How empowered institutions can navigate today’s expectations
The role technology plays in today’s competitive, higher education environment
- Students' technology expectations are creating extra pressure for institutions to deliver
- Connected data from an authoritative source helps institutions make better, more informed decisions
- Laying a foundation for technology-driven agility is a critical first step for institutions
Jackie Yeaney, chief marketing officer and SVP, and Namita Dhallan, SVP and chief product officer, Ellucian
JY: Welcome to Ellucian's Powering Achievement. I'm Jackie Yeaney, the chief marketing officer here at Ellucian. And today, I'm joined by Namita Dhallan, our chief product officer here at Ellucian. Thank you so much for joining us, Namita.
ND: Well, thanks so much for having me, Jackie.
JY: Why don't we start by having you tell us a little bit about your role here at Ellucian.
ND: Well, absolutely. So, at Ellucian, I'm the chief product officer. And so, what that means for us is that I run the product development team, the product management team, and the cloud operations team. And so together, we are the product team.
JY: So, Namita, I know you've led product teams across many industries. So, tell me a little bit about what you've seen across higher education since you've gotten here.
ND: So, these are exciting and dynamic times for higher education today, Jackie. There are so many forces upon them, both from a competitive environment, competing for students—not just locally, but globally—and in terms of their constituents being very demanding, especially when it comes to technology.
JY: So that all sounds so daunting. How do institutions react in the face of all that?
ND: Well, they are starting with a vision of where they want to be. And the great thing is that with Ellucian working with 2,400 of our favorite institutions, we have a shared vision. And that is that of an empowered campus.
JY: Empowered campus—that sounds really interesting, but I'm not quite sure I know what you mean. Can you help me understand that a little bit?
ND: Sure. So, an empowered campus is one where they have all the people, the data, the systems, and the processes they need in order to accomplish what they want to do. And what makes them empowered is when all of that is connected, so that it's the authoritative data that everyone is using, so true information so that everyone can make better decisions. And all that is through connectivity. And then certainly connecting all the data and the processes and the systems together. It's all on connectivity.
JY: That vision of connectivity is really, really important for everyone involved, especially the students.
ND: Absolutely, absolutely.
JY: And why is this happening all now?
ND: So, there is a variety of things at play. One, students and institutions are cost-conscious. And that doesn't mean that they're trying to cut costs. They just want the best value for their costs.
So, students are expecting, one, as we talked about, technology to be there front and center at everything that they do. And institutions are looking at, “Well, what value can I get from my systems?” And the best way for them to accomplish all that is when they have the resources available in a connected manner across the entire institution.
So, I'll give you an example. If you're going to send out an advancement campaign, if you knew from the beginning that this student was highly interested in fine arts, then sending them a request to donate possibly to the sports field might not be the best way to have them re-engage with the university. However, sending them a request to possibly donate towards a new fine arts building because that's what we knew about them, those all happen because of connected information, connected data, but really connecting the relationships.
JY: So, if I'm an institution, and I buy into this vision, how do I actually get started?
ND: Well, it's actually twofold. One is to have a foundation of technology-driven agility. And the other is then to utilize that foundation to deliver a consumer-grade experience to all of their constituents.
JY: So, technology-driven agility, that sounds interesting. Can you tell me a little more what you mean by that?
ND: You know, institutions are really small cities when you think about it, with the number of people, the number of systems, everything that just needs to work together, whether it's safety, security, information flowing between all of them. So laying a foundation where all of that is connected so that you have visibility into everything, so that you can make the decisions that you need to in an actionable manner—that is what I mean by technology-driven agility, so that you can then react and adapt to whatever, whether it's the changing needs of the institutions business or to whatever might be going on in the environment to even technology changes. So, you're laying down a true foundation for that.
JY: So, let's go back a minute. You had mentioned the notion of consumer-grade experiences. What does that mean to a user? What are those expectations around an institution?
ND: Well, when we think of a user or consumer at an institution, many people often think of a young student, like your own 18-year-old son. But really all of us, every student, every faculty member, every staff, every parent, we have our own expectations of every action and interaction that we have with an institution. And we expect what we're used to. We're using smartphones. We're using tablets. We want everything to be easy to use at our fingertips.
JY: A click away.
ND: A click away. And if it isn't, we don't tend to try to make it work. We just move on to something else. And so, for an institution, if they've developed a foundation for technology-driven agility and have this consumer-grade experience with every interaction with every constituent in mind, then I feel like—
JY: They've got the core components.
ND: They've got the core components.
JY: And it sounds like a real partnership around the campus environment.
ND: That's exactly it. A partnership so that the institution's goals can be met by technology and not the other way around. Sometimes it's technology for technology's sake. And that's not what anyone wants. It's not what the IT organizations or the CIO wants.
JY: So, you and I have often spoken about institutions maximizing the utilization of their student information system. Can you talk a little bit about why that's important right now?
ND: Absolutely. Student information systems and an ERP, I know they don't sound exciting, but they are the backbone—
JY: As a marketer, I don't like those terms.
ND: I know. But they are the backbone of an institution. At its heart, it is the information about the student, everything. And thus, that information, along with the advancement, the recruiting, advising, all of those systems as well—the more you can deliver a holistic approach to the relationships and what's going on with the students to everyone in the institution, the better it would be.
And the nice thing is Ellucian really is the only company I know that delivers all of that, a constituent relationship management system with the student system with an ERP so that everything is tracked all in one place and, thus, connecting it all together. And delivering that information back to whoever it might be—a registrar, the student themselves, a parent, faculty, alumni even—is something that we can deliver and offer for our customers.
JY: That's great. So, we talked about a lot of detail here. Namita, what final advice would you give to an institution that's thinking forward to creating an empowered campus?
ND: So, I would say, lay out the vision for your empowered campus, your empowered institution, and have a foundation for technology-driven agility, and then always, always know who their customer is—students, faculty, their staff—and deliver a consumer-grade experience for them.
JY: That's great. That's a great way to end. Thank you so much for joining me, Namita.
ND: Thank you, Jackie.
JY: And thank you all for joining Ellucian's Powering Achievement.