Skip to main content



October 27, 2020

Culture Critical for Digital Transformation Success

Hello again! I am thrilled to announce our latest Digital Transformation Assessment focused on Culture. This blog will help you understand why we developed it and how it can help your institution succeed with Dx. But first, a bit of background…

Digital Transformation (Dx) has become a bit of a lightning rod term: it attracts lots of energy, can tend to produce fireworks, and often fails to live up to massive expectations. As a result, many leadership teams avoid Dx, and along with it, their fiduciary responsibility to re-optimize their departments, faculty, and staff for success in an increasingly automated digital world. Why does this happen? What separates the brave from the fearful? What causes teams to hold back, even when they have a leader who is anxious to catalyze change in exciting ways?

Culture and success - the idea that Culture helps to achieve success and happiness in business, work and life symbolized by English word Culture and a newton cradle, 3d illustration

At Higher Digital, we believe that culture is the primary reason that higher education institutions avoid Dx, and we also believe that culture is the primary determinant of success executing Dx. We aren’t talking about “kumbaya” culture here—we are talking about the culture required to plan, build, and run a modern institution as a digital business.

How does your institution think through strategic decisions in a digital context, rather than make decisions and then ask IT to support them? How does your institution leverage the software capability it has already purchased, rather than add more systems for new business process? If you haven’t already shifted to a digital-first mindset, you are falling behind the competition. New market leaders are expanding their curricula and student body  via innovative use of technology: improving access, improving the student experience, and improving outcomes—all while lowering costs.

Without a cultural pivot that links leadership-driven strategy to cross-functional digital change management, you will be operating at a disadvantage relative to an increasingly competitive field. Until you make this pivot, you aren’t leading a digital institution. Instead, you are running a business on top of a reactive IT organization, and very likely producing a complex and poorly integrated portfolio of technology and user experiences. Such businesses develop a culture that views IT as:

  • “always too expensive” – institutions often focus on how to cut technology budgets to save money rather than how to leverage technology to drive increased advancement and enrollment;
  • “always too slow to respond to our needs” – institutions often fail to ruthlessly prioritize in the context of strategy, and this leads to technology sprawl and an inability to be responsive to new requirements;
  • “always incapable of supporting our business processes in their current form” – institutions often customize technology to automate their existing processes rather than leverage available technology to improve their processes.

Reversing these tendencies is fundamental to successful digital business leadership—but these tendencies tend to be ingrained in the culture of an institution, and that is why culture is the single most critical success factor in Dx.

How do you know what cultural mindset will be required to succeed at strategic digital change? Is it enough to be committed to re-imagining your approach to deliver substantially greater value to students? Is it enough to have a healthy culture that has successfully weathered changes in the past? Is it enough to have a strong IT organization that understands new technologies and how to help academic, administrative, and operations leaders to adopt them?

All of these factors and more come into play, and that is why we developed our Culture Assessment—to help all institutions rapidly and cost effectively measure their cultural readiness for Dx and recommend adjustments that will improve their success rate with Dx.

So why are you still reading this? Don’t you want to see where you stand and learn what you should adjust to help your institution become a strategic digital business? I’ve even provided a convenient link to the new Culture Assessment, and I will close by saying that we welcome any and all feedback on this assessment – and everything we do – because your digital future is our mission.

Share This Post:
  Back to Blog