How universities can make the shift to “ultra-intelligent institutions” with a unified data platform


In its 2023 Top 10 IT Issues, Educause lists the “ultra-intelligent institution” as one of the three core building blocks of a modern IT foundation model for higher education. Colleges and universities looking to become ultra-intelligent need to move from “task-specific and silo-specific work and strategy and infrastructure to institution-wide, flexible, reusable models,” according to the article’s authors.

Taking a holistic approach to IT is a significant shift for most higher ed institutions that are often faced with silos as far as the eye can see: siloed tech tools, siloed teams, siloed budgets, and siloed resources — spread across buildings, departments, and campuses. Universities often lack a common data repository that they can draw holistic insights from, or a unified point of visibility for aggregated analysis of all IT hardware, apps, and IT infrastructure — a unified data platform, in other words. 

To help break down these silos, the obvious answer is to consolidate one’s tech tools in an attempt to reduce data sprawl and facilitate better collaboration. It’s easier said than done, however, especially when dealing with legacy apps and a culture that’s tied to existing technology and processes.

[Related article: How analytics better enables online learning, cost management, and cybersecurity in higher education]

Data: The building blocks of an ultra-intelligent institution

The efficacy of an ultra-intelligent institution depends on the data that flows through it, where that data is stored, and the ability to correlate data from multiple sources. When thinking about how to break down silos, one successful strategy is to start with consolidating institutional data on IT infrastructure, and then expand into adjacent use cases. These data sets typically have the fewest privacy- and policy-related concerns for consolidation and offer significant operational and financial ROI.

“Data is as indispensable as technology for operating a college or university. But what makes data essential to modern management is the uses that are made of it,” writes the Educause panel of authors. “Today's data professionals are focused on working with management to complete the data journey from ‘what’ to ‘so what’ to ‘now what.’" 

By rallying both institutional strategy and the IT services team around a unified data platform, one can aggregate, access, find, and act on all of an institution’s data from one source. Elastic’s search-based platform allows ultra-intelligent institutions to ingest any type of data — unstructured, structured, semi-structured — and then use that data as the foundation for data-driven decision making; from application performance monitoring (APM) to threat hunting, from protecting researchers’ intellectual property to making sure the institution’s digital course catalog and learning management systems can handle the influx of traffic during enrollment periods.

Observability and the ultra-intelligent institution

Building a holistic approach to IT in higher ed requires a unified view into one’s entire IT environment. An end-to-end observability solution consolidates metrics, logs, and traces, so one can see across them all, plus get the intelligence to detect anomalies, find patterns, and reduce mean time to resolution. 

As larger university teams look to consistently improve the student experience, these holistic insights can play a key role. Having the ability to quickly identify and predict issues can be instrumental in ensuring students can find information they need, stay productive, and connect to the online tools and services that are essential to their day-to-day learning. 

Elastic Observability leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to power insights for one’s entire organization. It truly puts the “intelligence” in your ultra-intelligent institution.

Cybersecurity and the ultra-intelligent institution

In 2022, US colleges reported 409 cybersecurity incidents. Each cybersecurity incident in higher education costs about $2.7 million, which is significantly higher than the average for private sector businesses. 

Universities and colleges are looking for ways to amp up threat detection and remediation. But as long as there are disconnected tools, systems, and data in their IT environment, there will be potential for gaps and hiding places where intrusions and malware can go undetected for months or even years.  

The good news is that a unified data platform can solve multiple problems simultaneously. Not only can it improve the uptime and usability of IT systems, but ultra-intelligent institutions will also be able to leverage their unified data platform’s speed — coupled with AI/ML capabilities — to quickly detect and respond to cyber threats before they compromise valuable data and pose a threat to institutional infrastructure. 

Elastic Security, which is built on the search-powered Elastic platform, enables you to protect, investigate, and respond to complex threats through the combined capabilities of SIEM, endpoint security, and cloud security.  

Next steps

Take a look at the Ultimate Data Checklist for Public Sector, which lists out steps to consider as you look to get the most value out of a unified data strategy.