Three ways institutions are adapting to the new normal

Scrambling to meet ‘business unusual’ demands has escalated plans for SaaS transition in tertiary institutions.

We talk with leaders across a wide range of tertiary institutions about their strategies and plans all the time. The first half of 2020 saw some very interesting changes in attitude, as IT teams struggled to meet the demands of remote access and maintain student support.

Here are some of the overall themes we’ve been witnessing, as tertiary institutions have been forced to adapt to massive change and protect themselves against tough operational and economic times.

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Flight to the cloud

One of the most significant effects we’ve observed is a massive SaaS adoption rate in a very short period. Around 50% of our on-premise higher education customers are engaged with us in SaaS-readiness conversations, with many more already embarked on the process of transition.

Our observations are backed by independent research. In April 2020, ADAPT conducted an in-depth study with 217 Australian and New Zealand C-level executives to gauge COVID-19 responses. It found the most significant technology change had been the move to cloud – with half of respondents saying their organisation had increased cloud workloads by over 50% to enable their remote workforce.

This is unsurprising as, by early March 2020, tertiary institutions alongside many businesses were faced with the need for at least half – if not all – of their employees to work from home. The challenge was how to provide access to core operational systems and data securely and at a level of performance that would not affect productivity. Migration from on-premise systems to SaaS was a proven and ready-to-go solution.

Another major challenge was maintaining a seamless student experience in lockdown – especially increases in demand for online learning and remote support. For some institutions, existing services were inadequate to the task. Again, SaaS came to the rescue with phenomenal rates of migration of mission-critical workloads to both public and private cloud.

The need for digital transformation in order to survive has become an imperative no tertiary institution can avoid any longer.

Three stages of cost control

When the crisis loomed, we noticed that IT teams were initially focused on applying cost control. Tertiary institutions were being dramatically affected with no early end in sight. Budgets would inevitably become tighter, so there was considerable thought put into what costs could be reduced. At the same time, they were juggling as fast as they could to support business continuity.

After that, attention was turned to cost optimisation. Accepting that the economy was undergoing a time of great uncertainty, how could the most value be extracted from existing investments in staff, existing resources and infrastructure whilst maintaining a high level of service?

The next stage of thinking has been how to fund innovation. The need for digital transformation in order to survive has become an imperative no tertiary institution can avoid any longer. So how could technological change deliver growth out of recession and provide new ways of delivery to the institution and its students?

At this point, many higher education business leaders are realising that they need to save money through technology, not on technology in order to survive COVID-19 – and that SaaS is the way to do this. The cost benefits come from shifting their core business systems off premise, where they are onerous to manage and maintain. A secure, streamlined SaaS solution offers security and performance with less effort and overhead – leaving internal resources to focus on true innovation and business enablement. Adopting SaaS as a strategy contributes towards both cost optimisation and funding for innovation.

Digital innovation post-pandemic

Part of this response to challenged resources has seen tertiary institutions look at leveraging technology to reduce capital expenditure. IT teams have been working closely with their business units to identify the best projects in terms of delivering return on investment. In other words, asking: what will be the most important initiatives over the next 12–18 months, those on which we should be investing our limited funds? By way of example, it's likely that the student experience will be even more important in terms of attraction and retaining. Ensuring that appropriate investment continues to be invested and aligned to differentiation in the market will be paramount post pandemic.

The work from home story is still being written. We do not yet know whether all employees and faculty will be returning to the workplace. What we do know is that they will be expecting a more agile approach in the future – and working from home for at least some of the time will probably become business as usual.

Another change is that tertiary institutions are looking to digitise more processes and eliminate paperwork. Automated workflows and other technologies have long been available, but those yet to adopt them were clearly at a disadvantage when COVID-19 hit, offices deserted en masse, and operations went online by necessity. This current situation reinforces the importance of Artificial Intelligence, automation and sound business processes.

Surviving 'business unusual'

Whatever the short- or longer-term future holds, to survive in a competitive world calls for resilience and mobility. That is why SaaS is now the way to go. Fears about security have been seen to be irrational; just as you can secure corporate systems delivered to your branches, you can now deliver them safely to remote users on any device.

Perhaps the principal advantage of transitioning to SaaS is the ability to free up internal resources to focus on truly strategic business innovation. With SaaS, your systems are managed for you by experts. You have no hardware to maintain, and no operating system or application software to patch and update. At any given time, you have the latest versions of a suite of fully integrated solutions to run your tertiary institution, along with the confidence that any advances will be yours for the using as soon as they are launched. This frees up time to focus on accelerating out into the new normal, verifying the old adage that to progress your business, leaders need to ‘work on their business, not in their business.

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