the HE sector in the near future, according to research by PA Consulting Group, and following the drastic market and policy changes in recent years, institution heads are feeling “distinctly beleaguered and uncertain” of the outlook.

Financial viability a top priority

These are the findings of PA Consulting’s 2018 survey of UK vice-chancellors, Forecasts of storms: University heads’ outlook for UK higher education. PA Consulting says that, over the nine years it has surveyed university leaders, the policy and market context for higher education has changed “beyond recognition”, from a “centrally funded, planned and protected” sector to a “competitive market for earned income” from students and business.

The problem, it adds, is that universities themselves have actually changed “remarkably little” over these years.

The researcher says that the “bullishness” reported in past reports has been replaced with a “safety-first focus on core strengths and financial prudence,” adding that the 2018 survey finds almost every single vice-chancellor (94%) citing their top priority as “protecting financial viability and security.”

Behind the times

The challenge for many institutions is that their student information systems (SIS) may well be one of the oldest on campus. According to the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, the average SIS was installed at a college or university 13 years ago.

That’s before the new commercially-focused business models were adopted by higher education institutions (HEIs) and well before the disruptive technology of today’s social- and mobile-driven app landscape — it pre-dates the iPhone (2007), Twitter (2006) and coincides with the launch of Facebook (2004).

The point is that we’ve all been experiencing a tech revolution in our personal lives over the past decade or so, but when students, faculty, and staff step on to the campus they often suffer a digital downgrade. But the challenge is not just being behind the times with students and staff, but keeping pace with rampant market change, which is exceptionally tough.

‘Sink or swim in a consumer-led market’

In PA Consulting’s 2017 survey, the firm’s higher education experts, Paul Woodgates and Mike Boxall, say: “It is clear that the higher education system in the UK is very different today from that of 10 years ago, and that it will change more over the next decade.

“In our early surveys, universities’ strategies were in essence focused on delivering whatever the government of the day chose to prioritize and pay for, with confidence that their futures were pretty much guaranteed whatever they did. Now they must swim or sink in a resolutely consumer-led market, with little prospect of government help if things go wrong.”

Data-informed decisions

If your HEI is still using disconnected, standalone, offline technology to generate static reports from data that’s gathered and entered manually from various parts of your ecosystem, you’re heading for problems, especially considering the current climate of exceptional sector change.

To make informed decisions, your institution’s leadership team needs to track performance, pinpoint opportunities and alleviate risks. Leaders need the ability to view those metrics from different perspectives (for example, looking at revenue by program or by department). Staff needs data customized for their role. And you all need access to this data, presented in a clear way and at the touch of a button.

Meanwhile, your prospective students, customers, and future potential donors are all using today’s instant, always-online, mobile digital tech, with the ubiquitous drag-and-drop, at-a-glance functionality of dashboards.

“Outdated IT and inflexible processes”

The PA Consulting 2018 survey of vice-chancellors highlights “some concerns” over “outdated IT systems and inflexible processes”. It finds one in three (32 percent) are looking to efficiency gains from their administrative operations. And investments in improved IT systems were given as “priorities across the sector”.

Faced with the need for cost-saving, you need flexible, time-saving admin tools which bring gains in efficiency.

Additionally, trying to develop new commercially focused business models, perhaps diversifying into extra services, while doing more (like innovating the curriculum) with less funding, powerful analysis tools are needed to support strategy. With so many siloed systems within the same institution, and data held within off-line documents, how can institutions access the right data quickly and easily to make critical decisions better?

Data-driven planning with customizable dashboards

Today, performance and planning all comes down to metrics. In the early days of digital technology, reams of data were collected, but no-one knew how to categorize and present it, let alone leverage it for decision-making.

All that data in your student information system (SIS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) application can be turned it into clear, actionable intelligence with role-based, customizable dashboards which allow you to drill down by department, KPI or any perspective you like.

This means that, at any point in time, you can measure performance, identify opportunities and mitigate risks at the touch of a button. You can also produce your own dashboards to suit the requirements of your institution.

Say hello to informed decision-making with automated, real-time analysis of customizable data and helicopter-view visibility.

No more static, off-line, disconnected spreadsheets.

No more outdated, inaccurate, error-prone data sets.

No more limited perspectives.

No more frustration searching for figures from different departments.

Purpose-built for HE today

The best way for today’s HEIs to accelerate institutional growth and boost student success is to do away with siloed systems, and instead have a single integrated system across all departments that presents everything through dashboards.

By adopting a smarter, integrated approach to data from your institution’s SIS, ERP and research management applications, you can standardize data capture, optimize processes, predict opportunities and risks, and drive strategic value.

Increased accuracy, speed, and ease-of-use — alongside the ability to view data from multiple perspectives — leads to powerful, efficient and informed decisions, which helps you improve institutional effectiveness and deliver research excellence. Dynamic dashboards enable staff to drill down to the details they need, which helps them do their job better and meet their goals quicker.

Dashboards allow your institution to flex with rapidly changing market and policy conditions to become predictive instead of retrospective when it comes to strategy and growth.

Dashboards could be the difference between sinking or swimming in this new competitive marketplace. To learn more, visit the executive dashboards page for higher education institutions.

Mark Baars

Mark Baars

Mark is an industry data analyst spotting the latest trends in business, finance, IT and education. At Unit4 Mark delivers relevant market insights and aims to support CFOs, CIOs, controllers and business leaders to resolve their daily challenges.

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