A university's reputation is built on recruiting the best lecturers, providing high quality educational material and attracting a diverse range of highly intellectual students to nurture through their system and develop into high achieving graduates.
Providing a high-quality technology infrastructure, an interactive learning environment and integrated campus experience are all things that are considered when staff and students consider which university is right for them.
Higher education institutions are underpinned by the delivery of IT infrastructure, this has become even more evident during the recent pandemic. Therefore the quality of service and capability of that infrastructure is directly related to many other factors such as student success, staff recruitment, student happiness, student enrolment, staff wellbeing...the list goes on.
Let’s begin by saying, it’s hard. Why? The IT service delivery at universities is a complex and intricate process, with huge demands on resource. The trend in demand is going up with resources increasingly lagging behind.
Quickly, let’s take a look - at what's covered:
Service delivery challenges in Higher Education 2022
What can be done to overcome these challenges
Service delivery challenges in Higher Education
Service desk, incident management, and response
The amount of time dedicated to processing, allocating and responding to support tickets is substantial.
With potential support queries coming from staff, students, international students and anyone relying on university IT. This pool of people is only increasing with the growth of universities, their ability to enroll more students thanks to the rise in distance learning courses, the staff to support this e-learning growth, more research entities, etc.
The process of dealing with these support queries is often fragmented and manual, with a lot of time wasted routing incidents to relevant departments, or investigations based on minimal information. In the case of genuine incidents that come to light due to issues with service delivery (rather than user error or confusion), there are long resolution times due to the complex environment the investigation needs to occur in.
This process is not only inefficient and ineffective, it doesn’t scale. The reliance on a manual process means human error will inevitably occur, resulting in things getting missed, more pressure and frustration. Without mentioning the impact on a students learning experience.
Heavily siloed data and systems
A result of rapid growth to meet demand? Disjointed procurement decisions? Reacting to world events? This could also be linked into not having a clear strategy or not having an underlaying architecture that supports integration. Regardless - having so many systems that are solely used for one purpose rather than contributing to one stitched together fabric, causes problems.
Firstly, let's state the obvious, it’s a nightmare to maintain. Having so many different systems to monitor, keep up to date, troubleshoot, come in and out of - it doesn't make anybody's job easier, that's for sure.
Secondly, it can be massively frustrating for the poor person (or people) doing the troubleshooting. When issues arise and investigation spans systems or seems to be a transactional issue between systems. Without the visibility to see transactional metrics or ‘make sense’ of what's happening, it can be a tedious process to jump between and try to arrive at a root cause.
Furthermore - how are you supposed to gain intelligence from data if it’s not being shared between systems? With correlated data, it’s extremely difficult to derive insight from events that occur in different systems, especially when they are being accessed and used from anywhere and at any time.
Finally, the user experience is poor when there is a requirement to use multiple systems. Sure, they appreciate that different systems do different things but when data is not being shared and multiple log-ins are required, there is a lot of repetition, this again doesn’t do anything for productivity, efficiency or insight.
Complexity across the board
We’ve slightly covered this above, but wanted to go into a little more detail here.
Firstly, why all the complexity?
We can probably put this down to a few things, namely:
1. Growth of universities
Impact - more locations, more remote learning
Result - Technology growth to underpin.
2. Meeting the needs of the ever-increasingly digital users
Impact - More operational technology/IoT, more advanced systems to enhance experience
Result - Technology growth to enable
3. Move to more cloud based systems
Reason -Traditional methods didn’t scale well, improves latency issues for remote workers, easier to manage
Result - Issues migrating all systems resulting in Hybrid IT
4. Skill gap in university IT teams
Impact - Point solutions are brought in to solve a problem
Result - Increases ‘things’ that need to be managed.
What is the impact of this complexity?
Putting it simply - it complicates everything, creating an uphill battle for IT teams, but let’s break that down:
Management and maintenance becomes increasingly difficult as more systems are added, there are more things to account for, understand, keep up to date and report on. Visibility can become hard to come by with more dark corners of the network being introduced, whilst requiring specialist skills to truly understand specific systems.
This results in an inefficient process by non-specialist IT team members to ensure things are maintained correctly and things can be missed, quite easily. Creating more fires to put out, somewhere down the line.
There are also cybersecurity impacts of this complexity - every new system introduced provides a new potential backdoor to your network, we speak more about zero trust principals here, also the impact of not scrutinising 3rd party technology is severe with the recent dark trace supply chain attack making the news. Adding new systems changes your cybersecurity posture and must be reviewed, risk assessed and actioned accordingly, but things become increasingly difficult as the architecture grows and changes over time.
Finally - the more straw you add to the pile, the more difficult it is to find the needle (Unless you have a metal detector - We’ll talk about this later). The more complex the architecture and components within it, the more of a challenge it becomes to investigate anything. It’s harder to find the root cause of performance issues, harder to maintain continuous improvement and harder to investigate incidents. It’s also difficult to judge the extent of an issue with cross platform visibility.
Meeting the demands of a distributed, digital and diverse generation
Systems can be added to for a certain period of time to increase capability and capacity but there comes a time when the underlying framework needs to change.
Analogy - You can do many things to a two-bed terrace house to improve it - a nice garden, convert the loft, a lazy spa, a conservatory, and these changes satisfy needs. When the demand out-grows fundamental structure - like adding a pool or cinema - the house needs to change to support the growth.
We are seeing this in many enterprises and higher education establishments are no different, the institution has adapted to digitalisation, remote working and e-learning but there is a point where the architecture needs to change to support the different connection types from different locations and increase in the variety of capability requirements.
If changes aren’t made then the impact is a steady decline in quality of service and increase in workload for IT teams and adding risk in the areas of cybersecurity and service outages.
Introduce the migration to the Cloud, investments in SaaS, automation, the introduction of software defined network management or SASE and AI/machine learning to help balance the load and enable innovation in ever digitalised universities.
So what can be done to overcome service management challenges?
System unity, data share & visibility with ITSM solutions
Getting visibility and the ability to orchestrate different elements of your service is a huge step in the right direction to overcome some of the challenges and the impact of these challenges on the users and IT teams.
When you have disconnected, siloed, standalone systems, you experience the issues we have previously discussed associated with a lack of visibility. Visibility and knowing what needs to be done is one thing but the management task is increased significantly when there is no ability to orchestrate from one central platform.
Not having a single fabric also makes the chances of a mistake occurring greater due to the fact you're not having a single pane of glass view. There is a requirement to manually make changes in various systems with the view of making them work in cohesion - it’s asking for trouble.
Modern ITSM tooling gives connectivity between systems, providing visibility, insight, the ability to orchestrate changes and a single pain of glass perspective, and provide a ‘self service’ platform for students and staff to report issues, access resources, and find solutions.
This enables an organisation to be in control of their network and understand what needs to be done to better manage and optimise resources utilising automation and AI features. This can be achieved whilst providing the users (staff and students) with a platform to find solutions in real-time and reduce reliance on the service desk.
The result - efficient service management, effective service delivery, a reduction of risk (With increased visibility and less human error), happier users and a focus on driving IT strategy.
Leverage the benefits of AI
The benefits of AI/machine learning can enable companies to achieve tangible benefits that simply are not possible with a manual process. For simplicity we will refer to AI/machine learning as AI for this section.
AI can process more data, quicker and with less errors when set up correctly compared to the manual alternative. ‘Computers are taking the jobs of our employees’ - wrong. AI can do the heavy lifting but it takes human intelligence to apply situational logic to the insight that AI can provide.
Leveraging AI can provide key insights by correlating events across huge data sets, systems and timeframes. This type of information would be hard to obtain even from the most skilled analyst. However, this type of intelligence in the hands of the right analyst can enable data driven decisions to be made, minimising the ‘unknown’ in the equation and allowing the needle to be found in the haystack.
Another benefit is the speed to which processes can be completed, data can be processed and understood in seconds rather than days, allowing proactive handling of varying situations and preventing any delay in strategic decision making.
Highlight feature for us - We’ve seen AI solutions that allow natural language processing, essentially ‘What is the performance like of X application for users in Y’ and you get the answer. Brilliant isn’t it?
The above principal also works for identifying intent with service desk tickets. Example – 3 tickets may be submitted for similar issues but worded differently; “My laptop is slow because of x”, “The computer in the library is slow when I use Y” and “When I try access Z on my computer it’s slow” the AI can identify if there is a link between X, Y, and Z and correlate these events to speed up MTTR.
Automation, auto-provisioning, and correlation
Once an understanding of how services are utilised and the process is defined, paired with connectivity between systems and the ability to orchestrate changes centrally, then automation can provide huge benefits to an educational institution.
Repetitive tasks and administrative workflows can be automated across environments (Hybrid network and cloud environments) to reduce the workload for IT teams. These tasks can be completed quickly with no human error, whilst freeing up IT teams to work on projects that drive university strategy rather than being bogged down with duplicated processes.
Once these workflows have been set up, they require little maintenance and can be monitored and adjusted as required by the university.
The ability to auto-provision speeds up processes from start to end, especially when they authorisation or sign off, instead of having to go through an implementation or execution process, once granted a pre-defined script can be run to provision whatever is required.
Overall automation streamlines the process allowing staff and students to focus on learning and removing distractions that inhibit this process.
Service management and network management come hand in hand
We have spoken about the benefits of getting ITSM in order, embracing the changes and adapting to modern ways of working.
Similar to the two bed terrace analogy we mentioned earlier, service delivery teams are going to struggle assuring service levels if they cannot efficiently manage the network. They come hand in hand.
Looping round to a point we made earlier - traditional networking wasn’t built to support the modern way of working. Cloud, Wi-Fi and the need to be connected everywhere, large amounts of remote access, distributed and heavily digitalised. It doesn’t scale, cracks appear, performance deteriorates and vulnerabilities are where? Exactly.
Software-defined solutions are bridging the gap between traditional networks and modern ways of working, providing a single fabric to manage hybrid working environments and adding visibility and resilience into connectivity. When paired with a smooth ITSM solution, it gives universities the tools to scale and provide a quality, secure service to their users.
Which software-defined solution is for you? It depends. There are two leading solutions that most enterprises consider; SD-WAN or SASE. Depending on how the majority of your service is utilised one maybe more suitable than the other.
Director of Technology
Here to help
We've got an hour for you
Managing such a large number of students, staff, and e-learners with an increasingly complex architecture with ever-increasing demands is daunting.
We have helped universities tackle challenges for over 15 years and we'd be happy to provide helpful advice.
Take advantage of an hour of free consultancy to get help with your ITSM obsticles.
Fill out the form below and we'll be in touch shortly.
Do right with insight.
Instead of a free coffee, answers 5 questions about your role in Higher Education IT and we'll donate £5 to Latch Children's Charity.