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Digital Transformation in Higher Education: Checkpoint London

DCG had a seat at the table when 14 senior leaders and managers from 11 prestigious universities in the UK met in London recently. Acquia and Manifesto Digital, contributing sponsors for our research on the state of digital transformation in higher education, set the scene by hosting a round table discussion at the Covent Garden Hotel. After a short review of the key findings from DCG’s research, participants described current digital initiatives and shared issues that are top-of-mind for them.

Discussion topics put forth by the group included:

  • Developing strategies for getting students to use and engage on digital platforms, from portals to mobile apps.
  • Managing the tension between the owners of digital initiatives (primarily marketing or IT) and the group or team ultimately accountable for success or failure.
  • Integrating legacy technologies with new digital systems and tools as a key technical challenge, making a platform approach to digital engagement difficult (if not impossible) and contributing to governance challenges.
  • Creating and fostering a “customer” mentality among institutional leaders.

Chris Hartigan from Acquia sparked a lively conversation related to the digital experience tipping point for universities, highlighted as a key finding in Digital Transformation in Higher Education:

“The tipping point for institutional leaders – the time at which a change or effect cannot be stopped – will occur when the inability to meet the digital expectations of today’s education customers impacts the quantity and quality of students enrolling in their universities.”

To paraphrase Chris’ question, how can universities address this point-of-no-return risk when it’s nearly impossible to define, deploy, and operationalize sustainable, maintainable digital experience, given the pace of change and rising student expectations? Participants agreed that they get this question in one form or another from their managers, and they often wrestle with it themselves. But this group also had some answers, most of which distilled to taking on well-scoped projects that show results and make digital doable and approachable for teams and leaders. A SnapChat experiment, secure single sign-on technology for improved student experience – these and similar efforts reinforce another key finding from our research:

“The institutions showing progress towards enhanced digital capabilities are working in pockets of change rather than at broader levels within the institution.”

So are UK institutions making progress along the digital transformation curve? Based on discussion around the table in London, there is solid evidence that investments in more and better digital engagement are being made, even if they are modest. And there is reason to be optimistic about steady and slow progress. The last question before breaking for lunch was about which institutions are leading the way when it comes to establishing the current bar for great digital experience.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the universities who attended the round table are themselves charting a path for others to follow. The leaders are those who are investing in digital capabilities, but more importantly they are willing to experiment, willing to fail, and willing to try again. As we note in our research report, action — any action — is essential to remain relevant to the class of 2020 and beyond.

Please contact us if your university has embarked on initiatives for digital engagement with education customers. We’re always eager to understand where and how institutions are moving up the digital transformation curve.



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