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With billions of dollars anticipated in federal investments, now is the time for institutions to tackle their IT modernization projects

Now is the time for IT modernization

With billions of dollars anticipated in federal investments, now is the time for institutions to tackle their IT modernization projects

By Jim Zemaitis, Group Vice President, Higher Education & Research, Oracle October 25th, 2021

Institutional continuity has never been so closely associated with accepting and driving change than it has over this past 18 months. Many institutions will emerge stronger than ever, and some will cease to exist.   

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, most institutions balanced their revenues and associated budgets with a short priority list of necessary new projects, keeping in mind technology and infrastructure needs. Some universities were undergoing a slow transition to close their self-managed, on-premises data centers, opting instead to move to cloud – but IT was just one line-item among many, and may have been put on the “back burner.” Many universities had the mindset of, “Everything works now, so we’ll maintain the status quo, and it will keep working.”

The pandemic changed both sides of the equation at the same time.

Revenues went from usual certainties or likelihoods to complete unknowns, as enrollment and admissions grew in uncertainty. New revenue models of in-person, online, and hybrid learning had vast differences, but were generally less profitable. The resulting downward pressure on budgets made the task of modernizing IT infrastructure all the more daunting for institutions.

The “usual” way of doing things – IT staff maintaining data centers, equipment, and people intensive processes – was turned on its head as people could no longer come to campus to work. With functions such as learning, enrollment, student financial planning, and academic advising shifting primarily – or entirely – online, institutions realized that they can no longer put off modernizing their IT infrastructures.

With the Biden administration proposing $3.3 billion for Higher Education in 2022, now is the time for schools to pick up – or start – their IT modernization projects. It’s not too late to be proactive. For some, the question is: Whereto begin to see the best return on their investment?

The best IT modernization projects are those that assist in running the core business with lower cost, higher efficacy, and better value. Moving core applications and infrastructure from on-premises environments to a cloud environment provides tighter security and data recovery while freeing up IT staff to devote less time to maintaining legacy systems and more time to areas aligned with university’s core business. For example, Gonzaga University turned to a cloud-first strategy in order to maintain a strong security posture and introduce a disaster recovery strategy. With the 25 percent of budget it was estimating to save by migrating to the cloud, Gonzaga IT reinvested the savings on improvements to security, disaster recovery, and test/dev capabilities.

Another consideration is whether projects can help insulate from the impacts of future challenges. One such challenge exacerbated during the pandemic is the need to quickly disseminate pertinent information to students. Augmenting or replacing typical call channels with chatbots and digital assistants is a cost-efficient way to offer students and staff consistent, quick, and “always on” answers, improving engagement. The University of Adelaide, for example, created a chatbot that enabled prospective students to quickly access their ATAR scores in just three minutes, rather than the usual 40-minute wait to obtain that information by phone.

The ability to safely and securely collect and process data is another key area of focus for schools in today’s high-volume data environment. A good data system enables schools to gain insight into student success, retention, revenue models, budgets, and more, giving them a leg up on staying viable and competitive. Recognizing this, Sharda University streamlined its data analytics process to glean insights that help improve the end-to-end teaching-learning process, enhancing the students’ learning experience and outcomes.

Modernizing IT environments is a critical step to ensuring institutions can do more with less in these difficult times. The right tools are no longer a “nice to have,” but rather are imperative for schools who want to adapt to today’s shifting landscape. Higher education institutions must take this opportunity to continue to digitally transform in order to stay secure and remain competitive for years to come.

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