It’s anyone’s guess what 2021 has in store for the higher education industry—and society, for that matter. But it’s clear that uncertainty surrounding when a national return to a semblance of normalcy will persist. In fact, according to EdScoop, higher ed institutions in California, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont and Washington state have launched plans for a mostly-remote Spring semester.
As schools across the United States also face budget and bandwidth constraints heading into 2021, IT departments will need to prioritize investments that deliver ROI immediately. In that spirit, they should consider bringing on a managed services partner that is versed in higher ed IT, proactively alleviates team burdens and helps streamline and/or modernize digital infrastructure.
As we join the higher ed community in reflecting on a turbulent 2020 and preparing for 2021, a few specific trends stick out that, when paired with managed services, could advance higher ed’s digital acceleration well into the future.
Advancing Remote Learning and Instruction
Trend: Whether or not campuses formally closed down this year, virtually all colleges and universities across the United States increased their remote learning and instruction offerings out of necessity.
Where managed services come in: For the IT departments at these schools, challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of successful remote academic operations range from simply offering IT best practices that help people logging on from anywhere to hands-on training or support. The process of getting remote learning up and running looked different for every school’s IT staff, but it involved some combination of helping people get set up, up to speed and connected. It also likely involved adopting new IT and cloud solutions, then migrating legacy systems and data to them. A managed services partner can help with all of the above and provide recommendations specific to each academic institution’s needs, scale of digital operations and digital transformation roadmap.
Improving Cloud-based Collaboration
Trend: Higher education institutions increasingly turn to cloud-based solutions (like AWS or Atlassian Cloud) and collaboration platforms, like Zoom or Slack, to maintain connectivity and enhance collaboration between people regardless of remote, hybrid or on-campus instruction levels.
Where managed services come in: As more faculty, students and staff use cloud-based collaboration platforms, tools and workflows, streamlining becomes crucial to productivity and performance. At the same time, colleges and universities that move digital operations and massive amounts of data to the cloud will need support to ensure everything makes it and continues to run smoothly through migration and implementation phases. Bringing on a managed services partner can help institutions make the most of their current solutions, tools and platforms—and understand which cloud-based solutions can be combined, integrated or thrown out during migration, depending on the case.
Enhancing Digital Services and Operations
Trend: Growing demand for remote learning solutions and digital services (submitting paperwork, searching databases, accessing resources) in higher education.
Where managed services come in: As more higher education community members log on to teach, learn or perform administrative tasks, institutions will need more resilient and adaptable IT or cloud infrastructure to handle it. Bringing on a managed services partner can help colleges and universities by shouldering burdensome and complex tasks associated with increased digital operations, including web hosting, data mobilization, cloud migration, and disaster recovery.
Keeping Costs Down
Trend: Keeping IT-related costs down continues to be an important element of academic digital transformation and IT modernization—especially as institutions endure budget cuts and lost revenue tied to the pandemic.
Where managed services come in: Digital operations powering online resources, learning management systems and content platforms can prove costly for colleges and universities. However, there are ways to keep administrative and other IT costs down without sacrificing performance or connectivity. While it may require an initial investment, bringing on an external managed services partner can help academic IT departments create efficiencies across workflows and functions by outsourcing some of the more time-intensive, administrative and mundane tasks. Specifically, an external partner can take over streamlining institution-specific web and digital operations, scaling platforms or solutions without risking expensive disruptions and providing IT support.
Heading into 2021
The year 2020 introduced a large portion of the academic world to a remote digital environment. The availability and accessibility of digital resources, or lack thereof, also underscored the importance of planning for uncertainty—a key lesson across industries from higher ed to healthcare.
As COVID-19 persists, colleges and universities face an industry-defining question: where do we go from here?
Regardless of the outcomes of the next several months, academic IT departments that decide to bring on a managed services partner will place themselves in a better position to address issues and make the most of digital solutions heading into next semester—and beyond.