May 16, 2023 –
Are you asking all the right questions?
One of the most common—and important—questions I am asked by colleges, universities and districts exploring a new software investment is how best to evaluate their current tech stack. Whether a school is considering document management and process automation for the first time, or looking to replace an underperforming system, it is usually one part of a larger digital transformation (Dx) initiative.
A 2021 EDUCAUSE survey1 showed a dramatic increase in respondents citing an active Dx engagement on their campus—from just 13% in 2019 to 44% in 2021. The key word here is “transformation” because it implies moving from a current state to a future state—ideally one that is simpler, stronger and more efficient. Most colleges don’t have to look far to see specific areas where they can improve operational efficiency, elevate student service or create better collaboration across departments. But for a successful Dx initiative that includes effective document management and process automation, we need to take a hard look at the current state of your tech stack. Asking the right questions and considering all the impact points of your IT infrastructure helps you make the most meaningful immediate process improvements and lay the groundwork for long-term value across your institution or district.
First, know your drivers and goals. It’s critical to know the business drivers for deploying new technology. Of course, when it comes to initiatives of this scale, there is always a need to make a budget case for major IT purchases. Clearly outlining your business drivers helps solidify that case to leadership and provides a purpose-driven roadmap for optimizing your tech stack now and into the future.
- Are your current manual processes holding your institution back when it comes to staying competitive among peer schools or meeting changing data compliance requirements?
- Are funding cuts pushing your departments and schools to do more with less?
- Are you trying to catch up to evolving demographics and expectations for a more modern student experience?
If you know what’s driving you, it’s just as important to know where you are going. This means identifying measurable impacts or business goals that any new and existing technology needs to support. These impacts might include:
- Shorten Financial Aid application processing time
- Expedite grade changes, drop-adds, and graduation applications
- Expand online learning opportunities
- Create more cost-effective procurement/supplier relationships
Individual departments will have their own goals and metrics to acknowledge. But keep in mind how changes to your tech stack or processes may directly or indirectly impact people and processes campus- and district-wide.
Consider all people’s perspectives.
Students. According to a 2020/21 EDUCAUSE student technology report, 4 out of 5 higher ed students reported connecting two or more devices—typically a smartphone and a laptop—to campus Wi-Fi daily2. Are student and parent expectations like online forms completion, pre-populated data fields, and digital signatures within your current capabilities? If not, what steps will you take to address this fast-moving digital reality?
Staff and faculty. Is simple data entry or paper scanning and printing still consuming too much time? Do departmental staff and faculty find the technology easy to use and valuable in performing their daily work?
IT team. Does your IT team have the capacity and bandwidth to develop your technology stack to its fullest potential? Do you need external support from a consultant or vendor to handle complex requests or updates?
Understand the big IT picture.
This is where the rubber meets the road—the functional highs and lows of your tech stack’s capabilities. Understanding exactly what your technology does well and where it creates problems or missed opportunities will help you know what to look for in new or complementary software solutions. Here are some excellent starter questions to ask:
- What systems are centrally administered versus decentralized or managed by individual departments?
- Where do we most frequently experience IT or operational bottlenecks? And how many days (or weeks) does it take to resolve those bottlenecks?
- Are we maximizing the functionality of our student information system (SIS) and other core business applications?
- Where do we have data connected to a larger warehouse or data lake on campus versus systems still operating in a silo?
- Is your current tech stack supporting compliance protocols, data security requirements and university policies?
- Are we able to maintain the needed servers and software applications given our current infrastructure? Or do we need to move to the cloud?
We can help you find the answers.
Evaluating your tech stack as part of your digital transformation initiative can feel like an overwhelming effort. We can help you ask the right questions and find the answers to put your school on the fast track to a better way of working. Reach out to talk about your tech stack concerns, and check out this recent webinar for more useful tips.
1Educause Review – Educause QuickPoll Results: Institutional Engagement in Digital Transformation. Aug. 6, 2021.
2Gierdowski, Brooks, and Galanek, "2020 Student Technology Report: Supporting the Whole Student."