Dec 18 2023

3 Ways Tech Consolidation Improves the Digital Experience in Higher Education

Standardizing the tools and technology that universities offer boosts security, supports IT teams’ operational capabilities and can save institutions money.

Higher education institutions are facing what seems to be a universal problem: They need to do more with less.

Budgets are being tightened across the country as enrollment struggles to return to pre-pandemic levels and government funds made available during the pandemic dry up. Meanwhile, demands on IT departments continue to grow as hybrid work and instruction become entrenched in college life.

As a result, limiting spending has become a major priority on many campuses. Administrative cost reduction ranked fifth on EDUCAUSE’s 2023 Top 10 IT Issues List.  IT leaders are finding ways to implement fewer tools, provided by fewer vendors, at a lower cost per user while still providing the same level of security and a positive end-user experience, but this is a difficult needle to thread.

A straightforward way to get started is through technology standardization. Bringing the tools available to students, faculty and staff under as few vendor banners as possible can give universities the financial benefits of economy of scale. This should be done in collaboration with a trusted, experienced partner and with the following three outcomes in mind.

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1. Standardization Saves Higher Education Institutions Money

The No. 1 priority is usually the bottom line, and that’s no different when it comes to standardizing tech. Simply put, the more you buy from a single partner, the better the discount you’re going to get and the more money you’re going to save.

That goes for everything an IT team might buy: desktops, laptops, security solutions, on-premises and cloud data storage, learning management software, collaboration tools, audiovisual equipment, high-performance computing and so much more. Some tech companies can provide solutions in more than one of those areas, and additional savings could be available through those partners.

IT decision-makers know, however, that making standardization a reality is much easier in concept than in execution. Users may have hardware and software they’re familiar with and a certain amount of brand loyalty. At some larger universities, individual colleges may be able to make purchasing decisions independent of a central IT office.

This is where good IT governance can make all the difference. Understanding a university’s mission, prioritizing efficiency and having broad buy-in across campus can make explaining the difficult decision to stop supporting or allowing users to buy certain technology a little easier, although there’s still likely to be some resistance.

One way to respond is by explaining a second benefit of consolidation.

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2. Consolidating Tech Tools Strengthens Cybersecurity on Campus

A truism in cybersecurity — and physical security, for that matter — is that the fewer points of entry, the harder defenses are to penetrate. Cyberattacks are still a regular challenge for higher education IT departments, and the fewer tools there are to manage or protect, the more likely an institution is to repel an attacker.

Faculty members, researchers, students, administrators and everyone else on campus may have preferences for what technology they use, but at the end of the day, they are not responsible for protecting the network from hackers. That responsibility falls to the IT department, so it should decide what technology tools get invited onto that network.

Experienced partners such as CDW have been helping colleges and universities understand and communicate why standardizing technology matters — and can make life a little easier on the end user too. Platforms such as e-procurement management systems make it simple for users to get new devices or peripherals that work well for them.

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3. Standardizing Tech Can Improve the Higher Ed User Experience

It may sound counterintuitive, but users presented with fewer options may actually enjoy a better experience with the hardware or software they end up with.

Part of the challenge for IT departments is that staff is stretched too thin and people may be leaving for new jobs. The more tech tools there are for those staff members to deploy, manage and service, the less comfortable they’re going to be with each one.

By contrast, if technology tools are standardized, IT employees can become experts on whatever their campus is using and roll out deployments with the right functionalities. They’ll also have the kind of in-depth knowledge that can only be gained from servicing, updating and experiencing firsthand what those tools can and can’t do. That expertise translates into a better experience for the end user, who is getting an optimized version of the tool to work with and can trust that IT staff can handle any problems that may arise.

In the end, tech consolidation isn’t the only path forward, and some institutions may prefer to use best-in-class solutions and take on the added cost of paying multiple vendors, particularly in mission-critical areas such as network security. Understanding where and when consolidation and standardization make the most sense isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly an area where the experienced, expert partners at CDW are happy to share what we know to make it all a little less daunting.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

Getty: Adobest, Dobrila Vignjevic, MStudioImages

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