Digital agility in the face of coronavirus

Agility and flexibility are essential for digital transformation, but with the addition of a global health crisis, universities need to streamline service provision, says Josh Fry, director of cloud at Jisc

Digital transformation has been on the agenda for many higher education (HE) institutions for some time. However, with the rush to move teaching and learning online in light of COVID-19, those that may previously have been wary have had little choice. This has resulted in one of the biggest mass changes the university sector has ever seen.

We talk about agility and flexibility as the cornerstones of digital transformation, and this is still the case when navigating a pandemic. But the context, of course, has changed, and universities have not had the luxury of time they may previously have enjoyed. They are also facing even tighter budgets, especially with the international student market coming to a virtual standstill. Yet, despite these difficult circumstances, there are opportunities to take advantage of the flexibile delivery offered by digital technology.

By focusing on services that are at the forefront of delivery, institutions can streamline their offer to avoid a cacophony of different systems all trying to interact with one another, which has often acted as a brake for digital transformation. Even if some systems are moved to the cloud, legacy integrations prove a problem, and whether because of licensing issues or because of familiarity, some institutions even end up running five different systems to do the same thing. Streamlining these processes and systems will help universities to do what they do best – provide an excellent student experience.

However, streamlining is not always easy. One of the biggest positive changes a university can make in their approach is to ask for help from third parties, whether by using managed services or by collaborating with other HE providers or businesses to share resources. Teaming up can lighten the burden.

One of the biggest positive changes a university can make in their approach is to ask for help from third parties, whether by using managed services or by collaborating with other HE providers or businesses to share resources. Teaming up can lighten the burden

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There is also a cost implication for institutions using multiple platforms to provide the same service. If, for example, one department uses Blackboard, while another uses Moodle and yet another uses Brightspace, costs are going to rise. Universities facing a 20% cut in funding will welcome savings gleaned through streamlining, while also ensuring that the increased functionality required by lockdown is maintained.

Many institutions will be leveraging the advantages of cloud computing to support remote learning, collaboration and digital service delivery.  IT departments may find that by using cloud and cloud-native technologies, they are freed from the burden of supporting legacy systems and ageing on-premise architecture. Equally, the agility afforded by cloud can help universities and colleges through rapid service deployment and streamline support of essential services. Moving rapidly to the cloud can be challenging, but third parties can help support strategy formulation, migration, integration, deployment, and ongoing managed services and support.

As the sector moves beyond its initial reaction to lockdown and looks at longer-term solutions, there will likely be a service attrition phase, where universities will start to pare down their systems. This will mean running only those systems they need to maintain consistent delivery of the student experience at first, streamlining where possible, and slowly moving towards integrating and more expansive elements. This may bring a fair bit of pain over the next six to 12 months as these changes bed down, but with proper support, the outcome could be truly transformational.

Looking towards a post-coronavirus future for the HE sector, Jisc is partnering with UUK, Advance HE and Emerge Education in a research programme that will produce a roadmap to tech-enabled learning and teaching from 2021/22 and beyond. More information on the project is available here.


You might also like: Lessons from lockdown: UK universities flock to shape a tech-enabled sector


 

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