The connected campus: Getting from here to there

Leaders at colleges and universities have definite ideas about how to tackle problems, such as rising costs, labor shortages, and the need to deliver a superior student experience. According to the CBORD Insights recent Student Experience Survey, 88% of C-level higher education executives are interested in building a connected campus through automationThe question is, how do you navigate a multifaceted, complex effort that can touch every corner of a campus? The answer: Start with a roadmap.

The connected campus integrates systems to bridge organizational silos, enable centralized management of operations, and deliver the right experience to students. But it does not need to be implemented all at once it can be done gradually over time. A roadmap allows institutions to break the overall initiative into manageable phases that focus on the destination: the connected campus. Institutions can then move ahead with an approach that is incremental but not piecemeal and builds toward a clear vision 

A phased approach allows administrators to prioritize pressing problems and spread costs out while providing a framework for weaving in new technologies. In the CBORD Insights study, administrators identified barriers to progress, such as long planning cycles, preoccupation with near-term issues, and difficulties working across departmental boundaries. A good roadmap can help overcome these and other obstacles.  

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a roadmap — planning needs to factor in each specific institution’s challenges, resources, and objectives. But experience has shown that there are some key practices that institutions can follow to make their efforts more effective.

Assess the situation and look for quick wins 

Any successful large-scale project starts with an assessment of current state. For example, it’s important to conduct a thorough assessment of the existing technology. “The first step should be figuring out where your current systems are, and how they do or do not connect,” says Brett Africk, director of sales for CBORD’s platform systems group. “Universities often find that there are more systems on their campus than they knew. It may be that some departments bought systems without telling anybody — not for bad reasons, but because higher education is so siloed, and they didn’t know any better.” 


Roadmaps should also identify quick-win initiatives that will produce rapid results. “Look for the low-hanging fruit that won’t require a lot of time and effort, but will have a real impact,” says Africk. “There are usually a lot of those out there.” For example, departments might be using email to transfer files, or manually putting credentials into access systems, “Things that can be easily automated,” he says. Tackling quick wins lets administrators see immediate improvements and build momentum for the next set of initiatives. “When you demonstrate success on projects like that, it gets easier to move ahead on others, and gives you the ability to build momentum.” 

Top-down support is critical 

Groups spearheading technology initiatives can benefit from taking an entrepreneurial approach, explains Scott Jerabek, director of product management at CBORD. “By talking to different groups on campus and demonstrating how to solve problems with connected systems, they develop a track record. With each success, these initiatives gain supporters who also promote the connected campus vision. Once in motion, these groups often see exponential benefits.”

Because a connected campus initiative reaches across departments and offices, having the right stakeholders involved in planning can be critical. Africk notes that some institutions have found that small steering committees can be nimbler than a cumbersome council representing all aspects of campus operations. But even more important, he says, is the involvement of top-level executives. Such leaders have a key perspective that transcends departments and silos, and they can focus others on the task at hand. “Hearing someone from the chancellor’s office or a vice president set the direction makes people listen,” he says. “Certainly, every college and university will have its own approach to developing a roadmap. But experience shows that it works better with that top-down support and direction.”  

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¹ CBORD Insights Student Experience Survey, April 2023. N=179 C-suite/VP-level administrators in public and private universities with undergraduate and graduate programs. 

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