Few organizations feel the full risk of a digital transformation more than educational institutions. Even minor technological purchases can become huge undertakings in a vertical where the user base is huge, the needs are specialized, and the budgets are tight. Between the changes it requires and the upfront costs it can represent, a pending transformation effort can be both exciting and nerve-wracking for an educational facility.
This isn't to say that transformation initiatives aren't worth that risk. The benefits of digital transformation outweigh the difficulties, and technological initiatives are a key part of personalized learning, according to research curated by the U.S. Department of Education, giving students with different learning styles an opportunity to flourish; the same research suggests technology can enable collaboration between educators and open doors to subject matter that may be otherwise difficult, or even impossible, to teach.
Transformation efforts have a chance to provide just that: A transformative opportunity for schools, their faculty, and their students. Here is a look at what education CIOs and other technological stakeholders should consider as they devise their own transformation plans, with a focus on communication tools that enable higher-level plans.
In education, communications matter from the earliest levels of learning all the way to higher education. In the classroom, skilled communicators craft their message for maximum absorption, ensuring all students in the classroom get an opportunity to improve and engage.
A communication upgrade's ability to elevate other technologies is a key factor behind the medium's transformative value. In the classroom, the right solution makes digital transformation initiatives designed to tap into students' love of social sharing even more powerful and effective. For example, a class using teacher- or class-led virtual lectures could take advantage of a platform that includes private sharing, bypassing the need to upload content to public-facing services such as YouTube or Soundcloud; meanwhile, videoconferencing tools built into cloud communication platforms can increase engagement during parent-teacher conferences by giving parents, many of whom may be too busy to visit the school in person a greater opportunity to engage and collaborate with their children's educators.
Cloud communication solutions can also make it easier for teachers to reach out to their students without compromising privacy. Let's say a teacher needs to text two of her six classes to clarify a recent lesson. Pushing a semi-anonymized message, which only reveals the sender and the message, to students' school-provided tablets ensures a high degree of engagement without giving either party access to the other's phone number. The tablets may be the main focus of transformation in this story, but a competent communications platform provides crucial infrastructure.
When the institution can provide effortless communication via voice, text, or video without worrying about upkeep for on-premises hardware, everyone benefits.
Saving Time, Saving Costs
Cloud communication can also be a considerable benefit for communications between institutions. Wired phone systems (frequently referred to as private branch exchanges, or "PBXes") can be costly and complex, whereas cloud-based systems offer several notable advantages. Schools making smart devices a part of their digital transformation strategy could use the systems to allow teachers to carry their desk phone numbers from location to location, an upgrade that makes it easy for stakeholders to reach faculty and for faculty to call from their "home base" no matter where they happen to be.
The same high-level benefit makes it easier and less costly to add numbers and features. IT personnel can make changes and provision features from a web-based portal instead of calling the phone company and waiting to see how long the change will take.
The savings that communication platforms can effect are a key benefit for any school planning to upgrade its digital capabilities, especially in the budget-bound educational world, where TCO is a primary decider of any major purchase. When the institution does not need to pay for PBX hardware or maintain as many on-premises digital assets — and when it can avoid many of these financial responsibilities while simultaneously adding cutting-edge communication features — the upfront costs of implementation become far easier to bear. Fewer servers purchased per location directly equate to more money in the institution's pocket.
Integrations, too, can simultaneously up an institution's technological capability and reduce its upfront and recurrent expenses. A given school's technological footprint likely comprises numerous home-grown and off-the-shelf solutions. For IT, introducing a new element into this mix can make it all the more challenging to "keep the lights on" from day to day.
Modern cloud-based communication platforms, however, integrate with popular third-party tools and make it easier to merge with any solutions the school has developed itself, offering several distinct advantages, including the ability to centralize dense roll and faculty records and the ability to begin working towards a unified transformation plan.
In education, one-size-fits-all solutions are nonexistent. Every institution needs its own complex blend of digital transformation tools to get the most from its efforts. That goes for schools within larger systems, too. And while there is no universal collection of tools that effect better learning and financial savings across the board, cloud communication tools provide the glue that helps make other changes stick. When the institution can provide effortless communication via voice, text, or video without worrying about upkeep for on-premises hardware, everyone benefits.
It's fair to say cloud communications are the unsung heroes of any institution's transformation plans. Schools searching for a way to justify a given purchase or lower TCO on a proposed system would be wise to explore the option as they carve a path toward better digital capability. Simply put, the medium offers too many capabilities and financial benefits to ignore.