COVID-19 Demonstrates How Boards Can Adopt Digital Transformation

By AGB July 20, 2020 August 7th, 2020 Blog Post
Blog Post

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect lives and livelihoods across all industries, leaders of higher education institutions find themselves facing a fall semester of uncertainty. AGB Consulting’s Managing Director, Ken Knueven, recently sat down for a Q&A with Michael Rubin, of AGB OnBoard, and discussed how higher education boards can evolve amidst the pandemic to ensure the viability of institutions.

Rubin: COVID-19 has impacted 25.7 million students at more than 4,200 higher education institutions. What kind of questions are universities and colleges asking as they prepare for the fall?

Knueven: I think every institution is asking, how do we transition from what we encountered in the spring to what’s needed in the fall?  What does that transition looks like? Are we 100 percent online? Are we going hybrid? When do we start and end? How will we handle the health and safety protocols?

Rubin: AGB has often promoted the notion that good governance allows the board to set the strategic direction and to allow the leadership team to focus on the operations. What are boards doing right now to help manage the crisis?

Knueven: Right now, boards are working more closely with their leadership teams. The primary key performance indicator every board is looking at is the impact on enrollment, both short-term and long-term. You’re seeing a blending of responsibilities, as needed, and seeing the formation of ad hoc committees to focus on topics like enrollment strategies, financials, communications, safety, to name a few.

Rubin: Technology has played a key role in education during the pandemic and it’s clear that it will continue to do so as we move forward. In your view, what do boards need to do take full advantage of it?

Knueven: To truly take advantage of technology, they’re going to have to ramp up and be proactive in terms of how they best utilize it as an enabler to provide the best academic programming their institutions can offer. But, in general, most boards are not talking about technology in the way they should.

Rubin: If that’s the case, how do these boards need to evolve?

Knueven: I highly recommend every board have a director and/or an ad hoc committee that includes people knowledgeable about the impact of technology from several different perspectives: how to deliver the core product, how to ope rationalize it to gain efficiencies, and how to leverage it in terms of academic programming.

Technology is the disruptor in society right now. If an institution doesn’t have the ability to address the impacts, it will be bypassed by those institutions that can. Unfortunately, in this new era of higher education, it’s a competitive environment and the consumers—the parents, the students, and the adult learners—recognize this. They’re shopping.

Rubin: Do you have specific people in mind who need to be in the boardroom?

Knueven:  Any institution with a chief information officer or chief technology officer must have them in the boardroom to discuss technology, its disruptive capabilities, and the opportunities it represents. There should be at least one director who is capable of talking about the impact of digital transformation. I recommend an ad hoc or formal technology advisory committee meet on a regular basis on behalf of the board.

Rubin: What are the topics that these people need to bring to the boardroom?

Knueven:  They’re not there to talk about how to build a bigger, better database.  It’s beyond that. They need to discuss the impact of technology internally and externally, and all the dimensions of what that means.

Rubin: Are there pitfalls to avoid if the board expands to include these additional perspectives? Technology professionals, especially coming from the private sector, are generally more open to risk.

Knueven: Many boards have a tendency to revert to the mean or status quo. Risk taking and intriguing possibilities don’t go far. I’ve seen this over and over. It’s not specific to higher education, but is more problematic.

Rubin: Is higher education more at risk than other industries from disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic?

Knueven: Every industry is impacted, and yes, higher education is at extreme risk. Higher education is delivering a 19th-century educational model using business models from the 20th century while we are now fully in the 21st. It is a calamity in the making.

Rubin: Besides taking a studious look at the impact of technology, what opportunity does the COVID-19 pandemic open up for higher education?

Knueven: We must take advantage of the opportunity to be bold. It’s an opportunity to have honest, open conversations and ask, What can we leverage out of this crisis? and How can technology be an enabler? All ideas go on the table.  You’ll never find a better time.  Don’t revert to, Let’s hope that it gets better.

One way technology can serve as an enabler is optimizing how boards virtually manage effective meetings and collaboration for strategic decision-making. Boards will be operating remotely for the foreseeable future.  Our own board leverages AGB OnBoard for virtual board meetings.  AGB OnBoard helps board members organize and run meetings in real time, now with Zoom integration.  The platform improves board communication and organization of materials for effective board meetings and preparation in advance.  Through our partnership with AGB OnBoard, our members are invited to try the platform at no cost through August 31, 2020.

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