Someone recently asked me to predict which service and technology trends will have the biggest impact on Higher Education in 2013. Interesting question. Though lacking a proper crystal ball, I nonetheless gaze into the future and no less than a dozen influential trends come into view. Then I focus more sharply, and two hit me between the eyes: SaaS and Mobile applications. It is clear that both are heavily influencing higher education strategic planning initiatives already. Let’s take a look at their impact on higher ed and where they might be leading us. 
Where We Are Today
Higher education is an industry facing multiple challenges within a very condensed structure of time. Tactically, many higher education organizations are dealing with legacy applications, retiring workforces, and aging infrastructure capability.  At the same time, the need to invest and innovate is an immense pressure. Yet, very real revenue and budget shortages are causing strategic decisions to be delayed or forsworn. As an additional complicating factor, higher education serves many diverse communities of users including students, faculty, employees, the federal government, and the host community (geography) at large. So, when attempting to deal with immediate pressures, it is not unusual for some group to be left behind or forgotten entirely.
Enter SaaS and Mobile
Adoption and acceptance of these platforms has allowed Higher Education to connect with more communities of users than ever before, at cost points that fit into the funded budget model. This trend is being driven first and foremost, by students. Higher Education organizations that are listening to their students are building online/mobile access to far-reaching corners of the organization. This includes registration, grades, career planning, student housing, cafeteria funding, campus maps…you name it.  Wrap all of this inside social media, and a frenzy occurs!  There are partners building new applications constantly. These apps are driven by new business models most of which are attractive to Higher Education payment schedules.
Dealing with the Learning Curve and Forging Ahead
Now, with all this innovation, there comes a price for delivery. Whether a deployed application is hosted out of a Higher Education datacenter or from the cloud through a SaaS pricing model, the number of management points that an internal IT organization has to deal with quickly balloons. The need for technology organizations, even with a cloud model, does not go away. Students and communities that use these applications will expect that they will be delivered as part of a more global applications strategy, usually wrapped in a portal or central experience for the student or community user. Regardless, I see Higher Education dealing with the learning curve around applications and experience management and forging ahead.  This is something Sierra-Cedar knows firsthand and with which we are deeply involved.
Managing Data Security
A positive result of SaaS-delivered application adoption is a broadened mindset around how data within a university can and will be accessed and governed in the future. Security of data is still a huge concern and should be managed through a central Security office. Still, decision makers are moving ahead with SaaS applications and moving data off-campus.
Outsourcing Hosting and Application Management
Additionally, outsourcing the hosting and management of near and historic legacy applications is gaining traction. This is an efficient and cost-effective way to both maintain existing service levels and prepare for the burgeoning crop of innovative solutions here today and around the corner.
2013 will see this cycle accelerate….no crystal ball required.