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Mira Lalovic-Hand
By
March 16, 2022

INSIGHTS ARTICLE: Rowan University - How Digital Transformation Drives Change Everywhere

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How Digital Transformation Drives Change Everywhere

Nearly a decade ago, Rowan University set out to increase enrollment, diversify its educational offerings, expand its research and health care portfolio and ramp up economic activity in the surrounding region.
 
The key to this ambitious agenda was the strategic and effective application of information technology. In 2013, as the newly-appointed CIO of Rowan University, I took the first steps on a journey of digital transformation that would eventually reach into every corner of the institution.
 
What started as digital transformation progressed to cultural transformation and business transformation, spurred automation and process improvement and changed how Rowan University operates and delivers its core services. Digital transformation does not happen in isolation. When you begin to realize change in one area, others follow suit.
 
Today, the University’s digital ecosystem — and the way employees, students, researchers and clinicians interact with it — is unrecognizable from a decade ago. Digital transformation, and all the transformations that stemmed from it, revolutionized the way Rowan University does business.
 
Leading an institution through radical change is not easy. You must have a firm but fluid strategy that aligns with overall business goals. Your strategy must also accommodate the political, economic and social realities of your organization.
 
In higher education, where progress is notoriously slow and budgets are particularly tight, the quest for change can seem hopeless at times. But with a strong leadership team, strategic foresight and sharp business acumen, you can motivate even the most reluctant among you to support the journey.
 
While the specific tactics that drove our transformation at Rowan University may not apply elsewhere, the guiding principles we used are worth sharing. First and foremost, our digital transformation efforts would not have been possible without a simultaneous shift in how information technology was viewed within the institution. We changed the perception of IT from a back-end utility to a business partner. This gave us a prominent seat at the decision-making table.
 
We built trust among the functional and academic units and established ourselves as change leaders and valued business partners through a series of demonstrated successes. This shift in our relationship at the beginning of our transformation journey led to even more change, as offices and departments started to turn to us to help them innovate and automate.
 
Under my leadership, we strategically invested in sophisticated business intelligence and data analytics capabilities to help attract, retain and support students. We executed a comprehensive network redesign that improved network speed, reliability and resiliency, and we launched a Project Management Office for the first time to oversee all major technological projects on campus.
 
Alongside those initiatives, we implemented an information security program to protect the University’s intellectual property. The implementation of this program kicked off a continuous transformation in our cyber security posture that serves as an engine for process improvement across the University. Cyber risks are constantly changing, and we must be ready to adapt and respond quickly to protect the University’s physical and information assets.
 
We simultaneously managed the day-to-day operational needs of a rapidly expanding university. In less than a decade, overall enrollment jumped by nearly 50 percent to about 20,000 students, and the physical footprint of the University expanded by more than a third from new construction and satellite campus expansions. The growth continues to this day, with plans to create New Jersey’s first veterinary school, open a 44,000-square-foot Fossil Park Museum and develop a new academic health system with health industry partners.
 
By strengthening our internal processes, building relationships and using data to inform decision-making, we balanced the operational needs of a growing university amid a large-scale transformation. All of this work culminated in March 2020 when the coronavirus forced a global shutdown. The major improvements and expansions in infrastructure and information services and the trust built between IT and academic offices and business units during my tenure paved the way for Rowan to seamlessly convert to a remote delivery model with unparalleled speed and efficiency.
 
As we look toward what challenges and opportunities lie ahead, my team is focused on giving the University a competitive advantage through the strategic application of technology. We’re working with our business and academic partners to reimagine how we deliver services to the University community and how we can better position ourselves to quickly adapt to emergent needs. We’re dedicated to helping university leadership reach its next set of goals and making Rowan University better and stronger by continuously improving on the digital ecosystem we’ve built.
 
This includes refining our service delivery model to better support flexible working, teaching and learning from anywhere, a shift in operations that will not be returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, and to enable a high level of research, as well as further embracing automation to allow departments and offices to train their focus on strategic initiatives and projects, rather than operational tasks.
 
These will be a few of our next steps on our journey of change, one we’ve realized will never really end. 

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