The Role of Technology in Driving Education to a New Level

Khalil Yazdi, Consulting CIO and Principal, Yazdi and Associates LLC.
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Khalil Yazdi, Consulting CIO and Principal, Yazdi and Associates LLC.

Significant Trends in HiED industry

The major technological developments impacting the HiED industry include migration to cloud, big data, mobility, IOT, machine learning, analytics and of course, security. The trend towards cloud services adoption provides new opportunities to significantly lower the costs of operations and services and improve outcomes. At the same time, it evokes concerns over security and presents new opportunities for further disintermediation of the industry- funny things happen to perceived value-added and the need for institutional intermediation when you go to (global) cloud scale, particularly when the technology base is strongly empowering of individual action—I can learn on my own, I can do research on my own, why do I need a school or a university? Why do we need so many?

A second trend is the rapid proliferation of intelligent and reactive devices that in some domains supplant people and in other areas generate an extraordinary volume of useful and usable data. I believe that the education industry will be working through the impacts of combination of Intelligent Networked Devices (INDs), Mobile INDs (MINDs), machine learning and big-but-distributed data for the better part of the next two decades. Together, they have far-reaching impact on institutional operations, and the core missions of areas of research and education.

How we understand and deliver services will dramatically change. We will have to do a complete rethink of how students learn, what they learn, the life-styles and jobs they are preparing for. On the research side, we are at the front end of a tidal wave of new insights and advances in virtually every field of scientific inquiry, scholarship and artistic innovation. The cloud also promises to democratize the capacity for research, potentially eroding the dominance of research-intensive institutions in traditional high-performance computing capabilities—while simultaneously opening the door to entirely new and more complex technology architectures pointed at research capabilities that to-date have not been explored. To maintain their role in the academic research ecosystem, research-intensive institutions—and the technology partners supporting them must innovate on new technologies. As the academic research community is a significant driver of aggregate economic growth, realization of innovation in support of breakthrough science will provide broad benefits.

  The key to competitive advantage lies in the quality of outcomes and experience measured in relation to the student investment over their time at an institution  

Need for Forward-Looking Technology

I believe that service providers to the broader academic, research and education industry should find ways to partner with the community strategically and at scale with the objective of finding ways to encourage our adoption of new forward-looking technology, driving down the costs of migration to cloud or shared services and supporting common standards. It will be important (to everyone, whether in the education space or not) to avoid product and services differentiation where it does not add value but ultimately consumes increasing scarce financial and human resources (and attention).

Innovation is the Key

Competiveness in the higher education space is qualitatively very different from what it means in most other industry segments. While most universities will actively compete for students, student athletes, faculty, staff and alumni support, the services they provide are typically consumed over multiple years and each student effectively personalizes that experience to a fairly high level. The key to competitive advantage lies in the quality of outcomes and experience measured in relation to the student  or faculty member’s  investment over their time at an institution (and yes, faculty are not typical employees of an institution – the are heavily recruited and their selection of their home institution has significant impact on their professional careers and standing within their research domains). Of course, lowering that total investment and increasing the likelihood of a positive ROI for the student will go a long way in motivating student selection of one campus over another (and likewise, in faculty choosing one institution over another).

To enhance the competiveness of their institutions, CIOs in the research and education space should pursue—as quickly as possible—new technology solutions that replace costly and ineffective legacy systems and signal to prospective students and faculty that their investment in the institution will relatively future-proofed. It is important that CIOs deploy technologies that support diverse types of engagement between and among students and faculty, that harvest data relating to such engagement and provide analytics that inform university leadership on the effectiveness of their services to students and faculty—providing basic business intelligence to students and faculty about how they can enhance the value they obtain from their association with an institution.

Our universities are incubators for research and development of new science, engineering, business model and human capital that will, over time, be applied towards broad national and global economic growth. Historically, there was a natural and organic latency in the translation of new intellectual property into commercially viable outcomes, often taking a decade or more before the promise of research was realized in terms of value-added in the broader economy. This was true for both science and engineering innovations and for the effective deployment of students entering the workforce in professional careers. The new “innovation economy” has significantly reduced that translational latency and requires a much closer relationship between the academy and the private sector of the economy. Not only do we need to ensure that our academic institutions provide strategic relationships that support the development and deployment of new science and engineering, but they must also ensure that their students are prepared to quickly adopt and deploy such technologies in meaningful and productive use as professionals.

All universities will be under pressure to ensure that they are equipped with the right mix of technologies to enable them to meet their institutional, economic growth and public policy missions. With rapid innovation in the underlying technologies and support and drive business, IT providers are challenged to divest themselves of their obligations to support legacy systems and to bring new technology solutions to market.

The financial and business risks of getting it wrong are extraordinarily high—for both established and emerging companies, for both large and small colleges and universities. Agility and responsiveness to the emerging pressures will require a new level of partnership between and among academic institutions and the commercial sector—particularly with IT companies that are at the heart of the new economy.

While such partnerships between IT companies and institutions of higher education have existed for decades, what is different today is scale and pace of change. We need to have collaboration at global scale. For competitive IT companies, working in a collaborative way is challenging and left to their devices, will not organically come about. However, academic institutions, while competitive, are predisposed to acting as a community. I believe that the HiED CIO community must-of necessity-come together to provide leadership and context for effective collaboration the between and among HiED and technology companies.

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