A Once In a Lifetime Story of Digital Transformation In Education

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An old business model?

I was invited to lead the transformation of an established large publishing company.

As I learned about some of the digital products they were building and the vision of leading the transformation from print to digital, I felt this could only be and exciting opportunity, it resembled my times at HP when the personal computer was entering the massive market and a new massive industry was being conceived.

As I interviewed executives, employees, channel partners, customers and competitors, I begun to realize a few eye openers:

The industry is slow. Building and educational solutions takes at least a year and it takes at least three before you know if it is fully successful or not in the market.

The industry is local, not global. Education drivers are mainly established with a perspective from either the US, UK or at best from a well-developed country in Asia or Northern Europe.

The industry knows best. As textbooks were developed from the most capable and talented authors, they are the ones that know how a particular subject should be taught, they decide on sequence, levels, exercises, duration, assessments etc. Their knowledge is always relevant, always accurate and always current, we keep bringing new versions every three yaers or so.

Product is king. The industry cares very little (if anything at all) about their end users (teachers or students) they care even less about the outcomes, and most views are related to product performance and product characteristics rather than customer usage or achievement. “They should know that this is the best way to learn”

Innovation happens within set boundaries. There are many egocentric views of innovation, most of them geared towards doing the same things a little different: “We have developed an innovative textbook, it has beautiful pictures, music and reference to modern companies and people”

Technology will eventually come, but our customers still prefer paper.

Adoption is paramount. Incentives and successes are driven by the wrong point of the sales effort. A teacher who “adopts” will drive end users to buy. Nobody identifies the need for customer application of the solution, metrics around benefits, gaps or capabilities to customize for better results.

Units drive performance. We have all witnessed the mad drive for companies to say out loud: “For the first time digital units have surpassed print units, we are on the right track” another compelling incentive is “we have already put capital into this product, you better go out there and sell”

Yet, few question the real elements of these statements:

  • How do you measure your digital units?
  • Are you really hoping that these digital units replace the same profit margins?
  • Were these digital solutions built to replace or to extend the learning experience?
  • Are you tracking and measuring for better learning outcomes?
  • Is your digital strategy allowing your company to become global faster or are you still US centric?

Returns and Days Sales Outstanding are the way this industry works. I decided to change this mindset, to conceive our company as a value creator not a transactional operator, owning the right to plan for usage, to change for what was sold, to balance transactional with strategical, volume with custom.

It is certainly not lack of vision at the top, we all know that many of these elements are totally meaningless, inefficient, obsolete and ever perverse, but leaving them behind would most likely mean that we have to endure a time of less revenues, different skills, risk taking and experimentation, too much for a big corporation to digest.

In part 2 we’ll cover A Cultural Shift, Innovation for Education and Accomplishments

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