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The Ultimate Guide to Digital Transformation in Higher Education

Technology is transforming life all around us. Today, we have conversations with our audio systems, our cars can drive themselves, and we carry supercomputers in our pockets. Technology has touched every industry including higher education. But with so many moving parts, it’s no wonder that higher education institutions tend to be slower moving in modernizing processes. In the grand scheme of things, digital transformation solutions empower higher ed institutions to deliver excellent user experiences, reduce costs, and stay relevant with the changing demands of students and the educational landscape.

In this guide, we will dive into what role digital transformation has in higher education, how it’s helpful, and how to integrate it into your institution.

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What is Digital Transformation?

The big picture definition of digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into processes, operations, user experience, and even culture. Digital transformation (DX for short) is all about finding ways to use new technologies or to modify existing processes to solve problems and simplify life and work in every industry, including higher education. Digital transformation for higher education can encompass automating a once manual process saving valuable time and resources, making the switch from paper to PDFs, or creating forms that students can quickly fill out requesting a change in their class or major.
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What is Digital Transformation in Higher Education?

Digital transformation empowers higher education institutions in their missions to:
It’s improving teaching, learning, administration, and education overall. Digital transformation extends beyond e-learning, leveraging technology and data to improve institutional operations on a larger scale to benefit the lives of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
Despite this technological revolution sweeping through institutions all over the world, so many processes are still happening on paper. Due to a resistance to change, unwillingness to spend money, fear of technology, underutilization of IT departments, and a slew of other reasons, some institutions still aren’t digitizing, which jeopardizes their competitive edge and costs them the benefits of automation.
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Why Is Digital Transformation Important for Higher Education?

Today, digital transformation is no longer an option—it’s something that must happen for an institution to keep its doors open. The reasons for this are enumerated below:

1. The Needs of the Modern-Day Student

The modern-day student faces new responsibilities and challenges that students from past generations did not. More students are working while pursuing an education, so a flexible curriculum and class schedule has become an expectation in order for students to maintain a balance between their studies, family, and job requirements. As of January 2019, one in three college students were taking online courses for the sake of convenience and flexibility.

They’re also technologically sophisticated. Incoming college freshmen for fall 2020were born in 2001 and grew up on digital devices. They expect the ease and convenience that digital technology has provided them their entire lives. In addition, they expect to have a seamless, visually appealing experience with an institution justas they do with other aspects of their lives every day on Netflix, Amazon, social media, and so on. 

2. Increased Student Recruitment and Retention

The world is quickly going digital, and it shows no signs of slowing down or ever turning back. Higher education is no exception. The challenges of both recruiting and retaining students are proving increasingly more difficult. According to research by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association devoted to the advancement of IT in higher education:
  • 13% of institutions have already begun driving DX on their campuses
  • 32% have a DX strategy in the works
  • 38% are learning about DX and exploring their options

3. The Opportunity to Rethink and Improve Business Practices

Institutions ushering in the digital age have a unique opportunity to evaluate their problems and the way technology may be able to resolve them. To name just a few:
  • Paper resources are impractical. Digitization uses resources more efficiently and makes them more accessible,
  • Without planning software or data analytics, it’s harder for professors to be productive or achieve higher learning outcomes.
  • Paper and PDFs are not secure and leave student data susceptible to breaches, which introduces serious liabilities for a university.
  • Digital tools scale learning opportunities to larger bodies of students and meet more needs at once.
Failure to rethink and update outdated educational practices could negatively impact an organization’s student retention and processes. Fortunately, a recent Gartner survey reported that 86% of institutional CIOs believe a digitally integrated campus is the future of education. 59% have plans to change their business model to accommodate the digital transformation. Ask yourself, are you among them?
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What are the Benefits of Digital Transformation Solutions in Higher Education?

While it can seem daunting to digitize a department or an entire institution, the benefits outweigh the undertaking that modernization requires. From facilitating teaching strategies that meet a larger circle of learners, widening the scope of research possibilities through data availability, and improving business practices, the benefits are significant. Take a look at some of the top benefits digital transformation solutions can have on a college or university.

1. Increase Visibility

Do you have a hard time finding out the status of important projects or find that deadlines are not being met on a consistent basis? You’re not alone. Investing in software that can increase visibility to departmental workflows can not only help keep you in the loop on important matters but can help keep the whole team engaged and communicating. 

Take it a step further with a workflow automation platform like Kuali Build that allows you to sign off on projects or pass along forms and documents that need additional review within the department. All the while maintaining full transparency of the status so nothing slips through the cracks!

2. Consolidate Resources

Digital transformation solutions can help consolidate resources, files, and documents into a central spot so people can access what they need faster and easier. Not only does this help reduce time wasted by searching for the material or resource they need to support them in their role, it promotes organization.

How many times have you run into a situation where there are multiple tools or platforms running in your department, all of which serve the same purpose? It’s most likely that this was done without realizing that there are existing tools that can be used, but what may seem unintentional can result in unnecessary spending.

3. Reduce Bottlenecks

Higher education institutions have a lot of moving parts regardless of how small or large the school may be! Naturally, bottlenecks are bound to occur. If you can catch a bottleneck in its early stages, the better it is for everyone. But sometimes they can go undetected for longer periods causing more issues in a department, across departments, or in the entire institution.

The negative impact this can have ranges from delayed projects and missed deadlines to burnout and increased turnover within teams. Digital transformation can help identify bottlenecks faster so you can get to the source and resolve the issue before it escalates into a larger problem.

4. Improve Productivity & Efficiency

Digital transformation can help improve productivity and efficiency by automating manual processes. Why spend a large amount of time on a project that can be completed twice as fast if automated? Automate what you can, whenever you can. In turn, you can focus on more engaging and pressing projects. If you’re not sure what needs to be automated in your department, take a look at our suggestions of the 11 manual processes to automate now!

5. Support Citizen Developers

Citizen development has become standard in numerous industries, especially in higher education. If you’re not familiar with what this is, in simple terms, a citizen developer is someone who does not have formal training in web or software development but needs to create an app to support or enhance a business process. They do this by using no-code apps that have built-in drag-and-drop interfaces allowing them to do the work of a developer (to an extent) without knowing how to code.

Oftentimes this arises with digital forms in the higher education sector. While the IT department is equipped to address these needs as they arise, many IT professionals are feeling the effects of burnout as a result of increased support tickets. This can also distract them from addressing more complex problems or processes.

Instead of piling on support tickets, empower the citizen developers and support the IT department in your institution with no-code apps. Kuali Build provides a no-code form building tool in its software that helps departments create new digital forms with a seamless user experience, collects and stores data, and much more.

6. Reduce Costs & Save Resources

Delays, missed deadlines, disorganization, and technical debt all result in an exorbitant loss of money and resources. By digitally transforming your institution, you can cut down on costs by eliminating outdated practices like paper and moving to PDFs. Consolidating resources and tools can also reduce technical debt and blind spending. And as mentioned before, automation software can help reduce the inefficiencies caused by manual work. A July 2019 study found that universities around the world waste 2,000 hours on average each month on manual tasks like expense reports. Workflow automation software is simple to integrate into your existing architecture and process, and will greatly help reduce costs!

7. Increase Security

While digital technology provides numerous benefits, it also presents some weaknesses - susceptibility to cyberattacks. Higher education institutions are brimming with sensitive data, therefore, highly secure storage is a must-have. By using the cloud, institutions can bypass inboxes, fax machines, and printers. In the cloud, institutional and student data is encrypted and backed up, accessible online only by authorized users from anywhere in the world. This effectively reduces the burden on IT officials and saves your campus against data breaches resulting in potentially significant financial losses.

8. Gain Valuable Insight

Institutions embracing digital transformation gain a better understanding of their students, programs, processes, and campuses as they collect and analyze data. Thesenumbers provide insights that help streamline processes and improve operations in a way that benefits everyone.

9. Enhance the Experience

Everything revolves around creating a seamless and intuitive user experience, and this is no exception to higher education. Take advantage of the opportunity that digital transformation solutions can offer in enhancing the user experience for both faculty and students. 

Modernize the admissions form so fields automatically populate and reduce the steps needed to complete it. Simplify the process of adding or dropping classes for students with an updated form they can submit from anywhere. Or speed up the approval process for important forms like vacation requests and purchase orders that typically fall on the back burner. The possibilities are endless!

10. Stay Competitive

Last but not least, digital transformation allows higher ed institutions to remain competitive. Don’t fall behind competing colleges and universities due to an unwillingness to modernize. This should be a priority seeing as how the landscape is quickly changing, students prioritize flexibility and digital solutions, and the cost-saving benefits you can expect from modernizing institutional processes. Not only can it help increase student retention, but it can result in greater revenue growth.
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How are Colleges & Universities Shifting Towards Digital Transformation?

To make this technological shift less overwhelming, we’ve identified five things you can do this year to drive digital transformation and modernization for higher ed institutions. These strategies have been successfully implemented at various colleges, universities, and other higher ed institutions, and could serve as potential resolutions to your school’s concerns. As your institutional leaders put their heads together in pursuit of these five goals, you will find your organization to be more productive, more profitable, more valuable to students, and better equipped to compete in the educational landscape.

1. Incentivize Digital Literacy

The digital literacy task force at the American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” In a survey of 300 students and faculty members, 49% of faculty members considered themselves to be digitally literate and only 23% of students felt that the faculty was digitally literate.

The push to change these numbers is in the hands of institutional leaders and heads of IT. This can be done through incentivizing digital literacy by:
  • Rewarding staff members for the creation of digital content.
  • Consider a professor’s level of digital literacy before awarding tenure.
  • Offer monetary rewards for completing digital training.
  • Compile a list of easily digestible tutorials located online for each course, program, or discipline.
  • Encourage “lunch and learns” where faculty and staff members can discuss what they have learned, as well as designated training sessions taught by IT on technology, digital processes, and more.
  • Create opportunities for citizen development.

2. Strengthen IT and Digital Task Force

Based on results from the 2019 Campus Computing Project, an annual nationwide survey of higher education IT officials, responders felt that only about 30% of their C-level peers were ‘very engaged’ in digital learning and transformation initiatives. When leaders are neither engaged nor well-informed, impactful changes cannot take place.

An institution’s IT department is a key player when it comes to driving digital change, and it needs support from leaders. Now is the time to hire, train, and invest in technological skills and, if you don’t already have them, develop roles for IT experts on a digital task force to take ownership of pushing digital transformation across your campus. 

Based on recommendations from Jan Martin Lowndahl, Distinguished BP Analyst with Gartner’s Higher Education practice, institutions should:

  • Hire new staff members (if needed) with a wide technological skill set.
  • Create a DX team for strategizing and implementing campus-wide initiatives for digital change.
  • Educate senior leaders of an institution on the importance of DX.
  • Assemble DX teams with key stakeholders who will help innovate and drive DX on campus.
  • Establish institution-wide policies that formally value digital literacy.
  • Use the CIO to conduct digital dexterity development activities, such as seminars.

3. Investigate New Technologies

Technological innovators are always testing new digital transformation solutions that will shape the way college students interact with institutions. Such technologies include AI, blockchain networks, computer simulations, and more. These innovations do not spell the end of campuses or introduce financial hardship for institutions. Rather, they open doors to new possibilities. 

For example, AI teaching assistants and chatbots make it possible for students to get answers to their questions during their 2 a.m. study sessions rather than having to wait for a professor’s office hours. Utilize pilot groups across campus to experiment with new technologies such as virtual reality, robotic process automation, and/or predictive analytics. Measure results in limited time trials to determine which investments will most effectively drive the mission of your institution, be it student success or driving impactful research.

4. Integrate and Harness the Power of Digital Data

Data management has been identified in EDUCAUSE’s Top 10 IT Issues for five years running. With hundreds of faculty and staff, thousands of students, and dozens of enterprise-level systems, data is everywhere. The difficult part is harnessing it. 

Universities like the University of Miami have adopted self-service data integration as a simple solution to their misaligned and siloed data collection systems. Institutions using data integration tools can combine information from all their data tracking systems and store them as one cohesive and interactive analytics report.

5. Automate Processes

Institutions are under constant pressure to innovate while doing more with less. In this paradigm, the cost of not optimizing processes is too great to ignore. Countless efforts have undoubtedly been initiated; the average institution has three to five automation solutions in place today.

These continuous optimization initiatives do not produce long-term impacts because process owners—often staff and faculty members—do not have the appropriate technical skills or access to them to solve their process pain with the existing automation platforms on campus. While IT manages as many requests as possible, there are simply too many requests and ongoing process changes to handle. As a result, staff and faculty continue to create paper and PDF processes to solve interim process creation or optimization needs.
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Digitally Transform Your Higher Education Institution with Kuali Build

When institution decision-makers invest in digital transformation solutions, they expect it to improve research processes and student success. In many cases, however, the software creates more work and distracts from what matters. Powerful solutions tend to be complicated, time-consuming, and require engineers, adding to the overall expense. Simple solutions, on the other hand, often have compliance issues and lack basic security measures.

Kuali Build, a no-code forms and workflow automation software built exclusively for higher education, sits in the sweet spot between complex and simple campus systems, acting as the interconnected glue. Our distinct community partnership approach, built over 15 years of collaborating with higher education and focusing on user experience, has resulted in an easy-to-use yet powerful and secure automation platform adoptable by business users in every department across the campus. 

If you’re ready to digitally transform your institution, we’re here to help you take the next steps. Check out the features and what to expect from Kuali Build, or take a virtual product tour and test it out for yourself!

Additional Resources

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Workflow vs. Process Flow: What's the Difference?
Workflows and processes make up the core of administrative processes. Understanding them is key; with understanding comes the ability to optimize. Read to understand the differences between workflow and process flow.

Workflow Process Flow Guide
4 people having a meeting - Higher Education's Forms & Workflow Checklist Image
Higher Education's Forms & Workflow Checklist
Interested in implementing forms and workflow software at your institution but not sure where to start? After interviewing customers and colleagues on their combined decades of experience using forms and workflow software, we prepared a summary starter guide for you.

Higher Ed Forms & Workflow Checklist
2 people working on their respective computers - Step-by-Step Guide for Creating a Workflow Diagram Image
Step-by-Step Guide for Creating a Workflow Diagram
Visualizing a process will help you better understand how your business functions so you can identify strategic areas for improvement of those processes. This article will cover workflow diagrams from top to bottom with five steps to creating your first diagram.

Creating Your Workflow Diagram Guide

Get Started with Kuali Build

Ready to start focusing on what matters most within your higher education institution? Get started today by taking a Kuali Build product tour. Once you’ve seen Kuali Build up close, you’ll instantly notice our top priorities: delivering amazing customer experiences, exceeding expectations, and making it easier than ever to educate students and advance research.

We’re attuned to the unique needs of higher education institutions, and we’ve crafted our platform to reflect those needs. Our modular software integrates with ease into your existing systems. Start using Kuali Build to automate workflows for your financials, research, and curriculum management today!

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