From rising student expectations, the adoption of social media, encouraging buy-in from all university staff and creating a digital blueprint for the future, we’ve been chatting about the key digital challenges facing the education sector over the last few weeks. Although each university will differ in many ways, in order to remain competitive, each university should be harnessing digital and we’re chatting about how they can do so effectively.

Digital Transformation in Education

Digital Transformation Affects All Departments

It’s a question that we’ve been asked many times over the last few years - who should take ownership of the digital transformation journey? Should it be IT, should it be Marketing, should it Customer Experience or instead of disjointed, independent efforts, should all departments work together towards a common vision? The answer we always give is the latter and we work with our university clients to structure cross-departmental senior management teams (SMTs). Ultimately, the key to a successful digital transformation journey is all team working collaboratively to lead organised, purposeful university-wide transformation projects as opposed to all teams working autonomously.
When we say digital, many people automatically think technology but this isn’t always the case. Of course technology is very important however the most important factor is the canvas on which the digital experience is created. Looking to remain competitive in the marketplace, many universities look for quick fixes such as procuring new technology or branching out into new social media platforms without first considering the role of digital across the full university.

Back to the old debate of who is responsible. Of course the IT department will be involved but they must be involved in the right way - for support and to advise on the technology required to meet the university aims and objectives. As we mentioned, digital transformation will affect each and every part of the university, it requires buy-in from everyone that the journey they are embarking on will ultimately benefit them in the long run and the best transformation processes are driven primarily by a cross-departmental team.

Linking to the University’s Vision and Strategy

Regardless of whether it is digital or not, before any change processes begin, everyone involved should be aware of the university’s vision and strategy. This should be clearly outlined to everyone involved by the SMT as to how the actions tie back to the overall strategy and vision for the future.

If this hasn’t been communicated effectively to everyone involved, it can lead to disjointed efforts and infrastructure which is unable to adapt in a changing marketplace. Before all staff can buy into digital transformation, they must be able to understand why this is occurring and what their roles are in achieving the outcome. We always recommend SMT’s be very open and transparent with the rest of the university. We’ve seen it on occassion where staff not involved in the process feel overwhelmed with the changes so it’s important for everyone to have trust that the change is good and that they are part of shaping the changes as opposed to changes being forced upon them.

Invest in the Staff

In our very first blog about digital challenges in the education sector, we mentioned the lack of buy in from staff for two key reasons. The first being they aren’t aware of how technology can help them in their roles and secondly, in terms of their confidence in using technology and digital tools to carry out their jobs. Taking into consideration the latter, another key element for success is investment in providing staff (and students for that matter) training and support in digital technology. Staff (and students) who have experience in using the technology, or similar technology should be championed as ambassadors and be the catalysts for change amongst their peer groups.

Ensure the Design Focuses on Customer Needs

Designing the digital experience around the university rather than the end user is a common mistake and this has to be avoided. Seeking honest opinions through surveys, focus groups, opinion polls and even social media groups with staff, current students and even alumni will help to bring valuable insights and can advise how you structure their experience. By conducting research from the outset, this will not only help identify areas where your university can improved, it may also pull out insights about what your competitors are doing well which you can look to improve on.

Some industries have thrown themselves head-first into digital transformation whereas others are lagging however, regardless of who’s winning the race, there is much work to do in uniting the company together towards a common goals. The first step is investing in technology and secondly, understanding the evolution needed for their staff and students. Then and only then will universities be able to bring together stakeholders to invest in meaningful change strategies.