A Missed Opportunity? Technology Implementations Can Drive Cultural Change

By William J. Fritz
Associate Provost for Academic Programs
Georgia State University

At many institutions, IT leads technology implementations and their number one concern is a smooth implementation process-not systemic change or improved results. These institutions are likely to see some users complain about functionality after the system is implemented, largely because the implementation process did not fully engage their users. And, too often, institutions do not try to leverage the potential, far-reaching outcomes of a technology implementation. This all adds up to a significant missed opportunity for meaningful change.

The bigger the implementation, the greater the opportunity for change. At Georgia State University, we consciously leveraged the implementation of our SCT Banner administrative system to refocus our entire campus on placing students first, faculty second, and staff third. Our previous legacy system was quite staff-friendly but not very responsive to students' needs, so we needed to change that. Still, some of our staff resisted the implementation of a new administrative system. To overcome their objections and to effect lasting change, we created 17 cross-functional teams that included staff, faculty, and IT to guide our implementation.

At the most basic level, this was an excuse-a good excuse-to bring everyone together "at the table." Members of the teams had to sit down and hammer out common processes in support of students and faculty. This helped break down silos among departments that did not communicate with each other previously, and it fostered deep discussions about leadership and change. As a result, we achieved much-improved working relationships even before the software was implemented.

Beyond that, our faculty team included a senate chair. This way, we had a supporter in the senate to promote the need to institute best practices among faculty-taking full advantage of the features of the new system, rather than modifying the software to fit our existing business processes. This furthered our goal of using our new administrative system to change our business practices in support of our learners.

We also used the implementation as an opportunity to develop new leaders. At the time, Georgia State was lacking depth in its next generation of leaders. Indeed, many of the people who were appointed as team leaders for the implementation in fact had very little leadership experience. We hired an outside consultant who provided leadership training in the areas of conflict negotiation, decision-making, and group dynamics. Since the implementation, the majority of these team leaders have been promoted in the university, and some have crossed over from the IT side to the administrative side and vice versa.

As a result of the approach we took at Georgia State, we have experienced a significant cultural shift, and that is leading to improved student satisfaction and retention. Any large-scale software implementation presents an opportunity for changes far greater than improved functionality. Institutions should learn to leverage these occasions.

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