Four Technologies Higher Ed Apps Leaders Should be Investing in for 2021

Principal Analyst

Top of Mind: Four Technologies Higher Ed Apps Leaders Should be Investing in for 2021
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

So, 2020 did not go as we expected—in really any facet of our personal or professional lives. Our plans were derailed, so planning for 2021 is even more daunting than our normal annual planning. Should we just extend our 2020 plans? Or start over with what we’ve learned this year? What can we expect to come at us next year?

Our 2020 plans did not hold past February. With severe budget shortfalls, continued focus on remote learning and working, and new competitive pressures, little that was planned for was completed. Looking toward 2021, we need to focus on agility and budgetary restraint, so consider a handful of technologies that can be employed to make strategic progress without breaking the bank.

1. Low Code

While your development team may tell you they don’t need this toolset and that it will only complicate your architecture, you’ll find great benefit in adopting an enterprise standard low-code solution. Adopting this tech does not mean every user on campus will create applications, but it does mean that a wider group of staff can solve problems efficiently. You will need some rules of the road—but not too many. Reduce your developers’ backlog by reserving the most complex tasks for them and bringing a low-code solution to the table to solve simpler problems quickly.

2. Embedded AI

You may not have to go looking to buy anything here, but you do need to look at the offerings inside the applications you have already purchased. Vendors are surfacing sophisticated AI inside applications. What functions are there that you have not yet explored, that take advantage of a known data model and have been invested in by your partner? These can appear to be shiny toys but can be leveraged to get real AI benefits for little to no additional investment. Are these AI toys that are just for marketing? Or are they real, enterprise-class AI applications? Your mileage may vary, but explore what is there. Your investment will be minimal, as you are not designing the AI or hiring the data scientists.

3. iPaaS

If you have not already taken a serious look at your integration architecture (as part of your broader data management program), you should be doing this now. iPaaS takes some time from a technical, cultural, and architectural point of view. Give your organization the time it needs to select and adopt this technology; then eventually you can require its use. You can adopt it slowly, requiring any code that is updated to be converted, or initiate small projects, making the conversion function by function. Please do not implement this technology for the first time alongside your new finance, HCM, and student systems. Give it a head start and build your team’s skills.

4. Cloud Data Repositories

Investing in a data lake does not mean you are ready to decommission your operational data store, but building your capabilities in operating a useful data lake will bear significant benefits in preparing for that eventuality. Find a cross-functional, burning question that will benefit the institution. Build a cross-functional team to solve it using a cloud data lake, data discovery tool, and visualization tool. Or create some competition between two teams using alternate tech stacks. The technology investment is small to solve a single problem. Your team’s time will be harder to come by in 2021 but worth it for the investment in them and their skills.

What’s not on the short list for 2021 but should be considered?

  • Visualization. You may have done this in previous years, and now you are finding that visualization tools are embedded in everything you buy. Do you need one standard tool? No. Do you need a standard set of data organized by data governance to ensure that those tools produce visualizations that your organization can use? Yes, as part of your data management program. Visualization tools will continue to evolve quickly, and they will continue to be embedded in many other applications you buy, diluting any standard you try to set. You should have a default tool that users can go to (and that is connected to your primary data sources) when there is not a native solution on the platform they are working on. If you have not done this with a modern tool, do it. But do not mistake this for a once-in-a-generation tool selection.
  • RPA. Robotic Process Automation is getting significant headlines. Most of this technology’s value is for large-scale organizations with repetitive processes in the tens or hundreds of thousands of transactions. That is not to say that there is not a place in higher ed for RPA—there is. But it is likely limited to large institutions with shared services operations or small-to-medium institutions that have not moved their core technologies or processes forward in other ways. RPA is great for automating repetitive, manual, cross-system processes that might better be solved by RPA than by integrations, process redesign, or system replacement. If these solutions are not in your institution’s near future, RPA might save you a lot of time and money.
  • Cloud Administrative Systems. Replacing your finance, HCM and student systems needs to continue to be on your radar. You should be developing a plan to begin migration to a new platform in the next five years, but 2021 is not the right time to begin for most institutions.

With some judicious, forward-looking investments, you can bring new capabilities to your institution, which now requires more agility than ever. There is not likely any quick return to the 2020 priorities from our annual plans, so we need to think about how to manage going forward—toward the new, faster-paced, cloud-based and largely remote 2021.

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Principal Analyst
Dave Kieffer spearheads research focused on finance, and HCM applications, data management and other critical higher education technologies at Tambellini Group. He brings more than 30 years of creating, implementing, and managing enterprise-class applications in higher education. His experience includes all levels of applications development and management in higher education. Among other things, he has been responsible for ERP implementations, mobile, and web development, application architecture and integration technologies.

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