Higher education institutions have talked about the prospect of digital transformation for at least 10 years. Modernizing student information and administration systems has been promoted as the critical step to achieving this. But despite all the talk, few have even started to replace their outdated systems and upgrade their student experience to meet today’s student demands.

For a long time, this inertia owed much to the lack of applicable systems with full functionality, which would allow a clean and pain-free break with legacy software. Risk-aversion was another telling factor. Early adopters are a rare breed in higher education.

Only now are we starting to see a mood swing in higher ed. Instead of hanging on for total transformation, they’re changing on their own terms, one step at a time. New, agile systems are making it easier for universities to pick and choose the top priority areas for incremental transformation.

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Institutions are asking different questions. The focus has shifted from “What’s wrong with our systems?” to “How can we better conduct our own business?” From “How can we gather as much data as possible?” to “How do we analyze all this data and do something good with it?”

Cost is the main driver here. Few institutions can afford a huge outlay for total digital transformation. Equally, they can no longer afford to do nothing. The old systems don’t provide the agility they need to offer an attractive student experience or respond to new market opportunities.

Universities must become people-centered systems

To meet modern expectations on service and connectivity, institutions must be people-centred. They need to meet people where they are on their journey. Whether you’re a digital native or a post-retirement professor, the system needs to work for you. Increasingly, in the competitive higher ed market, that experience will directly impact the bottom line.

About the Author:

Austin Laird is product director, higher education, at Unit4. Laird has been a part of the higher education industry for over 20 years, in a wide range of roles from a university registrar assistant to product manager and industry technology strategist. Prior to Unit4, he held multiple pre-sales, product, and leadership roles at Oracle, including global director, education & research technology.

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