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How (and Why) to Create a Digital Transformation Team on Your Campus

July 17, 2020

Higher education is accelerating digital transformation (DX) due to the pandemic and experts think the movement is likely here to stay. A recent HBR article stated, “What started as a short-term response to a crisis could well become an enduring digital transformation of higher education.”

Figure 1. Levels of DX currently and in the next 5 years
Figure 1. Levels of DX currently and in the next 5 years (source)

While digital transformation is widely underdeveloped today, institutions are hopeful the next five years will bring great change, according to a 2020 survey conducted by EDUCAUSE. Additionally, respondents whose institutions have yet to invest in DX are significantly more pessimistic about the progress they will see in the next five years.   

There are many ways to engage in digital transformation. One of the more intriguing trends we’ve seen so far is the introduction of DX teams at institutions across the U.S. One of those institutions is Davidson College.

The leaders at Davidson, a small liberal arts college, are making big changes to promote transformation. Perhaps the most forward-thinking tactic in their strategy is the creation of their DX team, backed and directed by top decision-makers. You can read more about that story here

Today, we’ll dive into why a digital transformation team may be the best approach at your institution and how to go about building one. 

The Why: Creating a Digital Transformation Team

A 2018 McKinsey study states the keys to transformation success are found in the “the engagement of transformation-specific roles—namely, leaders of the program-management or transformation office who are dedicated full time to the change effort. Another key to success is leadership commitment.” 

Davidson College’s anecdotal evidence supports those findings. According to JD Mills, manager of Davidson’s DX team, digital transformation is achieved when IT is involved in the highest level of decision-making. DX is accelerated when there is a team dedicated to pursuing it. 

Davidson has found great success so far by implementing a dedicated digital transformation team. While a team isn’t the only solution, it has proven successful in accelerating change and adoption of new technology at Davidson.

How To Create a Digital Transformation Team 

1. IT in Leadership

First, lay the groundwork. IT must have a seat at the leadership table to promote, encourage, and weigh in on transforming the institution. Not only should they have the technical knowledge, but they should also have a deep understanding of the “business” of higher education

2. Technical Generalists

Start building up the personnel who will make up the team. At Davidson, their small team consists of three employees with relatively “generalist” technical backgrounds. Their skills and experiences range from user design to full stack web development to institution-wide identity systems.

What’s the most important trait these individuals should have? You guessed it, it’s a soft skill. Relationship-building. While every project revolves around technical problems, the most important element is gaining the trust and confidence of the departments they work with.

3. Strategic Goals

Other departments won’t be interested in working with the DX team if they don’t understand what it’s for. Outline clear, strategic goals that are tied to the mission of the institution. Then, communicate.  

The team at Davidson College established a clear purpose by developing a charter. The charter conveys the team’s purpose and role. It can be used to scope their projects, and is something they can share with individuals as necessary.  

4. Dedicated Time

Give your DX team dedicated time to make transformation happen. If their time is spent on system maintenance or bug fixes, they won’t have the time and space to create real change. 

Better yet, dedicated the team’s full capacity to transformation. At Davidson College, their team is dedicated entirely to the cause. They have no operational responsibilities and   

5. Early Success

Once your team has been established, ensure their first project can be an easy win. Starting out successful will build confidence for the team, and show other departments how useful they can be. Apply the wise adage of “under promise and over deliver,” especially in the beginning.    

Remember, DX is accelerated when there is a team dedicated to pursuing it. Interested in other things you’ll need to jump-start digital transformation at your institution? Don’t miss our webinar on Gamifying DX with Professor Karl Kapp, July 29, 2020. Click here to learn more.


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