Adapting to the Future is issue #10 in the 2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10.
"Any president who doesn't understand that we run a technology-enabled organization doesn't understand the enterprise. That's true even at a college like Denison, which offers a high-touch, fully residential liberal arts education. Our ability to offer a high-quality education is based on the efficient and strategic use of technology."
—Adam Weinberg, President, Denison University
Higher education may have seen more change in the last fifteen years than in the previous eighty-five years. Much of the change has had at least some technological basis. The COVID-19 pandemic, which only accelerated the pace of change, was a public health crisis, but technology greatly facilitated adapting to that crisis. Because technology drives so much change and, conversely, because so much change involves technology, the campus technology organization has played a major role in planning, managing, and enabling institutional change.
People look back on the pandemic and are justifiably proud of higher education's rapid adjustments and dramatic accommodations to maintain continuity of learning, research, and operations. Some stakeholders view this as newfound agility. But as institutions move beyond the pandemic, it is clear just how reactive and unplanned those adjustments were. Institutional agility is not simply the ability to react quickly during emergencies. Leaders can't just decide to be "agile." They need to spearhead a redesign of institutional planning, development, and governance cycles and systems to make them more nimble, flexible, and responsive. Institutional agility involves planning and preparing for a variety of circumstances. It includes envisioning future scenarios, evaluating which ones are the most likely, and developing corresponding future-focused strategies and tactics that might best serve campus needs. Institutional agility entails readying the institution and the workforce for those potential futures and putting in place adaptive and flexible governance structures, processes, and work.
Leaders throughout the institution are relying more on the IT organization, not just for technology and data services but also for project management services. Technology staff often have more experience with change and project management and cross-institutional collaborations than anyone else. Cultivating institutional agility will require all three.
Going forward, change is the one certainty. Change has its own timeline and won't wait for us. Like the weather, change will probably bring us more serious and more surprising developments.
The world is changing faster than institutions are adapting. Agility includes efforts to anticipate changes by actively looking for signals and drivers of change and making sense of how they could affect the institution. Leaders who can do this will be better and faster at identifying opportunities and challenges, developing and iteratively shaping solutions, and moving quickly to seize opportunities and address challenges. Agile institutions will be better able to address many of the problems confronting higher education and become the change they want to see.
Work as one. Institutional silos optimize speed and results for departments, but institutional agility requires encouraging internal collaboration and coordination and prioritizing success of the institution over success of an individual department. As one old proverb states, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." Today, institutions must master "going fast and far together."
Know your North Star. Without a unifying vision of success, stakeholders will waste time debating what success looks like and why certain directions are more important than others.
Engineer innovation into the system. Agility requires innovation, and innovation requires the time and funds to experiment and learn from failure without stigma. Make space for innovation by developing processes and innovation budgets and incorporating innovation into job descriptions and goals. Make it safe to take measured risks.
Start stopping stuff. The only way to free up time and funds for innovation is to rationalize the portfolio of services. Sunset services and activities that are duplicative, not providing enough value, or simply not particularly important.
Take care of people. Institutional agility takes energy and optimism. Balance this sense of urgency while making sure staff feel supported and are able to retain a work-life balance.
Speed up governance. Long planning and development cycles will hold institutions back. Design a more nimble governance process and more flexible financial framework.
The Key to Progress
Rather than a monolithic rip-and replace-effort, much of this work will involve sprint-based efforts that incrementally increase institutional agility.
From Strategy to Practice
What You're Saying
"Remain open to new ideas, even if they are scary. There is nothing concrete we can provide, but this willingness to change is new for us."
"It's increasingly clear that a weakness in our university culture is in our ability to move from idea to implementation—it's a self-selected community of thinkers and discussers. Operational units like IT and facilities may need to take the lead in demonstrating how to get stuff done so that we can stop complaining about the old 'hard to turn a giant ship' metaphor."
"I think adapting to the future is knowing where we are and diving deeper into our strengths and assessing our opportunities considering the higher education and national cultural landscape."
"Texas Tech University System is assessing its remote work strategy, re-evaluating enterprise governance, and looking for ways to describe the value of work done in order to establish a values-based model for setting IT priorities."
"University of Washington is completely revamping its IT governance structures and roles and responsibilities as well as restructuring its central IT unit. This is all being done to drive faster strategic decision-making and better alignment of resources to our strategic goals."
"Moi University is redoing the strategic plan of the university with the core theme being able to adapt to the dynamic changes in the environment and positioning the university to be able to align and thrive in the midst of a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment."
"UMBC is changing IT planning to be more agile. Instead of the traditional strategic planning process, we are developing an evolving set of digital strategies that are expected to last around two years and are updated over a three- to four-month period through stakeholder discussion and engagement."
What You're Working On
Comments provided by Top 10 survey respondents who rated this issue as important
Agility through governance, planning, and management
- Thinking forward, education, generative AI task force and working group.
- Good governance and collaboration and unified systems to all be working in the same direction yet allow creativity on common platforms.
- As demand for production for online learning increased, prioritizing the work of the online production services team became necessary. An agile group assembled to form a type of governance committee to field and prioritize the production of online courses. The team includes the manager of the team and leadership from the provost's office.
- Facilitating cabinet meetings about how to become more agile as a business.
- Mapping critical university processes and aligning them with strategic goals.
- No more silos. Every area must be agile in support of new enrollment initiatives.
- We are working to centralize common administrative processes to create more agility that directly impacts the students. The common approach frees up decisions/actions for more impactful issues.
- Looking at future needs and costs. Adjusting instruction to meet students where they are. Ensuring sustainability.
- One of our greatest hurdles as a system is responding with enough agility to rapid changes in requirements and needs. A large group of stakeholders is being convened to address this issue, and the effort is just starting.
- We have updated our institutional PMO and the project model to be more agile.
- Strategy for PMO modernization and change management.
Agility through technology
- Based on feedback from numerous reports, surveys, and leadership inputs, we've formed several cross-divisional working groups to co-define what our digital ecosystem is and what it could become. This is basically a Dx project to help unify support behind centrally supported, well-integrated tools in our relatively decentralized environment across CRM, service management, knowledge management, and intranet.
- We're using technologies that enable agility (e.g., InCommon SSO, connections to high-speed networking).
- We're providing technology that allows students and instructors to participate in class discussions, meet, and collaborate without being in the same location. They can simply connect to a learning activity through an electronic device (e.g., cell phone, laptop, desktop).
- Integrating XR into instruction, as well as other virtual resources to accommodate the growth in online learning.
- Our enterprise architecture (EA) community of practice is starting to document and merge many disjoint EA artifacts that can provide common, reusable building blocks for the development of new services.
- Evaluating and enhancing an enterprise architecture decision-making approach that embraces agility as a practice.
- Shedding technical debt. We hope to then be able to adopt more agile processes and iterate more quickly through projects.
- IT is currently working through a comprehensive administrative efficiency set of projects to digitize many enterprise-wide workflows.
- Automation and optimization methods to foresee future needs.
- Currently, 70 percent of our total compute resides in the cloud. Over the next two years, we see that increasing to 90+ percent. In doing so, we are cultivating technological agility.
- Implementing new SIS and ERP.
- We are in the middle of a Workday implementation. Not particularly unique; however, we are neck-deep in business process evaluation that will change how we look at what we do. The goal is to be more agile and increase capacity among staff, particularly in the use of data.
- Investing in technology infrastructure and considering ways to restructure departments and develop succession planning.
- Looking at ways to better align and integrate noncredit and credit academic programs.
- The university is implementing an enterprise microcredentialing and badging platform for those students who desire this educational opportunity.
- Developing strategic partnerships with other universities.
- Meeting with students and faculty to understand expectations. Doing market studies to understand expectations with staff.
- The 4 Disciplines of Execution (FranklinCovey).
- Revamping teaching spaces for better, more flexible delivery. Looking at building more spaces and keeping them agile.
George Claffey is Vice President and CIO, Central Connecticut State University.
Mike Dieckmann is Associate Vice President and CIO, Florida Polytechnic University.
Dale Pike is Executive Director and Associate Vice Provost for Technology-Enhanced Learning, Virginia Tech.
© 2023 Susan Grajek and the 2023–2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10 Panel. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.