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May 28, 2020

Why I Joined Higher Digital

Any time you join a new company, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on what the world needs and what your new company can do about it. I am thrilled to be joining Higher Digital in the role of President and I’d like to tell you why. This company is at the cutting edge of aligning Strategy, Agile Change Management, and DevOps to rewrite the rules and best practices for 21st century leadership. This combination resonates with me, because as a strategist, alliance architect, product manager, and CEO of high-tech companies during the last twenty years, I’ve been practicing these disciplines and looking for ways to help my leadership teams combine them.

crisscrossing lines heading up

I am particularly excited about applying the concept of DevOps not just to software, but to the entire enterprise, and guiding the result with continuous strategy alignment. That sounds like a mouthful of hype so let me break it down so it’s clear. “DevOps” is a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and information-technology operations (Ops) which aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality (thanks Wikipedia). DevOps has become an essential best practice in creating, delivering, and continuously innovating/improving “Software-as-a-Service” and “Cloud” offerings, and represents an important shift from thirty-plus years of managing development and operations separately as a slower and more error-prone process. If you believe that every enterprise is reclaiming control of its technology stack to deliver greater value and compete more effectively in an increasingly digital world, then it stands to reason that all enterprises should be learning how to perform DevOps. But why stop there? This approach can transform the way business works. Remember Plan/Build/Run? Strategy-driven Enterprise DevOps is the future of Plan/Build/Run, because it integrates, aligns, and accelerates these previously sequential, slow, and error-prone processes. “SEntDevOps” is the new operating system for the enterprise. And Digital Transformation Management is the new solution category – the new “business stack” – needed to run this operating system.

Let’s look at an example. As a higher ed institution you want to put more of your course catalog online so you can minimize revenue shortfall due to COVID-19. Once you’ve established the strategic imperative to make this change, the right way to implement the change is to prototype, test, and begin operations of the best-suited courses led by your most receptive faculty members. Then you measure and learn how it’s going with those courses, channeling your findings into improvements in those courses and the new online delivery standards that you implement with your next wave of “evolved” courses and faculty members. You have to move now because summer sessions and fall semesters are right around the corner, so internal testing and making the most of those immovable timing constraints is key.

As you learn through continuous performance measurement, you gain confidence in forecasting your ability to reduce enrollment attrition and related revenue shortfalls. That allows you to re-align your strategy around further investment and higher returns. What started as a disruptive threat has become a change catalyst, learning experience, measurable improvement, and strategic opportunity.

So what does Higher Digital do to make this happen? We onboard cross-functional teams in our Simplified Enterprise Agile methodology, aligning executives, stakeholders, developers, and operators. We train the entire team on the approach and we provide the tools needed to assess readiness, plan priorities, transform processes and technologies, and measure expected performance improvements. Sound unbelievable? I can’t blame you for being skeptical. What we’re talking about has eluded leadership teams throughout the history of business. How is this upstart company achieving success tackling such an ambitious challenge?  

First, we are focusing on a specific industry and applying an impressive amount of direct experience in that industry. Comprised of former Higher Ed faculty, CIOs, global commercial software executives, and technology specialists, Higher Digital is a trusted advisor to institutions large and small, aggressive and conservative. Second, we are simplifying the shift to agile, helping business, operations, and technology teams adopt a strong process foundation for strategic change management. Third, we are combining consulting, training and team survey data to substantially increase project success and reapply project learnings. These three design choices necessitate investment in each customer, but as our data sets grow and our products evolve, we see exciting opportunities to improve our value and reduce our customers’ costs. 

Timing is also playing a role here – the higher ed industry is experiencing substantial disruption. Students still want the most impressive school that will have them, but rising tuition, fear of crippling student debt, and questions about value have them thinking about more practical options. Online alternatives have discovered a new sweet spot in terms of value proposition and business model, and this is leading to new competitive dynamics. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has forced all institutions to enable remote work on the operations side while shifting programs to ensure student and faculty safety, maximizing online delivery to mitigate enrollment and revenue attrition, and ponder post-pandemic realities. If this weren’t enough, capital market fluctuations have impacted many endowments, leaving all but the richest schools wondering how they will manage their way to a more viable future. 

There are certainly bigger consulting companies ready to help institutions through these challenges. But they are very expensive, their methodologies take too long to yield results and they don’t have the products needed to shift from “fishing for you” to “teaching you how to fish.” Higher ed leaders are looking for new tools and new methods to make better decisions and deliver better results. These tools and methods must save schools time and money while enhancing their product and renewing their longevity. That’s what excites me the most, as I will be leading corporate strategy, product portfolio management, marketing, and analytics. I will also help Higher Digital customers evolve their strategic planning efforts with a new approach that applies continuous strategy to change, operations, and performance management. My contributions will complement what has already been built by co-founders Wayne and Colleen. These collaborative, experienced, and hungry higher ed product and change management experts have done the single most important thing in business – they’ve established a strong reputation in a target market that needs what they have to offer. Together, we will create a new category known as Digital Transformation Management, weaponizing change by integrating Strategy, Agile, and DevOps. Did I mention that I was excited? 

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