How edtech leaders deal with change

Technology is critical in every aspect of higher ed, and requires high-quality planning, implementation and oversight to manage effectively, say tech leadership speakers at UB Tech® 2019

During sessions throughout the Technology Leadership Track at UB Tech® this year, attendees heard about how higher ed tech leaders deal with myriad challenges, from cybersecurity to enterprise architecture. However, handling constant edtech change on campus emerged as the biggest theme.

The first session of the track—“Learning to Walk Again: Creating a Culture of Inclusion and Accessibility in Digital Environments”—delved right into the biggest obstacle of edtech transformation.

“Changing the culture on campus to build digital environments that are inclusive and accessible for everyone is not like herding cats, but can be like herding saber-toothed tigers who want to rip off your face,” joked presenter Brian Klaas, senior technology officer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. While the legal and moral imperatives are present, changing the digital culture of an institution is challenging because of issues ranging from time and money to inertia and ignorance, Klaas said.

Ultimately, change is about people, said LeRoy Butler, CIO of Lewis University in Illinois, during his session, “Community Acceptance: A Key to Successful Change Management.”

“Technology is easy; it does what it does,” said Butler. “Managing the human element is the biggest part that you have to pay attention to in the process.”

That sentiment was echoed by Beverly Magda, associate provost of strategic partnerships at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, during her presentation, “Fight the Resistance: Managing the Effects of Technology Change.”

Magda discussed how the nature of change often challenges the foundation principles of leadership, management and the employees, and also explored the reasons that individuals within an organization resist technology change.

Higher ed edtech leaders may face no bigger change than when institutions merge, which happened in 2017 with Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania. Bringing together and sorting out all the systems, platforms, software, licenses and other edtech was a massive undertaking for Jeffrey Cepull, Jefferson’s vice president for information resources (who came over from Philadelphia University), and Nassar Nizami, senior vice president and CIO (who was at Jefferson).

The pair discussed the ins and outs of the merger during their joint presentation at UB Tech, noting that the multiyear merger process has been arduous and has demanded lengthy planning and open communication.

“After a year of ‘do no harm,’ we really began to understand each other and everyone’s goals and missions,” said Cepull.

“Most of our issues are not tech-related, but are process and people challenges,” said Nizami, adding that the alignment of people and process is important.

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