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Universities and Colleges are Thought Leaders; but Systems Followers?

In general, university and college systems are inefficient, outdated and decentralized.  Economics and the ongoing budget challenges of colleges and universities may be among contributing factors, but often risk aversion and the threat of upheaval to long accepted operating practices are at the heart of the systems stagnancy.  Tenured university professors want to focus on research and discovery, not be mired in administration and process.  Further, professors do not like to be managed by a central office – department-by-department operations are a means and an end to uninterrupted research (on an island).

Higher Education by its very nature brings images of advanced thought leadership.  It is perhaps odd then, that often the systems and solutions that support higher education are disjointed, outdated and counter intuitive.  Siloed systems with legacy custom solutions are more the norm than the exception.   As the economics for universities continue to evolve, the very real need to drive operational efficiency is of increasing importance.  Centralized systems and operations can be a conduit for that transformation, but change is not easy.  Iterative system updates and replacement may seem the more careful course to take on the surface, but resistance and obstacles may prolong real change.  This does not mean that careful planning is not of paramount importance.  Detailed plans should be undertaken early to comprehensively assess all processes and workflows within the overall system.  The actual act of cross-over, however, should be quick and acute.  Upheaval and unpleasantness is likely as people are often resistant to change (especially tenured University staff) – that resistance may delay, or derail intended operational changes.

Given the current balancing act many institutions are undertaking with revenue and expense models, and operating budgets that must evolve with the changing dynamic of the institution, nothing breeds reasonableness like desperation; and many institutions are facing desperate times.  Economics continues to challenge the viability of many institutions of higher learning, and the marketing and recruitment of students continues to escalate as a university priority, ostensibly to drive enrollment numbers (translating to tuition and fees).  But maybe less focus should be placed on that one side of the balance sheet.  Ultimately, the efficiency of operations may be the necessary adaptation that will ensure a university or colleges ongoing livelihood.  Some forward-thinking institutions are sharing their perspectives across their peers to drive that necessary innovation (#SAPInnovation).

Change can be painful, but sometimes change is inevitable and must be accepted; perhaps Carpenters and Mother’s know best.  The Carpenter’s proverb states, measure twice and cut once.  For university upgrades, a strong and thorough systems analysis that includes comprehensive reviews of staffing and organizational operating environments is critical.  After that analysis and facing inevitable change, your Mom was right; like a Band-Aid – pull it off quick and completely.

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