The Need for a Digital Strategy

By Dave Swartz, VP and CIO, American University

Dave Swartz, VP and CIO, American University

We have entered a new age for the educational CIOs and the institutions they support, not unlike the decentralized disruption caused by the move from mainframes to PCs over 30 years ago. This new period can be labeled as the “Age of Digital Disruption”. How is this change characterized, and why am I raising the alarm?

"As new digital services pop up all over the campus, it has become more challenging for the central IT teams to support and integrate these solutions."

The power of new digital technologies and services is very exciting. There is a plethora of new cloud-based services available today, such as email through Google and Microsoft Office 365 that has become the mainstay of many educational institutions and taken the burden off the shoulder of enterprise IT teams. However, many new services are easily available to those with just a credit card or purchasing authority. Herein lies the challenge for enterprise IT groups. As new digital services pop up all over the campus, it has become more challenging for the central IT teams to support and integrate these solutions.

Let me give you an example. At our university, we have moved to online education in a big way. To facilitate this transformation we have collaborated with several different cloud-based companies that can help the university and its different schools get their courses online and marketed. These companies supporting different schools and programs use different LMS, CMS, CRM, and analytics platforms than our enterprise solutions. Not only are they different from our campus, they are different from each other. In the campus enterprise IT department, we are expected to integrate with these solutions, with interfaces to core SIS systems, analytics tools, and provide campus user support. Now you begin to get the idea. This challenge is rapidly replicating itself in other areas of the campus.

There is no question that an educational institution can benefit from these new technologies and services, as we have. However, before the complexity gets unmanageable, it would be wise to review where you are and where you want to be; and chart a pathway between the two that maximizes the net benefits to your institution. I am suggesting you develop a Digital Strategy.

Let me give another example for how this could play out. In the example covered about online learning, we have recently decided to collaborate with a new company, Noodle Partners, that is more flexible and willing to adopt our enterprise solutions such as CMS and CRM. This simplifies our support and integration requirements, reduces our cost, and improves the overall net from online learning for the university.

By becoming strategic and intentional about digital partnerships we can optimize things such that we do what we can do well, and source to those providers that can supplement our services as needed. We can present our student users with a consistent high quality experience, and empower our faculty with preferred systems, and reduce the workloads of our staff. These outcomes require a strategic vision and plan, that empowers campus priority, sets standards, yet is agile and flexible to accommodate a range of changing needs. Digital disruption is accelerating, and it is critical that every investment needs to be reviewed through its impact on the user experience, how the data is shared between systems, what integrations are required, cybersecurity and other risks, and the return on investment.