The COVID-19 pandemic caught most colleges and universities off-guard, and those institutions are forced to respond quickly and decisively to the ongoing threat often without a thought-out strategic plan linked to budget. In response to potential budget shortfalls and cutbacks, institutional leaders must make hard decisions towards sustainability regarding personnel, facilities, and both present and future software. Despite the urgency to put solutions in place, leaders would do well to learn from their colleagues across the nation and discuss, even if briefly, what plans they propose and what solutions they still need. Travel restrictions forced cancellation of local and national meetings where colleagues could discuss such matters, with Zoom webinars serving as virtual meeting forums to exchange ideas and seek answers.
My experience working within the SCUP-Strategic Planning Online (SPOL) strategic partnership and webinar series has given me a unique view on how to plan for the immediate and not too distant future. The webinar series offers practical advice leaders throughout the nation faced with common immediate challenges are discussing:
- How to handle temporary budget shortfalls
- How to continue moving vital projects forward
- How to create a safe and effective learning environment for students and faculty
- How to balance retention of faculty and staff against retention of technology that has become so integrated into daily operations
While considering these factors, institutions must re-evaluate their current higher ed management systems and software and decide what is essential and what gives less value overall to operations. File sharing platforms such as Google Docs and Sharepoint are handy for collaborative access and storage of documents but do not integrate easily with other reporting needs. Office 360 is excellent for email but not for collaboration. Survey and course evaluation tools are also useful for what they do, but such tools also lack depth of integration across institutional needs.
So how do leaders go about evaluating what software is essential and what is not? Cost is significant but it must be viewed in the context of Return on Investment (ROI) when deciding what systems to keep, scale back, and which to eliminate. Leaders must take a few basic steps in evaluating current and future needs:
- Assess the current existing systems and processes. What does each do and not do?
- Meet with users and record how they use (or not use) the products.
- Determine how much overlap and/or redundancy exists among current systems.
- Survey the EdTech landscape to determine services that can efficiently and economically fill institutional needs
- Closely evaluate the amount of training required for present and proposed software
- Meet with current vendors to assess the level of additional training provided for more efficient use
Ideally the review process will result, increased data insight, transparency, collaboration, and cost savings without unduly hampering daily or continuing operations. Multiple systems might also require multiple management points, and institutions must consider that the loss of personnel overseeing diverse non-integrated systems can result in operational failure at critical times.
Truly integrated software solutions such as SPOL can give institutions the tools necessary for continued operations not only for strategic planning but integrated budgeting, program/service unit assessment, program review, faculty credentialing, and regional/program accreditation. Personnel working from home or the office can more easily and efficiently collaborate on projects, capture the decision-making process behind hard decisions, and continue operations with minimal interruption of services as the institution moves into a more virtual operations environment. If the institution must reduce the number of staff and faculty, an integrated system such as SPOL can make processes and revised workflow smoother for those personnel remaining.
In addition to the informative SCUP-SPOL webinars, SPOL is also offering its Planning module at no charge for institutions to efficiently plan both during and after the COVID crisis. I invite you to register for the free SCUP-SPOL webinar series and look forward to meeting with you, one-on-one to discuss how SPOL’s Planning Module can help you and your institution today.
SPOL COVID-19 Resources