Flexibility, Agility, and the Three Dx Shifts: Culture, Workforce, and Technology

Culture, Workforce, and Technology


How Flexibility and Agility Contribute to Dx Culture Shift

A Dx-ready culture is a focused one. It is zeroed in on the institution's goals, adept at change management, and able to rapidly adapt to changing needs. And while creating an institution-wide culture that embraces proactive change is possibly the most difficult shift to achieve, it is crucial to Dx. Leaders need to encourage an openness to new ways of thinking and working and an aptitude for more efficient, data-informed decision-making.

Overall, as institutions embrace cultural transformation, they are better able to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff with accelerated innovation. Leadership is changing perspectives on remote-work policies, and new teaching and learning models are emerging. As leadership embraces and promotes culture change, they improve institutional operations by breaking down some of the barriers to collaboration between different units and stakeholder groups across campus.

Case Study: Highlights of Arizona State University's Culture Shift

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Prior to its cultural transformation, the IT organization at Arizona State University (ASU) was mostly hidden in the "back office," seen only as a service-oriented staff sitting behind the help desk or equipment rental counters. Users were working with old technology systems to create tickets to get specific, one-off data sets or functionality. IT innovation and value to organizational goals were very difficult to showcase. Staff and users were in a comfortable position but were not ready to deal with the rapidly advancing technology needs that had been arising in recent years. The University Technology Office wanted to become a more collaborative organization, creating a culture that embraces proactive change to help respond to the rapidly evolving needs facing IT, with new technologies coming down the line such as AI, digital interfaces, augmented/virtual reality, and more.

The leaders behind the transformation plan believed they needed to help ASU become tech relevant by morphing the IT project management processes into a modern business model capable of dealing with rapid changes as they occur in the tech world. They hired a new chief culture officer to help the rest of the institution trust the IT teams as they began to try new things and to help nurture those relationships through inevitable mistakes or missteps. They built Positive Core Values and Leadership Principles and shared them throughout the ASU enterprise. For end users working in the new system, they focused on positive messaging. This messaging followed the core leadership principles, letting users know that testing and working with the new system would not lead to heads rolling if mistakes were made, but rather that they would learn from those mistakes and continue to highlight successes as they came in.


How Flexibility and Agility Contribute to Dx Workforce Shift

Institutional versatility comes partly from a restructuring of the workforce to adapt to the rapid, ongoing challenges that IT units face today. Leaders must continue to prepare for changes to existing jobs and the emergence of new roles and necessary skill sets across the entire higher education workforce.

As institutions embrace workforce transformation, the changes are resulting in a blending of roles and blurring of boundaries between IT and academic/administrative/research areas. Leaders are supporting expanded hiring searches and hiring for new types of positions that support digital transformation efforts. As workforces are restructured, institutions can more easily explore and implement collaborative leadership and organizational models that better support institutional missions and strategic plans.

Case Study: Highlights of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya's Workforce Shift

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At the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), officials started implementing and improving on a new IT strategic plan in 2014 because their IT leaders and staff wanted to improve operational governance and the workforce involved in IT project management. Through this planning process, though, they learned that the academic and administrative top and middle management could not easily participate in decisions about what IT projects should be prioritized, given their limited knowledge of the IT unit's portfolio and work. Academic and administrative management could also not easily give feedback and updates on strategic plans before results were reported. Communication and connection between IT business areas and academic staff was lacking, and IT leaders saw a chance to build stronger relationships between IT and other staff, as well as develop better processes for portfolio management.

UOC used this opportunity to design and execute three phases of transformation, with a selective process for the investment of IT time and effort based on the input of academic and administrative committees. Decision-making has become more decentralized with the creation of these diverse committees, involving staff from departments across the institution who bring local knowledge to the committee discussions. The committees integrate the local knowledge with the strategic goals of the institution to provide recommendations for IT resources and investment in projects. Additionally, to address some of the communication and execution issues that arose from the waterfall approach in IT, UOC adopted and adapted the basic Scaled Agile Framework to help ensure more responsive and collaborative program management. Altogether, the shift in IT governance and workforce, through improved program and project management, has led to better, more agile development and growth at UOC.


How Flexibility and Agility Contribute to a Dx Technology Shift

A technology environment that enables Dx is characterized by enterprise architecture that is adaptable and aligned with institutional strategy. IT leaders must adopt innovative practices and create digital environments that are responsive enough to address the rapidly changing needs of staff and students.

The creation of digital environments leads to better access and use of data by administrators and researchers at higher education institutions. Additionally, digital and cloud environments can help foster a more agile development process, allowing for quicker deployment and more regular feedback from users. Leaders need to focus on enabling digital versatility to support and grow the various emerging opportunities that provide a better value proposition for the institution.

Case Study: Highlights of Southern Methodist University's Technology Shift

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IT leaders at Southern Methodist University (SMU) saw an opportunity to combine centralized IT with the school-based IT organizations across campus into a single IT organization, which improves normal operations and business processes. In addition—and most important to the institution's strategic plans—the newly consolidated Office of Information Technology (OIT) could position IT tools, networks, infrastructure, and people to more rapidly and professionally support the burgeoning and ever-changing demands of computational researchers across such disciplines as data science, the Internet of Things, and high-performance computing.

As OIT continues to develop to help the institution's varied departments achieve objectives through processes, people, and technology, IT leaders have focused on standardization and consistency—characteristics important in preparing for larger Dx efforts. One of the main methods employed is the development of a data warehouse with a cloud-first approach for small departmental applications while deploying on-premises large enterprise applications. This has made the consistent integration and updating of technologies easier for both the IT and user side, especially because IT has also concentrated on creating and maintaining documentation for tech services. The entire workflow process is now becoming more standardized which has been helping both IT staff and users.

Other Technologies That Meet Students Where They Are: Networks and TV

As part of this research, two other institutional members were interviewed about technology changes on their campus: Derek Lustig, Director of Infrastructure & System Services at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), and Curtis White, Vice President of Information Services at St. Mary's University (TX).

At HWS, Lustig has been managing infrastructure and system services for an institution that, he reported, two years ago "would have never planned to have remote instruction." Their system struggled with old technology and minimal network infrastructure across campus. And as at many institutions, the pandemic changed expectations for HWS, with students wanting and requiring network and TV access anywhere on and off campus, and with many on-campus sites having no hardwired connections. HWS needed flexible hardware and software to provide content to its students.

Meanwhile, at St. Mary's, White was dealing with researchers interested in cryptocurrency, health care data, and other big data sets. The student body includes large numbers of Hispanic and first-generation college students, and the institution is working to incorporate access to Spanish-language television programming, in addition to other cable network options, as part of its services for students.

Both institutions worked with Spectrum Enterprise to provide various ways of accessing television programming to their students. White reported that this partnership was instrumental in connecting St. Mary's with TX.Learn.net, a high-speed research network that allows agile, high-bandwidth peer links with other Texas institutions. HWS and St. Mary's are working hard to provide options for access to their students, meeting them where they are, whether that's on or off campus.