All of the schools studied that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and which are developing increasingly higher order, digitally based school ecosystems have all had an astute principal to lead the way and the services of what is in essence a ‘chief digital officer’ (CDO).
The same is to be found in the transformation of the digital masters of the business world (Westerman et al, 2014).
In all, the organisation’s digital transformation has been skilfully shaped by a CEO working closely with a chief digital officer’ charged with converting the leader’s digital vision into a working reality.
Indeed a 2014 McKinsey Consulting study observed
Leadership is the most decisive factor for a digital program’s success or failure. Increasing C-level involvement is a positive sign, and the creation of a CDO role seems to be a leading indicator for increasing the speed of advancement (McKinsey, 2014).
Little is the wonder that businesses, and indeed major cities worldwide are clamouring to secure the services of CDO’s capable of supporting the CEO in orchestrating the desired on-going digital transformation.
Few associated with schools have yet to grasp the same imperative exists for all schools.
If schools are to undergo the desired digital evolution and shape an ever more productive digitally based school ecosystem they too will need that role to be played.
In the pathfinder schools the ‘CDO’ role has been played by all manner of positions, by deputy principals, e-Learning coordinators, Technology Coordinators, CIO’s and indeed in several instances by several staff working closely together. The actual title doesn’t matter.
What is critical is having a senior staff member who shares the principal’s digital vision and macro understanding of the workings of the school, with a strong awareness of the digital, able to work collaboratively with an empowered staff in providing the apposite tightly integrated digital platform.
It requires an appreciation of the school’s shaping educational vision, the kind of digitally based ecosystem and school culture that will best realise that vision and the facility to provide the total digitally empowered school community the apposite ever evolving seamlessly integrated digital ecosystem.
It most assuredly does not require an ‘ICT expert’ who unilaterally decides what technology all in the school will use.
Critically it needs a visionary educator able to collaborate with digitally empowered staff, students and parents, ensuring all are provided with the opportunity to fly with the digital, who can simultaneously govern the school’s use of the digital and ensure multiple systems and offerings are appropriately integrated and refreshed.
Behind the working website discussed in the previous article is an extensive, ever evolving tightly integrated digital ecosystem that provides the platform upon which the school operates and grows, and which needs to be thoughtfully designed, shaped, maintained and refined.
Without it the digital school cannot operate let alone grow.
The shaping of that increasingly sophisticated and powerful digital ecosystem entails a skilful balancing act, accommodating the seeming paradox of fostering a school wide culture of change, where teachers are empowered to take risks and where there will inevitably be uncertainty, mess and at times seeming chaos while simultaneously shaping an integrated, highly efficient and effective digital ecosystem able to continually deliver the desired schooling.
The Chief Digital Officer (CDO).
The concept of the CDO, even within the business world is a relatively recent one but is already viewed globally as being critical to the digital transformation of all manner of organisations (www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net) (Solis, et al, 2014) (McKinsey, 2014).
Westerman, McAfee and Bonnet in their seminal study of the corporate digital masters concluded
The CDOs job is to turn cacophony into a symphony. He or she creates a unifying digital vision, energises the company around digital possibilities, coordinates digital activities, and some times provides critical tools or resources (Westerman, et al, 2014, p144).
Chan Suh, a CDO writing in Wired observed
Almost by definition, the CDO must be a bit of a free thinker, willing to experiment, fail and move on. They embrace data-based experimentation, adapt quickly and make iterative decisions. …CDOs need to be able to move nimbly in all parts of the corporation, in terms of both departments and functions: Digital integration impacts employees, customers and the whole portfolio of products. That means they need to speak multiple business languages and simplify what can seem like insanely complicated technology. But above all, the job requires being persuasive, adaptable and visionary (http://www.wired.com/2014/01/2014-year-chief-digital-officer/).
The CDO is a very well recompensed, high-level executive position with ultimate responsibility for every facet of the organisation’s digital ecosystem.
While the demands within the school will not be as great as in a multinational the nature and standing of the role to be played remains basically the same.
Relationship with Principal, the CEO
In all the aforementioned literature and within the pathfinder schools studied one notes the vital close working relationship between the head of the organisation and the CDO. It stands to reason. The ‘chief digital officer’, whatever title they actually carry has the responsibility for implementing the CEO’s digital vision for the organisation.
Whether it is a school or business both people need to work closely as they shape the organisation’s on-going digital transformation and take the organisation into unchartered waters. A recent interview with a deputy head in a 2,500 student English sixth form college, who was very much that school’s ‘chief digital officer’, underscored the importance of working closely with the head in identifying the solutions that will bring about the desired digital and organisational evolution; in a situation where there were no other UK experiences to draw upon.
Governance of the school’s digital ecosystem
As school’s move to a digital operational base, normalise the whole school community use of the digital, develop mature, higher order, more integrated ecosystems and seemingly daily contemplate the use of new more sophisticated technology so it becomes increasingly important for each to ‘govern’, to shape in an apposite manner the growth of the school’s digital ecosystem.
The shaping in the apposite manner, the maintaining and strengthening of an ecology that fosters on-going school evolution and enhancement, that allows the school as Pascale and his colleagues call it to operate on the ‘edge of chaos’ (Pascale, et al, 2000) is evermore important.
This is very much an individual school responsibility, not that of external ICT experts who have no understanding of each school’s unique culture.
Each school needs to determine its own mode of digital governance.
The strong impression – and it is only that – is that many of the pathfinders, contending as they are with rapid and accelerating organisational transformation, making increasing use of the students’ technologies and a plethora of cloud based services are fast approaching the point productivity wise of having to corral some of the digital services employed in the school and to seriously question if a laissez faire model of technology use is apt. This is particularly apparent in larger secondary schools where on the one hand the school is seeking to integrate its workings while at the same time encouraging teachers to make best use of the emerging digital technology.
Do you need to rethink your digital governance?
What role of the technology committee?
Traditionally in schools, business and the wider public sector the technology or ICT committee was charged with that ‘governance’, but all too often operated as a stand alone group implementing its own agenda.
What is now clear (Westerman, et al, 2014) if you want digital transformation you don’t give the job to a committee. All thereon have full time jobs.
Committees can make decisions, but they cannot drive change. Leaders do that (Westerman, et al, 2014, p143).
Seriously question the need for a technology committee.
Interestingly none were used in any of the successful pathfinder schools.
In all the digital transformation was orchestrated by the principal and the ‘CDO’ and the work was undertaken by the ‘CDO’ and all manner of staff and increasingly others within the school’s community.
Finding a school ‘CDO’.
The finding of a staff member or even several staff to play the role of the school CDO is likely to be difficult. The kind of skill set described above is rare, even in the corporate world. One is looking in schools at experienced educators with a macro vision for schooling, with the desire to lead, to take risks and to embrace on-going organisational evolution, with very strong digital acumen and with the people skills needed to take empowered professionals along on the evolutionary journey.
The pathfinder schools have in some respects been fortunate to have such personnel, but as one digs one finds most of these schools have over time ‘grown’ or recruited these people, consciously continually enhancing their skill set.
In many respects it should not come as a surprise that many of the school ‘CDOs’ are deputy or assistant principals, demonstrating many of the attributes identified in ‘Leading a Digital School’ (Lee, 2014) needed to be the principal of a digital school.
None that I’m aware of have been trained for the role by either their education authority or a tertiary education, but that said there are pathfinder education authorities globally which are now assisting the development of such personnel.
In 2015 you will likely have to grow your own ‘CDO’, or recruit and then grow the potential ‘CDO’. As indicated in schools small and large it is a role that can be performed by a like-minded, driven pair of staff able to work closely. Indeed such a pair could possibly include a non educator provided she/he had strong digital expertise, and was able to address the organisation’s shaping vision.
One could strongly argue that the current situation in the pathfinder schools where the ‘CDO’ role is normalised and untitled is the desired one.
The key is that the role is performed successfully and naturally shapes the desired evolution and strengthening of the school’s digital ecosystem.
In so saying it might well be opportune in certain school situations, like in business to use the appointment of a CDO to proclaim the school’s intention to use the digital to transform its operations.
That is a call each school needs to make.
What however is that much clearer is that schools in moving to a digital operational base and becoming increasingly reliant on a more sophisticated, powerful, integrated and productive digital ecosystem will need apt processes to govern its operation and growth, processes that are appreciably more sophisticated and effective way than the traditional ‘ICT’ committee.
While the digital transformation business literature (www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net) and the articles on CDOs will assist, schools do have a very different shaping purpose to corporations and need their own solution.
As schools commence their digital evolution journey they should be addressing how the ‘CDO’ role will be performed and identifying an apt mode of governing the growth of an apposite school digital ecosystem.
- Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press