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API Management 5 min

Working on your university digital strategy? Ask the students

RZW pasfoto 2020
Ruben van der Zwan
CEO & Co-Founder
Students greeting open api platform
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Students greeting - open api platform.jpgWe tend to forget that a significant part of all the brightness in the world was created at universities and colleges. The business world is dominating the news, and we all know and love the Steve Jobs and Elon Musks of our time. Their companies completely changed the way we live and work and they are currently building our summer homes on Mars. It was at university, however, where these loose cannons were turned into educated persons that now turn their brilliancy into actual projects and products. Imagine all the wisdom and creativity gathered together in one spot! Now imagine the many technological challenges educational institutions face today. From where I stand, deploying a university digital strategy should include student collaboration. Because who knows more about the future than the future itself?

Educational growing pains

Universities and colleges are under pressure. The world around them has gone madly digital, meaning that if they want to be of any significance in the future, they must change the way they work. Or in other words: digitalize. The challenges that come with developing a university digital strategy are threefold, as IT departments must:

  1. find a way to process the growing amount of data;
  2. work on their hospitality for both employees and students and
  3. reduce costs.

This sounds like a complex combination (and it is!), but it can be solved through smart IT. If you find a way to connect all data sources to one system integrator and build new applications on top of it, you enable data exchange between all users which limits human interference (read: reduces personnel costs and mistakes) and improves customer experience at the same time. Students would be kept up to date on planning, course subscriptions and notes, while data on projects, excursions, researches, and HR can be stored and analyzed together. Second, the integrations result in a goldmine of valuable data, that you can use to gain insights into pretty much everything, from student performance to project declarations.

The IT delivery gap

In short, a smart data architecture is essential to solving the integration challenges universities and colleges face. But then a second problem arises: who will design and develop the applications? Student systems like Osiris and Unit4 hold important data for both students and professors, but apps are needed to get the information to the right person at the right time. Here, universities and colleges suffer from the oh-so-familiar IT delivery gap, which means that the pressure on the internal IT department is higher than it can handle. Internal IT professionals often lack specialized knowledge and capacity to get the job done themselves. That’s more than understandable, as they have so many other things to look after and don’t have the right specialisms that are needed to build develop, test, implement and monitor new apps. Plus, despite of their knowledge on software and IT in general, internal professionals cannot oversee everything that is happening in IT and the world in general, meaning they can only do so much. It’s no one’s fault, yet it’s a huge issue that all educational institutions face.

Include the future

If universities and colleges have a lack of knowledge and skills that are needed to anticipate the future, why not include the future itself? You know, those bright minds that have made it their life goal to make everything easier and more fun? When you combine all of this intelligence and creativity, you can have your very own students come up with applications that tick all your boxes, even those boxes you didn’t know you had. And as you involve the people that will be using the applications, chances are high they’ll embrace the new technologies they worked on themselves. I cannot think of a better way to modernize! How? Once again, the answer is APIs. You can use them to give your students access to your data, and have them assist you in improving existing applications and developing new ones. This way, you might end up with an app that gives you a list of all the attendees per course, based on smartphone location. Or one that gives a real-time overview of all the courses that students are in, including details on classrooms, homework, grades and teachers.

A note on Identity and Access Management

Obviously, the APIs should be published somewhere, so that external developers (read: your students) can join in. This is why you need to build an open API platform. Through this platform, you can make specific parts of your data goldmine available to the great public, and facilitate collaboration beyond your IT department. But hold your horses. How can you be sure students are who they say they are, and how do you exclude the ones with bad intentions? This is where you need to think about Identity and Access Management (IAM). Basic authorization in the form of a name and passwords is not enough, and needs to be strengthened by Open Authorization (OAUTH), which adds an extra security layer in the form of tokens. Through these tokens, you hand out virtual “keys” to developers (and developers-to-be), that you can easily revoke in case of misuse or a security breach. This way, you’re always in control of everything that happens on your API platform (and therefore with your data and applications).

The essence of the university digital strategy

In summary, when developing a university digital strategy, you can (and should!) include your very own students as project developers through a three-step plan:

  1. Integration of systems
  2. Publishing APIs through an open API platform
  3. Protect your data through Identity and Access Management

If you ask me, this new way of collaboration is the key to becoming a modern-proof university or college that does not solely depend on its own expertise and people. With the open API platform as your starting point, you can create the cleverest applications without needing to hire extra people, and while including the people that represent the future you’re trying to anticipate.

Want to know more about the role of the open API platform in your university digital strategy? Download our white paper below!

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