The mobile ecosystem: how should universities interact with students in this new world?


Since the iPhone launch in September 2007, the ‘mobile ecosystem’ has become ubiquitous. ‘How should universities interact with students in this new world?’ asks Samuel Sanders of KPMG.

The average first year student in September 2014 will struggle to remember when mobile devices were not the first port of call for any information request or interaction with other organisations, yet universities are still struggling to offer these students an experience equivalent to their life experience thus far.

Many have implemented some parts of the puzzle, but none have yet grasped the nettle and tried to re-imagine what their interactions with their students could, and should, look like as we move towards a more mobile-centric future.

Simultaneously, reduced funding and greater customer focus on ‘value for money’ have dramatically increased the pressure on core business activities.

There is therefore a tremendous tension between the need for a radical improvement in the ‘student experience’, and the significant downward pressure on cost.

Our experience demonstrates that these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but the discipline and focus required to deliver the necessary process and business change can be difficult to achieve.

The key areas are:

  • Understanding your core business

You need to get a clear handle on what you do and how much effort it takes. To understand this, you need to step away from the classic ‘box and line’ diagram view of the world and think in terms of what you are really here to deliver.

There will always be a need for attraction, selection, enrolment, etc. Simply basing future organisational design decisions on existing structural boundaries or definitions does not, therefore, acknowledge that core processes often span multiple areas or functions.

  • Harnessing the latent energy and enthusiasm of your people

Getting the people who are actually going to have to operate the ‘new world’ to have a hand in designing it is crucial. Academic, administrative staff and student input is essential to ensuring the end result has the necessary buy-in and support to actually work.

Data and analytics, rather than gut instinct, is also critical in driving the change. To combat the inevitable change fatigue you need to demonstrate fast and tangible results based on hard data.

  • A whole-of-organisation approach

To achieve the dual objectives described above, nothing should be out of bounds – in the current climate you need to be bold enough to make the tough decisions about what to stop doing as well as what to start. Traditionally, the ‘academic realm’ has been out of scope for anything other than academic peer review. However, if academics are found to be spending significant amounts of time on low value-adding or administrative activities this situation needs to be challenged.

  • The prize

The most impressive results will be achieved when performance in key areas is optimised holistically: research, education, recruitment (student and academic), etc are, and should be, inextricably interlinked. Overall success will depend not on the success of individual areas in isolation but in an organisation’s ability to align these strategies and deliver more than the sum of their parts.

Samuel Sanders, Public Sector People and Change and Ted Edmondson, Public Sector IT Advisory at KPMG are presenting a workshop on ‘Working together for a better student experience’ at UUK’s ‘Working for a smarter, stronger sector: 3rd annual efficiency in HE‘ conference on Thursday 27 March 2014.