During a recent summit for data and technology leaders, we asked CIOs what their tech investment strategy was using the graphic below as a framework. Thirty-six percent of them picked “The Bad Place”-a facetious term for a serious and all-too-common situation in which uncoordinated technology investments hinder integration and, subsequently, innovation.
And this wasn’t unique to those CIOs in the room. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 out of 10 colleges see digital transformation as part of their future, but 44% of them don’t have a strategic plan to invest in technology that will help them get there.
If your institution is in a similar position, the good news is there are manageable steps you can take to enact a tech strategy that supports your institution’s digital transformation goals.
5 tips for investing in digital transformation
1. Define what digital transformation means at your institution
Despite seeing digital transformation as the future, few higher ed leaders can coherently define it. Our definition is simple: digital transformation is the process of using digital tools-specifically data and technology-to deliver value and drive change. To get a tech investment strategy in place faster, make sure your cabinet explicitly understands that technology investment and successful change are linked.
Once you have a shared definition, it’s important to acknowledge where your institution stands today in terms of its digital maturity, and what obstacles stand in the way of moving forward. Consider these communication tactics to bring people into the conversation.
2. Orient your strategy to a clear goal
If you don’t already have a defined goal for your digital transformation efforts, you certainly have no shortage of KPIs to choose from: retention, graduation, enrollment, capital campaigns, learning outcomes, student experience, and research initiatives are all viable candidates. If you’re not sure where to start, these 3 questions can help point you to initiatives that will provide students a more seamless experience at your institution:
- How do we simplify the process and application and generate feelings of belonging among our prospective students?
- How do we ease navigation of campus services to minimize the administrative burden on our students?
- How do we support students beyond graduation and into the workforce to ensure our alumni are engaged in the institution’s ongoing success?
Orienting your strategy around specific goals enfranchises stakeholders outside of IT and IR to participate in the process. Whatever goal you choose, it’s important to have a committed leader in that space-like a VP of Advancement-who can champion the importance of digital transformation in relation to your strategic goal. Work with that leader to sketch out a theory of the case on what data points you need to enact your strategy.
3. Recognize the role of data
Decision-makers sometimes focus on specific technologies they believe will help accomplish goals, but more than tech, it is data that helps institutions meet their goals. Technology changes constantly, and every decision-maker has different feelings about specific technologies (and bias towards whichever one they use regularly). As such, creating an investment strategy around technology is risky. In contrast, an investment strategy that centers on access to reliable data is perpetually valuable to your institution. Good data-about your students, operations, and more-will always be in demand.
Your investment strategy should consider how easily your team can get data out of a growing array of technologies.
4. Prioritize flexibility
Your strategy needs to acknowledge that nobody is sure what the future holds. To meet the demands of today, institutions must invest in technologies that provide the best experience possible as students progress through the higher education journey (referred to as “service-oriented innovations” in the investment strategy grid above). But to meet the needs of tomorrow, institutions also need to invest in infrastructure that will provide the flexibility for them to more easily switch tools and technologies as new options arise.
Adaptive data foundations can provide that flexibility. Adaptive foundations are core infrastructure-like a data platform-that enable high levels of both integration and innovation, letting institutions incorporate new tools into the campus technology ecosystem with limited disruption.
5. Start now
The hard truth is that your institution will never be in the ideal position to get started with digital transformation. Competing priorities, an understaffed IT department, or a hundred other obstacles will always stand in your way. But the longer you wait to start, the further behind you fall. The steps outlined here can help ensure your technology investments will provide the agility your institution needs to meet its goals today and into the future.
Matt joined EAB in 2016 and currently serves as a Director and Partner Development Executive for our technology partnerships. His work centers on the use of data and analytics in student success initiatives and more specifically how higher education’s technology strategy needs to evolve to meet the needs of students, staff, and faculty.
Prior to EAB he worked at Drexel University in the Office of Enrollment Management until he moved to Pennsylvania State University to work in their College of Engineering. Now at home in Evansville, IN he is married to wife Laura who is an English professor at a nearby institution.