Open Menu Close Menu


7 Questions with Higher Digital's Joe Gottlieb and Joe Moreau

Effective change management addresses the cultural and workforce shifts that accompany technology transformations in higher education. Here's how to take a holistic approach to IT change across the institution.

Technology leaders in higher education have long recognized that IT initiatives are as much a matter of people and processes as they are about the technology itself. In fact, the "secrets" to successful IT projects are evergreen: Transparent communication, understanding institutional culture, and forging relationships were key themes in a 2015 Campus Technology article entitled "8 CIO Tips for Leading Change in Higher Education," advice that still holds true today.

But knowing those truths in theory doesn't make them any easier in practice. In CT's 2022 Digital Transformation Survey, respondents pointed to culture, digital literacy of constituents, organizational silos, and lack of clarity as some of the biggest obstacles to digital transformation at their institutions, second only to budget restrictions. Why are cultural issues still standing in the way of change for so many college and universities? To answer that question, we spoke with Joe Gottlieb, president and CTO of digital transformation consulting company Higher Digital, and Joseph Moreau, former vice chancellor for technology at Foothill-De Anza Community College District and now an executive consultant for Higher Digital, about the challenges of change management and how institutions can better navigate the evolving landscape of technology in higher ed.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

7 Questions with Higher Digital's Joe Gottlieb and Joe Moreau

Campus Technology: In higher education, it seems like there's general consensus that digital transformation is important, that technology is evolving rapidly, that investment in IT is of strategic importance. So why is change management still so difficult?

Joe Gottlieb: Change management is hard because change is hard for people. It gets down to that human-nature reflex that we get whenever we're uncomfortable or facing something new. And despite all the technology we have, and the motivation we have to use it, change is a people challenge.

Secondly, it's hard because there are just so many moving parts across people, processes, and technologies. We tend to lack the overarching habits and processes and systems necessary to master those moving parts. It's complex. And in higher ed, it's even more complex than in many industries, because higher ed has a complex organizational structure. There's complex governance. You are delivering a value proposition in teaching and learning, but you're also a landlord for real estate; you have medical facilities; oftentimes you're a retail establishment; you've got food service.

Joe Moreau: There's also an enormous amount of fear: people fearing that they're not going to be successful in whatever it is they do for the institution, or fear that they're going to lose their job. You're going to ask us to do this new technology thing and you're going to automate all these tasks, and you're asking me to work myself out of a job. Or you're going to ask me to do a different job that I don't know how to do, and then I'm going to fail at that job and you're going to fire me because I couldn't do the new job.

That fear is legitimate. I've dealt with it for decades. Every time there's a change, whether it's virtualization or cloud or automation or self service, it always turns out that somebody's afraid they're going to lose their job — if not immediately, then in the near future. It's about assuring people that there's so much work to be done, we couldn't possibly afford to lose one head. Your job may change, but we're going to make sure that you are prepared for that change.

comments powered by Disqus