6 reasons higher education needs an intelligent digital workplace
Ruth AdairMarch 10, 2021
There’s an entrenched contradiction at the heart of higher education: it’s all about fostering innovation, yet internal systems and processes tend to be, well, “old-school.” I’ve seen it firsthand, having worked in communications in that environment for several years.
While legacy and tradition still have a place in certain aspects of university and college life, there’s no room for outdated technology. Even before the pandemic, the pressure was mounting on post-secondary institutions to accelerate their digital transformation and become leaner, more agile operations.
Knowledge sharing, collaboration, and communication are central to the mission of higher education. Yet the sector has lagged behind in implementing technologies that support and tackle these issues.
With an intelligent digital workplace, colleges and universities can modernize their operations. They can bring a diverse, geographically dispersed workforce – staff, instructors, researchers, and administrators – together on a single hub that provides everything they need to work efficiently, productively, and cost-effectively.
Higher education is under strain
College enrollment in the U.S. declined by more than two million students over the last decade. Enrolment has fallen even further during the pandemic, taking a big financial toll on post-secondary institutions.
Public funding for higher education is also decreasing. In the U.S., overall state funding for public colleges fell by nearly $9 billion in the 10 years after the 2008 recession. In Canada, post-secondary institutions have experienced dramatic funding cuts, even before the pandemic.
Alongside these direct financial losses, the sector has become increasingly competitive. Students are demanding more value for their money, governments are tying funding to key performance indicators, and there are more options for online education outside of traditional institutions.
Stuck in old ways of working
Almost all North American universities are over a century old – some are 300-plus – so it’s no wonder they have long-standing conventions. According to the New York Times, they may be at the leading edge of research in every other field, but they’re “very risk-averse” in their own ways of doing things.
When it comes to keeping employees connected and productive, many post-secondary institutions have relied on in-person meetings and email. If they have intranets, they’re usually extensions of campus portals with limited usability, poor functionality, and little unity across departments and divisions. The shift to remote work forced a rapid, reactive adoption of multiple collaboration tools and unsanctioned apps.
The negative impacts of depending on old, disjointed technology in higher education include:
Inefficient workflows: Manual paper-based processes, a reliance on email communication, and formal meeting structures are just a few old-school approaches slowing things down.
Inadequate knowledge management: Files trapped in email inboxes and local drives, lack of version control, duplication, and different methods of storing, indexing, and updating content makes information hard to find and use.
Ineffective collaboration: With silos everywhere and rising financial pressure to streamline and centralize operations, post-secondary institutions have tried using Microsoft Teams, but have struggled to make it work for large-scale collaboration across departments or institutions.
Weak culture and engagement: Many colleges and universities have standardized on Microsoft 365, but employees are using these tools without any overarching window into the institution or sense of belonging – a problem that’s all the more palpable with remote work.
Exposed data: When internal tools and systems fail users, they turn to shadow IT to get their work done, increasing the risk of data breaches and perpetuating information silos.
6 reasons higher education institutions need to be all in on digital transformation
Dropping enrollment, reduced funding, and more intense competition are pushing post-secondary institutions to reconsider how the latest technology can help them survive and thrive. One sign of this shift: more than 200 institutions now have senior roles with words such as “innovation” or “digital” in their title, such as Chief Innovation Officer.
Like organizations across sectors and industries, many colleges and universities are using Microsoft 365 – especially SharePoint and Teams – to manage remote work. By integrating these familiar tools in one digital workplace, users across the institution can enjoy a seamless experience that allows them to:
1. Create better workflows
Colleges and universities are large, complex organizations whose customers – students (a group that turns over every few years) – have multi-layered needs and expectations. An intelligent digital workplace speeds up workflows by connecting different tools and automating routine tasks, integrating with third-party systems such as SuccessFactors and other HR software, and guiding user experiences with AI chatbots.
2. Find and share knowledge quickly and easily
Higher education institutions are in the knowledge business, so there’s no end to the massive volume of information that needs classifying, storing, and sharing. An intelligent digital workplace applies a robust knowledge management system while ensuring simplicity for users seeking forms, policies, guidelines, and other frequently accessed information. Enhanced search capabilities allow users to find what they need fast and get back to work.
3. Collaborate at scale
Email and messaging alone aren’t up to the task of keeping large, dispersed teams connected across a post-secondary institution – whether they’re research groups analyzing reams of data or staff managing endless student documentation. An intelligent digital workplace allows teams to create dedicated spaces where they can consolidate all their key information and events, keep conversations in context, share ideas, and generally collaborate with ease and efficiency.
4. Locate the right people and expertise
Colleges and universities have thousands of employees, often spread across different campuses, which makes it hard to keep track of who’s an expert on what subject or who manages which workflow. An intelligent digital workplace takes user profiles – a critical ingredient in effective collaboration – to the next level by enabling features found in consumer apps (like LinkedIn), such as AI-powered endorsements and gamification tools.
5. Gain a sense of belonging
An intelligent digital workplace has strong, built-in social capabilities to keep employees connected and engaged to their colleagues and the institutional culture. Consumer-like features empower users to publish blogs, stories, videos, images and more, while following and commenting on others.
6. Safeguard data
Post-secondary institutions are treasure troves of sensitive data, from proprietary research to students’ personal information. An intelligent digital workplace eliminates the need to use risky, unapproved tools, delivering the highest level of security while maintaining an intuitive user experience. All the content and data created inside the digital workplace remains completely within the institution’s security infrastructure.
Higher education is at a critical point in its long history. An intelligent digital workplace enables colleges and universities to meet ever-increasing demands for 21st-century efficiency while preserving their core mission in teaching and research.
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