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Technology Must be the Answer?

Higher education organizations today are focusing on being more effective and efficient, while dealing with reduced funding, declining enrollments, and increasing expectations from students. These are all challenges and bring back the memory of that wonderful goal “do more with less.” I always found it interesting that the people that provided this wisdom never seemed to provide information on how to accomplish this goal. In the search for improved effectiveness and efficiency, I have seen many occasions where organizations chase new technology as the silver bullet to provide relief. Since the focus is on the technology, many times the organization does not achieve the expected benefits and some cases have increased costs and are less effective.

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I believe the focus should be to understand how to get the most value out of your existing technology and only add technology to support improved effectiveness as opposed to the expectation that the technology will drive improved effectiveness. To take this approach, start with a self-evaluation:

  • Are you operating effectively? If so, what data are you using to manage your processes? How are you measuring effectiveness?
  • As you look at your processes, are they focused internally as well as from a student perspective?
  • What is the cause of inefficiencies? Processes, staff, training, and/or technology? Or all the above?
  • Are your strategic initiatives aligned with your strategy? Do your strategic initiatives have difficulty meeting their objectives or just stall out?
  • Are you operationally and tactically aligned with your strategy? How do you know?

Improving the value of technology

Improving the value of technology sounds like a technology exercise, but it is not. Technology itself cannot solve problems with ineffective processes, unclear objectives, or lack of accountability. Improving the value of technology is an organizational challenge.

Improving the technology begins with an assessment of processes across the organization to find areas of improvement. There are two important components of the assessment:

  • Is the organizational structure part of the process or is the process focused on the student? Higher education tends to be siloed and processes are focused on the organization as opposed to the student. It is important to look at higher level processes to ensure the student has the desired experience.
  • Not all processes are created equal. There are two types of processes, commodity processes are processes that need to be done, but they do not add additional value regardless of how much process design is done. The second are processes that add value, differentiation, or solve a problem. Focus should be on the value add of the processes and effort should be limited on the commodity processes.

The results of the assessment may be surprising. We have found many instances where organizations defined their processes during a major system implementation and never circled back to ensure the processes were effective. Typical findings are:

  • “We have always done it this way” or “we do this better than anyone”. What is the real value, cost, and impact to students of doing non-standard processes?
  • Implemented processes filled gaps in the technology at the time of implementation. Subsequent updates to the software over the years filled the gaps, but processes were not revisited.
  • Misalignment of processes to strategy. Day to day operations are contrary to the strategic objectives. This could occur due to lack of understanding or due to changes in strategy that were not reflected in the operations of the organization.

An approach to improving the value of technology is:

  • Assess the effectiveness of the processes across the organization focusing on the high value, differentiating, or problematic processes.
  • Identify the value and cost of improvements and begin working with the opportunities providing the value.
  • Ensure implementation teams understand the strategic plan and set goals that align with the strategic plan.
  • Identify how existing technology can be utilized to support the improvements or identify new technology solutions capable of meeting the needs of the improved processes. The key is to focus on the organizational needs.

Technology is not the answer to “doing more with less” or improving the value of technology, but once there is an understanding of how to improve effectiveness, technology can be leveraged to support the improved effectiveness.

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