A corporate community leader offers insights and recommendations on the EDUCAUSE 2022 Top 10 IT Issues and the higher education community.
Which one or two of the 2022 Top 10 IT Issues do you feel will be most relevant to Jenzabar in the future and why?
Issue #2, Evolve or Become Extinct, is an important one. Our institutions have to evolve. We've seen transformation coming for many years in higher education, but it's been slow-moving. Certainly the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that transformation, but we don't want the leaders of our higher education institutions to take their foot off the pedal. Many still need to get to a better place in improving their operational efficiency, developing their agility to be able to add on new services for students we know are changing as generations go by, and evolving and building up their overall institutional workforce to support the digital changes that are occurring.
Learning from our pandemic experiences is a key part of this need to evolve, and we have an opportunity now to use lessons from the past eighteen months to build a better future for our institutions and for higher education. After COVID-19 has waned, we shouldn't relax too much and completely go back to the way things were. We need to continue advancing and using digitization, digital transformation, and data to provide a more student-centric experience for our learners.
Of course, a lot of these changes involve institutional shifts to the cloud, and we still have a number of customers who have not taken that step to move services and assets to the cloud. I'm not sure solution providers have yet done an effective job of helping people understand how secure the cloud is, how much it really saves them in costs, and how many efficiencies it can provide. At Jenzabar, as cloud technologies are evolving, we're starting to transition our applications to be natively built on the cloud in order to take full advantage of the computing power and capabilities and operational efficiencies that come from being a cloud-native application. Everything we're doing at Jenzabar involves or is connected to cloud technologies at this point.
What challenges are in store for higher education next year?
Our real challenges are going to be around the emerging populations of students, whether the traditional-age students we typically see or students who have been in the workforce and who are now needing to reskill, come up to speed, or prepare for a new career. We're going to be challenged to have course and program offerings that are very student-centric and personalized and that are more competency- and skills-based so that students can get what they need and move into the workforce. The four-year liberal arts degree is not going anywhere, and I've been impressed with how institutions can and have adapted to some of these emerging needs. But Jenzabar is going to continue to provide software, tools, and services that can challenge institutions to continue to grow. Digital badges, certificates, micro-badging—things of that nature are going to be key for institutions in providing a very student-centric experience in the future.
We also need to focus on student engagement and what the data around student engagement can tell us. Last year we were worried about getting into virtual classrooms and offering courses online, but we were still able to engage with students, focus on the learning, and participate in classroom conversations and interactions. But we also need to view those experiences as a minefield of student data and turn it into something that we can use to improve our student success and student retention efforts. We can look at chatbot technologies, for example, which to date have been focused on supporting students and staff so that they can better navigate their online needs. But we can also leverage those technologies to look at and understand students' sentiments, how they feel about things, so that we can know what we may need to address with those students.
Communication with students is another challenge that comes up as we think about technologies like chatbots. We're starting to be able to develop more personal assistant capabilities for these AI-driven technologies, and there's a unique opportunity here for solution providers like Jenzabar. Everyone's looking for a CRM right now, but the one thing missing from some of these tools is that they weren't built specifically for higher education and aren't native to the higher education system. In May, Jenzabar released a new tool—Jenzabar Communications—which provides a lot of the CRM capabilities people are looking for but which is built natively for the higher education system. So it's not just for admissions recruiting or not just for retention. This tool is intended for the full life cycle of the student.
The last challenge I see for us in the year ahead is around issues of student empowerment. We need to provide technologies that feel more like guided pathways for students so that they can guide themselves in using those tools and, for example, see the path they need to take in their courses or program to get to a particular career. Especially as older students are coming into higher education for reskilling or shifting their careers, they'll need to be empowered to see and set schedules that work better for their busy lives, adjust their own academic plans as needed, and really make their programs work for them and what they need.
What opportunities are there for higher education next year?
We've talked about cloud migrations, and that's the foundational architectural piece that our institutional leaders need to take advantage of to enter into the next phase of growth, to find operational efficiencies, to take on new services, and to develop new capabilities for reaching and serving those emerging populations of students.
The other opportunity we should be focusing on in higher education is around data. Institutions collect an inordinate amount of data, and so many of them do absolutely nothing with it. Jenzabar is in a position to offer support in this area, and it's one of the key things we're working on right now. We already have analytics packages, like our Program Insights Model, that help our customers see how programs are performing and benefiting the institution. But that is more of a "data clearinghouse" model, and many of our institutions don't see the value in this. So we're now instituting a program that we're calling "data as a service." Instead of focusing on the analytics package, we're focusing on conversations with our clients to better understand what their questions are and what they want to get out of their data.
After having those conversations, our clients can start to see the value of the data capabilities, and then we can sit down and talk about developing reports and analytics. We can better help our customers understand how they can use their data to do things such as conducting predictive analysis, making good data-driven decisions, and using AI to get more effective data automation and provide more efficient data processes. Clients can let the computer do some of the work for them so that they are freed up to focus on other, more important areas like student support and improved services.
We're starting this "data as a service" program with ten pilot institutions, and we are initiating conversations with them about the strategic plans and initiatives on which they're currently focused. As they dive into those plans and initiatives, we can help them identify what they don't know yet and the questions they need answers to in order to most effectively implement and evaluate their work. And then they can sit down with a data analyst and data scientist, look at the data they already have, and think about how to make the data better or more reliable to fit their needs. So we're increasingly trying to meet our customers where they are, and we're trying to figure out how to help them with their most important needs. This involves more than just providing a tool, because so often our clients don't see the value or know how to use the tool itself. Rather, this is much more about understanding and helping these institutional leaders get to where they want to be.
How are the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues going to change the relationship between Jenzabar and the higher education community in the future?
Jenzabar already has partnerships with our institutions, of course, and we do well as a company getting feedback from our customers and including them as design partners in everything we do. But there's a new level of partnership that we want to reach with our customers who don't necessarily know how to get "from here to there" with their desired technology solutions. We have expanded our focus beyond just providing software and help our customers understand that we care more about their success in using the software and tools than we do about simply selling them the software and tools. This may be especially important in more "emerging" areas such as chatbot technologies, cloud technologies, and data services—areas that still feel new to many of our customers and where they'll thus need the most support.
Now is both a fun and a scary time in higher education because there are a lot of great technologies out there already and a lot of new ones emerging. Especially for those smaller institutions and those institutions without the staffing and resources to effectively adapt to and adopt those technologies, we have a role to play in helping them understand those technologies and learn how best to implement and use them. Because ultimately, their success is our success. We have to make a living as a company, sure, but I want us to make a living because we treated our customers right, because we helped them become stronger, and because our technology helped get them there.
Les Zimmerman is Vice President of Product Development for Jenzabar.
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