An inside look at the ways communications technology is helping to support institutional learning agendas, while also driving operational and cost efficiencies.
Academic administrators face a range of competing priorities in the use of technology, with their IT staff and platforms being challenged to support advancements in learning innovation, while also cutting the cost of ongoing service delivery.
Clearly there is an imperative for IT to help streamline operations – globally, education costs have risen 84.0% since 2000, 46.6% higher than the rise in the CPI.
IT, however, also needs to viewed as enabler. Technology should be a central mechanism for improving teaching and learning, not only directly in the classroom, but also as a way to provide services to other areas of the institution to improve the overall human capital and infrastructure supporting education delivery.
This has created a boom in the educational technology (EdTech) sector, with an array of solutions growing to support these challenges.
The global EdTech and Smart Classrooms Market is expected to grow from US$43.27 Billion in 2015 to US$93.76 Billion in 2020 (2), with educational cloud (software, platform or infrastructure as a service) expected to be the largest share of these technologies.
Schools typically have higher capacity IT needs than a standard office environment, supporting a wide variety of technical needs, such as:
Digital Learning Models
- Learning Management Systems
- MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) whether competing against or providing these
- Personalized learning
- Online testing
- Gamification (Game based learning)
Multiple wide area internet networks
Large scale printing
Specialist course support
- 3D printing
- Robotics training
- Mathematical modelling, etc
There are more than 80,000 education apps in the iTunes store alone.
BYOD for staff and students
Laptops, phones, tablets; Windows and Macintosh environments, all needing to be securely supported bythe school’s network.
Streamlining internal communications
- IT service management
- Billing reminders
Compounding these challenges is the large numbers of people, and diverse campuses these systems need to cater to. Large schools can have more than 1000 students, and dozens of staff. Universities and tertiary educations may have tens of thousands of students, and several thousand staff, potentially spread over multiple buildings, and multiple locations, sometimes even internationally.
To manage this complexity, schools are increasingly turning to innovative partners who can help deliver these core requirements.
SaaS- Bridging the Technology Capability Gap
For many institutions, redesigning their technology delivery teams and practices is a complex, time consuming and risky endeavor, leading to the growth of Software as a service (SaaS) as a means of rapidly deploying new application services or functionality.
The cloud computing in education market is estimated to grow from US$5.83 Billion in 2015 to US$15.02 Billion by 2020, with SaaS delivered functionality being the largest portion of this growth.
SaaS delivered email, for instance, has become the standard, with nearly 70% of higher education institutions in North America having moved their email systems to the cloud.
SaaS vendors typically specialize in developing and maintaining discrete, best-in-breed software, which can easily be integrated with existing IT platforms, and are constantly upgraded, without the need for investment in the requisite research, design and development of new technologies.
Cloud-based communications technologies have emerged as a key tool for educators in streamlining operations to support academic outcomes.
Streamlined Operational Communications
SaaS based communications suites can be quickly implemented, allowing schools to digitize and move messaging processes away from high-cost, inefficient channels. Examples include connecting to collections software and contacting parents re fee balances via automated SMS, rather than manual calls, or mailing paper statements.
Best-in-breed SaaS communications suites can be used to manually create messages, or can be connected to an organisation’s existing IT platforms and databases to trigger automated messaging flows. These can be sent to multiple devices (laptops, mobiles, tablets, etc) and on multiple channels, such as SMS, email, social media, Rich Messaging, RSS Feeds and voice calls.
Message receipt can be tracked, and recipients are able to respond appropriately to the situation.
For example, an SMS based workflow can be created which sends an automated message to all parents to request volunteer assistance for an upcoming school event, with a Rich Message containing all relevant details, and the option to directly respond yes or no. If insufficient volunteers are received by a certain point, the next stage in the workflow would be to automatically notify organisers to start manual contact, as needed.
This allows institutions to move from mass notifications which struggle to generate cut through, to tailored information, targeted appropriately to the audience, designed to inspire action and avoid messaging fatigue.
Modern communication suites can help fuel an innovation agenda by streamlining a range of operational communications, and programmatically transforming the underlying business processes.
Strategic IT Service Management Communications
Modern communication systems, connected to IT monitoring platforms, can deliver information targeted to the needs of the audience, at the appropriate time, and the device of choice, whether this is tablet accessible dashboards, or interactive mobile messages for ITSM responders. Well-structured ITSM communications should include:
- Executive dashboards for easily viewed system-wide information
- SMS or interactive Rich Messaging for urgent action to responders
- Automated advisory notices for system users of planned outages and maintenance downtime
- Self-service capabilities for staff to change their levels of notifications
Moving to messaging automation decreases the need for manual intervention in many of these processes, freeing up IT staff to focus on higher value added services.
Institution-wide Operational Communications
The widespread adoption of mobile phones – there are more than 7.5 billion devices on the planet, and over 3.65 billion unique global mobile users – makes these a logical centerpiece for streamlined communications, including:
Mobiles provide workforce management for a range of functional areas, such as IT and Human Resources departments. Options include delivering school announcements, providing IT system updates, sending account authentication and password reset information, time-sheet processing, and critical notifications. Common examples include:
- Rapid dissemination of critical OH&S updates
- Scheduling and rostering
- Substitute teachers: Quickly contacting replacement teaching staff based on skills, curriculum specialization, location and availability.
- General announcements
- Event notifications and reminders
- Pro-actively communicating planned or un-planned IT outages to students, faculty and staff.
Leveraging mobiles allows academic institutions to cut costs associated with ongoing communications to parents, such as:
- Truancy alerts
- Event notifications and reminders
- Term start dates
- Notification of PT meetings
- School fee payment reminders
- Library fines
- Childcare payment reminders
Parent/Student Information Portals
RSS feeds can be connected to other internal databases, or IT systems, and external information sources, to provide an automatically updated central campus news service. This could include exam schedule updates, weather alerts, upcoming social or sporting events, or any other news the institution wants the community to stay alerted to.
Programmatic Workflow Re-imagination
The concept of Business Process Re-engineering, which involves radically redesigning core operational processes for dramatic productivity improvements, has been practiced for over a quarter of century.
The challenges with this approach are typically the scale of the projects involved, and the time, resources and skills required to effectively prosecute the change management activities.
This is the key advantage of SaaS deployed capabilities, as the appropriate solution can be adopted with no development lead time, and API integration typically allows these services to connected rapidly and securely to existing systems, to leverage their functionality and data.
Synchronizing a SaaS Communications platform to HR data for example, and connecting the system to IT incident monitoring tools, provides a level of certainty that all staff in the organisation can be reached in a timely way, with information relevant to their roles.
The transformative potential of modern communication systems can be fully realized when workflows are redesigned in a planned and automated fashion that fully exploits the potential of these tools.
Transitioning to communication automation requires rethinking traditional operating processes, creating the conditions for proactive scenario planning and innovation around operations and interactions with staff, suppliers, parents, students and the wider community.
Factors to consider when planning for adoption of communication enablement platforms include:
Proactive Scenario Planning
Having a clearly defined plan in place for communicating in different situations cuts down response time, improves accuracy of contact, and ensures the right people are able to be reached in a timely manner.
Send messages to your staff and community in the way that suits them, whether that’s voice, SMS, Social Media, Rich Messages or email, to improve the rates of delivery. Knowing they will almost always have their mobiles close allows organisations to provide messages on all these channels. Geo-location can segment communications even further, such as providing multilingual messages appropriate to the recipient’s location or pre-defined contact preferences.
Interchangeable Message Templates
Message templates should be prepared with specifics which can be rapidly altered to suit the appropriate services or situations being targeted, thereby saving time with pre-planned communication and response options.
When urgent communication is required, SMS accelerates the speed of notification. Whereas half of all emails aren’t opened for at least six hours, the average text message is accessed within a few minutes and responded to within 30 minutes. Voice calls to mobile and fixed lines generate an even faster response, and can be created to trigger automatically from the communications platform.
Scalability and Consistency
Look for solutions that can be scaled not only to other operational parts of the business, but can also scale internationally, and comply with regulatory requirements in differing jurisdictions.
Combining all of these communications streams into a single platform, with a central reporting dashboard improves cut-through in the delivery of messages and provides a mechanism for tracking all critical communications, giving recipients a way to respond appropriately. This allows informed, real time decisions to be made from these conversations.