Higher ed’s future is not only enabled, but dependent on digital strategies

How higher education can prepare for workflow shifts to streamline digital transitions
By: | September 9, 2020
(GettyImages/Drazen_)

Higher education institutions across the world have experienced one of the largest disruptions to standard operations. Many scrambled to enable a remote workplace for employees and provide learning continuity through remote teaching for students. It required quick shifts to digital workflows for faculty and students to transition to online classes and administrators to remotely continue paperwork, guidance and more. However, without long-term digital strategies, it’s only a stop-gap, rather than a way to future-proof the institution.

An Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) study released in April found that 68% of university presidents anticipated moderate changes, “adopting more remote work and utilizing technology in ways never imagined.”

Now is the perfect opportunity for higher education leaders to reassess processes and develop strategic plans that enable, prepare and empower the entire university to smoothly transition to remote learning. A recent Forbes article outlines how we can expect to see more creative enrollment management strategies and accelerated flexibility in payment plans, online classwork and more. Universities need to reimagine their digital experiences and identify efficient digital alternatives for important processes that are easy-to-use, flexible and secure for all users to operate, ultimately reducing costs and time-consuming operations.

Assess existing processes to plan ahead

Universities have been slowly experimenting with distance learning, yet slower to fully adopt this across the entire institution. John Hechinger and Janet Lorin of Bloomberg highlight a study that shows how “15% of the total undergrad student body nationwide studied entirely online in the fall of 2019” with an additional 3.6 million enrolled in at least one online course, while studying on campus full-time.

The technology to support remote learning can be integrated into existing structures, as universities should aim to maximize systems already in place as well as introduce digital solutions into new processes so teams can rely on cohesive solutions university-wide.

Legacy systems with a new tech layer

Institutions should take this moment to pause and think about where they need to lean in or potentially shed unnecessary tasks.

As universities revisit processes, the best place to start is to find what procedures involve using physical paper or multiple departments, then adjust these current legacy systems to add a technology layer on top. Important factors universities should consider when evaluating tools are cost-efficiency, ease-of-use, flexibility, adaptability and security.

Universities can benefit from these digital tools in the following ways:

  • Simplify data collection – Integrate automation tools that allow teams to efficiently capture data and securely save or transform it into documents. This enhances accurate data collection while streamlining the creation of professionally designed acceptance letters, loan documents, invoices or extract valuable insight, pull student analytics, etc.
  • Reduce data chaos – Use a bi-directional software that unites different systems and avoids data inconsistencies. This solution will allow for administrations, faculties and students to use the right systems for their needs while ensuring smooth processes and consistent data across departments.
  • Streamline work across departments – Simplify workflow management and paperwork procedures by transforming the bulky processes into automated workflows that help to streamline repetitive tasks and identify efficiency bottlenecks.
  • Accelerate signatures – Work with a secure and private eSignature solution to capture electronic signatures on necessary paperwork and documents that can be automatically delivered to the appropriate recipients.
  • Modernize applications, requests and feedback – Incorporate an easy-to-use form and survey builder that does not require manual coding or IT assistance to build. These can be easily embedded into the school’s website, blackboards and social channels to enroll students, collect fees, capture feedback and more.

Working remotely, productively and efficiently has been imprinted into our norms and after the world stabilizes following the pandemic, digital adoptions will be part of new routines. Even if virtual focuses may not be the primary educational process, it is now a necessary alternative. Higher education institutions should prioritize developing plans that support a seamless transition into a digital workplace for work and learning continuity regardless of present and future disruptions.

With 25 years’ experience in technology, business development and product growth, Rob Wiley is head of marketing & product strategy at Formstack, a workplace productivity platform helping companies digitize information, automate workflows and transform processes. Prior to Formstack, Wiley served in a wide range of marketing, product strategy and advisory roles in some of the Midwest’s fastest-growing technology companies, including ExactTarget (Salesforce), Emma, PERQ and Cheetah Digital.