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10 Ways Universities Can Define the Value of Digital Transformation


Universities are far more than simply places of learning. They’re educators, they’re employers, they’re businesses, they   , and they have their own, sector-specific, regulatory roles too.

To compound matters, many are struggling with dwindling student uptake, shrinking budgets, and ageing tech stacks.

Therefore, any digital transformation that universities embark upon needs to add tangible, wide-reaching value. When stakeholders and users can envision the value that a technical change project will provide, they are much more likely to be on board - achieving essential budget and user buy-in.

But “value” is much more than added revenue. Here are 10 not-strictly-financial value drivers for technical change that we see in our work with higher education institutions.

10 Common Value-Drivers of Digital Transformation in Universities

Risk Mitigation & Management

Universities have to juggle a lot of risk at every turn. Data risk is one of the most significant. Universities handle a lot of highly sensitive data - be that about students, employees, alumni, or contractors.

A breach of an insecure IT system (or of data held in some long-forgotten spreadsheet somewhere) could be catastrophic and keeps many universities’ C-Suite executives up at night! So, any technical transformation that provides higher levels of data security can drive significant value.

Yet data risks are far from the only risks out there for universities - we’ll revisit the topic of risk throughout this article.

Avoiding Losses & Missed Opportunities

Here’s another risk: in business, there is real risk in doing nothing.

By standing still in such an ever-changing, highly competitive market, you risk being outpaced by other institutions. You risk a lack of promotional innovation that can bring in new students - especially the lucrative overseas student market. You risk missing out on student intake due to outdated enquiry systems and processes. You even risk your   by not investing in robust, future-focused wellbeing tech.

Gone are the days of adopting new tech on a 5–10-year review and purchase cycle. Modern approaches to tech require a capability for constant change. Tools like Power Platform give you the flexibility to easily build your own apps and workflows, and perfect them on the fly as new needs and opportunities arise.

Improving Processes & Human Efficiency

When you invest in positive digital transformation, you aren’t just investing in a shiny new IT thingamajig. You’re investing in your people too. You’re giving them the tools to streamline their workflows and processes, allowing them to spend less time on tedious, menial tasks and more time using their own ingenuity to add value.

But replacing ageing, cantankerous tech doesn’t just achieve productivity gains. Poor technology withers employee morale and can even result in workers quitting. High employee turnover and vocally dissatisfied staff can present significant cost and risk. If you become known as a high-turnover, technically inept employer, you may struggle to compete with more tech-focussed universities for the best talent.

Organisation-Wide, Data-Driven Decision-Making

Sometimes, organisations have disparate systems and data spread over numerous spreadsheets, text files, databases, and (shock, horror) even paper documents. When this happens, it is incredibly difficult to collect all of that data and display it in a cohesive way for leaders to make informed, data-led decisions.

Positive digital transformation can provide a centralised environment which all university data, workflows, apps, and form-fills flows through. When all activity and data flows through a single system, it enables secure information sharing between departments, faculties, and levels of seniority; facilitating precise, department-agnostic reporting.

When accurate, organisation-wide data can easily be exported into the right report formats - or even presented through live dashboards - at the touch of a button, leaders are given the power to make fully informed, data-driven decisions.

Creating a Secure, Organisation-Wide Tech Ecosystem

To minimise data and cyber risk, IT teams need to have control and oversight over all of an organisation's tech operations.

However, over time, departments will sometimes end up using different software to others. Some teams may be more or less technically mature than others. And some teams may be sneakily relying on shadow IT to get their work done.

When different departments each have their own tech stacks, the entire university’s tech stack becomes bloated and hard for the IT team to manage - presenting both functional hurdles and cybersecurity risks.

Adopting solutions like Power Platform can provide a more cohesive and easily governable IT experience throughout your institution. And because it is a centralised, governable repository, your teams can create their own seamless apps and workflows there rather than relying on external, risky shadow IT.

Improving Student Experience & Wellbeing

There is real value in creating a good student experience throughout their university journey. From your initial marketing efforts, through to application, acceptance, onboarding, day-to-day student life, and eventual graduation, you want to make sure you are providing the best experience possible, every step of the way.

When essential systems like course registration, financial support, student wellbeing, and more all rely on separate tech, it becomes difficult for both staff and students to gain a holistic, up to date picture of what they need to know. And teams who may need to regularly liaise with each other (such as wellbeing and financial teams) might have to duplicate work in their respective systems in order to collaborate on an individual issue.

Yet when all university data is secured through Power Platform, solutions like PowerApps and Power Pages let universities create comprehensive student access portals. These portals can serve each student everything they need to know about their studies and offer powerful self-service options such as raising a wellbeing issue, making financial queries, or managing what non-essential communications they receive from the university.

Maximising Student Intake

All universities want to maximise their student intake year on year. Yet optimising your intake functions involves much more than simply ramping up your marketing, sales, and CRM functions.

Universities need to create a totally frictionless enquiry, application, and intake processes to maximise student intake. After all, prospective students don’t just have one university in mind, so your enquiry, response, and application processes need to be quick and efficient to keep them engaged.

Power Platform’s toolbox provides a number of useful ways to streamline intake processes, such as creating secure application and enquiry portals via Power Pages; providing AI-powered Q&A functions to respond to common queries; or simply minimising time-consuming processes for the admissions team.

Attracting international students is a lucrative endeavour for British universities. Power Platform’s language and localisation functionality lets you display your Power Pages in a variety of different languages automatically.

Eradicating Losses from Dysfunctional Tech

Occasionally, organisations will make an IT decision that solves current problems at the expense of future tech wellbeing. Kicking the can down the road in this way may provide the immediate IT “sticking plaster” the organisation was after, but eventually the solution comes back to bite them, presenting productivity, scalability, or security losses.

When teams have to jump through dysfunctional IT hoops, this withers productivity and morale, and potentially sends them seeking risky shadow IT solutions to make their lives easier. When a tech decision eventually ends up taking away more value than it adds, this is called “technical debt”, and eradicating it from your IT ecosystem is a valuable endeavour in itself.

Yet rather than making tech decisions for teams, PowerApps’ low-code/no-code infrastructure gives your teams the power to create their own web apps, workflows, and automations that suit them to a tee.

Making Cost Savings on Software Development

Similarly, commissioning custom software may also come at significant cost. And not just in terms of the financial outlay, either: if that custom software is unable to accommodate inevitable business change, you risk introducing technical debt further down the line.

Contrast this with giving your teams the tools to create their own flexible and scalable software using low-code development platforms like PowerApps. There’s no game of “telephone” between those teams and external software developers; those teams can independently tweak their software solutions on the fly when change is needed; and they stand to create a bigger business impact as a result.

Prioritising Broad, Strategic Transformation Over Quick Wins

Sadly, many universities are tightening their purse strings - making less money available for technical transformation year on year. In the current financial climate, it’s especially tricky to secure funding for digital transformation when your current IT is “doing OK”.

Though defining the precise value that digital transformation projects provide may be tricky, some institutions may wish to prioritise technical change around just how many departments and functions will be positively affected, compared to any increased spend.

Power Platform serves as a stellar example here. For a reasonable extra per-user spend, some of the universities we work with are transforming everything from their onboarding experience, wellbeing services, student liaison, alumni relations, continuing professional development operations, and countless back-office functionality too.

Uncover the True Value of Transformation with a Business Value Assessment

Curious about what your university can achieve through digital transformation? Take the first step with Crimson’s business value assessment consultation.

Let our consultants help you quantify the business value that your intended transformation will bring. Informed by our unparalleled experience in the higher education sector, we will delve into the financial, functional, and technical impacts of your digital transformation, so you can create a formal business case for change with both eyes open.

For a relatively small fee (which can sometimes be offset by Microsoft Catalyst funding) our experts will work to inspire your decision makers about your technological future - and help you get there.

Looking to explore the possibilities of digital transformation? Book a free consultation with the transformation team today!

Watch our latest podcast on demand now - How to build a business case for change at your university