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Education CIOs fast-track digital transformation

A local study by global market intelligence service IDC reveals that South African universities have had to ramp up their compute power to accommodate the increase in online learning since the onset of the pandemic and the resulting move toward hybrid learning models. The study, titled “Post-Pandemic IT Infrastructure in South African Universities”, was announced by Dell Technologies this week.

The study analyses key trends shaping the higher education sector in South Africa and gauges the adoption of IT hardware, server, and storage equipment among universities in the country. The study also looks at some of the drivers of adoption and the challenges institutions face and provides the context for the future outlook of the sector.

South Africa has 25 private universities and over 20 public universities across its nine provinces. Currently, universities accommodate more than 1 million students, with government planning to increase university enrolment to 1.5 million by 2030.

University CIOs need to reprioritise spending

The findings highlight that CIOs need to reprioritise their technology spending plans in 2021 and beyond by investing in technologies that enable cost savings while maximising business productivity and learning outcomes.

This includes adopting a “cloud-first” approach to reduce costs and improve efficiency. In addition, vulnerability to cyber-attacks has increased as the attack surface has expanded. CIOs need to ensure that security remains a key priority for higher learning institutions. Another key priority is the urgent need to modernise and automate existing systems and platforms by implementing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics.

As IDC cites in the report, “Only a few use cases exist at the university level; for example, AI is used to enhance the admission process by enabling universities to forecast demand and achieve their target enrolment numbers. The use of AI to deliver classes is yet to gain traction at the university level, although this will likely be a future area of focus.”

Enhanced connectivity and computing power to modernise current IT infrastructure

Looking at current IT infrastructure usage requirements of universities, the study details how at the onset of the pandemic institutions were focused on connectivity and secure access to educational content. IT departments are now shifting focus to adopting better computing power and storage, to handle the vast amounts of data being generated from online learning platforms and learning tools.

Until recently universities deployed up to 250 server and storage systems in their IT infrastructure environments. Server and storage systems are typically deployed centrally in a single datacentre and then split into different clusters that run specific applications. Traditionally, administration departments used about 60% of existing IT infrastructure capacity, however, this is changing as academic departments have shifted to online teaching and so has the level of usage.

Digital Transformation key to future success

Looking to the future, universities will have to adapt their digital transformation strategy, based on key technology shifts while seeking new ways to invest and consume technology.

  1. Growth drivers: Spending will be driven by the adoption of online learning which will require investment in technologies such as cloud, storage and servers. In fact, the IDC report states that average spending on storage and server systems is expected to grow by 8–10% annually in the shorter term (over the next one to three years) and by 2.5–3% annually in the longer term (three to five years).
  2. Addressing budget constraints: While educational institutions are fast tracking their digital initiatives, as little as 5-10% of budgets are allocated to IT. To help ease the financial burden, Dell Technologies recently announced the availability of APEX Custom Solutions in South Africa. Offering flexible payment options, organizations have greater access to technology across Dell Technologies’ infrastructure portfolio. Tailored to today’s fast-paced business and education environment, organisations can work with Dell Technologies to plan, deploy and manage their entire IT footprint and choose how they consume and pay for IT solutions.

Doug Woolley, managing director of Dell Technologies South Africa, says: “Universities, like most organisations, are undergoing a process of rapid digitisation and whilst there are barriers that need to be considered, CIOs in the education sector need to be empowered to assist universities to transition into the digital area, by being in a position to secure grants to gain access to the hardware and storage they require to transition to an advanced hybrid-learning model. At Dell Technologies, we are committed to driving human progress, and technology-driven education will allow our youth to reach their true potential and create a better future for themselves and South Africa as a whole.”

Mark Walker, associate vice president for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC, says: “The insights obtained in the study, show the current digital transformation taking place within tertiary education institutions in South Africa. There is no doubt that the South African government is encouraging the adoption of technology within institutions both private and public. CIOs need to motivate for the technology required to move universities forward and to keep students learning and equipped to enter into the working world and contribute to the growth of the South African economy.”

Research methodology

This IDC study leverages:

  • Detailed qualitative interviews with vendors, OEM channel partners, and key public universities in South Africa
  • Secondary research, including but not limited to IDC’s quarterly research trackers and research and advisory work conducted for CIOs and other IT decision makers
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