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Why higher ed needs to go all-in on digital: Research from BCG and Google

Why Higher Ed Needs to Go All-in on Digital

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of students within the 18-24-year-old demographic now expect hybrid learning environments–even once we are beyond the pandemic. And a vast number of adult learners are seeking options that accommodate their work and family lives now that it’s clear that effective learning can indeed occur virtually. Implementing cloud technologies and achieving digital maturity within higher education will enable institutions to be innovative and responsive to evolving student preferences, while being prepared for future disruptions.

The state of digital maturity

In February and March 2021, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in partnership with Google, surveyed U.S. higher education leaders on their views of the state of digital maturity in the higher education sector. This survey found that institutional and technology leaders strongly agreed that moving legacy IT systems to the cloud, centralizing and integrating data, and increasing the use of advanced analytics is necessary to make a successful digital transformation, and ultimately achieve digital maturity.

But what is digital maturity? Digital maturity—a measure of an organization’s ability to create value through digital delivery—focuses on three areas of technological advancement that drive large-scale innovation:

Using cloud infrastructureExpanding access to dataUsing that data to improve processes through advanced analytics, such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML)

Although university leaders agree on prioritizing digital maturity, more than 55% said they considered their schools to be “digital performers” or “digital leaders.” However, only 25% of tech leaders at these universities stated that their schools regularly use data analytics. As with corporations and governments, higher education institutions face barriers to technological innovation, such as:

Competing priorities to meet step-change goals and decentralized decision making

Budget constraints

Cultural resistance to change

Tech staff skillset gaps

Still, leaders understand that the way to overcome institutional inertia is with a strong, goal-oriented vision of what is best for the institution overall. Although only a handful of schools have reached digital maturity as we define it, others can learn a great deal from their examples. Here are the top takeaways from higher education leaders who successfully transformed their institutions:

Digital solutions can improve the student journey in many ways

As digital capabilities hold the key to dealing effectively with declining enrollment and rising costs, higher ed leaders identified four goals that are critical to improving performance:

Improve the student journeyIncrease operational efficiencyScale computing power in advanced researchInnovate education delivery

The research found that technology investments can help enhance the student journey in the recruiting and retention of students, improving digital education delivery, government funding, and donations from alumni. Digital maturity can make institutions more agile and efficient in delivering education that aligns with the changing societal norms, evolving student preferences, and future disruptions. Survey participants shared that they plan to increase the use of the cloud by more than 50% over the next three years. By shifting legacy IT systems to the cloud, institutions can increase scalability, lower the cost of ownership, and improve operational agility, while offering a more secure, long-term data storage solution.

Cloud-native software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions provide an excellent platform for centralizing data. However, institutions that attempt to “lift and shift” their legacy systems to the cloud may encounter challenges to achieving measurable improvements in data integration and cost reduction. Higher ed leaders must realize that centralizing data and transitioning to the cloud do not happen simultaneously.

Leaders who are able to articulate a strong vision and commitment will experience a more successful technology transformation. By linking their vision to specific needs, such as more effective recruiting, leaders will find their technology investments will have a more substantial return. University presidents should base their decisions about which systems to move, when, and how on desired performance outcomes.

Big visions become a reality with small steps. Small pilot projects are an excellent way to start the journey toward digital maturity. Small steps toward a significant transformation can reduce resistance to change, build positive momentum, and produce better student outcomes. Read the full reporthere. If you’d like to talk to a Google Cloud expert, get in touch

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