For many students, higher education in 2049 would not be a place so much as a platform. Couple that with statistics showing 96 percent of students find a high-quality digital experience important to their satisfaction, and you have an urgent need to digitally transform higher ed institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic spring-boarded many institutions to a hybrid approach, yet offering online classes is different from providing students with an immersive digital connection to their university. That is where higher ed organizations can unlock value as well as meet rising student expectations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a fellow leader in the education space, Rob Curtin, the Director of Higher Education for Microsoft’s Worldwide Education Industry. As part of Accenture’s Leading Voices in Public Service series we discussed how institutions are working hard to serve students, faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders, yet struggling to bridge the gap between their current tech infrastructure and growing digital demands.

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Leading Voices: Digital Enablement in Higher Education

Higher Ed can bridge the gap between their current tech infrastructure and digital demands with Accenture and Microsoft.

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During the discussion, Rob highlighted the importance of meeting constituent expectations for access and flexibility, as well as looking deeper into the new business models brought forward by the hybrid movement. Higher education institutions know expectations are rapidly changing, and some have made great strides and shown interest in evolving tech. However, many are challenged by infrastructure not yet moved to the cloud or data infrastructure not yet in a place that facilitates necessary steps toward the future. It is here where we can make a positive difference, partnering to meld the best of the old with the power of new systems, oftentimes coordinating with technologies an institution already owns.

Hybrid and the swipe-right mentality

Today’s digital natives transition in and out of virtual spaces all day long, from transportation to retail to socializing, and they expect that easy physical-to-digital flow wherever they go. Meeting their needs wherever they are goes beyond hybrid. Today the expectation is for multimodal experiences that are accessible to all, highly responsive, and personalized. In-person experiences are not removed, they are supplemented and improved upon, strengthening connections across physical and digital places.

Many institutions are focusing their tech modernization where it most visibly improves the student experience. This often involves user interfaces integrated with core systems, plus applications like SIS, LMS, and maybe hundreds more, coming together for a cohesive experience across all digital interfaces a student uses daily. It might sound like a lot, but it is what the new swipe-right generation expects; and delivering it promises more effective engagement.

Investing in success now and beyond

A key point in my discussion with Rob was where to start to invest in this future-focused change. There are three core areas of tech investment we underscored:

  1. Foundational - Tech/data infrastructure and cloud migration
  2. Experiential – Multi-modal, equitable, seamless experiences
  3. Transformative – New agile outreach and service models

Foundational investments are those that support the operational agility you need. Investing in the experiential equates to what bridges the gap between infrastructure and audience, helping students’ cohesive interaction with the university across their day. Then transformative involves emerging business models, reaching new markets and implementing more accessible and equitable methods. Achieving that agility is possible through collaboration, coordination, and applying existing tools alongside new technology to bring it all together. The reward is reaching a more diverse set of learners, with multiple learning styles, and from different life stages, fueling the institution’s ability to meet their teaching mission.

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Partners in a new business model 

Navigating the digital landscape is not just about modern technology, it is about a new business approach. This is where the Power of Three offers brilliant support. Microsoft personalizes intelligent technology; Accenture guides change management and campus implementation; and Avanade engineers the customized solution, complete with on-site experts. The good news is many higher ed institutions already own our enabling technologies, making transformation that much closer. And taking the leap could very well be what draws in top-notch faculty; better supports and retains existing staff; engages broader audiences; and keeps students, alumni, families, and faculty connected for a lifetime.

Leading voices in public service  

Higher education organizations can enhance their service and future growth by doing key foundational work around data management, digital identity, and cloud reliability. That foundation is often necessary to support critical experiential evolution, which leads to transformational opportunities like new outreach, pricing, and service models. Whether it be a new platform to create a secure data intensive research environment, or custom tech to stand up a new student hub, we are working with higher ed to better serve the public in the digital age. Looking forward, we are excited to work with institutions driven to deliver their mission in a changing world.

Learn more about how we at Accenture and Microsoft bring people and technology together to accelerate meaningful action, especially in the public sector.   

This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors. This document refers to marks owned by third parties.  All such third-party marks are the property of their respective owners.  No sponsorship, endorsement or approval of this content by the owners of such marks is intended, expressed or implied

Samantha Fisher

Managing Director – Consulting, Public Service, Education

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