The pandemic forced many tertiary education institutions in Australia and New Zealand to speed up their ongoing digital transformation efforts. As institutions rush to quickly transition to digital modes of learning, many of them are struggling with gaps in the overall student experience, mostly as a result of prioritising stop-gap measures over a holistic digital transformation.

The pandemic had a big impact on the tertiary education sector in 2020, and many institutions faced increasing pressure to speed up their digital transformation plans. Stiff competition from institutions further along in their digital transformation process and the need to transition to digital modes of instruction, impacted institutions’ operating models, their technology investment priorities and their in-house capabilities.

The onset of the pandemic meant that time was no longer a luxury these institutions could afford. Many were forced to either transform existing courses for digital delivery or drop them entirely. Their staff had to be trained and supported with suitable hardware and software for remote working, offline resources had to be digitised, and online solutions needed to be built for a host of processes, ranging from student enrolment to HR management.

In many cases, key institution operations had still not been transitioned to Software as a Service (SaaS). Our research in the 2021 Tertiary Education Digital Transformation Index found that 45 per cent of the institutions surveyed do not use SaaS for their finance system.

“COVID forced institutions to make a rapid move to online learning with no preparation, little or no training, and insufficient bandwidth, resulting initially in a poor user experience for many students and staff.”
– Peter Nikoletatos, Industry General Manager – Education, TechnologyOne, & Adjunct Professor, La Trobe University

Many institutions are still relying on improvised solutions

Hindered by limited resources, many institutions focused on short-term measures and workarounds to address specific problems. The result was a scattered patchwork of point solutions, rather than a well-planned system-wide digital transition. These stop-gap measures put a strain on existing IT resources, exposed them to greater cyber security risks, and left institutions with hastily cobbled together micro solutions that were not scalable or sustainable.

Implementing any organisation-wide change is challenging, and digital transformation is no exception. It requires the support of key stakeholders, budgets, internal resources, expertise, detailed planning and extensive change management, including training and careful execution. Plus, it calls for time to scope, test and implement.

Unlocking the power of institution-wide digital transformation

Effective digital transformation requires aligning business strategies with digital transformation strategies, which our data highlighted as a huge challenge. Only 38 per cent of overall respondents agreed that these strategies were aligned in their institution.

The accelerated move toward digital transformation has also highlighted some key learnings for tertiary institutions moving forward. The largest of these is that no business can ignore customer experience, which for institutions, means the experience of their students.

Key challenges facing institutions across Australia and New Zealand in 2021

  1. On-premise hosting is exposing institutions to data risks and hindering remote working
    Hosting information and content on internal servers or personal computers puts institutions at risk of expensive data loss or downtime. It also makes accessing files and services more difficult for remote workers and students.
  2. Improving the digital experience for students is the biggest priority
    With growing student expectations of digital service delivery and online instruction, enabling a cohesive digital experience for students is fast becoming critical to attracting and retaining them.
  3. Institutions are facing a greater risk of cyber attacks
    Introducing ad-hoc digital solutions creates more cyber security vulnerabilities, and already-stretched IT teams within institutions are simply not equipped or trained to handle that level of cyber risk. Combined with risk management strategies that do not include cyber security controls, institutions are much more exposed to cyber threats.

To get deeper insights into the state of digital transformation in tertiary education, download the 2021 Tertiary Education Digital Transformation Index by TechnologyOne.

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