Higher Education: Digital Transformation and Innovation

Education is undergoing a transformation unlike any that it has undergone in recent memory. The rise of digital education along with a host of shifting expectations by students is demanding new ways of delivering learning. Higher education must also provide new digital methods to serve to a wide-ranging group of institutional stakeholders, from educators and parents to administrators and students. In this episode, Joanna Young, recent higher ed CIO, industry advisor, and well-known thought leader, brings her latest insight and thinking on the digital transformation of higher education.


Jul 11, 2017

Education is undergoing a transformation unlike any that it has undergone in recent memory. The rise of digital education along with a host of shifting expectations by students is demanding new ways of delivering learning. Higher education must also provide new digital methods to serve to a wide-ranging group of institutional stakeholders, from educators and parents to administrators and students. In this episode, Joanna Young, recent higher ed CIO, industry advisor, and well-known thought leader, brings her latest insight and thinking on the digital transformation of higher education.

Joanna Young is a well-known and highly experienced higher education CIO. She has had the CIO role at the University of New Hampshire and Michigan State University. Her information technology career includes a decade in executive positions in property & casualty and higher education. She was also recently chairperson of the board at the Merit Network and is an established thought leader in CIO issues. Ms. Young's experience includes applications development, infrastructure management, telecommunications, program office management, and mergers & acquisitions, both domestically and internationally.


Dion Hinchcliffe: Hello and welcome to CxOTalk. This is Dion Hinchcliffe, your host. It's July 11, Tuesday, CxOTalk, Episode 243 and I am very pleased we have a special guest with us. Joanna Young, a noted former CIO, a senior IT Leadership thought leader, thinker, advisor, I've been following her for a number of years. I'm a big fan. She's currently Senior Managing Director of BlueLine associates, where she advises IT leaders of various shapes and sizes. And, she has a big background in higher education, which we'll talk something about during the show today. Welcome, Joanna!

Joanna Young: Hello, Dion! How are you?

Dion Hinchcliffe: I am very good. I’m very pleased you could join us!

Joanna Young: Thank you!

Dion Hinchcliffe: So, I know you and I’ve followed you on Twitter and read your great blog. But maybe, you can, for those watching, introduce yourself, your background, your current role, and your two stints as a CIO as well, and just tell us about that.

Joanna Young: Yeah! So, I've had actually three stints as a CIO. I was a CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, CIO at the University of New Hampshire, and CIO at Michigan State University. So, two stints in a higher ed, one stint in insurance, and it's an absolutely fascinating time to be in IT. And, about a year or so ago, I decided to broaden my horizons and start helping out CIOs and other C-suite leaders in a variety of ways related to technology.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yup. Fantastic! So, what got you into the CIO role, to begin with? Why did you first agree to become one, being one of the toughest jobs in the business right now, I think?

Joanna Young: Well, I think, in fairness, I probably didn't realize how tough a job it was initially. I think you learn these things as time goes on. But, really, for me, it was driven by a desire to help other people be successful with technology because, as I was sort of really getting into my career, it really was borne upon me the challenge of people adapting business to technology and applying it helpfully to business as opposed to being in this constant disruption and churn. And so, when the opportunity came around to be a CIO, I just was excited about being able to increase my contribution and really be more influential and helpful with the business at that time, at Liberty Mutual.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Well, great! Well, I'm going to ask you a little bit about that in a moment. But, a couple of pieces of housekeeping first. I’d like to thank Livestream, which does great work in bringing CxOTalk to the air, to the internet. And also, we’d love to take your questions throughout the show, so please, post them on Twitter using the hashtag #cxotalk. We’ll be monitoring that during your questions.

So, getting back to those two CIO positions that you had, what were the mandate imperatives that you had? Usually, when they bring a new CIO in, there's some challenge that has emerged or is believed to be facing the organization and they need fresh blood to deal with that. What was the situation with you?

Joanna Young: So, usually, the imperatives are actually very similar. And they tended to be around, “Do more with less.” You know? That ubiquitous phrase is that … When I started CIO jobs, it was very much that sense of we’re spending a lot on IT, but we’re not getting enough for what we do spend. And we want you, Joanna, to change that formula. And I don’t think, in a lot of ways, that hasn’t changed. I think CIOs still have a lot of pressure on them to drive efficiency and effectiveness within IT itself. However, I also think that there is a sea change happening, where other C-suite leaders, CFOs, Chief Marketing Officers, CEOs themselves, realize that the conversation is changing and should be changing to how is technology enabling an improved customer experience, how is it helping with quality, effectiveness, and efficiency in various lines of business?

And so, I feel like I’ve been able to help with the initial imperative, but I also have been very focused on changing that conversation to really how does somebody get value out of IT, as opposed to unending pressure to control costs within IT itself.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Which, as IT becomes more instrumental to running the business, this is the big question. You put your finger right on it. […] The business wants more effectiveness and get more out of their investment, but non-IT people don't understand that 80-90% of that budget is used to keep what they've already built going, right? Maintenance fees, and the staff, and the datacenter around all of that. And you've got between 10 and 20% of your budget for innovation and growth and doing interesting new things. And so, they typically want much more effectiveness, but they're not willing to correspondingly increase the investment level to get to those things. That's my experience. What challenges do you see normally when a CIO has been given that mandated; do all these great new things, but typically not given any resources to do that?

Joanna Young: Yeah! So, you know, the difficulties of getting capital to improve the business position through technology is often a challenge. I think a link that’s been missing, but there’s certainly a lot of pressure on it now, is the talent piece of it. Talent is a tremendous problem in technology. I call it the “technology-talent wars” in a blog I wrote fairly recently. And there’s often a lot of conversation around money we need to spend on infrastructure, money we need to spend to acquire a new piece of technology, money we need to spend on services to correctly implement that technology. But, I also try to help people shift the conversation to what talent is it that you need to innovate? To implement? To operate your technology portfolio? And are you making sure that you’re hiring the right talent? Retaining them? Applying them correctly?

Since we’re in this era of hyper-acceleration, someone coming into a technology job today, they’re going to have to reskill and upskill multiple times and all the time. And I think CIOs, CEOs, and boards need to pay a lot more attention to the talent they need, and they need to think just as much about applying capital, if you will, to the recruiting and retention of the right talent as they do to making decisions about, and buying technology.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, and we know that people tend to invest in certain skills that they both enjoy, and have commercial value, right?

Joanna Young: Absolutely.

Dion Hinchcliffe: You know, now with the landscape changing so quickly, and a lot of these vendor stacks getting quite large, but they’re not considered sexy by the developer community, necessarily. How do you do that? What it seems to me is a lot of the talent is being sucked up by the cool internet companies, the cloud companies, who work on very interesting, scaled challenges much larger than any enterprise is to deal with. And also, there’s a whole factor that you can get stock options and get a big payout on top of that. How do you manage talent? Let’s say you’re a university and you’re trying to do the very best for your students? How are you going to acquire the talent you need to really create world-class IT?

Joanna Young: So, what I often counsel people on is that you need to have multiple channels of getting talent. I mean, many of our universities, for example, don’t tend to maybe be in urban areas, for example. There are many large universities like Michigan State University, Ohio State, who are in sort of suburban or rural areas that don’t tend to be technology centers of gravity. And in those instances, they need to have multiple ways of sourcing talent. One way is very obvious. It’s the students. You know? Many students like to work at the university while they’re there, and are interested in having and working for the university once they graduate, so that’s certainly a source. You know, university towns tend to be very attractive, interesting places to stay, work, and play, if you will. And so, looking for people who want to stay in the area for whatever reason.

And also, an area that higher ed hasn’t particularly been interested in historically, that I believe needs to get more interested in now, is they need to think about alternate sourcing. And, I’m not necessarily talking about jumping into offshore arrangements, but thinking about just as we are meeting remotely here today, right Dion? You can have people working remotely extremely effectively. I work remotely with my clients a fair amount. And there are ways to say, “Hey! I’m in a rural area of New England, let’s say, and somebody who’s really attractive to me to have them work for me lives in Chicago.” Well, okay. That’s fine! Maybe, you fly them in once a month and the rest of the time, they use tools like this to interact with their colleagues and their peers. So that’s one way that I counsel…

Dion Hinchcliffe: And then, everything that happened, I have actually seen that staffing model being much more widely adopted, where you can get people in areas of the country or areas of the world in which the pay scale is a lot different, but for whatever reason, those people don't want to or cannot move to a bigger area and they can get the job that they want. And with today's collaboration tools, it actually works pretty well.

Joanna Young: Yeah, and I think sometimes you’ll see leaders and human resources departments who maybe are a little queasy about it. And what I say to them, try it. Do it with a couple of people. I’m not advocating that all of a sudden you have hundreds of people working like this, but do with a couple and get your feet wet and see how it goes. And, I usually find that they get over the discomfort and off they go, and then that’s another channel.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, well I’ve noticed that it’s happened in companies like Yahoo and IBM that have gone back and forth, and the evidence seems to show that in companies where the employee engagement is high. When it’s slow, maybe not so well. So, it becomes yet another factor. And I know ADP, I was talking to their human resources folks, you have 22,000 remote workers. And they say it works well.

Joanna Young: Yeah. […] It absolutely can work well. As you say, the collaboration tools are there. It’s usually things like policies and processes and training managers and supervisors how to lead people who are not physically proximate. That’s a huge piece, too.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yup. So, Joanna, we have a question from Twitter.

Joanna Young: Great!

Dion Hinchcliffe: Arsalan Khan asks how important is it to consider biases about technology and transformation within an organization? Now, I’m not 100% sure what he means by that, but it triggered for me this situation that comes up when I advise CIOs and I talk to Boards of Directors, then often the Boards of Directors will say, “Well, we’re not a technology company,” right? So, IT is a cost center to us. We just don’t look at it that way. Our bias is that we automate what we’ve always done. We don’t rethink our business in digital terms, and we’re not prepared to do that across the company. That’s one bias that I often see. But how have you dealt with that? What have you encountered?

Joanna Young: Well, the first thing that I think in my head, I may not say it depending on the audience, is that these days, everybody is a digital organization; you know, a technology company whether they like it or not.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Whether they like or not.

Joanna Young: Whether they like it or not! And, what I try to do is, first of all, I always seek to deeply know the folks that I am working with. And so, I try to, you know, find some really relevant use-cases for them that will be near and dear to them that illustrate how important technology and digital is to them. You don't have to go to where they're standing. If in their mind, they're like, "Hey, we're not a technology company. We don't get why we have to spend all this capital," so on and so forth, you have to think of a way to influence them that speaks to where they are in their heads right now.

So, you know, using a higher ed example, I might say, "Well, let's look out the window. Let's look at the students walking around. What are they all doing?" I mean, they're all holding a device, and they're looking like this; and trying to explain to them how students interact with the world, whether it's in a social sense or a commercial sense, is through a digital lens. And so, you have to think about how to engage them; how to appropriately include in their educational experience what aspects of that are going to be digital. So, that's one way I might try to influence someone.

But I think the key is that CIOs, other digital leaders, they have to find examples that are going to resonate with audience and […] for example, if my initial response was to say, “Well, everybody’s a digital organization. You are, whether you know it or not.” That is not going to work. That’s just going to thud on the table like a dead animal and not go anywhere! So, it’s really important for IT leaders to go to where people are standing.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And, it's exactly what I would advise as well. So, we have another question from Twitter, a good one. Scott Weitzman asks, "Is it key for new employees to understand different aspects of the business outside of the technology part to drive greater impact overall?"

Joanna Young: […] Absolutely! And so, one of the things that it is tough to implement, but I strongly advise people to try is you need to rotate people through the organization. So, if you're bringing on a new IT employee, and let's say they're assignment is going to be supporting the finance organization or supporting the sales of the organization, you know, go and have them be in the finance and the sales organization for some period of time. I think our tendency as IT leaders is, "Okay, you want people to know the analytics tools, the coding languages." You know, you want them to know all this tech stuff. You know, cybersecurity. But, it's really … You can train people on those things; you can be reskilling and upskilling people for that. But what is more important for them to know is the company that they're in, the organization they're in; what are the products that they're selling? How are they making their money? How do they interact with their customers? What do the customers perceive positively? What do the customers perceive negatively? What are the pain points that are being experienced in the sales organization or the finance organization; for the support organization; or the fulfillment organization?

Those are things that you can't necessarily teach or train for. You have to rotate people and get people in the organization, you know? Go have them shadow a … Sit next to somebody in a sales call center or service call center for a day. They're going to learn more by spending half a day job shadowing someone than they will months and months of technology work. And, those sorts of programs can be hard because they're time-consuming, they can be a little logistically challenging, but I think it's critically important.

Dion Hinchcliffe: But the best [way] how to do that for new employees is when they first come on board and they don’t have too many duties yet, right? In terms of getting people up to speed on the business side…

Joanna Young: Yeah. Absolutely! And, people need to think about that in terms of their onboarding, right? They need to say, “Okay, they need to accept the fact,” and plan for the fact that for the first three months, a new person is not going to be running at 90-95% productivity. You’re better off having them running at 50% productivity and doing these sort of rotational experiences so that when they do get to the point that they’re increasing their productivity, working specifically with the technology, they’re going to be getting so much more value out of that person.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Absolutely! And so, that brings up a question that I would have around higher-ed and IT talent. And that is, IT people tend to be a little more loyal to the profession than they are to individual employers. Turnover is fairly high. Average IT staffer’s been around for about three years on average. Not very long, right? They move around and do a lot of exciting jobs, and maybe don’t want to learn the business too much because they know they’re not going to need that for very long. So, make a minimal investment. I’ve seen that. But in higher ed, you’re talking about an educational environment. Is there a different stance towards learning about the business and learning in general about new things? And the IT staffers… Same IT mindset as you see everywhere else?

Joanna Young: So, traditionally, I would say that IT people who work in higher education institutions do tend, as you point out, to be very attached to the institution. So, they think of themselves as Wildcats, or as Spartans, or as Blue Jays, or whatever the mascot happens to be … Tigers… So, they think of themselves that way as much as they think of themselves as technology people. And so, I think higher ed's been very fortunate. It's had a lot of long-tenured, very dedicated employees who really have a love for the place and for the mission.

However, I think that is starting to change, to your point. You know, people are starting to realize that they can be more mobile, if you will, even while they still live near these institutions or campuses. And I think that speaks to … I'll generalize a little bit and say Millennials, they realize that they can rotate around and have different experiences and different organizations and companies; higher ed, retail, manufacturing, insurance, financial services; and I think there are a couple of things that I would say is that a lot of the folks that have worked at these institutions for a while are Baby Boomers. They're starting to retire, and taking their place are younger workers who do realize that they can be more flexible and mobile. And I think higher ed is going to have to, already has to, and is going to continue to have to up its game because as you say, higher ed increasingly is not competing against other higher ed institutions for talent. They're competing against everybody for talent.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yes. […] In fact, with everything, sort of … It's inside every part of the business and the organization. It's a big challenge. So let's talk a little bit about today's IT operating environment in higher education - what the big shifts are. I've got to believe that things like public cloud are going to change a lot about where your budget's going to go. You're going to ship from CapEx to OpEx; cybersecurity is becoming a bigger deal than ever, even how to help with innovation, necessarily; are reinventing the future of higher education. Student experience; I’ve got to believe the bar’s really rising up. Students want a very consumerized, extremely convenient way of engaging with the university resources and each other, I imagine. So maybe, paint us a picture. What are you seeing? What’s changing? What’s in play? What’s going on?

Joanna Young: So, higher ed is now experiencing the same challenges and opportunities as everybody else, as it relates to technology. It was okay for them for a long period of time. They could lag. You know, they could be late adopters of things, and it was fine. They no longer have that luxury for all of the reasons that you state. And, both the challenge and opportunity for them is that the challenge is that they paved a lot of cow paths, particularly with their ERP and their student information system implementations. And those can be sort of millstones around their neck that they’ve been doing things a certain way, and their technology reflects that. So they’ve got a lot of legacy debt when it comes to that.

As I mentioned before, campuses are beautiful places, but they’re often very large, sprawling places with very interesting and old buildings. And so, just things like putting in quality Wi-Fi solutions can be very challenging for them. And so, you know, you've got a lot of legacy debt and infrastructure there that they have to contend with and it can be quite expensive to contend with. In the meanwhile, there's a tremendous about of pressure on them to increase graduation rates, provide affordable access to different demographic segments, and so on and so forth. States, in the public higher ed space increasingly are saying, "Hey, we're not going to increase your appropriation unless you improve these key performance indicators.

So, there’s a lot of pressure from all sides, whether it’s the states, the consumer experience … There’s sort of a bifurcated financial outlook from many institutions. You’ve got institutions on one end of the spectrum, let’s call it the Harvards and the Stanfords who have a ton of capital, very well-endowed … They have the capital to invest in innovation and what have you, but sadly, there’s a lot of institutions who are very, very stressed financially; have been really struggling to fill their freshman classes, and what have you. So, this soup, if you will, of challenges […] can be very intense, especially for CIOs.

However, on the opportunity side, they can sort of leapfrog a bunch of stuff that other organizations have had to deal with. For example, if they have legacy ERP system that was built in the 1980's, well, you know, they can go right to a cloud-based solution like a Workday or what have you. They can maybe be doing some interesting things with Salesforce, etc. And so, they need to think about ways to translate their problems into opportunities. And a lot of work I did at Michigan State was around that, about how you can leapfrog over a bunch of problems and get yourself into an opportunity.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And, I’m very curious to know… In just a second, I’m going to do a halfway message here… But think about this. Why is it easier to leapfrog in higher-ed than it is in traditional industries?

But first, we’re about halfway through the show. We’ve got Joanna Young, Senior Managing Director of BlueLine Associates; a well-known former CIO. We’re talking about CIO higher education talent and a bunch of other interesting topics. We’d love to take a couple more questions from Twitter on the hashtag #cxotalk.

So, Joanna, […] is it easier to leapfrog in higher education than in some other industries? Does having the summer off make a difference? Help us understand.

Joanna Young: Well… So, big misconception. Higher Ed doesn't take the summer off! In fact, if you're in IT in Higher Ed, summer is your busiest time because you're scrambling around the dorms, upgrading WiFi that's usually when they choose to do any major systems upgrades. So, they're busier than one-armed paper hangers in the summer.

I wouldn’t say it’s easier in higher ed, but I would say that the opportunity is there, and they need to figure out how to exploit it. I'll give a couple of examples. My good colleague Jeff Grable at Michigan State University has formed the Michigan State Innovation Hub. And they are doing some really leading, if not bleeding-edge things with educational technology in that hub. The way they did that is they both separated that unit and had it be unique and separate from some of the existing infrastructures.

But they also tied it in. For example, Jeff and I worked together strategically to make sure that I wasn’t off doing something that was going to impede him, and that he was not off doing something that might cause me a security headache or some other sort of thing. And, they’re doing some fascinating stuff sort of leaping ahead in that space.

I would point to the University of Texas System. Phil Komarny and Marni Baker down in Texas are doing some absolutely fascinating things in partnership with Salesforce. And everybody in higher-ed should familiarize themselves with what’s going on down there in Texas. I think it’s extremely interesting thinking about using Blockchain and other things to really disrupt but also revolutionize educational technology. And then, I think many people in higher ed are familiar with things that have been going on like Arizona State University, which has been very innovative in terms of increasing access and affordability for folks down in Arizona.

So, you have these … And, the reason I mentioned those three specifically is that those are within higher-ed. Those are within higher ed institutions that this innovation is happening. And so, other places should look to not just what they’ve done, but how they did it. How did they do that? How were they able to innovate but also continue to recognize maybe some legacy debt that they have and deal with that also?

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Very interesting. Which brings us to a question we just had come in from Twitter, Robert Nowell: “What are the latest trends in student expectations for digital experience? How can institutions best attract students?” And I think the question is, how has digital experience risen up to be a major factor? I imagine the school reputation and other things also matter a great deal, probably more even today. Where does that lie, and what do students really expect on the cutting edge right now?

Joanna Young: Well, it's interesting. I think that students still; so I have some young people who are looking at colleges now, and high school age folks, friends, and family; and it's still […] a lot of their choices are what are they interested in? Does the campus feel like a good fit? Where are their friends going? I mean, there are a lot of very non-digital factors that go into why a child and their family elect a certain institution; obviously, financial factors as well.

However, increasingly, it’s “What’s the WiFi like in the dorms? Is it easy to register for classes? Is it easy to select the residence hall that I want to live in? Is it easy to figure out what dining hall best caters to my personal food choices?” And, increasingly important as, you know, a lot of campuses have more of an international flavor as well. And so, the … They don’t want a lot of friction in those experiences. They don’t want to have to go to a website, navigate through a difficult experience to find out what should be a very easy piece of information. Because you're talking about young people who know how to use Uber, they know how to go on Yelp and figure out where has the best pizza. I mean, they’re used to running their lives like this. And so, once they choose somewhere, they want to be able to have that same sort of frictionless experience that they had had in high school, right?

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Exactly. So, this kind of takes into what’s next for higher education and digital? What are the business model impacts when it comes to digital transformation? So, we see competitive learning products, things like Massively Open Online Courses, which, even though they’re not much in the news, they’re growing about 30-40% per year, globally.

Joanna Young: Yeah.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And they have services like Coursera, which are operating a very flexible, highly digital education that’s community-based as well. And, although these aren’t necessarily accredited, when you talk about upscaling and keeping existing employees going, […] are those impacting the business models of existing universities? Or really, that hasn’t yet happened?

Joanna Young: I think it is starting to impact the business model, but I think the big tipping point is yet to come. And here’s what I believe the tipping point is going to be. It’s that increasingly, employers are interested in what you know, and what you can do, not so much what […] is on your diploma. And, employers are starting to figure out how they can tap into the workforce effectively and get productive, highly-engaged employees that don’t necessarily have that brand-name degree. And, once … It’s sort of like two halves coming together. As employers are figuring that out and saying…

You know, let's take an extreme example. You know, I can probably take a bright eighteen-year-old who has done well in high school, has the right sort of attitude and aptitude, put them through a couple of boot camps, and have them be highly productive in a full-time job. And if that particular student and that family, if that’s a fit for that individual to do so, then okay, you know, start your career and maybe you’re getting your educational experience in terms of that classic, liberal arts experience along the way. You know, the employer is paying for them to go to Freshman English and everything else.

You know, if you take that as an example on one end of the spectrum, […] you think about how students… First of all, we're all now lifelong students because we have to upskill on […] so much. But, if you think about the traditional eighteen-year-old graduating from high school, the number of pathways that are going to be available to them that employers support and are okay with, is going to change. And, in my mind, that is going to be the tipping-point. The four-year degree no longer… First of all, why does it even have to be four years, right? You know, the classic four-year degree is not going to be the only pathway and it is going to be, if you were to look at a pie chart, it's going to be less and less of a percentage of the pathway that people take. And I think once both students and employers figure that out, I think that is going to be the tipping-point.

And, what the value of higher education institutions is, is the content they have. It’s their amazing faculty, it’s the research experiences, it’s all those things. They’re going to need to figure out a way to have that content and experiences available in these new pathways that students and employers are increasingly figuring out.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Is it fair to say that, as education becomes more granular, and maybe it’s not becoming more vocational, but people need to be able to demonstrate that they have skills and capabilities in relatively specific subjects that emerge very quickly? How is that experience going to be designed? Is that what universities are trying to figure out? Or is that still too far down the road? Universities aren't moving to bring things like augmented and virtual reality in to bear to digitize those types of access to research, for example; for a research experience?

Joanna Young: I think there are a lot of interesting and fascinating things going on all over higher education, and you and I were chatting earlier. EDUCAUSE in Philadelphia is a great place to see all that stuff and talk to people about all those fascinating things. I think, the key is if you think about it now, who owns the transcript? I mean, what's the source of record for the transcript? It's the institution, right? What classes do you take, what grades do you get in them, what extracurricular experiences did you have? Blah, blah, blah. That data, if you will, is within the source systems within institutions.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And it’s like electronic medical records, right?

Joanna Young: Right!

Dion Hinchcliffe: Who owns that, and is that all going to move out to some Blockchain, or something, right?

Joanna Young: Exactly! And so, I think a key to this tipping point that I mentioned earlier is that once the student owns that completely, once that data is in the hands of the student, I think that’s when we’re going to see things change. That’s my bet, if you will.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. So, the student will actually get more control of the overall experience; be able to select the technologies they want, who and what can access that data, and it’s certainly a very interesting world. So, much more heterogeneous, as what we’ve seen with the rest of the web, too, right?

Joanna Young: Right, exactly.

Dion Hinchcliffe: All right, so we only have a little bit of time. I talked a little bit about culture and its relationship to successful digital transformation. I think you said we could talk about that all day. I very much agree with it. Why is that… Let’s tease that apart and let’s get to what really matters: Why is culture a blocker or an enabler, specifically, for digital transformation?

Joanna Young: The culture eats everything for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah.

Joanna Young: It will. You know, it’s interesting. No matter how many organizations I work with, the same sentence always comes up within the first day or two. We have always done it this way, right? And so, and the only thing that’s the same about culture is that culture is different in every organization. It’s N-of-One, everywhere. You know, you say all higher ed is a vertical. Let me tell you, higher ed institutions are as different from one another as they are from organizations in different verticals.

So, you know, culture is a blocker, because primarily, either overtly or not, people are incentivized and motivated to conform with the culture. Let me give you an example. If the culture is that it’s a very hierarchical leadership model, and the decision-making, let’s say, is tightly held at the top and not distributed, well people are incentivized and motivated in ways that support that. They're not, all of a sudden... because a new CIO comes in, all of a sudden be incentivized and enabled to have more distributed and lower-level decision-making. So, if you think about technology today, all this stuff is designed to drive decision-making very low as possible. You can have dashboards on your phones; you can be alerted to problems; we can get a lot more data in the hands of workers to enable them to help customers more directly and effectively, so on and so forth.

But, if you’ve got a culture that holds decision making maybe kind of tightly, the CIO is probably not going to have a heck of a lot of luck trying to introduce technology that does things differently. So, that’s one example that I can think of where culture would be a blocker.

Where culture can be an enabler is where people realize… You mentioned employee engagement earlier. You know, an engaged workforce, part of how they get engaged is they feel empowered to do interesting and customer service-oriented things every minute of every day. “Oh, this customer needs this thing in pink, instead of blue. I’m just going to run down my paintbrush and paint it pink and ship it to them.” You know, you want to be able… And that employee is going to feel good, and going to feel empowered. And so, you think about deploying technology somewhere that has that sort of culture, you’re probably going to have an easier time of adoption.

But, you know, I think that a lot of times, boards and CEOs, and other C-suite folks maybe don’t pay enough attention to culture and also the processes that that culture engenders. You can have the best technology in the world. If you haven’t paid attention to your talent, if you haven’t paid attention to the right sort of processes, it doesn’t matter. It will fail.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, I’ve called corporate culture an enterprise-wide immune system that throws off change…

Joanna Young: Yeah!

Dion Hinchcliffe: Really, companies are successful because they had a culture that worked. It got them where they were. “This is how we do things. This is what’s acceptable.” And, these new technologies proposing… They suggest that we should be “Uberizing” Airbnb and all of our business models and doing these very radical turns in the corporate direction, and that is often very hard for existing corporate culture to accept. So, it’s one of our biggest challenges and it think you summed it up very nicely.

Joanna Young: […] The plus-one on that is that a strategy I often advise is that if a CIO is trying to influence a culture, there is always somewhere in the organization that is open to change. Get a couple of quick wins with… even if it's small, quick wins because you'll start to have sort of a flywheel or a snowball effect. So, I'm like, okay, you've got this big problem over here, but you really don't think you can influence it because they're not culturally ready; stick a pin in that! Go over and… This little group over here who are raising their hand saying, "I want to do this, I want to do this," go help them out and get a quick win, and then go back, maybe, to the larger issue if you can.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Exactly. And so, thanks for that and we'll have to talk about that more next time when we get a chance. One final question, kind of taking that lens a little farther and saying, well what's the end-game here? Not that there probably ever will be an end-game. But, we look at trends like AI. Scott Weitzman's back on Twitter asking, "How will AI change higher education?", artificial intelligence. And we see already people creating instructors and teaching tools using AI. Adaptive learning is a big trend in education saying, "I'm going to create a micro-customized educational plan and delivery," and it's adaptive in real-time to how fast the students are learning and what they need to know, and things like that. So, we look long-term, that the machines will take over much of the teaching institutions? Or, is that fantasy?

Joanna Young: Well, you know, I think we’ve got a lot of examples in pop culture, right, that can show us the negative side; you know, “The Matrix,” “Terminator,” George Orwell’s “1984”… And in my mind, technology is amoral, right? Technology doesn’t necessarily know right from wrong, that you can argue that one day, AI will take care of that. It’s people that know what is right and wrong. And when we’re developing AI, whether it’s in a higher education setting, or it’s autonomous vehicles, or whatever the case may be, humans need to think about how do we design and implement this technology so that it is in service to human beings, right? It’s in service to human beings. It’s in service to the student. It’s in service to the faculty. It’s in service to the consumer. That is the key. And, I think there are some very interesting areas of study that need to deal with that.

You know, we’ve already seen some not-so-good examples of technology that hasn’t… We see it all the time, right? People implement ERP systems and all of a sudden, not only are they spending more on technology, everybody hates the system. Well, let’s not have that happen with AI, right? Let’s learn from the past and apply a little bit more thought to artificial intelligence.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, well I’d like to say all technology is a two-edged sword, and with power comes great responsibility.

Joanna Young: Absolutely.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And I’m not sure we’re taking up that last part well enough yet.

Joanna Young: Yeah.

Dion Hinchcliffe: So, Joanna, thanks for joining us! Really appreciate you coming on and sharing your experiences as a CIO and working with up-and-coming IT leaders. Any final words?

Joanna Young: Just, thank you so much for having me on the show! People can find me on Twitter, @JCYCIO. I'm also on LinkedIn. I love hearing from people and talking and collaborating about all things technology, and this has been great fun! It's always great fun and look forward to doing it sometime again soon.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Absolutely! We’d love to have you back on.

Alright, well that was Episode #243 of CxOTalk! We’re done for this episode, but you can catch more on Friday, July 14th. Michael Krigsman, the founder of CxOTalk will be speaking with Kim Stevenson…

Joanna Young: Great!

Dion Hinchcliffe: …at Lenovo! Yeah, exactly! It’s going to be a great show. I’m looking forward to that one.

Joanna Young: Yeah, Kim’s awesome! Yeah.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Exactly. Thanks, everyone!

Published Date: Jul 11, 2017

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 445