Excellence in Experience
By Scott Sorley, Executive Director (ICT Services), University of Southern Queensland
Shiny technology and short-term thinking does not create lasting value for organisations, or customers. A University provides learning experiences for students, which typically last several years, and are designed to provide value for decades. This offers a unique perspective on the importance of creating lasting value and the importance of long-term thinking when applying technology solutions. Universities are not immune to market forces promoting the latest features and opportunities promising ‘digital transformation.’ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), yearly performance reviews, attractive ‘quick wins’ all tend to align attention in the near term. These need to be tempered and seen as stepping-stones to long-term thinking.
As CIOs we are charged with the responsibility of steering and stewarding our organisations through the complex intersecting dimensions of organisational readiness, customer value proposition, timing, and available technology.
The best educational technology solutions need to be delivered through the hands of teachers and not the IT department. While it can be tempting to complain of increasing license costs and service growth, the reality is that the cost of organisational technology adoption, change, and ongoing value realisation is the largest cost, albeit often unmeasured. Similarly, the organisational cost of a failed customer facing IT project is immense in terms of opportunity cost, and expensive and inefficient workarounds.
Careful assessment of the change cost on teachers and students is critical. This needs to be part of the technology plan to ensure that digital literacy, client consultation and awareness, and end user testing are developed to find an appropriate balance between technology issues and organisational impact.
While technology can be used as an agent of organisational change, the best technology solution solving a critical business need foisted upon an unprepared organisation can make for an unnecessarily challenging project.
Customer Value Proposition
Consumer technology is rapidly evolving and driving expectations.
The best educational technology solutions need to be delivered through the hands of teachers and not the it department
Each organisation operates a complex suite of technologies, be it hardware, applications, networks, and integration platforms. Each of these will often be in a different state of maturity to meet the organisational need. Many of these will also have carefully prepared roadmaps, which combine to form an enterprise architecture. As each of these pieces move, they influence all the pieces around them like a chess game, creating opportunities and shutting out moves.
Universities have also historically had a certain rhythm to their business operations, being based around semesters, holidays, and academic milestones like admissions and graduations. These also influence the timing of technology change processes. Increasingly these rhythms are becoming more complex with new academic offerings and modalities being overlaid on top of existing calendars rather than replacing them.
The organisational timing factors provide windows of opportunities for technology solutions to be introduced, which need to be carefully navigated to minimise user impact. However, solutions themselves are continuously evolving in maturity and feature set. Do you stay with a tried and true ERP you already have with a less modern user interface, or go with the up and coming system whizz bang cloud solution with a still emergent feature set? The combination of organisational need, impact, and opportunity based on upgrade windows, and market maturity gives you lots to think about.
So once all of the organisational alignment, cultural factors, and operational imperatives are understood, the opportunity to apply some technology presents. On a global scale, the discussion around a fourth industrial age with the fusion of digital, physical, and biological technology advancements presents a compelling future (if you are an optimist). In a very real sense these lead to a recent ‘rise of the consumer,’ where big data becomes a tool for sense making, Artificial Intelligence becomes human augmentation, Augmented and Virtual Reality become human experience enablers. The shift I see is the movement of information technology from information processing to human-centric value addition. The application of educational technology then becomes helping students and teachers bridge the human/machine gap to realise the large benefits available through technology, whilst also making it a part of the background to enable greater agency, autonomy, and authenticity to the learning experience.