What are the top priorities for 2011 for online professionals working in higher education? Can online technology be “a saviour” when budgets are shrinking and competition gets fiercer?

From my perspective from a large and complex Swedish higher ed organization; Karlstad university, here are the 3 top priorities for 2011

Portals vs Learning Management Systems

Almost all higher education institutions I know of are struggling with portals, in one way or another. Some have well established portals built on open source solutions like uPortal or Liferay serving students and staff with – mostly – administrative e-services and a fair amount of static information.

Simultaneously most higher ed institutions are rapidly increasing the amount of distance education and increasing the investment in different e-learning systems (LMS – Learning Management Systems) thereby creating two different sets of platforms doing, more or less the same thing – delivering e-services. This is not making life easier for students or teachers.

I wonder if we aren’t going to see a steady shift where many institutions are going to move from “classic” portal solutions towards trying to consolidate on an LMS-platform. However I have yet to see a successful example where “educational” portal services are well integrated with more “administrative” functions. In order to increase competitiveness and cut costs I predict that this will be a “hot topic” also beyond 2011.

Mobile, content and social media

We – and many with us – have identified good quality content, a high visibility across the social media spectrum and mobile presence as key factors in the competition for students and staff alike.

My feeling is that when a good Content Management System is in place – which would be Drupal in our case – our focus is going to shift away from the more technical CMS-aspects towards even more focus on content quality, and this is something that most likely will be of high strategic importance during 2011. And it will also be important for us to have a good presence across all kinds of mobile devices.

Online Strategy – across the organization

Since online technology is becoming an increasingly integral part in more or less everything we do within our organization I fear that without enough coordination, we risk not using online technology to its full potential, thus losing market potential.

It will not be enough to have, for instance, a good web strategy and a good IT strategy, each aligned (hopefully) with the overall business strategy if we continue to think of “online-solutions” in “silos”, relative to individual department needs and not to the business as a whole.

Within our organization we will be refining our approach towards connecting the whole organization’s strategic needs within the “online” area. Over the years we have tried different remedies to this “ailment” at Karlstad University, including starting a strategic online project with the mandate to include all business needs within one coherent “online vision”. This has been a successful project to “bridge the gap” between Web, IT and business. However, we find that there is more to do, especially in the project execution phase.

My prediction is that even if we succeed in creating coherent, business wide online strategies we will still have to pay considerable attention to find ways to get the strategy acted upon in a good way.

One of the tools we are using to address this issue is with the implementation of a “Project Management Office” (PMO) which will act both as a catalyst and will be able to coordinate resources within project execution. We will also try to let the PMO take the lead in crafting a new IT-strategy which will be heavy in all things “online”. I predict that getting the whole organization to work together on online issues will be a pressing but worthwhile issue during 2011.

There is also a strong incentive from the Swedish government (The eGovernment delegation) to adapt to all forms of e-government and the same is happening in most countries around the world.

One of the challenges for us in this area is to create a “bird’s eye view” of our organizations use of e-services together with more traditional (manual) forms of service. I reckon many higher ed institutions in Sweden will start to look into this issue during 2011 in order to create a take on a comprehensive – organization wide – “e-channel strategy” for e-services that also takes into account the impact of changing the way we work with manual services.

Today we find ourselves in a situation where we offer more and more e-services to increase our organizations service level but we are actually (most often, anyway) not taking away our manual services and are thus not saving much money. This is something that will have to change and my prediction is that a good “e-channel strategy” will be one of the tools. Being able to deliver our e-services on mobile devices will be critical.

Learn more

If you are also working in higher education, what are your big projects in 2011?

View the slides from Mats’ J. Boye Aarhus 10 conference presentation on: “Mind the gap” – an integrated strategic planning process of web, business and IT (PDF, 1 Mb)

Join the higher education track at the J. Boye Conference in Aarhus in November or sign up for our groups for web and intranet professionals, where you can meet many other higher ed web prople.