How To Ensure Your School Has an Impactful Digital Transformation

By now, most major industries have recognized the need to adopt new tools to increase productivity and streamline business processes and have at least begun their journey toward digital transformation.

And yet from a process management standpoint, the education sector remains largely stagnant. Back-end administrative processes are chronically sluggish, and schools can be slow to embrace disruptive changes. Combine this resistance to change with small budgets that require tricky decisions on the part of school administrators, and digital transformation usually lands toward the bottom of the priorities list.

Yet continuing to rely on paper-based methods to organize business processes inevitably comes at a price for school administrators. According to the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, principals spend nearly half of their time on administrative and organization management tasks ranging from parental relations to stacks of student applications. Paperwork gets lost or backlogged and administrators are pulled away from higher-value responsibilities.

Time spent completing and filing paperwork means less time for school leadership to focus on improving the student experience. Resisting digital transformation has negative impacts that can ripple through an entire school or district, affecting teachers, students and administrators.

As learning institutions training the next generation of workers, schools need to be at the forefront of new technology – and that goes beyond installing Smart TVs in classrooms or equipping students with personal computers. Automating behind-the-scenes business processes can have a meaningful and lasting impact on your entire school.

Improving your school with automated processes

Many schools looking to amp up their transformation initiatives will start – and often stop – with adding more tech inside classrooms.

Though well-intentioned, these shifts usually aren’t accompanied by the necessary training and skill-building required for teachers and schools to fully take advantage of new technology and tools. Teachers who earned degrees before the 2000s likely didn’t receive any tech education in universities, meaning that many of our most experienced teachers are the least comfortable with technology. Schools aren’t providing sufficient resources to bridge this gap.

The most basic processes from parent communications to enrollment management still rely too heavily on paper-based methods. Considering the amount of administrative frenzy created by the 76 million students currently enrolled in U.S. schools, it’s clear that schools need more efficient ways to manage workflows yielding hundreds of paper forms that administrators must attend to each year.

Traditionally, enrollment coordinators, academic directors and at times even vice-principals must manually process each step of a form from creation to completion, even as they work to fulfill many other roles on their administrative teams. Form-based work can be forgotten or delayed, and employees may experience burnout. By beginning digital transformation at a higher, systems-focused level, schools can shift the culture around change as well as ensure employees’ time is spent on primary responsibilities instead of basic administrative tasks.

Education leaders need to start their digital transformation journeys by integrating well-designed, form-based automated processes into their workflows. Here are three tips on getting started.

Get people on board for improvement. School leaders often hesitate to embrace changes that challenge longstanding practices. This is especially true when introducing a topic like digital transformation — and that’s where knowledge-sharing and a culture of continuous improvement become critical. Identify and enlist tech experts in your community; you’ll likely find them eager to help. Open stakeholders’ minds to change by pointing out inefficient processes and demonstrating how automation-driven solutions can address them. Showcase studies of schools leading the way in digital transformation to help drive buy-in.

Involve your team in the transformation process. It’s important to get feedback from employees on their unique pain points in order to implement the right tools. When teams can identify areas for process improvement, they are empowered to find lasting solutions. Allowing for agency and customizability in the digital transformation process helps employees adopt new tools more broadly and find better ways to use them.

Onboard your team on new processes. New technology and automation should become important components for school and district-wide trainings as well as during the onboarding process for new employees. This ensures these processes become a standard and appreciated part of your school and are carried forward, rather than becoming sidelined by team members who aren’t comfortable using the tools.

Digital transformation in education should involve more than simply adding high-tech classroom technology to your building. Instead, education leaders must look beyond the classroom to how everyday processes can be streamlined and made more efficient. Though administrators aren’t with students in the classroom, they do have the power to use automation to create a system that better serves their students.

is chief evangelist at Nintex. Ryan has 20-plus years of global IT experience and is responsible for defining Nintex's product strategy to help people solve business process problems. Ryan holds degrees in computer science and psychology from Victoria University of Wellington.