A Lesson Plan for Innovation During Unprecedented Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted wide-ranging impacts on how we learn over the past few months, forcing leaders to adopt new business strategies. Institutions of higher learning have been among those impacted the greatest, especially since they’ve long relied on in-person instruction and student engagement as a part of their vibrant campus cultures. 

Many college campuses were affected by COVID-19 in the first three months of this year as the pandemic spread, causing the suspension of ongoing instruction, campus events, and learning extension programs. With little warning, many institutions were forced to send students home for the remainder of the school year and make do with patchwork technology infrastructure. 

Other institutions, however, such as Oracle customer Boise State University, found new ways to work together, providing a masterclass in resilience by establishing remote workforce programs alongside new approaches to technology. This is their story of resilience. 

Caught Off Guard 

Boise State University is nestled in the urban core of Idaho’s capitol, flanked by the towering Rocky Mountains. They are best known for their blue field turf—a home-field advantage for their American football team that serves as an area of distraction and fascination for visiting teams—a distinction that has gained more prominence with recent success on the national stage.

Though the population density of Boise State and the surrounding city are lower than other areas in the United States, university administrators took the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and suspended in-person operations in March, forcing both students and staff to learn and work remotely from their homes. For an industry used to hands-on learning and face-to-face engagement, the new way of interaction was unprecedented and required near-overnight adjustments from leadership—including new IT governance models around security, virtual software access, and online teaching. 

“Everyone knew we had to do this and was very supportive”, said Max Davis Johnson, Boise State University’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). 

Accelerating Innovation and Change 

Wasting no time, Boise State University’s IT team responded by deploying new technology, including increased VPN capacity, additional licenses for software, single-sign-on (SSO) capabilities, and a greater number of course frameworks so instructors could teach online. IT help desk calls also tripled as staff and students adapted to connecting from home. 

Above all, IT navigated the challenge of balancing multiple priorities—especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit while the university was also implementing Oracle Cloud HCM with partner Baker Tilly. With business continuity as the priority, leadership published remote working best practices for employees, students, and educators alike. For the IT organization itself, best practices were also developed around new solution implementation and ensuring end-user satisfaction. 

There were also many operational and project challenges to account for, including a dispersed team and fewer staff as a result of ongoing furloughs. With much of this going on during April—considered the height of the first wave of infections—empathy was also a top priority and drove a new approach to decision making. 

“As I was working from home during April, my wife had some reminders for me”, said Daniel Gold, IT Director at Boise State University. “She said that I am not working from home, but rather that I am in a pandemic, attempting to work.” 

Many organizations have experienced disruption during COVID-19. Here is the story of one university that’s found a way to thrive.

Lessons for the Future

The situation on campus has remained fluid since April and leadership believes that they are better prepared to weather the pandemic. As of now, administrators anticipate in-person instruction for the Fall—with the appropriate social and physical distancing. Until there’s a vaccine, administrators also realize that a remote model is what will have to do, transforming everything from student engagement to how meetings are run. Having the right partners along the way also helps. 

“We’re targeting our work a little more effectively since COVID-19 began”, continues Gold. “We’re setting better goals and it’s back to basics with the technology we have.” 

The prevalence of a new normal also provides lessons for the future—particularly for universities with larger enrollments or located in denser urban areas—from complex technology infrastructure to the implementation of new technologies. Boise State University administrators look to the future with hope and know they can move through these times with ease. 

Learn More

No matter where you are in your organization’s technology journey, COVID-19’s impact has forced you to change. Read our report on the 6 trends driving HR transformation and together we can get through this uncertain time. 

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