From education to employment

Six FE technology tips for 2014

With 2013 drawing to a close, here are my top technology tips of Further Education in 2014:

1. Branded technology to engage with students on their terms will snowball: Throughout the college lifecycle, from applications to leaving, students will increasingly compare their FE experience with that they receive from consumer focussed businesses like, Tesco and Barclays. As a result institutions will begin taking a more proactive approach to branded technology, providing personalised information that students need to navigate campus life. Customer relationship management technology will be increasingly important to colleges to provide this information as they seek to provide a superb service to students.

2. Increasing emphasis on intelligent use of data to support campus wide planning and retention strategies: In 2014 we will start to see forward-thinking institutions engaging in earnest with big data, enriched data and predictive analytics to improve performance, student success and to support retention strategies. Though it’s early days, those colleges that embrace the need to manage their available data in its varied formats will have the tools they require to view real time which strategies are working and which are not. The new levels of visibility that this will provide will enable colleges to successfully navigate operations so that funds and activities are optimised towards providing the best learning experience for their students.

3. Lower cost cloud offerings will become a hot commodity: Colleges will be looking for a migration path from current systems that is simpler, and much cheaper than ‘on-premises’ back-office IT of the past. IT departments will look more closely at integrating cloud services into enterprise architecture so that they can scale more cost effectively to demand and lower the cost of owning IT systems.

4. Consumerisation of technology will influence IT strategy: In their personal lives students and teachers are used to managing many aspects of their lives on mobiles, tablets, desktops, the internet and apps. Colleges must adapt to the proliferation of devices on campus and develop a ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device) strategy to make two-way interaction with students (and other stakeholders) easier and more efficient.

5. The requirement for contemporary enterprise systems will become greater: Many existing administrative systems in the FE sector are approaching their twenty-year anniversaries. Most have been updated to some extent over the years since they were implemented and still work, but are no longer suitable to meet the needs of the modern FE institution. They represent a risk to operations because they require heavy customisation, specialist skills and are inflexible.

Colleges looking to compete effectively with a modern outlook and culture will look towards modern, intuitive technology that will become the ‘spine’ of operations to support strategies in 2014.

For instance any effort at implementing a bring your own device strategy will be hobbled by ancient back-office systems. Mobile devices need a responsive front-end website; however the real trick is providing the right information at the right time. This means colleges must have powerful, modern back-office systems that can provide rich information to students and staff alike.

6. Momentum for shared services will grow: With the pressure to do more with less, it is now more viable than ever for departments or entire institutions to consider sharing common business processes so that they can do more with less.

Previously often talked about -but with little action – some colleges are already committing to shared services. The Shared Services in Sussex and Surrey Colleges group (SISSC Ltd), is a not for profit charitable company working in partnership to implement a common IT platform for back office services in Finance, HR and Payroll across eight colleges – its membership comprises of Central Sussex College (lead), Brooklands College, City College Brighton, Chichester College, Guildford College, East Surrey College, Northbrook College, Sussex Coast College Hastings.


Given the challenges in the sector, 2014 will be a transformative year for FE Information Technology. IT departments need to be more focused not simply on delivering technology but in helping the business and teaching community deliver on their targeted outcomes more efficiently while at the same time improving the student experience.

Anwen Robinson is managing director of UNIT4 Business Software, the cloud-focused business technology company


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