Building new apps to drive the student experience forward

Ensuring technical and non-technical teams in higher education can develop new business apps that meet the challenging demands of the COVID-19 era, without hiring additional personnel

Higher education (HE) institutions are having to compete in an increasingly saturated landscape. This competition adds an element of pressure for university boards to make their places of learning stand out from the rest. To effectively compete, education institutions have to work harder to attract prospective students; impressing them with teaching standards, teaching aids, state-of-the-art apps, technology and resources. Universities need to be one step ahead, as they teach the future workforce so they can lead the path of industries in years to come.

One technology that universities are implementing to help with the plethora of app demands is low-code. Low-code is helping universities respond more quickly to different requirements, delivering new apps, optimising business processes, improving the student experience, reducing costs and helping them stay ahead of competition. In fact, the education sector as a whole is an early adopter of such techniques because low-code and automation have helped to ensure work and admin is more efficient. Long gone are the days of printed timetables and marking in red pen, students and teachers often work with apps and software on tablets and computers to streamline the core processes whilst not impacting on teaching and learning standards.

Low-code is helping universities respond more quickly to different requirements, delivering new apps, optimising business processes, improving the student experience, reducing costs and helping them stay ahead of competition

At the same time, apps are being created for students to organise their new, independent lives and deliver learning gains. Likewise, lecturers are being introduced to new apps which help to reduce their workload. With so many new ideas in streamlining the day-to-day lives of those in education, university IT teams are now being inundated with requests.

Simplifying development with low-code

This is where low-code technology is helping to solve the frustrations of complex application and software development and the ever-growing backlog of requests; implementing solutions that empower all members of the team – not just in IT – to design and implement apps that support new and improved business processes.

For those less familiar with low-code, this is a well-defined category of application development platforms designed to make application developers faster and more productive, providing an alternative way to rapidly develop and deliver applications. A low-code development platform provides a visual approach, where professional developers and subject matter experts alike use intuitive, visual models to create applications.

Traditional methods of building and presenting hundreds of lines of code don’t provide much insight, but a visual representation of a digitised task or function that’s accessible to users from a non-development background does. Visual modelling in software development is what low-code is all about. Automating with low-code brings developers and non-coders together, enabling them to work in tandem throughout the application development lifecycle.

In the past, many academic establishments have relied on email and macro-heavy spreadsheets to ‘automate’ all or part of their work, while others have turned to ungoverned platforms (known as Shadow IT) for support. Incorporating a low-code platform into the technology landscape, with high-security standards that enable control over who uses what and which data they have access to, provides visibility and reduces risks. 

Additionally, having the ability to continuously adapt the application to meet evolving business needs is one of the most fundamental benefits of low-code. The more fast-paced the institution, the more important it is to have a platform that embraces change as part of the application lifecycle. Not only does it align different departments with IT, but it prolongs the lifespan of the application. With a low-code platform, higher education institutions can automate any part of a process or entire processes from beginning to end. 

Ultimately, they can do more with a low-code platform than a solution designed to automate a single process or task. The key is in choosing the right platform that will supplement existing automation tools. If the organisation has already invested heavily in an academic solution, low-code can be built around this infrastructure, allowing it to be extended and adapted rather than replaced. Integrating these systems is key to breaking down silos and leveraging previous investments.

A low-code case study

One great example that demonstrates the power of low-code is North Carolina State University (NC State), who used low-code to empower its developers, transform the university’s AppDev culture and exceed business expectations. Land grant university, NC State has delivered non-credit courses to the citizens of North Carolina for over 150 years, and is now processing over 500,000 course registrations per year. With the help of low-code platform provider Mendix, the team has built REPORTER, a non-credit course registration app, to streamline both registration and compliance for classes and seminars, and a Lab Management solution that cuts administration time by two thirds.

Over the course of any given year, NC State’s outreach programme touches over half a million people. One of the university’s many missions is to continue to foster that outreach and engagement with the community. However, the university must ensure that it meets its grant reporting obligations while improving efficiencies for university staff. NC State’s Enterprise Application Group has not only delivered on these objectives, but has built a thriving development team that has earned high praise from university staff and administration.

By taking an innovative approach to application development, the IT organisation is better positioned to fulfil the university’s mission of outreach and engagement — from automating the registration process and freeing staff from admin, to providing world-class educational experiences for its students.

According to Gartner, by 2023, 50% of applications will be created with a low-code platform and the education sector will certainly be one of the key sectors that will be utilising low-code in the future.

You might also like: Here’s how HE will survive the post-COVID era


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