Ask the experts:

How to meet student needs in a changing digital economy

What are the practical steps institutions are taking to digitally transform their employee and student experience?

The value and relevance of tertiary education is being challenged, and many institutions know that change is needed to create an institution capable of meeting employees’ and students' needs in a digital economy. But how do you determine the best approach, present a compelling case for change, and then build momentum?

To help you drive your institution forward, we asked two experts to share their thoughts.

Peter Nikoletatos is the Industry General Manager - Education at TechnologyOne. He’s a previous university CIO with almost 30 years of senior management experience and a deep understanding of the IT industry, business leadership, student experience and enterprise software.

Professor Michael Sankey is the Director of Learning Transformations at Griffith University. He’s also President of the Australasian Council on Open Distance and eLearning (ACODE), Director of the ACODE Learning Technologies Leadership Institute, and is an avid research academic focusing on technology-enhanced learning pedagogies.

What makes a digital transformation agenda successful?

Peter Nikoletatos (TechnologyOne)

For the transformation to be successful, the strategy has to be a well-communicated message and across multiple stakeholder groups. There is no individual transformation agenda—a number of business units must come together, each with a slightly different lens, but with a common purpose of transforming what they have currently.

Successfully moving from analog into a digital world is also about delivering a personalised experience. Institutions want to leverage technology to differentiate themselves and provide a unique and tailored experience for their end users, whether that’s students or academics.

Professor Michael Sankey (Griffith University)

You can have the best ideas in the world, but unless you can convey those ideas in a meaningful way, including up to senior management, then in many senses it's a waste of time.

Digital transformation is about realising future perspectives, which requires visionary statements, building relationships, and working together to ensure the institution can move forward. A confrontational approach will never work.

Director of Learning Transformations
Griffith University

Digital transformation is about realising future perspectives, which requires visionary statements, building relationships, and working together to ensure the institution can move forward.

Descriptive message

Is it important to benchmark and measure results when undergoing digital transformation?

Peter Nikoletatos (TechnologyOne):

Yes it is. When we reflect on an idea we tend to largely rely on anecdotal feedback, which has its role, but in isolation becomes very selective—it depends on who you talk to and the types of questions you ask. When you use benchmarks and qualitative results based on metrics, it helps you remove that bias and get a much more objective analysis.

Benchmarking provides a starting point to help you understand the incremental changes: what happens as you progress through your digital transformation? How do you measure improvement? If you can’t measure something it’s difficult to ascertain whether it has been a success for everybody, rather than a select few.

Professor Michael Sankey (Griffith University):

Benchmarking across both formal and informal activities is really important, as you undergo digital transformation. Formally, we see benchmarking being done against agreed standards or performance indicators, things like that—often using methodologies like the CAUDIT or ACODE benchmarks.

Then there’s the opportunity to expand that to inter-institutional benchmarking activities, where you start to compare across institutions. For example, every two years ACODE runs a benchmarking activity that allows for institutions from across Australasia to come together, having done some internal benchmarking to share their practices and ultimately learn from each other.

More informal benchmarking might include a check-in to see what others are doing in a similar space, understanding other institution’s approaches and the problems they found, and gathering testimonials. That can give institutions confidence their transformation will be successful.

Why is executive buy-in important in any digital transformation strategy?

Peter Nikoletatos (TechnologyOne):

You don’t want to go down a path only to have the project tanked when it gets to an executive discussion. You want to have asked for input early on in the piece, engage leaders with a very clear narrative, and attract an executive sponsor who keeps that group of stakeholders engaged in the process.

Every successful project around digital transformation in universities will have the Vice-Chancellor’s or in the case of TAFEs and Polytechnics, the CEO’s, fingerprints all over it. It’s got to start from the top to ensure everybody in the organisation gets behind it.

Executive stakeholders also remove the emotion from a project. They assess whether it aligns to the overall strategy of the institution—they ask ‘does this initiative take us in the right direction?’ Good governance models bring a level of objectivity that ensures projects follow a trajectory that shows continuous improvement.

Professor Michael Sankey (Griffith University):

You need to make a solid case to senior managers and get that buy-in first, before you actually start to proceed. The people who hold the purse strings are those who ultimately make the decisions. Benchmarking activities can help you back-up your ideas. At the end of the day, tertiary education is very risk averse: it relies heavily on evidence that an initiative won’t fail.

When Griffith wanted to moved to a SaaS version of its learning management system we talked to other institutions and felt comfortable we could go ahead without any problems, and we were able to square away executive support. It wasn’t necessarily 100 per cent plain sailing but because we had the imprimatur to do so, we could say ‘this is the way the institution is going, and we are committed to this cause’.

There are usually major spends associated with these types of projects. If you do your homework and get buy-in through networking within your institution, the money usually follows and only then can you have confidence to move forward.

Director of Learning Transformations
Griffith University

You need to make a solid case to senior managers and get that buy-in first, before you actually start to proceed. The people who hold the purse strings are those who ultimately make the decisions.

Descriptive message

Why is it important to align your digital transformation strategy with the organisation’s IT strategy?

Peter Nikoletatos (TechnologyOne):

The role of IT has changed dramatically from a traditional role of the ‘enforcers’ of what technology you could use, to now being one part of the overall service delivery approach. IT has a critical role to play in terms of connectivity and engagement: making the technology work correctly, in a secure and smart way, to achieve business outcomes.

IT is also a stakeholder. They can help you understand why desired outcomes technically may be more or less problematic if you do it one way versus another way.

Alignment, clear communication and regular updates helps you bring people on the digital transformation journey—whether they’re the people building the solution, or the people that are going to use the final product. They can see that journey unfold and feel like they are a part of it.

Professor Michael Sankey (Griffith University):

It’s important to go down recognised pathways and not try to create your own paths. The IT strategy typically deals with major infrastructure projects and addresses systematic questions around security and data management. Other initiatives need to work within the boundaries of that strategy. If they fall outside the boundaries, then there must be a jolly good reason.

However, a good IT strategy has to give the institution the ability to progress innovation, and not limit the innovation that’s possible. So it needs to have wiggle room: it should acknowledge that there are opportunities to break new ground and be transformational.

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