Roundtable – Heads in the cloud with Salesforce

How is cloud technology aiding in the digital transformations of schools and universities? Steve Wright heads up into the cloud with Jane Armstrong

The last in our series on the cloud, we speak to Jane Armstrong, Senior director, EMEA higher education industry solutions at

Q. What impact has cloud technology had in the digital transformations of schools and universities?

Education is becoming more than a series of isolated experiences: it’s a continuous journey of lifelong engagement. The role of educators is evolving from one of academic support, towards guiding students on a path of personal growth and achievement. Furthermore, developments such as rising student expectations and growth in student mobility, coupled with changes in funding and legacy systems, now demand that institutions deliver a seamless, personalised student experience. As a result, institutions are increasingly undergoing digital transformations on their campus, leveraging technology to deliver a customised experience for their students.

Cloud technology has also given universities a complete view of students across their life cycle, from recruiting via student success and on to alumni. By integrating data across student information systems, learning management systems, and more, university teams can share a comprehensive view of their students and use one single platform to engage with them. 

Q. What cloud-based impacts and innovations are now on the horizon?

The workforce is changing, institutions are revisiting their business models, and technology is continuing to innovate. Lifelong learning and skills acquisition is becoming increasingly important, especially when 65% of students entering school today will be in new jobs that don’t exist yet (according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs report). 

Furthermore, students now expect a consumer experience tailored to their specific needs. And the continued rise of cloud, mobile and social – and now AI and data analytics – is becoming increasingly important. In fact, 90% of the data in the world was created in the last two years, according to findings by Science Daily. Through cloud technology, schools and universities can deliver the proactive, continuous and personalised experiences that students expect.

Specific to higher education, innovations ranging from blockchain to artificial intelligence will have an impact. Blockchain is already being used to transform student credentials and records. 

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, is transforming the student journey. From chatbots to student predictions and more, AI has the power to unlock intelligent insights across the entire student life-cycle. AI supports universities by automating recruiting and admissions processes, identifying at-risk students and predicting alumni donations. Chatbots can provide students with answers to common questions at any hour. 

Q. Is cloud playing a role in the transition from a ‘teacher-centred’ to a ‘learner-centred’ system?

Creating successful learners is central to a university’s mission. With the changing makeup of the student population and their needs, we’re seeing a new demand emerge for a highly personalised education experience.

Many existing edtech solutions are antiquated and built for the administration rather than the student. Conversely, constituent relationship management (CRM) is a technology for managing all of your institution’s relationships and interactions between students, faculty and staff. Having that connected student data is the foundation for creating a personalised, relevant experience for your students. And unlike legacy tech, CRM is flexible, scalable and customisable to an institution’s needs. 

Q. Is the use of cloud across education in the UK where it should be, or would you like to see faster progress?

In the past few years, there has been a shift in the adoption of cloud across universities. Changes in the market landscape are forcing institutions to revisit their business models in order both to recruit students and foster alumni engagement. The UK may be catching up with other countries here. According to a recent poll by Forbes, the most cloud-friendly countries currently (in terms of legislation) are Japan, Australia and the USA, followed by Germany, Singapore and France. 

Q. Which are the key products and services for educational institutions to engage with?

Relationships have become the currency of higher education. With this increased focus on relationships across the sector, it’s no surprise that technology trends in higher education have shifted from process-centric technology, such as student information systems and databases, towards relationship-centric technology – specifically CRMs, or customer relationship management systems. 

Q. Should educational institutions be clear on which type of cloud infrastructure – public, private or hybrid – works best for them?

School and university IT teams must look for solutions that are truly future-proofed. Connecting everything on your campus using cloud technology is an opportunity to ensure economy of scale and to save time on manual, repetitive, low-value tasks, while empowering teams to be more efficient and agile in how they engage with students.

Q. What risks and challenges should education institutions be aware of when adopting cloud technology?

The biggest challenges when adopting cloud technology are around managing change. Transitioning from an operational focus to a strategic one is neither an obvious nor an easy task, and universities must regroup and define the vision and values behind their IT strategy. This helps clarify goals and objectives, identify tactics and monitor the success of the plan. 

Last but not least, student success is a job shared by everyone. Clarifying roles and responsibilities when adopting cloud technology, and communicating plans and progress transparently across campus, are key to success.

Further reading

2016 World Ecomomic Forum Report: The Future of Jobs and Skills
Forbes magazine: Best countries for cloud computing