It’s certainly been quite a year. Didn’t see this one coming. The months and years ahead hold so many question marks, but one thing I am sure of is that as educational administrators, we will be called upon to do more with less, and to find creative ways of doing so.
Last November, the keynote speaker at CHEUG (Canadian HEUG) made some very pertinent comments which still resonate today. The speaker was Gayleen Gray, Assistant Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at McMaster University (who was brilliant, by the way), and she spoke to the idea of digital transformation. This idea is a thread that runs through all higher education processes.
Three things struck me as particularly relevant:
- Moving IT to the cloud means we'll be using more user-configurable features rather than customizations (which are impossible in cloud-based systems). Configuration is usually done at the business unit/user level, and is not an IT responsibility. The IT department will still play a huge role in keeping things running smoothly, but the 'making it work how we want it to' part will devolve to end users. We're moving to a 'beyond IT' world where users across functional areas and computing services must work more collaboratively.
- The future will (or perhaps “should”) include a focus on letting technology do the heavy lifting to free up resources (aka humans) to work on value-added processes and strategies to keep up with ever-rising user experience expectations.
- Proof of concept and pilot activities initiated by end users and those in direct contact with end users need support -- it is the 'little wins' that demonstrate user benefits.
As we move forward, it is vital that we find some resources to dedicate to process improvement. Having more efficient processes creates that little bit of wiggle room for pilot projects, allowing staff the chance to collaborate and explore, to become familiar with the setup and configuration of the activities in their areas, and to get a better understanding of touchpoints with related areas. We need staff who know not only what they are doing and why; increasingly we also need them to know how. We need to break free from the 'black box' approach to technology where users simply refer all issues to Business Systems and/or Computing Services because they do not have any understanding of how processes work or relate to each other “under the hood”.
Spreading out the knowledge is also an important part of succession planning and continuity, something that has not always been the forte of educational administration. Much strain falls on our computing services and business systems people to put out fires and to become teachers when key people in the units are unavailable. This also creates huge bottlenecks for improvement projects. With end users more involved in configuration and local process planning, the business analysts could focus more on the coordination and integration of processes across the various areas (i.e. helping to make sure that my great idea for configuration doesn't mess up things for someone else).
In short, as we plan to offer better, more modern service to students, we need to remember to devote some resources to the jobs 'behind the curtain' to allow us to keep up with what technology offers. Even now, many of us are trying to catch up with new features in Campus Solutions that we have not availed ourselves of due to a lack of time and resources to investigate how they could help us.
We can do better, and the current crisis might be just the motivator we need to get going.