The Digital Future of Higher Education (Part II)

Director of Healthcare, Life Sciences, and Postal Industry Markets, SAP Asia Pacific Japan

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This is the second of a two-part series on “The Digital Future of Higher Education.” Read the first part here.

Universities of the future represent a community and an ecosystem that transcend traditional boundaries. Here are some ways that these institutions are adapting today to redefine the way they work into the future.

Reimagine education processes: Redirecting massive cost savings to core focus areas

As real-time student data moves institutions towards outcome-based teaching and research, university business processes are being reimagined. Clearly, universities are focused on their core mission of delivering high-quality education and research. To ensure constant growth and innovation, a digitisation strategy is also required on the enterprise side of the institution, especially on the finance side.

One area of focus that can amount to significant cost savings is automating expense management. With faculty, staff, and students traveling almost every single day, the task of managing the university’s travel and expense activities can overburden the finance organization with inefficiencies. Implementing an integrated and streamlined travel booking and expense reporting process can help an institution gain better visibility and control over travel and entertainment (T&E) spend while decreasing the risk of misuse and errors.

The U.S.’s University of Colorado (CU) provides one example. A dynamic community comprising 58,000 students and 30,000 faculty with staff located on multiple campuses, CU runs world-leading programs in nearly every academic discipline. Every day of the year, thousands of faculty, staff, and students travel worldwide for research, advanced study, and recruiting. Prior to implementing an automated solution, CU used a manual, paper-based process for travel. The university implemented an end-to-end solution to manage the process—from travel booking through to expense-report generation and approval. The ability to coordinate all aspects of travel (preferences, itineraries, alerts, charge cards, and expense report submission), automate business rules, and scan receipts brought major benefits. Faculty and staff receive their reimbursements faster, improving their overall satisfaction and morale. In addition, integrating the university’s procurement cards with backend financial systems enabled visibility into another area of spend, resulting in increased savings for the university.

The results? A savings of $310,000 in airfare transaction fees alone in the first year using online travel booking. Leveraging aggregated airfare data to negotiate new vendor discounts led to an additional $215,000 in savings. Converting to a corporate-billed travel card integrated into the end-to-end solution resulted in $432,000 in travel-related rebates. CU also accelerated expense reimbursement time by nearly 80%.

In the same vein, transforming the procurement process can result in substantial cost and manpower savings, as well as deliver greater efficiency across the entire procurement process, regardless of where the procurement request originates. By creating a simple and seamless procurement process, universities can access a range of suppliers who can deliver the goods and services required, at better prices, and stay within their contract terms. A unified view of procurement activity also helps institutions negotiate better long-term deals, creating better supplier relationships. For example, The Ohio State University Medical Center achieved $1 million in savings by identifying a new supplier.

The net savings in these focus areas can empower universities to better deliver on their core mission of high-quality education and research.

Reimagine workforce engagement:  Talent as the key

Universities must understand the workforce of the future to be successful and stay successful. New models for managing the workforce must address the key role of university staff and understand changing demographics and evolving definitions of work.

Universities must understand the workforce of the future to be successful and stay successful. 

For example, over 50% of the workforce will be from the millennial generation by 2020. Millennial workers and students have common expectations including real-time feedback on their performance, personalised performance expectations, and a meaningful, achievable career path or paths. These are areas that higher education institutions must be able to deliver to attract and retain high-performing, passionate academic and administrative staff.

With rapidly evolving technologies, the digitisation of the workplace and academic processes will refocus and even eliminate some work. In such cases, work will have to be refocused for valuable talent. Digital tools will help institutions propose the best areas to refocus them to—based on personalised preferences—while continuing to identify, recruit, retain, educate, and promote the most engaged staff, teachers, and researchers. Regardless of how many campuses a university has, institutions must also create a unified workplace environment for staff in order to develop a unified culture that drives its people towards common goals.

Tecnológico de Monterrey, a university based in Mexico, provides one example of using digital tools to enable workforce engagement. The institution wanted to foster a unified workplace culture across 55 campuses all over the country and ensure that staff have the right tools to give students the best possible education. They also wanted to gain a unified overview of HR activity across the organisation. Tecnológico De Monterrey automated and digitised all manual HR processes, transforming how they work, including the way they onboard professors each semester. Within the first week of implementation, 65% of professors executed employment contracts electronically. The university has connected campuses countrywide, enabling employees to communicate and collaborate with each other much more easily. They also gained an integrated, comprehensive overview of the entire workforce to support strategic decision making and improving the quality of information.

The digital future of higher education today

Just as we’ve seen the forces of digitisation transform sectors such as banking or telecommunications over the last two decades, these forces are now transforming higher education. Universities must work to create the digital future today, and the change must begin now for institutions to remain true to their mission.

It is time to start your journey. Learn more about digital transformation for higher education and research here.

This blog post originally appeared in the Digitalist.

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