Digital Transformation, Success and Customer Experience – a Higher Education disconnect

Posted: 15/10/2021

by: Joe Barrins

In Higher Education (HE), the difficulty of digital transformation projects is amplified, and for good reason.

Gartner defines digital transformation broadly, noting objectives such as digital optimisation and the invention of new digital models.

In the business sector, digital transformation is often pitched as a saviour of back-end processes, with the opportunity to digitise and streamline, gain efficiency and reduce staffing effort.

Forbes draws a direct line between customer experience and digital transformation, suggesting that customer experience should form a big part of any digital transformation strategy. And this makes a great deal of sense when looking to retain customers over the long term, especially in an online pandemic affected world.

Yet BCG and Mckinsey tell us that 70% of digital transformation projects fail, despite there being plenty of resources that apparently define a successful transformation process.

Why do only 30% of organisations meet their digital transformation objectives?

BCG suggests that the technology is important but that the people dimension is usually the determining factor. And they cite organisation, operating model, processes, and culture as key.

Most organisations fail to meet their objectives because successful digital transformation is hard. Bringing the people along for the journey is essential for successful digital transformation.

The digital transformation disconnect in High Education

Mckinsey identifies the importance of buy-in from all employees, but this is more difficult in HE than in business.

Why? Because the employees in a Higher Education institution don’t just stem directly from the C-suite down. Most staff in a Higher Education institution are often on the academic side, particularly if you count casual academics. And those academic employees often have different goals, objectives, and measures of success than their professional counterparts.

Rather than being employees, you could argue that the academic side of a Higher Education organisation are customers of the university, albeit a closed set of customers with no choice about loyalty and no easy way to move to a direct competitor. That should spell danger to you.

This impact needs to be directly addressed within Higher Education digital transformation projects. Digital transformation projects that improve processes for staff working in the C-suite but don’t address the academic dimension have an unpleasant compounding effect.

There is an extended customer base in the Higher Education sector not seen in business  – the students who study at universities. This customer base sits buffered from the backend process of the university by those that teach them. But the critical part of the student experience is the day-to-day interaction of learning, which is delivered by your first captive customer base.

Measuring the success of digital transformation projects

Earlier this year, I had my own experience as a student when I enrolled to study again after a long break. As an online student, my university experience was all about learning and the learning management system. That was my measure of the Universities’ competence, together with the staff who were teaching the subject.

But to be blunt, it was a mess. It was disorganised and lacked cohesion. As I wasted my little spare time looking for information on what to study, I became disheartened. And after a few weeks, I quit.

So, how do you measure the success of the digital transformation projects in this University? It’s possible the learning management system was well implemented, but that the staff were never shown how to use it effectively, or perhaps the learning management system was unworkable, and the staff had no chance of success?

What is definite is that the digital transformation didn’t have buy-in from all employees and that the people dimension was not well considered. As an offshoot, the Higher Education institution at best indirectly addressed Student Experience, and at worst ignored it completely.

If centralised digital transformation doesn’t support the academic teaching base, there’s little the C-suite can do to maximise the Student Experience. And with students such a valuable commodity in the current climate, can you afford that?

Want to give your digital transformation project the best chance of success?

Find out how DVE can help you engage your people through your digital transformation project for a successful implementation with maximum buy-in. Call Joe Barrins, Manager Digital Transformation and Solution Consultant, on 1800 870 677.