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Pressure on universities

Pressure mounting on universities to embark on phase 2 of their digital journeys

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No discussion about cloud computing would be complete without acknowledging the forced digitisation in the tertiary education sector brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, all this rapid digitisation occurred at the “front end”. The next great wave of digitisation needs to occur at the backend, and quickly.

The pandemic forced universities to adopt various cloud-based technologies. With students being stationed all over the country and not allowed to go to lecture halls, universities had to modernise their teaching. Online interactions are normal in almost every industry today, including tertiary education.

For universities, it means that institutions can interact online and provide online resources for students, while some newer players in the industry offer a fully remote learning experience. While some organisations may not have been considered competition before, they certainly are now, as they have provided options of convenience, speed and efficiency for students that have the means to participate in online education.There is far more focus from university councils on the importance of managing the business side of their institutions

Most tertiary institutions in South Africa run on a not-for-profit model, and so don’t traditionally assess competition and competitive advantage from a commercial perspective to be as important as their academic and research credentials.

While traditional tertiary institutions draw most of their operating income from research income, grants and the charging of student fees, we are certainly seeing that there is far more focus from university councils on the importance of managing the business side of their institutions.

They are analysing areas such as how profitable different courses are within their faculties, looking at the value of introducing new courses based on demand, unique selling points and profitability. In order to be able to do this effectively, councils are looking towards the administration and support functions within universities, such as finance, human resources, student fee administration, and more, to pull together different numbers and insights to make business decisions.

The big problem for many institutions now is that their current operational or administrative systems are almost entirely on-premises and not providing them with these answers quickly or easily. It takes an inordinate amount of effort and time to extract the relevant data from their systems, which also may not be entirely up to date. Then, when they do get to the information and report on it, too much time has passed to be able to make relevant and agile decisions.

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And so, just like the pandemic forced the digitisation on the front end, it is fair to suggest that the pressure to remain relevant, attractive and profitable is forcing the digitisation of the backend, to move from fully on-premises to a hybrid or fully cloud ecosystem. Migration to the cloud, and its immense ability to provide real-time, actionable insights, has therefore become non-negotiable.

Where universities do decide, despite mounting pressure and warning signs, to delay their cloud transformation journeys, they risk far bigger problems further down the line, because as there is more adoption of cloud technology, vendors will increasingly stop supporting the older versions of their technology.

As universities go through their transformation journeys, they must go through a tender, selection and procurement process – and most institutions have fairly stringent procurement frameworks.

A good starting point for any university is to understand that software vendors are trying to sell their products. They display the absolute top-shelf, prime examples of what their products can do. Now, if we are honest, tertiary institutions don’t go through these types of processes often — we are dealing with one now that last did this 13 years ago, while others last upgraded their systems even longer ago.

Partnership

Without a partner like Analyze Consulting, an expert in transforming organisations such as theirs, they will not know where the caveats are: do they buy this module, add that, or buy the whole suite? What are the licensing implications, and does it actually solve the institution’s unique problems or simply put a new software face onto the same old processes?

It is crucial to understand that digital transformation, whichever guise it takes, is about more than just changing systems and processes. A successful transformation requires change from a people point of view. Change leadership is fundamental to a project’s success. This starts with assuring current IT resources that their jobs are safe, albeit different, and it is followed up with comprehensive training and support to guide all the university’s staff through the change, and to empower them to unleash the power of the new technology.

And so, as they embark on the second leg of their digital transformation journeys and bring their back-office, administration, HR and finance systems into the cloud, universities can go a long way towards reducing the pain of delays and failures by always choosing a partner like Analyze Consulting that has experience, and scars, in implementations within tertiary institutions. This will give them access to industry best practice every step of the way.

Analyze Consulting’s business and technical expertise span various industries in the following disciplines:

  • Business process re-engineering
  • Business requirements analysis
  • Project and programmed management
  • Strategy
  • Data analysis
  • Solution selection
  • Quality assurance

Get in touch on +27 21 447 5696, e-mail info@analyze.co.za, visit www.analyze.co.za or connect on LinkedIn.

About the author, Liesel Grobbelaar, principal consultant at Analyze Consulting
Liesel Grobbelaar is a seasoned international business consultant with more than 20 years of experience in strategic transformation projects across various industries. She has worked in some of the world’s major financial centres, including New York, London, Johannesburg and Cape Town. She is a qualified chartered accountant (SA). Representative clients include Mastercard International, Morgan Stanley, Avis International, UBS Warburg, Old Mutual, Sanlam, Santam, Metropolitan, Stellenbosch University and Cardiff University. Her broad range and depth of experience has honed her ability to develop integrated creative solutions to challenging business and project dynamics.

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