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A smarter now and a smarter tomorrow for higher education institutions

Posted by  Austin Laird

How can your institution anticipate future changes and act on new opportunities? And how can you future-proof your institution if your systems are holding you back? Unit4’s Director of Product for Higher Education answers these two vital questions.

Today’s students are different; they have higher expectations and diverse needs. The world of work is also changing; employers want different things from employees, and vice versa. Competition for funding is increasing. Data privacy and reporting requirements are more strict than ever. Plus, there are the challenges we don’t even see coming – ahem, COVID-19.

Enrollments are dropping. Competition is increasing. Higher Education is a consumer-led market where non-traditional students (and equally diverse learning models) are the new norm. Institutions are closing (with more closures predicted this year). In the US, the 2020 outlook from the three ratings agencies is not good.

All these trends and challenges are causing problems for Higher Education institutions, and they will continue to do so until universities and colleges discover how to work smarter, both now and to set themselves up for the future.

Structure, culture and technology

Every college and university needs to boost student success, accelerate growth and improve institutional effectiveness. But the Higher Education industry is changing so fast that the need to future-proof is rapidly rising in importance.

To survive and thrive in this environment, you need to build the structure, create the culture and deploy the technology that will enable you to easily adapt business processes and quickly adopt new ways of working.

Easier said than done especially when inefficient, inflexible technology systems restrict innovation and inhibit change. Outdated enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and end-of-life student information systems (SISs) get in the way of change management and digital transformation.

But, while transformation is exactly what all colleges and universities need right now, in order to meet current and future challenges, the thought of upgrading or replacing your legacy ERP software or outdated SIS in a ‘big-bang’ implementation probably fills you with dread.

How can your institution anticipate and meet future needs and requirements while identifying, and acting on, new opportunities?

It starts with People Experience

The first stage of future-proofing your institution starts with providing your people with a better experience. People Experience (PX) is a discipline applied to software development that prioritizes human impact to make work more intuitive, more effective and more inspiring.

Enhanced PX comes from enterprise systems that reduce or eliminate administrative tasks so your people have more time to focus on what matters to them, and to your institution; in today’s climate of change, that means evolving, innovating and possibly even reinventing what your institution does and how your people work to achieve its aims.

When your people can focus on more meaningful, creative, value-added work they feel more engaged and can more easily identify new opportunities and requirements proactively.

The result is that your entire institution can take care of business now and be confident in your flexibility to handle whatever challenges and opportunities are coming next.

Your people will be empowered to get things done efficiently and independently — to support the development of smarter business models; to help create innovative and diverse learning programs; and to source students from new, untapped demographic groups.

Enterprise systems that remove administrative redundancy also reduce costs so you can focus resources on forward-thinking initiatives like these.

Exceptional student services

An enhanced PX for students means you make their campus lives easier through automated, always-on access to academic administration services via an upgraded, intuitive interface that provides a seamless experience.

Automating repetitive, often transactional elements of student lifecycle administration on both sides of the counter means that, when your people talk to students directly, they get faster responses and more personalized attention.

According to research, more than four out of five students say they would be more satisfied if their university implemented a single digital system to manage all of their admin requirements. A modern student system, supported by an ‘app-based,’ industry-specific cloud ERP does exactly this.

By aligning back- and front-office management, streamlining and automating administration, and supporting all your processes — from admissions to analytics — you can be confident your people are delivering exceptional services for students.

How can you future-proof your institution if your systems are holding you back and you dread the big-bang system implementation?

Future-proofing SIS and ERP

Crucially, it’s the flexible, app-based nature of today’s modern cloud enterprise systems that enables Higher Education institutions to not only thrive in an environment of constant change but also overcome the challenge of replacing your legacy systems in a big-bang implementation.

New app-based platforms have a microservices (think, multiple components) architecture. They use application programming interfaces (APIs), universal software connectors, that allow systems to talk to each other. (Incidentally, the use of APIs came top in EDUCAUSE's Top 10 Strategic Technologies list this year.)

All this means modern enterprise platforms can easily integrate with or extend out to other systems, even third-party solutions. The separate components can be easily rearranged to meet changing requirements, while processes can be easily re-configured by your people with little or no IT expertise.

This interoperability, scalability and extensibility is a non-negotiable attribute of your enterprise architecture if you want to future-proof your institution. And user configurability is a necessity if you want to empower your people and keep costs down.

Modern enterprise solutions also overcome the implementation challenge as they are much easier and faster to deploy, and less expensive overall than the annual cost of maintaining your legacy systems.

To boost student success, accelerate institutional growth and improve overall effectiveness, many leading colleges and universities are serving students as customers and supporting them throughout their journey while better managing people, finances and data. They can’t do that without the right technology.

Transformation for a smarter future

EDUCAUSE’s recent report, Top 10 IT Issues, 2020: The Drive to Digital Transformation Begins, tells the story of Higher Education’s digital transformation journey. Among the Top 10 IT Issues are: Digital Integrations, Student-Centricity, Student Retention & Completion, Improved Enrollment and Administrative Simplification.

It says: “Colleges and universities are working to unmake old practices and structures that have become inefficient and are preparing to use technology and data to better understand and support students and to become more student-centric.”

People-focused systems

Our SIS, Unit4 Student Management, automates essential student lifecycle process like admissions, academics, financial aid, billing, communications, analytics and reporting. We also have a modern, flexible, app-based ERP platform, Unit4 ERP, that handles your finance, budgets, projects, HR & payroll, estates and asset management, with enriched solutions for planning, analysis and reporting.

Our software also features advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and a virtual assistant (Wanda).

Unit4’s higher education-specific systems help you attract and retain the best-fit students, gain visibility over all course costs and help support data-driven decision-making. They help you to keep students on-track for course completion, as well as improve reporting through reliable, real-time, institution-wide data.

And, most importantly, they put your people first. Our solutions make technology and big data work for you to overcome today’s challenges, freeing your people to focus on education and research outcomes, instead of administration, so you can do the work that really matters: equipping your students to create a better future.

Forge into the next decade with modern solutions that deliver value now and long into the future.

Austin Laird

Product Director Higher Education