In Higher Education, IT Change Is What You Make of It

Skillful leadership can help employees navigate bumps on the road toward technology transformations.

In higher education, change is a constant — a state of affairs we can expect to continue for the foreseeable future. In fact, as institutions seek to leverage their technology investments within this changeable landscape, “future proofing” has taken on a life of its own as an IT strategy. In areas such as wireless networking, even a major upgrade can quickly be overburdened by rapid jumps in user devices and bandwidth consumption. And in established fields, such as security, experts must continually adapt to new threats: ransomware, hijacked printers and different varieties of distributed denial of service attacks, to name a few.

Keeping up with existing trends is one challenge. Responding to emerging technologies is another. Consider the Internet of Things, which is filling campuses with connected devices. We know this scenario will place additional demands on networking and pose new threats to security, but we can’t predict when, how or how much. Data analytics, personalized learning and artificial intelligence are other developments that may bring major changes to higher education.

Put People at the Center of Your Change Strategy

Technology is a major part of this new landscape, but it’s far from the only pressure driving change. Pushes to reduce the cost of a college education, deliver more value, refine curricula to meet employers’ needs, make higher education more accessible and recruit top talent are all imperatives that demand colleges do things differently. And, in turn, this compels IT leaders to add another skill to the management toolbox: the ability to lead teams through change. As we all know, change can be one of the hardest things for people to accept.

One of our must-read bloggers wrote about this issue recently. Joe Sabado, the executive director for student information systems and technology and the associate CIO for the Division of Student Affairs at the University of California, Santa Barbara, distilled his experience into three practical tips for managers:

  • Develop momentum by enlisting the help of those who are willing to embrace change.

  • Get social influencers on board so they can spread a positive message about the initiative (a useful counterpoint to negative talk from those seeking to resist or undermine new programs).

  • Recognize the role that organizational social networks play, and take advantage of them.

Manage the Process from Start to Finish

A recent report from Deloitte, “Seven Principles for Effective Change Management,” homes in on ways to secure stakeholder support in higher education during periods of intense change. Like Sabado’s recommendations, this approach also recognizes the primacy of people — not only employees who will be affected by organizational change, but other groups of stakeholders as well. This point is important: Anyone who will be affected by change is a potential stakeholder, and it’s important to account for them when planning any major initiative.

The report offers a step-by-step strategy for managing change on campus, starting with achieving clarity about objectives and ensuring that proposed changes (and rollout strategies) align with the institutional culture. Other best practices include communicating clearly, understanding how the change will affect employees, creating incentives that make it clear how the changes will benefit the campus community and recognizing that small steps can create dramatic outcomes.

The report also echoes the sage advice of Peter Drucker: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Change management strategies must include a component that tracks progress toward desired outcomes. Such components can serve as both proof of return on investment for management and as motivational tools for employees, who can use such milestones to celebrate progress.

Whether an institution is moving to the cloud, increasing the use of data-driven decision-making, adapting to new security threats or changing the way that employees do their jobs, there’s always something that will be different tomorrow from how it is today. This is especially true of college campuses, and it’s a big part of what makes this such an exciting time to be in higher education. Manage these changes well to help your team rise to the challenge.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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Jul 25 2017