Examining a New Way of Working

A research team in the College's Workforce Education and Development Program is exploring how process-driven work models are influencing the culture in higher education.
Examining a New Way of Working

From left- Jennifer Nicholas, Matt Raup, Leen Zaballero, and Sohel Imroz.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of researchers in the College of Education presented a case study on how implementing process-driven work models in higher education is changing the culture. Jennifer Nicholas, an instructor in the College and a doctoral student in the Workforce Education (WF ED) and Development Program and her team presented their findings in October 2014 at the Organization Development Network Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

Jennifer Nicholas
Jennifer Nicholas
Nicholas and her colleagues and fellow WF ED doctoral students, Matthew Raup, Leen Zaballero and Sohel Imroz, said that Penn State and other higher education institutions are starting to implement work processes such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) in order to remain competitive.

“Universities are losing state and federal funding and are in stiff competition with for-profit educational organizations,” said Raup. “This has caused universities to become more business-minded and efficient.”

Nicholas and Group
From left to right: Jennifer Nicholas, Matt Raup, Leen Zaballero and Sohel Imroz.

The case study focuses on Outreach Information Technology (OIT), a subunit of Penn State Outreach and Online Education that began the ITIL implementation in 2010. The team has a firsthand perspective on the implementation because Raup works for OIT.

Nicholas said that the case study, which is still in progress, explores the cultural factors at play in an ITIL implementation embedded in the university context. This would enable the WF ED team to learn things that may help with the larger Penn State implementation.

ITIL, by definition, focuses on IT service management. However, the main focus of ITIL is service management, said Raup.

“It would certainly benefit higher education to perform service management in a more efficient model,” said Raup.

ITIL is a process-driven model that has been used in the private sector for many years. It promotes efficiency, quality and accountability. Created by the British government in the 1980s, it took off with businesses a decade later. Recently, higher education has initiated its adoption, including Boston University, Ohio State, Emory University and Yale.

According to Nicholas, ITIL is considered a best practice in business, hence making it a logical option for universities to pursue.

“Everyone will benefit from this,” said Raup. “The efficiency will help the bottom line and keep costs down, which helps both student tuitions and alumni who donate to their alma mater. It helps students, faculty and staff from a quality perspective because the services that they receive should be done with more quality and consistency. It also helps staff who perform the services by giving them more structure and greater definition.”

One of the challenges of implementing ITIL or any process-driven model is that by doing so, it often makes things worse before they get better, said Raup.

Nicholas added that as with many large institutions, people tend to work in silos, and process-based work tears down silos, which can disrupt the way people are used to working.

“It takes a high level of commitment from management and patience from the staff to work through the transformational changes,” said Nicholas. “Culture is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in a change implementation because people naturally resist change. Leaders need to study successful implementations to discover what works well and manage culture effectively.”

Another key culture change would be in the higher education environment, which according to Raup can be more relaxed, creative and people-focused.

“ITIL is focused on process and metrics, and success is measured by meeting those metrics,” said Raup. “This new metric-focused approach greatly changes the culture by comparing everything to industry standards, which are outside of the immediate reality of university culture.”

Some of these changes are necessary, said Raup. However, the impact is still unclear.

“For example, education typically pays lower salaries than business, but the trade-off is a more flexible and laid-back environment,” said Raup. “As processes and standards become more businesslike, salaries and culture will have to become more businesslike, but is that a good thing?”

The WF ED team said that they would like to expand their research to the University’s IT Transformation (ITX) Program, which is looking to establish shared service management processes and policies for the University over the next five years.

“There are years of research to be done at Penn State alone,” said Raup. “The research done here should be relevant for other higher education institutions across the world.”

By (January 2015)