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Institutions can mobilize digital teams for transformational student experiences

We saw in our last HE web and digital marketing annual survey that institutions have a strong desire to create more professional digital teams internally and to move from decentralized to centralized web and digital management structures.

In fact, 61% of respondents in our survey described their institution's approach to website management as moving to a centralized approach.

But how can you successfully integrate these cross-departmental digital functions into existing institutional structures to create great digital experiences?

Our survey said

The results from our survey uncovered some fascinating insights relating to university organizational structures and how they are positioned to perform in the most vital channel for student recruitment - online. Let's take a brief dive into the details.

  • Communications and marketing teams continue to take the most ownership of web and digital across all types of institutions.
  • In larger institutions, there is more variation in the reporting with IT/Web retaining ownership in 27% of large private institutions.
  • Small public institutions seem to be the only place where IT/Web are still maintaining ownership of the web.
  • There has been a big shift to a more collaborative approach to online/web strategies, and more institutions (91%) have a formal digital strategy this year.

Creating a culture of digital transformation

The student experience and a commitment to high-quality digital output should be intrinsic to every university's operations, but for many institutions, it's early days for internal digital teams with such a breadth of capability.

Universities need people who will showcase and champion and promote digital initiatives across the institution. People who can deliver in terms of implementation and make things happen. But also people who can raise the profile of digital initiatives and articulate how they positively impact the student experience

This is particularly true at universities, where there is a danger of the new cultures required to realize these innovations, failing to get established in the face of standard working practices.

Digital gets a seat at the table

Some institutions, such as Deakin University in Australia, have responded to these challenges by introducing new board level and senior appointments for digital professionals.

It can be argued that in this age of constant digital disruption, these leaders are needed at the very top of institutions to offer sophisticated anticipation of emerging technology, as well as the implementation credentials to deliver an implementation strategy that produces cohesive digital processes and experiences.

They should be exceptional digital specialists, with a powerful awareness of how digital initiatives affect each other, how they impact student touchpoints, and how underlying processes and team's operations might be changed as a result.

Hub and Spoke - centralized control with disseminated expertise

Institutions need to embrace digital and the student experience at all levels, so wherever you choose to locate your digital team, this is only part of the story.

To ensure there is a consistency of standards, and a good understanding of digital initiatives and how they combine, there is a need to spread these attributes back into other departments.

In larger institutions, many digital, marketing and recruitment specialists talk to us about having a hub and spoke model, with specialist staff also sitting within departments and reporting into a centralized team that has overall coordination responsibility for digital operations.

In this model, team members embedded in the spokes still report into the central team, but they sit and work day to day within the department units. This ensures that the centralized teams do not become siloed and also prevents the central team from becoming fixated on its own agenda without the buy-in necessary from leadership and departmental groups.

It's a model that breaks down silos and encourages cross-departmental collaboration.

And it's a fantastic tool for instigating digital cultural change in an institution because the central digital teams allow the new culture to establish itself, while the spoke resources introduce and embed that culture in the rest of the institution.

Designing teams around the ideal-state student journey

Many higher ed institutions have been developing a strategic response to address the challenges disrupting the market. Most understand how they need to change to enable a more personalized, self-service, digital experience for students and staff.

Another of the ways to achieve this is to reduce siloed systems and processes and instead move to a single, integrated approach across an institution.

Taking this further, institutions that take a proactive approach to design and managing the student journey can not only improve their ability to attract, retain and ensure the success of the students, but also create lean, efficient operations that are built around their core ‘customers'.

Aligning back-office processes around the student journey can help drive efficiencies and raise the student experience.

Structuring for digital success

Digital technologies are transforming how people engage with universities. Conversely, the challenge is how to successfully engage with students, academics, alumni and the public across an ever-increasing set of platforms, devices, and formats.

Building a capable internal digital team is imperative. But it takes a whole lot of research, patience, and dedication. Not to mention the leadership skills to motivate them and the right environment and culture to retain them.

And then comes the challenge of extending the reach and impact of your digital initiatives across the institution.

Clearly there is no single model to achieve this that fits all institutions and whether the digital activity is centralized or decentralized often varies based on institutional size.

Yet we can all agree that breaking down silos is critical, regardless of the size of institutions. And digital teams have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how their work contributes to stakeholder engagement as well as the student experience.

Digital teams now have a seat at the table at most institutions. It's time to extend digital's influence, and further, transform the student experience through technology.

What working practices and structures have you found to be most effective at creating an impact on your digital initiatives? We'd love to hear.


Tagged: Team Structure, Digital Team, Web Team

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