Getting Digital = Innovative Technology + Organizational Culture

Eric Stoller speaking at UPCEA MEMS 2019

My final higher ed event of 2019 was the UPCEA Marketing and Enrollment Management Seminar (MEMS). Billed as “the premier event for leaders and practitioners responsible for professional, continuing, and online education marketing and enrollment management,” UPCEA MEMS was a terrific blend of marketing strategy and data-driven enrollment tactics. It was my first UPCEA event and I was very impressed with their organization and attendees.

Prior to joining Gecko, I had been asked to speak about digital transformation and the student experience at the event. Fortunately, in my role with Gecko, I’m still available to speak at higher ed events.

If you distilled my UPCEA talk into two parts it would be centered around organizational culture + technology and the interplay between those two facets of higher education.

Organizational Culture Matters

One of my favorite things to do at higher ed events is to speak about the importance of leadership and organizational culture. Institutional technologies are always in a state of constant evolution. Change is literally the norm when it comes to digital transformation. And, the thread that connects everything is organizational culture. As I’ve said before, if a student has a bad experience with a department, they don’t see the organizational silo, they see the entire institution.

Culture always eats strategy and technological innovation for breakfast. Without buy-in and a joined-up strategy, digital transformation will always be seen as an arduous add-on rather than a positive enhancement.

My view has always been to focus on leadership and ego. If your senior leaders ‘get digital’ then you’re already in a fantastic position to implement technologies to enhance the student experience. However, if there is resistance at the top, don’t despair. Oftentimes, a conversation about impact and efficacy is all that is needed in order to push through any sense of ‘digital dissonance.’

A great example of this phenomenon is the inconsistent use (and support) of social media by higher ed leaders. Whilst universities strive for maximum impact and engagement with their social media efforts, leadership can either be a booster or a source of resistance. The best higher ed leaders know when to either support their people or get out of their way (I suppose that’s the same thing!) when it comes to all things related to using digital to enhance the student experience.

As evidenced by the popularity of this tweet (150 likes and counting), this issue continues to stir hearts and minds in 2019.

Innovative Technologies are Already Here

In my talk at UPCEA, I shared quite a few shiny and new technologies that make up ‘Industry 4.0.’ Whenever terms are used that sound futuristic, it’s important to note that a lot of the technologies mentioned at UPCEA are already in use at a lot institutions: robots, chatbots, VR/AR, and machine learning.

Additionally, the state of digital engagement is an ongoing learning process with new channels that require similar skillsets. Social media might not often be seen as part of the innovative technology conversation, but digital engagement requires sophistication with both technology and storytelling.

The reason why some schools make getting digital look so easy is because they are so adept at using the latest technologies…and that is always directly related to how their organizational culture elevates everything.

As promised, here is the complete slide deck from my talk at UPCEA:

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