People often say that the higher education industry is change-resistant, whether that be in terms of business operations, teaching models, or the adoption of new technologies. But what happens when a sudden, major event like the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates a dramatic alternation? How did schools carry out the large-scale shift to virtual operations – not in the technology and tools they use, but their workforce culture? How are schools managing these changes now, and how are they planning for the fall semester and beyond?
We explored these questions in our August 2020 webinar, Building Resiliency in Higher Ed’s New Normal, where Nicole Engelbert, Oracle’s VP of Higher Education Development, spoke with leaders from three Oracle Cloud schools: Jo Ellen DiNucci, Boise State University’s AVP of Finance and Administration; Cheryl Gochis, CHRO of Baylor University; and Ellen Law, Rutgers University’s AVP of OIT Enterprise Application Services.
Surveying the webinar’s attendees, we found that most schools were somewhat equipped to manage a crisis on the scale of COVID-19. 53% felt their institutions were “prepared enough to get there in an orderly way,” while 32% found they experienced some shortcomings, and “learned a lot about where they need to focus in the future.” Only 11% of respondents felt their institutions were “exceptionally well-prepared” to handle the impact of the pandemic. But throughout the webinar, a common thread emerged: the determination of each institution to increase their resilience and agility to meet their staff and students’ needs.
A modern cloud platform played a key role in helping these institutions move to virtual operations. In fact, Baylor was in the middle of their Ignite (their Oracle Cloud HR and ERP) implementation this spring – and succeeded in hitting their targeted go-live date of June 1. Having to migrate their staff to remote working operations proved tricky, as their previous systems lacked easily accessible and accurate data. “The amount of steps it took us just to access normal data that was correct was incredible,” says Cheryl Gochis of Baylor. “When we were working to pull some of those things together, I think it motivated my team [and showed them] we need Ignite more than we’d ever needed Ignite before. They were ready to do whatever it took to get to go-live.”
One of the most interesting takeaways was how these schools’ cloud implementations had prepared them for many of the challenges stemming from COVID-19: collaborating across multiple departments, managing large-scale communications, and perhaps most of all, acclimating to the rapid pace of change. “Our campus, after being live [on Oracle Cloud ERP] for four years, is now used to constant quarterly improvements,” Jo Ellen DiNucci of BSU says. “We’ve refocused our culture from upgrading every ten years to quarterly enhancements. [Our university is] not so married to their business processes; they trust that we’re going to [give them] something better than what they have today. It really facilitated adaptation that probably wouldn’t have existed for us four years ago.”
Nonetheless, these leaders stressed their transition to virtual operations would not have been nearly as successful without investment in their staff and their cross-departmental relationships. Thanks to the Ignite implementation, Gochis says that “luckily finance, IT, and HR had locked arms for a long time before [the pandemic], and we’d developed relationships where we could give each other very straight feedback and help each other understand the different contexts we were in. and that was a great benefit.”
To hear more from these schools about their communications strategies, their plans to support a remote workforce in the future, and how Baylor’s Ignite project included a fun tie-in to NBC’s The Office, click here to access the recording.