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February 20, 2024

Challenging the Status Quo: Higher Education's Shifting Views on Strategic Technology Partnerships

By: Scott Drossos

Think about how many times you took advantage of a service or product you could have easily provided yourself this past week. It could be going out for lunch, taking an Uber, or utilizing a laundry service. Today, nearly all of us “outsource” an array of activities because they provide greater convenience, higher levels of service, and flexibility, and save us time and money in the long run. The most successful outsourcing providers usually meet all those criteria, knowing how to meet our consumer needs.   

Multiple variables often impact the tasks and activities you choose to complete yourself versus those you outsource. An outsourced trend often evolves when an alternative presents a substantial benefit that begins to challenge the status quo. For example, the speed to outsourcing can be rapid, like we saw with food delivery service at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while at other times, the shift evolves slowly over many years, as we’ve seen with dining out.  

Now, think about the company, institution, or entity that you work for. Ask yourself what the core purpose or capability is.  

At Apogee, our core purpose is to provide higher education the power to do and achieve more through fully managed technology services. On the other hand, higher education institutions strive to improve the lives of their students and communities by empowering them with knowledge and training, so they can successfully participate and compete in a changing world. Some higher education institutions also focus on becoming research and innovative hubs that advance and transfer knowledge in their respective areas of interest and expertise. 

I recently spoke to a CIO of a large, nationally recognized public institution, and he stated that his institution is evaluating the benefits of outsourcing to providers to deliver services not directly tied to its academic or research focus. I had a similar conversation with a provost of a small private college. She expressed frustration in driving accountabilities across her non-academic support areas and attracting and retaining top talent in these areas. We’ve encountered more conversations like these, indicating a greater willingness to partner with proven higher ed managed technology services experts.  

The slowed growth of the college student population over the last few years has caused higher education institutions to re-evaluate the quality of the services they provide to their students, understanding they are directly tied to recruitment and retention. Student housing management has said their residential students have three basic needs: food, shelter, and Wi-Fi.  Students willingly go to social media platforms to express their dissatisfaction when unhappy about any facet of the college experience, especially concerning these critical services.  

Historically, the word “outsourcing” has received a bad rap. All too often, the term has been associated with moving work and jobs offshore or shifting work from union to non-union workers. The education market has been particularly sensitive to these approaches and stigmas. However, the concept of utilizing partners for non-core functional services has become more readily acceptable across the education sector, with a few important caveats. Those caveats are that the provider must be proven, trusted and culturally matched for higher education, and deeply understand higher education’s needs and sensitivities. 

Higher education organizations take their time, being methodical and incremental about outsourcing. Although their missions foster learning and innovation, they tend to be operationally insular, cautious, and risk averse. Operations such as food services, facilities, and bookstores are the most outsourced. However, adopting external partner alternatives for other non-core services is shifting as well.  

When colleges and universities do decide to outsource a function, they tend to go about it carefully. They will want (and need) a partner familiar with their culture, one that possesses a solid reputation with at least 10 years of consistent delivery in higher education, and the critical mass to provide scalable leading-edge services. A lot is at stake because their student, faculty, and administrative success depends on it. In other words, a uniquely high bar is set for higher education.  

We are seeing a heightened interest among higher education institutions in Apogee’s traditional managed network services and, increasingly, our comprehensive managed technology services. These turnkey technology services offer an alternative to building, financing, delivering, and supporting these services so colleges can focus on their core purpose of educating and empowering the next generation.  

The evolution of outsourcing is evident across various industry sectors, and higher education is no exception. Increasingly, it represents a strategic choice for institutions aiming to streamline operations and focus on their mission.  

As more colleges recognize the benefits of outsourcing their non-core services, Apogee stands ready to meet the growing demand. 

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Scott Drossos

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