Feb 19 2019

Digital Transformation: The Quest to Rethink Campus Operations

Campus leaders see a role for IT teams to help build a new foundation for higher education.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

From the right perspective, this phrase can serve a useful purpose. It can be a flag for bureaucratic processes that are ripe for change, and the antidote could be digital transformation, suggests Joseph Moreau, vice chancellor of technology at Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

A sense of urgency surrounds the term “digital transformation,” but many in higher education struggle to define it, much less understand how it can improve their institutions. EdTech: Focus on Higher Education spoke with Moreau; Josie DeBaere, director of technology architecture at Boston University; and Brendan Aldrich, chief data officer at California State University — all three serve on an EDUCAUSE task force on the subject — about what digital transformation is, how it can position colleges for success and how IT staffers can prepare their campuses.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Read about six campus culture changes universities can make to bring on digital transformation.

EDTECH: How do you explain digital transformation to colleagues?

DEBAERE: There’s the digital part (the new trends and changes in technology) and there’s the transformation part. What new things can we do with those technology trends and changes? But it’s more than just doing new stuff online. It’s actually making quantum improvements in how we do things, things we never thought of before and didn’t even realize could be game-changers. For example, we already digitize registration, but can we help students choose courses with a digital adviser?

MOREAU: We need to rethink so many of the things we do for our stakeholders. As an example, colleges collect data of all sorts from students and employees using the construct of a form. But everything on the form can be done cheaper, easier, faster, more effectively. Let’s say it’s processing a refund. Wouldn’t it be easier for students to log in to the student information system, see their account balance and click a box to refund it? A lot of campuses have stopped printing forms and put them online. That’s digitization. But we still have not taken that next step to ask what the requirement is that we need to fulfill — for real, not those mythical requirements because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

It’s actually making quantum improvements in how we do things.”

Josie DeBaere Director of Technology Architecture, Boston University

ALDRICH: It’s important to differentiate between digitizing and digitalizing. Going from analog to digital, such as from paper to PDF copies, is digitizing. Digitalizing is actually redesigning what that process can be through the better use of technology. Digital transformation is not just an IT-specific responsibility. It is a cultural, technological and workforce shift. The pace of technology is accelerating so fast that it’s becoming a part of areas that were previously considered to be ­nontechnical. We have to, as a workforce, figure out how to finish breaking down those silos that separate IT from the rest of the organization and realize that digital transformation is something that we all need to do together.

EDTECH: What is the risk for colleges that don’t get up to speed?

DEBAERE: This is urgent. People are still coming to higher education institutions, but can we really expect families to spend up to 40 percent of their annual income on sending just one child to college? My son’s education cost us $250,000. His coworker went to a six-month coding boot camp, which cost $20,000. My son is an excellent programmer, but I can’t say he was 10 times better-prepared than his coworker. We are increasingly going to lose students to nontraditional education providers. Institutions have to use these technologies to show that the value of higher education is worth additional money. For example, if we were to improve our transcripts so that we could record things like special projects and other enriching activities, can that make our students more attractive to potential employers?

ALDRICH: Students are growing up in a world of advanced technology, coming to college and getting surprised by how backward some of our processes can be across the whole realm of experiences. I can order books from Amazon and have them delivered later today. Why do I have to stand in line at a bookstore to get my books? We are making such experiences more transformational, more intuitive, more leading-edge.

MOREAU: Things like cloud, mobile and artificial intelligence are accelerating the pace of potential change and are more accessible to more people. These things are happening organically throughout our institutions, so to ignore them is a fool’s errand. Clever people will find those opportunities, and students who like those services will use them and think, “What’s the matter with you guys?” if you don’t make them available.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities are engaging students through beacon technology.

EDTECH: Digital transformation is about the business insights made possible by new tools. are there key technologies that enable digital transformation?

MOREAU: Mobile has been driving this forward for some time. As every new generation of students comes into our institutions, they’re more and more comfortable doing things with mobile technology. And it’s an equalizing factor. Regardless of who your parents are or where you went to high school, you probably have a smartphone in your pocket, and your access to these services and content and experiences are as good as anybody else’s.

ALDRICH: A variety of technologies can have a dramatic impact on the way people think. Cloud is certainly an enormous one of those. But I think it has more to do with the way we use the cloud. Institu­tions, vendors and students are leveraging these technologies in such creative ways. I would say there are specific platforms, such as cloud, that are creating incredible opportunities to rethink the way we tackle some traditional technology problems.

These things are happening organically throughout our institutions, so to ignore them is a fool’s errand.”

Joseph Moreau Vice Chancellor of Technology, ­Foothill- De Anza Community College District

DEBAERE: Blockchain is an example of a technology that can allow students to manage their own credentials. They don’t have to depend on an institution to record what degree programs they were in or what experiences they had. And it’s portable, because the certification is incorporated into the credential that’s carried around by the student.

EDTECH: What role can IT staff play?

ALDRICH: I definitely see this as an opportunity for IT, and we are taking a leadership role. Where many nontechnical areas of the college are today, in terms of deploying technology, is in some ways where IT was 30 years ago. We were discovering the pitfalls and challenges of being able to deploy and support that technology successfully. It has taken us this long to become really good at it. Adding workforce development to successfully engage, ­collaborate and partner across the institution to digitally transform our processes through innovative technology will be easier than training all the other teams and departments to deploy technology as well as we have learned how to do it over the past 30 years.

DEBAERE: I’ve struggled with this. At one level, I feel strongly that, fundamentally, the people managing the research and instruction of the university (the registrar, provost, faculty and researchers) are the ones who need to decide how digital transformation can be used to improve, enhance or ensure the vitality of our institutions. On the other hand, it’s part of an IT role to provide information about opportunities — What are other people doing? How might this help us? — and to assist to whatever degree we can. I also think it’s important to put into place the enterprise architecture so that we are ready to accept new technologies in a coordinated way. And it is our role to set up the data governance structure, so we can bring in the Big Data and use it in an appropriate and positive fashion.

MOREAU: IT staff members are as much victims of “That’s how we’ve always done it” as anyone else. A department entrenched in that approach will be hard-pressed to provide the necessary leadership for digital trans­­­for­mation on its campus because it’s going to lack the agility, flexibility and vision for doing things differently. But I think IT teams can reflect on themselves to say, “We’ve always done it this way, and we did it that way for these reasons, but how many of those reasons still exist? Are there other factors that should take a higher priority that we can use to ­transform our own processes to be more agile, more responsive and more progressive?” 

To learn more about digital transformation on campus, check out "Digital Transformation: Opportunities for a Better Student Experience."

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