Gartner’s Top 10 2019 Strategic Technologies for Higher Education – The Good, Obvious & Missing
I love Gartner technology lists. Everyone does. And this one strikes home. I’ve been in an out of higher education for decades. I’ve worked with university CIOs and CTOs on a variety of projects and with companies that provide technology products and services to higher education. (I also recently assessed Educause’s look at emerging technologies for higher education.) Lots of people have vested interests in how higher education spends its technology dollars. Big market; bigger implications. There’s a unique domain and cultural challenge here too, which we’ll discuss at the end of this post.
Here’s the 2019 list from Gartner:
- Next-Generation Security and Risk Management
- Artificial Intelligence Conversational Interface
- Predictive Analytics
- Nudge Tech
- Digital Credentialing Technologies
- Hybrid Integration Platforms
- Career Software
- Student Cross-Life-Cycle CRM
- Smart Campus
- Wireless Presentation Technologies
The Good, the Obvious & the Missing
Let’s look at the technologies on the list and then talk about some that are missing.
Next-Generation Security and Risk Management
According to the report’s authors, “next-generation security must offer new approaches that support digital business and the institutions’ academic, research and business objectives … the average modern-day student expects seamless personalized experiences, so the typical security objectives of confidentiality, integrity and availability must expand to include privacy, safety and reliability as institutions become more digital.” Well, yes, obviously – and then some. The problem of course is that (1) there are no perfect solutions, (2) there’s no impenetrable technology and (3) the trade-offs among convenience and privacy are by no means specified or documented. So the question is about what constitutes “good enough” best practices – which is an oxymoron. Those in the technology trenches know all this. Students are annoyed by layers of authentication and university lawyers and risk managers are worried about breaches that result in regulatory or compliance implications – or worse. And few universities want to keep increasing their budgets for security, privacy and risk management. Yes, obvious, even good, but challenging, frustrating and annoying.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Conversational Interface
Do students, faculty and administrators want to talk to their applications? Yes, just as they talk to Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana and the crew. Pretty obvious, right?
Gartner says that “predictive analytics can be a particularly powerful tool for CIOs in higher education … (though) skeptics might claim the outcomes of predictive analytics – such as identifying a potential student drop out – could have been otherwise determined, but their real power comes from the way these analytics systems socialize the prediction at hand among a range of stakeholders to remedy the issue at hand.” If I understand this correctly, it’s about sharing predictive analytics versus their calculation. But the real value of predictive – and then prescriptive – analytics lies in the correlations it makes regarding an endless set of behaviors and outcomes, like – as noted – student drop out probabilities, course popularity predictions, parking opportunities, admission acceptance rates, and even NCAA Final Four probabilities. The opportunities for predictive and prescriptive analytics are enormous. It’s time that universities leverage their structured and (especially) unstructured data into real-time predictions and prescriptions – but they already know that! As always, it’s a question of data preparation, resources and the priorities of those who control the resources. So this one is essentially “missing.”
According to Gartner, “nudge tech is a collection of technologies – cloud, mobile, social and data – that work together to achieve timely personalized interaction with students, staff and faculty, such as a just-in-time text (SMS) reminder for class … the idea behind ‘nudging’ is for institutions to use data to impact behavior, like establishing good studying habits or making time for fitness in between classes.” Aside from the cute name – “nudge technology” – the suggestion is just an application of smart campus, location-based and IOT technologies. Even not-so-smart campuses remind their students when they’re late for class. Not sure how to categorize nudges.
Digital Credentialing Technologies
Gartner reminds us that “in many ways, credentials issued by an education institution are the only tangible evidence of higher education … (and) should be considered the currency of the education ecosystem.” Yes! And they’re already in most colleges and universities, though the usual “user” problems are still with us. But sure.
Hybrid Integration Platforms
“A hybrid integration platform (HIP) leverages the best in-the-cloud and on-premises integration approaches, and is rapidly becoming the reference framework for next-generation integration infrastructure,” says Gartner. This is a good one. A little obvious, but good. More and more universities – like more and more companies – are moving their applications to the cloud, but many universities still maintain some on-premise legacy apps. The integration of these applications is critical to university operations, though “cloud first” strategies should reduce the requirement.
Student Cross-Life Cycle CRM
Gartner struggles to explain the next one: “student cross-life cycle CRMs create a campus-wide, 360-degree view of a student across his or her major educational phases, beginning with precollege and moving through prospect, applicant, enrolled, graduated and alumni statuses. Historically, most higher education CRM deployments have been driven from the functional needs of individual departments without enabling a single view of the student.” Well, while it’s technically possible to create a single view of the student, it’s important to understand the structure of universities, especially liberal arts universities, which are deliberately (and often fiercely) decentralized around colleges and departments. Federated technology organizations also challenge the development of single student views. So, yes, but.
Gartner tells us that “historically, career software was found in the career offices in professional schools, such as business or engineering, but we are seeing institutions explore the option of deploying a single enterprise level career-focused tool.” This is a very good one. Universities have been struggling to operationalize the concepts of lifelong learning and students-for-life for decades. Perhaps the best way for universities to remain tethered to their graduates is through career advice, planning and placement systems (which channels them to other activities and interests which expands the university community).
Like smart appliances, smart cars and smart buildings, campuses will get smarter and smarter. Clearly – and what took so long? Gartner goes on to opine, “the smart campus will drive growth in markets like robotic process automation (RPA) solutions and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) in the higher education space. Campus efficiency will be enhanced and student learning will be enriched with the new capabilities they bring. It’s a win all-around, except for the data security implications that come with most technology initiatives today.” Yes, again, all Internet-of-Things (IOT) will exacerbate security concerns: obvious.
Wireless Presentation Technologies
Gartner states that “wireless presentation technologies allow users to project material from a computer or mobile device onto a screen using a wireless network, rather than hard-wired connections like a projector. Wireless presentation technologies are likely to become more important, as higher education institutions move to bring your own device (BYOD) and as the use of mobile technologies, such as tablets, increases.” This one is weird. We’ve been projecting “material from a computer or mobile device onto a screen using a wireless network, rather than hard-wired connections like a projector” for a long time. I’m not sure if this is a sympathetic nod to the higher technology have-nots or just something from the 20th century that snuck onto the list when no one was looking.
So what’s missing?
Experiential, Immersive Learning Technology
A big miss is experiential, immersive learning technology. Teaching and learning will be dramatically impacted by experiential and immersive approaches to problem-solving that will often include modeling, collaboration, simulation, augmented reality and virtual reality technology, among others.
High Impact/Low Tech Automation
Another miss is the role that artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) will have on university operations. Looking at some of the largest university headaches, course registration is a problem that’s already dressed for automation. Students struggle with this process everywhere. Worse, schedulers struggle even more. The rules here are simple and limited. The same is true for project and program management. RPA can help a lot here. Anything that’s well-bounded, deductive and repetitive is a target.
Education & Training Portals
The on-campus and online worlds are blending. Academic degree programs are evolving toward hybrid delivery models where some courses will be given face-to-face but some will be given online. Technology will integrate these environments. Immersive technology will enhance them.
The aforementioned wireless projectors will shrink to pocket-sized “projectors” of all kinds. Hand-held devices will enable projection at a moment’s notice. Chips, drones, cameras and recorders will continue to shrink. Miniaturization will be exploited by universities in so many ways.
Higher education will exploit APIs for integration and comprehensive student profiles across university systems. APIs will also support several Gartner technologies like Student Cross-Life Cycle CRM, Career Software and Digital Credentialing.
There are other strategic technologies we could add to the list, but you get the idea. The challenge of strategic technology lists is that they’re always incomplete and overlapping. Technology just changes too fast and its university clients are in constant states of “immovable disruption” – which gets us to the uniqueness of higher education.
Higher Education’s Unique Personality
In addition to the pace of technology and industry trends, there’s the special nature of the university environment. Comprised of tenured professors, a growing number of continuing non-tenured (CNT) professors, academic colleges, long traditions and ever-changing regulations, the modern university lives in several centuries – including the next one. Change is challenging – and comes often, then not at all. Disruption is impossible – but happening everywhere, all the time. But the modern university has always been – and will always be – about students, even when it appears like it sometimes forgets its raison d’etre. At the end of the day, technology acquisition, deployment and support decisions are made through an educational lens, however clouded it might be.
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