In our world of technology flux, the only constant is the accelerating pace of change. As an increasing number of technology giants turn their attention to universities and colleges, their products are promising new and advanced features to replace higher education’s ageing core systems. With outdated systems that are long overdue for an upgrade, many campuses are in the process of evaluating system replacements. But with millions of dollars on the line, how can leaders make smart decisions that will support the campus of both the present and the future?
Making smarter decisions means using the technology evaluation process to determine the potential return on investment (ROI). But the process itself is not easy. Most desired benefits are hard to define, difficult to measure, and dependent on various changing factors—and even an institution’s capacity to enable change will play a large role in determining if any benefits will outweigh the costs of ownership.
To ensure that campus expectations are realistic, decision makers should frame their benefits analysis around four key questions. First, start with identifying broad benefits across three domains: organizational efficiencies, experiential improvements, and technical maturity advancement. Then, assess how likely campus is to see these benefits—which will vary depending on both the scale of change and the cultural readiness for new technology.
Organizational efficiencies: How will the investment enable cost savings or increase productivity?
With any new technology investment, campus leaders should consider the workflow that the tool enables or enhances and how it can help users increase efficiency. Will new technology and processes reduce manual efforts? Speed up workflows? Can it replace or consolidate existing tools? Will the technology tool improve tracking and measurement to help guide efficiency efforts and decision making in the future?
When assessing organizational efficiencies, it’s also important to keep in mind that it will take time for campus to reach the full level of efficiency as users adapt to new interfaces, complete training, and adjust to a new or improved workflow. Leadership buy-in is crucial, as a new tool will only do its job when everyone on campus is taking the time to use it properly.
Experiential improvements: How will the investment allow us to transform our service offerings?
From a service perspective, consider the technology’s capacity to improve or innovate campus experiences. Will the technology provide a new capability to the college or university? Does the technology improve backend processes, user-facing experiences, or both? Will the tool provide new data and information to improve or personalize existing and future services?
When thinking about how a new technology tool affects experiences on campus, be creative in brainstorming how the tool might be used to help deliver service in new and improved ways. Given users’ high digital expectations, considering ways to deliver online self-service, personalized content, and seamless experiences should be a central part of technology evaluations.
Technical maturity advancement: How will the investment enable further technology capabilities?
From a broader context of digital transformation and technology adoption, consider the investment’s role in overhauling legacy infrastructure. Is the technology a prerequisite for other key projects in the institutional strategy? Will the investment provide an opportunity to use additional emerging technologies? Will it provide opportunities to standardize or simplify the integration architecture?
In line with institutional strategic plans and campus-wide campaigns, IT should always be thinking about the “campus of tomorrow” and the role that technology plays in making that possible. A major part of evaluating system replacements and new technology tools is thinking about how they will complement existing technology and workflows across campus. A technology investment today that doesn’t generate new and improved opportunities for tomorrow is probably not a smart one.
Capacity for change: How likely are we to capture the benefits we’re anticipating?
Finally, and most importantly, give yourself a reality check: Is campus ready to embrace a new piece of technology? What factors determine whether campus will experience each particular benefit, and how long will it take? What happens if campus doesn’t embrace the new technology as expected? What kind of preparation or user training is needed and do you have the adequate resources?
Regardless of how widespread the potential benefits may be, any successful technology investment will require that users are on board and able to recognize its value. Be mindful of how the investment will impact different groups at different levels across campus, and how that change will be perceived. Users must be given the proper ownership, tools, and training to be able to use the technology in a way that reaps the benefits, which means not only working with frontline staff once the decision is made, but understanding their needs and expectations early on in the process.
Done wrong, technology evaluation leads to unrealistic expectations which can fuel relentless technology hopping. But when done right, it involves critically assessing potential benefits and being honest about campus capacity for change. From a full system replacement to an interactive tool in the classroom, a properly evaluated technology has the power to save money and time, transform user experiences, and enable campus for whatever the future may bring.
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