Build the Campus of Tomorrow on Interoperability

For colleges and universities across the U.S., the ability to share and access data among various campus systems has long played an essential role in achieving key goals. In today’s environment, interoperability — the ability to share and access data — has never been more crucial.

Why is Interoperability Important?

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, institutions worked quickly to respond to health and safety concerns and address the new needs of students, faculty, and staff. During the initial months of the pandemic, it became clear that systems that could automatically communicate with each other drastically simplified this work and provided the agility needed for continually shifting circumstances.

In a world where remote work and online education are becoming ubiquitous, technology solutions must be integrated to share and deliver data between systems seamlessly. That integration helps facilitate responsive, synchronized solutions that make staff across the institution more efficient and effective. And while technology leaders need the freedom to choose the right fit-for-purpose solutions, they must also be able to easily connect technologies from various vendors so that adding fresh solutions doesn’t create new problems or frustrations.

The ability to easily integrate disparate systems provides six essential benefits that are especially important in a rapidly changing environment.

Six Benefits of Interoperability in Higher Education

1.   Easier scalability

In 2020, most institutions had to ramp up their online offerings quickly, and many more still need to optimize their existing offerings. But scaling up quickly and efficiently is only possible when your solutions are open and flexible, enabling you to adapt and connect them in new ways.

By adopting a unified digital platform that can connect your disparate systems to create a single, reliable source of data, institutions can help their staff work more efficiently, find more ways to automate manual work, and more easily bring in new tools to address future needs.

Learning Tools and Interoperability: Scalability in Action

At Barstow Community College (BCC), administrative inefficiencies and bottlenecks in their learning management system (LMS) were stalling student registration, grading, and communication between departments. Addressing these delays was a top priority.

By deploying a unified digital platform that initially connected its LMS and ERP systems, Barstow Community College was able to streamline its existing processes and create a foundation for fast, smooth deployment and integration with additional solutions. Since completing its initial integration, the institution has added other new solutions to its portfolio, including mobile student account management and an analytics tool for better, more informed decision-making. Starting with this solid foundation, the school can continue to add new tools in the future that fit its overall strategy

2.   Cost Reduction

Experienced technology leaders know that, traditionally, it’s much cheaper to purchase a new software solution and run it in isolation rather than integrate it with other enterprise systems. However, a cloud-based integration platform can reduce the costs of implementing and managing new solutions through centralized monitoring and an open ecosystem.

While a cloud-based system is a significant investment, there are multiple options for institutions to choose the solution that works best for them and start benefiting from the ensuing cost reductions. Migrating legacy systems eliminates the need for outdated physical hardware, reducing manual work for IT staff to maintain it. Further, with a cloud-based system, institutions can leverage the latest technologies immediately instead of waiting for a refresh cycle or complicated upgrade.

Cloud and Interoperability: Cost Savings in Action

For Foothill-De Anza Community College District, investing in a cloud-based system ultimately lowered their total cost of ownership. Previously, managing an ERP required a variety of expenditures to cover support, licensing, hardware, energy, cooling, and disaster recovery. With the cloud, the district can consolidate their spending while optimizing existing resources.

“I think more importantly, the way the cloud helps us meet our challenges is in extending the value for our in-house staff,” says Vice Chancellor of Technology Joseph Moreau. “We have to provide our in-house technical support staff with the opportunity to really get out of the ERP operation business and into the ERP optimization business.” With an integrated platform, this is made possible without the need to increase headcount.

3. Unified IT Architecture

Many campus IT departments work to integrate new solutions on a case-by-case basis. But that often results in a smorgasbord of disparate solutions that become a burden for IT staff to maintain, upgrade, and keep secure. A cloud-based, hub-and-spoke approach provides a common pattern that will work with all systems and should be flexible enough to meet the needs of different departments and institutions.

For instance, one university can run vendor-hosted systems on premises, while another can fully use software as a service — and they can both use the same cloud-based integration platform. Interoperability meets the needs of today’s hybrid IT environments and gives institutions the flexibility to choose the last-mile applications that best meet their needs without sacrificing integration with other systems.

Technology and Interoperability: Unified IT Architecture in Action

When campus leaders at Virginia State University realized that the growing complexity of their technology was outpacing the bandwidth of their IT team, they knew the solution would require a smarter, more efficient technical infrastructure, beyond what they could build in-house. By migrating their ERP to the cloud, Virginia State could access world-class technology resources as needed and within budget.

Cloud-based architecture streamlines the integration of new solutions without losing support for the university’s most important customizations. Additionally, without having to maintain unsustainable technology, the IT staff could focus on the activities that most directly impact student success.

4. Data Security

It’s no surprise that higher education leaders identified data security as the top IT issue to address in 2022. Data is an institution’s most valuable resource, particularly as technology becomes increasingly foundational to core operations and goals.

When sensitive student and financial data is moving freely among systems, keeping that data secure is essential. The right integration platform can improve your information security plan, automatically encrypting data; offering tools to manage identity and access rights; and enabling additional layers of protection, such as multi-factor authentication. The platform should also be flexible enough to allow an institution to configure it to meet its own specific security requirements while facilitating secure integration of new applications.

Data and Interoperability: Information Security in Action

When Allan Hancock College (AHC) wanted to implement a third-party, online job-seeking service for students and alumni, its IT leaders were concerned about the data needs for the project. A large amount of sensitive personal, academic, and log-in data needed to be synced securely within one application program interface (API). The largest barrier to integration was protecting the information of students already in the institution’s digital environment, but who chose not to use the third-party service.

By partnering with an interoperable data platform provider, the college was able to aggregate and organize its enormous data stores, ensuring additional protections for the information being shared between the ERP and third-party service. The resulting platform could safely connect students and alumni to hundreds of potential employees, while streamlining the experience with single sign-on and providing a functional infrastructure that can accommodate future integrations.

5. Institution-Wide Visibility and Better Decision-Making

To get a full view of what’s happening today — and to prepare for what might happen tomorrow — institutions must be able to connect data from across campus systems, breaking down the barriers between point solutions. When systems can communicate with each other, not only can data be shared, but manual processes can also be simplified through automation.

In addition, campus leaders need accurate, timely data to help them make more informed decisions. That requires the ability to view data from across the institution as well as the tools to then draw meaningful insights for more powerful outcomes. For example, by compiling data on the courses each student requires for the coming semester, an institution can generate an accurate report of the total number of courses needed. They can then create course schedules based on those reports, knowing their planning is based on precise, up-to-date data.

Truly integrated data can give administrators detailed views and metrics that affect all aspects of the campus community, including recruiting and enrollment, alumni and fundraising, finance and personnel, and most critically, student success.

Analytics and Interoperability: Data-Driven Decision-Making in Action

Like many institutions, the University of La Verne had an abundance of data, but with information scattered across systems and databases, there was no easy way to utilize it in decision-making. The solution was to use a comprehensive analytics tool to bring all previously siloed data under one roof.

Interoperability requires more than just new software, however. It requires buy-in from the stakeholders who will be using it. With this in mind, La Verne gathered representatives from across campus to implement a cross-department data governance plan that would help ensure the integrity of their now-consolidated information.

Describing their analytics program as a “single pane of glass through which to view our data,” Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President Dr. Todd Britton explains how unifying information has paid off for the institution. “It has helped us see what we need to do, where our data is flawed, where it should be adjusted, and what we need to do in terms of practice and policy updates. All of that has helped drive us forward.”

6. Simplified Management

Many colleges have lean IT staffs without dedicated data architects or database administrators. These institutions need easy-to-use, interoperable cloud-based solutions, with built-in visualization and drill-down capabilities that don’t require complex coding. With simplified cloud-based technologies, IT staff can rely on their technology vendor to do the heavy lifting on the back end so they can spend time identifying the most crucial data elements their administrators need to improve business decision-making. Hiring becomes easier as well, as cloud-based institutions can recruit more IT generalists and business analysts instead of specific systems or database experts.

The cloud also makes it easier to serve remote staff members. Pre-pandemic, few colleges and universities had experience managing staff who worked from home. What they have discovered is that an effectively integrated IT system makes it easy to give remote employees the access they need to get their work done as effectively as when they’re working on campus.

Virtual Systems and Interoperability: Simplified Management in Action

Schoolcraft College — a two-year, Michigan-based institution — needed to overhaul their IT systems to support distance-learning. “It became a mission of mine to allow students to take classes that required either high-performance computing or highly graphically intensive software and be able to access that from off campus,” says Patrick Turner, vice president and chief information officer.

Virtual desktops would allow students to use the necessary software available in computer labs anywhere, anytime, and from any device. To achieve this, Schoolcraft College integrated their ERP database so that their digital workspace could pull student information and correctly match users with virtual desktops. The result eliminated previous socioeconomic barriers to class technology while freeing professors and IT staff from troubleshooting software installations and other personal computer problems.

Integrate Systems and Data to Better Manage Change

As campuses continue to evolve in response to the pandemic and its consequent economic realities, easy and effective systems integration will become increasingly valuable. A cloud-based integration platform can flexibly accommodate an institution’s most pressing requirements — to manage costs, quickly react to changing needs, enable data-driven decisions, and simplify the work of its IT team. Such a platform can help you accomplish it all while strengthening your data security, no matter where your students, faculty, and staff are learning and working.

Build the campus of tomorrow on a foundation that’s here today. Learn more about Ellucian Ethos.

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