Apr 18 2019

Challenges Stall More Than Half of Digital Transformation Initiatives

When it comes to DX, campus leaders must plan for the long game.

Some say digital transformation (DX) is coming to higher education, but I believe it’s already here. The evidence is technology-driven change forcing institutions to confront and adapt in nearly every aspect of campus operations: teaching, recruitment, public safety, facilities management and athletics, to name a few. 

The inevitability of DX doesn’t mean, however, that these shifts will happen naturally or even smoothly. As with most things in life, big change often occurs in fits and starts, with one area surging ahead while another takes a while to catch up. Change is messy. It’s also, according to an IDG Research report “The Challenge of Change: IT in Transition,” extremely prone to stalling out and falling off the rails entirely.

For colleges, there’s a big risk to letting that happen. Competition for students is hot among traditional colleges, online programs and boot camps. Many institutions are merging, if not outright closing. And there is intense pressure from parents, lawmakers and others to prove the value of costly degrees. Finally, it’s certain that new generations of students will expect very different services and sensibilities from their institutions. 

Colleges that fail to adapt may not survive the next decade. That means campus leaders have a strong motivation to look for obstacles to avoid and to be proactive in helping their institutions overcome them.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how universities are rethinking campus operations through digital transformation.

Digital Transformation Requires Communication and Documentation

IDG’s survey, summarized in “The Challenge of Change: IT in Transition,” captured input from 200 senior-level IT leaders representing a wide range of industries. One finding that stands out to me: 51 percent of organizations have stalled or even abandoned parts of their IT transformation initiatives because of challenges they encountered. 

And in case you think this only happens in small shops that lack the resources to move plans forward, the survey found that 65 percent of enterprises with more than 10,000 employees struggle too. Large organizations may find change even tougher because of, as the report notes, “the complexities of implementing change across the disparate legacy technologies and distributed teams.” 

A common culprit of stagnation, reported by 62 percent of respondents, is the lack of a strong foundation for DX within the organization. The foundation need not be complex — it amounts to documenting a plan and then communicating it across the institution — but these steps are critical for long-term success. 

Some survey respondents (18 percent) said they had communicated a vision but failed to document it, so they had no roadmap to guide implementation. On the flip side, 39 percent documented a plan but didn’t adequately share it, so they lacked the necessary momentum and culture change to move forward. Both ingredients are a must. 


Higher Ed Leaders Must View Digital Transformation as a Journey

Another obstacle, cited by 64 percent of IT leaders IDG surveyed, is the intransigency of legacy processes, tools or infrastructure. The impact of legacy components can vary widely, from having invested so much money in a legacy system that no one wants to sideline it to a departmental mindset in which employees are so accustomed to doing things a certain way that processes get entrenched past their point of usefulness. 

Other barriers for IT leaders include data security, technology silos, funding and competing priorities. These types of obstacles can be harder to solve, admittedly, than setting up a strong foundation. But a college has a much better chance of figuring out how to tackle tough issues, such as legacy systems, with a plan for DX and ongoing communication about it. 

A final point in the report that’s worth noting is this: “Transformation efforts appear to be more journey than quick fix.” I believe that’s true, if for no other reason than the key driver of change is technology, and that in itself is endlessly evolving. Tools get better and faster and, just as significant, users continue to find new applications. One of the most exciting things about DX is that it takes so many different forms, depending on the unique vision of campus leaders. 

Where will your DX journey take you?

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

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