Don’t Let Your Next College Tech Initiative Fail

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As a CIO I understand the importance of change management. Technology departments release new tools and upgrades to existing tools on a daily basis. The success or failure of a change is totally dependent on how the change is managed. There are many components to the change process including but not limited to meeting the customer expectations, planning, testing, and most importantly communication. If a project fails it is most likely because of bad change management.

There are many reasons that change fails; however there are some that are more prevalent. In Leading Change, John Kotter lists the eight errors common to organizational change:

  • Allowing too much complacency
  • Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
  • Underestimating the power of vision
  • Under-communicating the vision by a factor of 10
  • Permitting obstacles to block the new vision
  • Failing to create short-term wins
  • Declaring victory too soon
  • Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture

Problems with change have been around for a long time. In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about the challenges of change in The Prince and the Discourses (Chapter 6):

"And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as the leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new."

So as you go through change, remember, others have the same issues. Reviewing what lessons learned from past projects and what others have learned can help in the planning process of a new project or initiative. However, this is not enough; in today's ever changing world leaders are a key component of successful change.

The initiatives each of us is working on can be game changers which require not only a great process but also transformative leaders. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) is working on its second round of an iPASS grant through which we are looking at predictive analytics, a student success score, and a student intake survey. All of these are new ground for us as they are for many institutions.


Many initiatives at colleges are viewed by employees as the "the next thing we must work on." Many believe if they hold out long enough it will pass or they never buy into the concept. This type of attitude does not help drive success or sustainability. In order for new initiatives to be successful, they must become part of an organization's culture, a way of doing college business. Initiatives must be transformative.

With iPASS, NWTC is looking to develop tools that help us predict which students may be successful and which students may not. This will allow us to provide interventions early and often, which in the end can improve retention. Our ultimate goal is to improve persistence and identifying and removing barriers for students is critical to this goal.

Cultural Change

Those of us involved in iPASS must determine how our initiative will become part of our culture, and not just another initiative of the moment. Change requires an organization to have effective leadership. Effective change requires leaders to develop a vision, strategy for change, and to cultivate a culture that can share the vision and strategy. This is no easy task. It requires planning and following steps and processes that ensure effective change and transformation.

NWTC's iPASS project will require different processes and a completely different perspective on how we evaluate students. We can no longer look at just an ACT score or GPA in high school. We must create a profile of a student and understand the student's mindset. In addition to iPASS, NWTC has several other projects also focused on improving persistence. The college leaders must make sure there is visibility and collaboration across all of these projects. To assist with this process, NWTC will be using the Kotter Change Principles.

A Leader of Change

Leaders must creatively and effectively create a plan and strategy to deal with bureaucracy, internal politics, lack of collaboration, resource issues, lack of trust, poor middle management, and a human fear of change. According to the American Management Association article by Amy Weeden, Change Leadership for Complex Business Transformation, "change Leadership is the fundamental driving force behind any major change initiative." So what qualities do change leaders need to possess?

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Strategy
  • Empowerment
  • Motivation and inspiration

For more information on the qualities of a change leader, I recommend the Journal of Change Management article, Change management—or change leadership? by Roger Gill.


Linda Hartford is Northeast Wisconsin Technical College's (NWTC) Chief Information Officer. In her role, she provides technology leadership and management of technology systems and services. Ms. Hartford has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from St. Norbert College and a Master of Science degree in Organizational Psychology and Development from the University of Phoenix. Connect with her on LinkedIn.