Key Takeaways

Prioritize the last mile from the very beginning

Student, faculty, and staff experience can make or break a new technology initiative

IT leaders who focus on the last-mile delivery of their projects are more successful

Looking back over my nearly four-decade career, I’ve had the privilege of planning, executing, and overseeing IT implementations across a wide range of industries and contexts. Each project brought its own set of challenges and learning opportunities – and not all were successful. But every single one of them offered valuable insights for future improvements.

One of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years is to prioritize the last mile from the very beginning. The “last mile” refers to the final step of delivering technology to end users, where the success of the implementation is truly tested. It’s often said that the moment you deliver new technology to end users is also the moment you know whether the implementation will succeed.

This lesson is even more critical in higher education, where user experience can make or break the entire initiative. Higher education has a uniquely complex user structure: staff, faculty, and students each interact with IT assets and applications, bringing their own individual needs, interests, and expectations.

Obtaining enthusiastic buy-in from these three groups is challenging, but it’s essential for the long-term success of any technology initiative. IT leaders who focus on the last-mile delivery of their projects are far more likely to secure and maintain that necessary buy-in.

Successful IT initiatives require good leadership, but they’re a team effort 

Many IT leaders at higher education institutions subscribe to the belief that a new IT initiative’s success rests entirely on their shoulders. It’s true that effective leadership makes a significant difference when implementing new technologies and workflows, but it’s not the only thing that matters. 

Ultimately, your institution’s staff, faculty, and students are the final say on whether your implementation succeeds. This is especially true when it comes to securing new deployments, given the uneasy friction that commonly exists between security and usability.

For example, consider an academic institution that is migrating from on-premises infrastructure to a cloud-native solution from a software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor. From a leadership perspective, the advantages are clear. Important data and applications will be more readily available, and the new solution will provide flexibility with lower scaling costs and easier administration. Security policies will also be easier to craft and enforce. 

But from the end user’s perspective, the story may be drastically different. Faculty members may not be ready to adapt their teaching methods to the new platform. Administrators may be surprised to find their account permissions limited under new policies. Students may feel like leaders made important changes without their input. 

Ignore this feedback at your own peril. Faculty and students may instead decide to share learning materials on unapproved third-party platforms. The early manifestations of shadow IT take shape, where users bypass inconvenient policies and share potentially sensitive data via unsecured channels, on the basis of just one new deployment.

For a new IT implementation to be truly successful, it needs buy-in from every level. If staff, faculty, and students all understand the benefits of the new technology or change in process, their enthusiasm will carry the project all the way to its conclusion. Achieving this level of buy-in demands an intense focus on end-user experience, however, and the ways in which the project’s final delivery will meet or exceed user expectations.

Five ways to guide IT initiatives toward a strong front-line delivery 

Many higher education institutions often experience a disconnect between IT leadership decisions and the front-line delivery of new technology. High-level IT strategies don’t always translate into successful projects that provide a great user experience for staff, faculty, and students.

To bridge this gap, IT leaders should consider a few key factors to achieve positive results during the last mile delivery phase. This approach helps simplify complex technology deployments, like Apogee’s ERP-LMS synchronization project for over 30,000 students in the Ventura County Community College District.

Here are five things you can do to improve the reception of new IT implementations at your higher education institution: 

1. Align IT initiatives across the entire institution: Major IT initiatives don’t typically benefit only one or two departments. Their goal is to enhance students’ learning experience, improve faculty’s teaching experience, and make staff administration more efficient. Successful new technology deployments address each group of users’ concerns. Staff, faculty, and students all expect new technology deployments to solve the problems they face daily, but these problems are not always uniform. IT leadership must introduce new initiatives to each user group and create a roadmap that meets their expectations. 

2. Provide every stakeholder a seat at the table: Aligning every user group with the new technological implementation’s goals is a collaborative process. Presenting new IT initiatives to staff, faculty, and students encourages feedback. Welcome it. Give end users agency over the tools and technologies they will use and keep them engaged throughout the implementation process. It’s not always easy for internal leaders to gain stakeholder trust and get deep, meaningful insight into other leaders’ expectations. For many academic institutions, hiring a professional third-party executive services advisor can be the catalyst for encouraging candid, informative discussions about the problems new technology deployments are meant to solve. 

3. Communicate at the leadership level: Ongoing communication is vital to prevent scope creep and missed opportunities. Communication ensures that complex IT initiatives stay on track to fulfill user expectations and generate value for the institution. IT leaders who identify the implementation’s core value early on and communicate it to key stakeholders have the best chance of achieving positive feedback on the final deliverable. Excellent communication isn’t just about reporting on each phase of the implementation process. It also requires identifying the ultimate goal that the implementation is trying to achieve. It’s important to establish an objective definition of success and share it with key stakeholders throughout the project to keep everyone involved. 

4. Make change possible with systems of accountability: Implementing new IT platforms and technologies requires change, and change can be inconvenient. Staff and faculty leaders will thus have different levels of enthusiasm for new IT initiatives. However, the project’s success depends on every stakeholder participating. IT leaders who cultivate buy-in from other department leaders will have a much smoother experience during the final stretch. Establishing systems of accountability make this possible. When every department leader knows what the expectations are, achieving complex implementation goals becomes much easier. Different leaders will have different responsibilities, from updating internal workflows to re-formatting lesson plans to fit the new infrastructure. Each department leader’s contribution is important to the project’s overall success. 

5. Remember that buy-in comes from every level: Securing buy-in from faculty and administrative leaders is important, but individual team members have to contribute, too. New IT initiatives can impact many different parts of the university learning system, including easily overlooked roles like postgraduate researchers and assistant professors. These are people who will be using the new technology, and you may find a valuable change champion among them. Receiving encouraging feedback from a department leader is encouraging, but it’s just as important to make sure that new technology also addresses other users’ concerns. The same is true of student groups, which can form different opinions about new technology’s value during the last mile delivery phase. Enthusiastic support from every level of the institution makes IT initiatives much more likely to succeed. 

    Managed technology services support change management and enhance the end-user experience 

    Establishing clear channels for communication and buy-in from an entire institution is often challenging, and keeping key stakeholders on board with complex technological deployments takes time and effort. However, that effort needn’t come at the expense of the project itself.

    IT leaders who entrust new technology deployments to reputable managed service providers like Apogee gain access to valuable product expertise in a scalable subscription format. Our team provides higher education institutions with the resources and personnel they need to implement change without compromising on security or usability for the end-user experience.

    At Apogee, a Boldyn Networks company, we understand navigating these challenges can feel overwhelming, but there is a path forward. By leveraging the right partnerships and focusing on thoughtful, user-centric strategies, you can ensure a consistently successful pattern of IT initiatives and technology deployments for your institution. And with the right support, you can have a positive and lasting impact on your campus community. Discover how Apogee can help you enhance the last mile delivery experience and reduce the uncertainty that comes with implementing new technology. 

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    By: David Hinson

    David Hinson is the Apogee Campus Chief Information Officer[...]

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