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Higher education CIOs expect significant business changes due to technology

Higher education CIOs recognize that key organizational priorities are enrollment and student success, but fail to show innovation with regard to the top technologies required to differentiate themselves and win, according to a survey from Gartner, Inc. Yet, a majority of respondents (59 percent) think there will be significant business model change due to digital transformation.

Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda Survey gathered data from 3,160 CIO respondents in 98 countries and across major industries, including 247 higher education CIOs. Higher education CIOs ranked digital business/digital transformation as the fifth most strategic business priority. However, when it comes to the top technology areas these institutions are investing in to differentiate themselves, digitalization/digital marketing ranks only eighth among higher education respondents, compared to second across all industries.

“This may be because higher education is among the least digitized industries,” says Jan-Martin Lowendahl, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “The average higher education institution has a large backlog of digital enablement before it can even can think about digital transformation.”

Nevertheless, CIOs in the sector need to start bridging the digital divide. “Considering that higher education is, in principle, an ‘information’ industry with huge digital potential compared to other industries, digitalization needs to become a top priority,” Lowendahl adds.

A third of respondents cite enrollment as their top business priority, making it the clear leader. The growing need to ensure academic quality by competing for the best and the brightest explains the second business priority, student success (22 percent). Enrollment and student success are both related to growth/market share, but only 14 percent of the respondents explicitly mention this as a top business objective, putting it in joint third place, alongside retention.

In response to the question, “Which technology area do you think is most important to helping your business differentiate and win or is most crucial to achieving your organization’s mission?” BI/analytics was a clear No. 1 with higher education sector CIOs. That enterprise resource planning (ERP) is the second most mentioned technology is more surprising, as higher education institutions, in general, have not had a good track record in using ERP to re-engineer the institutions’ operations and decision-making. Rather, they “pave the cow paths” – in the words of one CIO – resulting in costly customization and little improvement.

Third-ranked customer relationship management (CRM) clearly supports enrollment and retention business objectives while fourth-ranked learning management systems (LMS) is similarly aligned with business priorities such as student experience and success.

The higher education list of “top tech areas for new spending” has no clear winner. Cyber/information security ranks first with 18 percent, but is followed closely by ERP with 16 percent and a cluster of other priorities that don’t mirror the “top tech to win” list.

Investment in cloud continues to be high as several core systems are modernized, including ERP, e-learning/LMS and student information systems (SIS). This shows that higher education institutions are far from finished investing in their learning environment and modernizing their core production systems.

Compared to the top new technology spending list for all survey respondents, one key thing stands out. New spending on digitalization/digital marketing is mentioned by 12 percent of respondents overall, but doesn’t appear at all on the higher education list, despite “digital” being fifth in top business priorities.

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