Agents of Change: Balancing Classical and Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education
Like other industries, higher education undergoes disruption, broadening and adding complexity to the chief information officer (CIO) role. As learning transforms, university CIOs face pressure to balance strained budgets and evolving government policies with new student demands and rapidly advancing technologies.
But this doesn’t discourage Marius Spinu, CIO at the University of Florence, a world-class center of learning and research. On the contrary, Spinu thrives in the dynamic and challenging environment.
“The exciting part of working at a university is that things are constantly evolving,” says Spinu. “The university brings together in one place people from different cultures, nationalities, ages and areas of expertise to share their ideas and expertise. This is how real innovation starts.”
Classical vs. Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education
He approaches IT innovation in higher education in two ways: classical innovation and disruptive innovation. The former helps the University of Florence operate faster and smarter. The latter helps the University’s offerings stay ahead of the curve. By making the distinction, Spinu ensures his IT organization drives both.
“Classical innovation is about efficiency and automation, making sure our processes are optimised and streamlined,” he explains. “Disruptive innovation is about completely reshaping learning. For example, using technology for personalized learning, tailored to each individual student’s learning needs so all students can succeed.”
Hear more from Spinu in this video on how he’s accelerating digital innovation in the University of Florence.
One disruptive innovation Spinu hopes to make a reality is the nirvana of personalized learning in the University. First, he laid the digital foundation for initiatives of this kind with classical innovations to the IT infrastructure.
The University’s software-defined data center provides pervasive, end-to-end connectivity to apps and data from wherever its 1,800 lecturers and research staff and 51,000 enrolled students are. IT’s infrastructure also includes secure digital workspaces that support the growth of mobile learning and international student enrollment.
Driving Forces of Innovation in Higher Education
Spinu rejects the idea that higher education can afford to move at a slower pace than the private sector. New generations of incoming students expect sophisticated, seamless digital experiences.
“We have a more demanding group of stakeholders than most,” he says. “We have a completely new student body every five years. Students have extremely high expectations in terms of technology, mobility and applications. They don’t care for complexity; they just want technology to work from them. We have to comply with their vision.”
Meanwhile, governments increasingly push the public sector to digitally transform and meet its citizens’ digital expectations. As the CIO of an Italian university, Spinu must support the Agenda Digitale Italiana (Italian Digital Agenda), which sets out to develop a digital economy in Italy in line with the European Digital Agenda.
“It’s all about accelerating the shift to digital within the University, and ensuring its done in a compliant way,” he says. “It adds another layer of complexity but also interest to my role.”
This article is the latest in the Agents of Change series, a look at how technology leaders challenge the status quo to discover new possibilities for their organizations.