How SA’s education institutions can beat the digital transformation challenge

22 Feb, 2022
Jason Barr
Jason Barr, Executive, Safety Solutions, at NEC XON

South African education has never been more pressured to perform. Digital transformation, often touted as the solution, can just as quickly become the challenge.

One of the problems is that it’s an all-encompassing phrase. In the past two years it has come to symbolise distance learning, remote learning, home schooling, and online education. All of that can be challenging enough on its own. But it can equally apply to office administration, examinations, marking, campus access control, and more.

But, because the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of many of those applications, forcing many organisations to hastily jury rig solutions, it has also come to represent exposure, risk, cyber-attacks, ransomware, denial of service, non-compliance, poor customer experiences, and other downsides. As soon as the data are online, they are at risk and so too the people and processes attached to them.

At the heart of it all, education institutions retain their core purpose, which is to have teachers who teach students, research, provide scholarships and bursaries, provide a public service, engage the public and companies, innovate, and foster entrepreneurship. They must also be profitable or the value of the services they provide will dwindle until they evaporate in South Africa’s harsh economic climate.


The fundamental purpose of education institutions remains the same but the way to do those things, in light of a raft of challenges such as competitor and market disruption, cyber and physical risk and exposure, fees, student experiences, and organisational performance, is forcing change.

Education institutions must be more efficient, compliant, safe, and offer better student services if they want to be competitive. Online enrolment, digital identity management, protection and monitoring, digital self-service, and virtual safety and security enhance “customer” experiences and improve operational efficiencies while mitigating risk and exposure. Physical safety and security are paramount, as is cybersecurity for connected campuses, remote students, and administration. Like many other organisations, education has a pronounced new need to protect and share data for administration, work, and learning via the latest channels.

The changes touch almost every facet of education, administration, students, faculty, and campus life.

Universities alone already account for more than 1 million South African students. Higher education training colleges account for another 700 000. Overall, there are an estimated 12 million learners at around 25 000 schools across South Africa.

The opportunity is enormous advantage in all respects, while the risk is the attraction this offers hackers, other nefarious actors, and the financial outcome of failure to respond.

Education CIOs and IT managers face a tough and complex challenge.


They must integrate, orchestrate, and automate their existing and new IT and business systems to facilitate the benefits they seek. Yet they face the same difficulties as any other organisation, being a shortage of resources, the overriding complexity, exacerbated by an array of options, tight budgets, and perhaps tighter deadlines.

Technology and IT service providers equally fight a constant battle to deliver more advanced solutions that concentrate on overcoming those challenges. Advanced biometrics based on artificial intelligence, which use existing infrastructure wherever possible, such as CCTV cameras, and limited new solutions, such as self-service kiosks, help education organisations. In comprehensively secured environments, they help these institutions provide better services, using fewer resources, at greater scale, benefitting from new efficiencies and providing opportunities never before possible. In standards-based deployments based on best practice frameworks, from experienced consulting-to-deployment service providers, they accelerate the advantages further.

Both education institutions and businesses with comprehensive investments in the solutions to help them transform digitally, ultimately seek the same outcome. Together we can create exponential possibilities for student independence, better experiences, improve safety, and reduce administrative burden, by building resilient, successful institutions.

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