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Student-Centricity and the Amazon Experience: Evolving IT to Meet Students’ Expectations

The EvoLLLution | Student-Centricity and the Amazon Experience: Evolving IT to Meet Students’ Expectations
Today’s students behave more like customers than ever before, and rather than trying to ignore or reverse this trend, institutions that can adapt and create an Amazon-like experience for their learners will improve student satisfaction while at the same time reducing operating costs and staff efficiency.

Convenience today is more important than ever. Customers in every industry expect near-immediate responsiveness, self-service abilities and on-demand access to information. Though this is certainly not a new trend, colleges and universities have only been shifting to adapt to this trend over the past five to ten years. But this shift requires more than a change in mentality—it requires a range of strategic and tactical investments, matched by a new set of institutional priorities, to be truly successful. In this interview, Jack Chen reflects on his institution’s process of making information accessible on-demand to students and shares his thoughts on the key steps that must be taken for a college or university to be truly student-centric.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it so important that universities today are able to deliver easy-to-find information on-demand to students?

Jack Chen (JC): Today’s college students are digital natives who expect access to information—anywhere and anytime. Given that students can easily and quickly transfer bank funds or purchase an airline ticket, it is understandable that they want on-demand academic information.

Students also lead busy lives outside of college. Adelphi University’s 2014 Undergraduate Student Experience Survey conducted by our Office of Research, Assessment & Planning revealed that 77 percent of our students held a part-time job. Providing 24/7 access to information is convenient, efficient and enhances the overall student experience. In fact, students believe that a majority, if not all, of campus services should be available online 24/7. What’s more, in addition to being on-demand, information must be delivered via the students’ preferred method—mobile.

At Adelphi, we began conceptualizing a mobile strategy a decade ago. It was one of the key initiatives detailed in the Information Technology Strategic Plan in 2007. Our highly successful AU2Go mobile app evolved from a web app to the current version of native apps for iOS and Android. It enables on-demand and personalized access to areas of critical importance to students: registration and course information, Moodle Learning Management Systems (LMS), online course evaluations, subscription-based notifications and digital ID, among others. We continually add academic and co-curricular services to give our students broader access to the programs they need.

Evo: How does creating this level of information accessibility impact administrative services?

JC: A college student’s life does not fit neatly into the traditional 9-to-5 hours of administrative offices. Outside of those hours, a student might need a waiver to switch a class, request a transcript, file for graduation or address an outstanding payment. Even during those hours, a student would prefer to access the information on a cell phone while taking a break from studying rather than wait on a line. Providing this level of information to students 24/7 is more efficient, especially in the case of time-sensitive deadlines.

While on-demand accessibility is convenient for students and the administrative staff, it also offers another significant benefit to a university: reducing operating costs. As colleges and universities set a priority of reducing operational costs, streamlining administrative services takes on new urgency. We continue to incorporate technology and migrate to cloud solutions to improve data collection and expedite workflow for a range of administrative processes.

However, the administrative support structure should be examined. For example, institutions may consider a centralized call center, extended hours of coverage and multiple channels to communicate with diverse student groups. They may consider offering flexible hours and telecommuting options to support staff.

It is critical that institutions dedicate their efforts to ensuring that the information is accurate. There must be a defined and well established information security infrastructure in place to support anytime and anywhere access. The institution must develop specific policies and procedures to govern information on-demand services.

Evo: What does the importance of making information accessible on-demand say about the changing nature of students?

JC: In today’s world, students, like everyone else, want information in a nanosecond. And the administrative aspect of college—registering for classes, completing forms—is something students want taken care of immediately. Furthermore, students have become accustomed to the Amazon model of access and services. They want to be treated like customers with excellent customer service. They do not want to be told what they should buy; they want options.

Students expect that completing their course registration should be similar to an Amazon shopping experience: It should be fluid, easy and transparent. And if Amazon can suggest products based on customers’ choices, shouldn’t a university be able to tell students what courses they need to complete their degree program on time? And like customers, students want that product to be in perfect condition so ensuring the accuracy of information is a top priority.

Giving students 24/7 on-demand access to information improves the student experience and also reflects positively on the university. However, if students are presented with challenges, either in their ability to access the information or in the quality of that information, they will take to social media to voice their complaints. They then reach a far broader audience with more significant ramifications, especially in terms of attracting prospective students.

Evo: How has the role of institutional IT and the CIO evolved to address the increasing importance of technology and information availability?

JC: The increasing importance of technology has led to a greater recognition of the role of institutional IT with many more demands for access to information. IT is looked upon as a resource for identifying emerging technology. As a result, the role of the CIO has evolved to become more strategic in effectively integrating technology, establishing priorities and maximizing resources. The CIO should have a keen awareness of those services pertaining to retention and graduation that positively impact the student experience.

Implementing any effective strategy requires leadership from the CIO in collaboration with campus academic and administrative units and student organizations. There has to be an open channel of communications to assess the effectiveness of the services, respond to changing priorities and ensure transparency. Given the dynamics of social media and its influence on students, the CIO should initiate a program to market IT services on the different social media channels. The CIO should develop a technology plan with goals and key initiatives that aligns with the university’s stated goals, addresses stakeholders’ needs and serves as a guide to meet current and future needs. At Adelphi, we are now implementing our fourth three-year IT plan.

But even as the number of projects increases, the basic tenets of institutional IT remains firm. Each application is not an isolated IT project. Mobile strategy is similar to web strategy. Each is an institutional strategy. While spearheading the delivery of increased services and applications, the CIO still must focus on the fundamental practices of IT to ensure security and accessibility.

Evo: What advice would you share with postsecondary IT leadership to ensure that students have easy and regular access to critical information?

JC: Postsecondary IT leadership has to develop a future-forward perspective. The starting point should be the development of a strategic technology plan which details a systematic approach to implementing a mobile strategy. This plan will serve as a road map. It will have been created with input from key campus constituents that takes into account their needs, but also makes them aware of the opportunities and challenges of offering 24/7 mobile accessibility. It is important to maintain ongoing communications with these constituents. They are partners in the project and should be kept informed of any changes or delays. As the project is rolled out, they should be providing evaluations and assessments of the new services.

As detailed in the plan, the CIO will have to create a superior service model to support this new functionality. The CIO and the IT department will need to tailor the enterprise architecture to integrate disparate information systems to deliver cohesive information and ensure the reliability of 24/7 access to the information.

The CIO also will need to evaluate IT resources, both staff and budget. A mobile strategy may require reallocation of funds. The staff may need additional training to augment their skills or additional hires with advanced skills may be needed to successfully implement the strategy.

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