Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Boag's digital call-to-arms for higher education

A great read for anyone involved in website management and digital communications in higher education. Can't say I agree 100% with every word, but as ever Paul Boag has produced a thought-provoking piece that should prompt you to reflect on what you're doing and why.

Paul's point is that things aren't right in digital management in higher ed and things have to change. He's absolutely right; it's not like this in commercial sectors and even in the UK local government network things have moved on considerably in recent years.

But whether or not the sector Is ready to heed Paul's call, I don't know. I've been working in higher ed for about 14 years now, and while things have moved on considerably I still don't feel that managers of digital platforms are necessarily close enough to the business. Or perhaps business managers don't have a strong enough grasp of digital. Probably both.

We're still chasing the next shiny thing, the new technology, the bells and the whistles. And the digital specialists are often facilitating this. Why? Because it's stimulating, interesting, distracting.

Whereas great content strategy, understanding and communicating the user experience, incrementally making things better for key audiences can be arduous and (gasp!) a bit dull. Monitoring metrics and optimising (Gerry McGovern-style) can be perceived as reining in creativity but it gets results.

I don't want to come across as critical of Paul's article, because I'm totally not. I'm recommending it to all my colleagues. But a few points jumped out at me as I read it. For example:

We all share a similar vision for the future of digital and education. A day when students have a joined up, integrated digital experience...

But do we really? I meet some really inspiring people at conferences like IWMW (the Institutional Web Managers Workshop), and there are folk at Edinburgh doing some really great things. But I'm not sure how many people have the perspective and vision that someone like Paul has from working on projects with tens of universities. And the thinking space to express it coherently.

I totally agree with the steps needed, as Paul outlines - things like mapping customer journeys and prototyping new approaches. But I do wonder if there are sufficient UX skills in higher ed web teams. And where the skills exist, do they have any strategic influence?

In other sectors, UX teams are established alongside functions like marketing and IT. But not in higher ed. Not yet, at least.

And thinking about this kind of thing is what prompted me to propose what I'm presenting at this year's higher ed web managers conference (IWMW): Marketing is dead, long live UX.

If you've not heard of the IWMW before, you really should check it out if you're in website management at a university. It's a great conference. And never mind me, you'll get to hear Paul in person. You'll be inspired. And perhaps a little riled...

All about this year's IWMW happening in July in Newcastle

Higher Education needs to face digital reality - article by Paul Boag


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