Driving Digital Transformation in Higher Education

Institutional Barriers to Dx

The major barriers to digital transformation are related to the usual suspects of cultural change and cost. The greatest obstacles to Dx are on the change management side of the coin, with most respondents thinking that insufficient cross-institutional planning or coordination (53%) and buy-in or an understanding of the potential benefits of digital transformation (52%) are major barriers to success (see figure 8). Majorities of respondents also view the cost of ongoing investments as digital technologies advance (52%) and overall cost and affordability (50%) as critical obstacles to Dx. A majority of respondents also consider insufficient progress toward the milestones of digitizing information and digitalizing processes to be at least moderate barriers. Concerns about safeguarding people's data privacy are believed to present few problems for institutions as they move through the stages of Dx.

Staked horizontal bar chart showing barriers to Dx.  Y-axis shows groups within university including categories.  X-axis shows percentage of responses according to the following options "Not a barrier", "Minor barrier", "Moderate barrier", and "Major barrier".  Data provided is approximate.  Insufficent cross-institution planning or coordination: Majority of responses are Major barrier. Cost of ongoing investments as digital technologies advance: Majority of responses are Major barrier Buy-in or understanding the potential benefits of digital transformation: Majority of responses are Major barrier. Overall cost/affordability: Majority of responses are Major barrier. Insufficient level of digitalized processes: Majority of responses are major barrier. Insufficent level of digitized information: Majority of responses are moderate barrier followed by Major barrier. Concerns about safeguarding individuals' data privacy: Majority of responses are Moderate barrier.
Figure 8. Barriers to Dx

COVID-19 and the Acceleration of Dx

At EDUCAUSE we've been forecasting a digital transformation in higher education for the past several years. This has included initial work defining exactly what "digital transformation" means so we can discuss it with each other and start planning for it. We've looked at the trends that have been pushing us toward Dx, as well as some of the early signals of Dx. In 2020, though, we found ourselves faced with something that none of us anticipated. COVID-19 has pushed us all to become more agile, more strategic, more collaborative, and more focused. It has asked us to look at what we do in new ways and to prioritize outcomes in support of our mission more quickly and more directly than we ever have before. What it has done, in essence, is move colleges and universities into digital transformation faster and more directly than we could have ever imagined. The time devoted to laying the groundwork in this space has been well spent. The initial work that we did was already being reflected in work at many of our member institutions and is even more in evidence since the pandemic began. Those institutions that hadn't been considering Dx to any significant measure are now faced with shifting in that direction out of necessity. As we look toward a very uncertain future, we are already seeing evidence that institutions are prioritizing efforts that bring the greatest value and most tangible results, in a deep and coordinated fashion. They are, in effect, embracing digital transformation, intentionally or not, as a matter of survival. These are not easy times. Yet, as we move into transformation faster than expected, perhaps we can all be helped by the knowledge that the cultural, workforce, and technology shifts we are now experiencing are, in fact, not completely unexpected, that there are some frameworks and support tools (in existence and being developed) that can help shine some light on the discussions that are taking place now, and, indeed, that we are in it together.

—Karen Wetzel, Director, Community and Working Groups, EDUCAUSE