Increasing cloud presence in higher education transforms communication, business
GUEST COLUMN | by Lawrence Levy
Already proven across a range of industries for mission critical applications, cloud computing is beginning to play a starring role on the higher education stage. And rightly so. The cloud offers a low-cost, low-resource solution for bringing reliable, user friendly, anywhere access to the core applications we use every day—from email and accounting to constituent relationship management (or CRM).
Schools need to speak the technology language of their constituents and cloud applications will prove to be the most cost-effective, efficient way to keep pace with new ways to communicate with students, administrators, recruiters and the IT department.
According to a recent Digital Trends article by Ethan Kurzweil, vice president of Bessemer Ventures, higher education technology is the hot space in Silicon Valley: “We took our social lives online, and now are beginning to entrust the Internet with our professional and academic lives.”
2012 will be the year that the cloud secures its foothold in higher education. As we dig our heels into the new year, here are some of the trends we can expect to directly impact how we interact with technology, and with each other.
1. Mobile and social innovation. Mobile and social innovation will drive cloud adoption at academic institutions. The current generation of students already relies on their smart devices and social networks like Facebook to communicate, share and get information, while administrators are increasingly doing business on smart devices and tablets. With the cloud delivery model, users gain immediate access to innovations that vendors develop, making it a natural fit for extending core systems like CRM to ever evolving mobile devices and social networks.
2. Redefining start-ups. In the past, start-ups had to pour millions of dollars into baseline innovation for new software. Today, leading vendors have created enterprise-grade cloud platforms – like salesforce.com’s Force.com – that accelerate innovation. While still technically a start-up, the company that builds on existing cloud platforms benefits from painless development that will help them leap-frog the deficiencies of typical first-generation products. And that’s good news for schools – what used to take up to a year to get up and running can now be implemented in just a few months, or even weeks – cost effectively and with minimal resources.
3. The cloud ecosystem. In the coming year, schools will leverage this expanding cloud ecosystem, which is buoyed by the strength of proven cloud platforms. Thanks to the fact that today’s vendors remain focused on innovation that best suits their expertise, academic institutions will be able to easily expand their arsenal of cloud solutions that work seamlessly together on a shared platform. Think e-signatures, text messaging, address validation, and data standardization.
4. ‘Clicks not code.’ What used to be software development and code is now simple mouse clicks. With this ‘clicks-not-code’ approach of Force.com applications, schools have access to products that they can easily customize without requiring an army of consultants. Traditional CRM solutions tend to be inflexible; they can’t be applied to multiple constituent types. For example, a CRM built for continuing education students typically cannot be modified to accommodate an undergraduate admissions model, and vice versa. Data fields, communication plans and workflow configurations can vary significantly from program to program, and only a true, cloud-based CRM can offer the flexibility to add and modify functionality based on the appropriate constituent relationship type.
5. Touch gains traction. With continued innovation on HTML5, business systems will become easier to interact with. One example is touch.salesforce.com, which offers open standards to connect with any device, anywhere. 2012 will be the year of the touchscreen, where users will interact with their core business systems in ways traditionally relegated to consumer apps.
6. CRM goes full circle. No longer the realm of solely recruitment and alumni relations, cloud-based CRM will continue to expand its footprint across the entire student lifecycle. In 2012, academic institutions will be able to fully leverage the cloud to connect enrollment management, retention, career services, and alumni relations on a single platform.
Not only will the cloud empower end users with full transparency into the student lifecycle, but it will give customers a cost-effective way to improve business efficiencies and transform how they communicate. The era of the on-premise server is over. With the cloud, higher education can finally cut the IT umbilical cord.
Lawrence Levy is president of Enrollment Rx. Enrollment Rx delivers cloud-based solutions for Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) and Student Information Systems (SIS) in the higher education sector, and is built entirely on salesforce.com’s Force.com enterprise cloud computing platform.