Universities are knowledge developers and brokers. Information is at the heart of a university, and yet, universities have not been remodelled by the winds of information technology in the way that record labels, newspapers, or financial services have been. Perhaps we should be thankful for that.  However, if universities do not explore these opportunities, new entrants to the HE market surely will.  In the third in a series on the digital university, Nick Skelton, SUMS Associate Consultant, explores how digital can bring a university closer to the people it serves.

A traditional IT strategy focuses on improving the efficiency of what we already do – replacing paper processes with a quicker, computerised equivalent. Technology can bring efficiencies to our use of physical space, and improve working practices as explored in part one of this series. But a modern digital strategy isn’t just about doing existing things better. It is about doing new, better things.

Technology isn’t the important part of the picture. What matters is understanding your people and the value you provide to them. A good digital strategy can open up new markets for the university and deliver a new experience for your existing customers. Put yourself in the shoes of your students and think from their point of view.

Students expect their interactions with the university to be as easy as their experience with Amazon. Technologies such as mobile apps and AI chatbots can provide a joined-up student digital experience. But to make this vision work we need to get out of existing departmental silos and pursue partnership working across schools and professional services. We must prioritise doing the right thing for our students above doing the right thing for each little bit of the organisation.

Universities have always nurtured their alumni communities. Digital helps overcome barriers of distance, making this easier than ever. But don’t just think about converting a glossy paper newsletter to a glossy website. Consider using social media for a two-way conversation to engage alumni, consulting them on strategy.

The crowd-funder generation is happy to give, but expect something back in return. Could you provide alumni with access at distance to your digital learning resources, to help their lifelong learning? If you provided that for five years after graduation free of charge, how many would pay a small monthly fee for it after that, like a gym membership or magazine subscription?

SUMS Consulting is owned by our members and is rooted in the culture and traditions of higher education. Our digital consultants are highly experienced using technology to improve work, life and study. To learn more about how SUMS Consulting can help you with digital initiatives email us at sums@reading.ac.uk or call us on 0118 378 4304.

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