Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast! Candid Chat with Mr. DP Singh


In this candid chat with CollPoll team, Mr. DP Singh, Chief Advisor – HR Policy Association (India) shares about the current state of educational institution with respect to education technology and dynamics behind the decision making. Being Senior Executive Vice President at Chandigarh University and Vice President & Head – HR at IBM India/SA in the past, he brings a balanced view of both the worlds.

Long back Silicon Valley’s most sought-after investor Marc Andreessen said ‘Software is eating the world’. Finally, it is the turn of education institutions. Why did we have to wait for a crisis to push us forward to adopt ed-tech?

There are two ways how product/platforms get promoted in a big way. One – the platform owner finds a niche and showcases how the platform boosts productivity or cuts down costs or improves agility, among other benefits. Progressive organisations will adopt such offerings. The second way is that a pain exists in the system and people start looking for an offering to address it.

When it comes to academic institutions, the technology companies did not put the effort to deeply understand the heavily regulated environments and its need to come up with an end-to-end solution. Whatever offerings were available, they were very rigid. On the other side, academic institutions being new to technology did not appreciate the advantage of adopting the best practices which are based on the global standards. Hence, most institutions started building technology solutions internally in limited ways. Once they had invested their time and money in such development, they found it difficult to shift to new systems. Also, so far they had been able to manage and grow the institutions without any pressing need to shift.

But when a disruption happens, for example someone with a strong technology foundation offering substantially better student experience comes in the market, it challenges the status quo. This is when the shift starts happening.

The benefits of education technology in helping improve the quality, achieve scale and reduce costs has been evident from quite some time. In your opinion, what has been stopping education leaders to make appropriate investments?

In my opinion, good institutions will adopt technology progressively to have edge over the others. It is just a question of time.

Most education institutions are led by academic leaders who come from old school of thought. They are reasonably contended with the ongoing ways of teaching and operations. Hence, till the time the top leader of the institution disrupts this thinking, change will take long time. For example, it took a while for State Bank of India to adopt technology while some of the private banks were early movers. But as soon as SBI realised they will lose business, they joined the bandwagon and good products such as YONO were launched. So it is about changing the mindset of the recipients.

Culturally education institutions are not yet there. Most of these institutions are promoter-driven. Hence, until or unless the promoter is able to appreciate the role of technology in advancing their mission and objectives, they will not change the status quo.

There is a third dimension to it, unlike a private or publicly limited companies, trust-run education institutions have remained largely opaque.

Finally, I feel customer experience and customer pull are big factors in any market. The creamy layer of students will start preferring institutions which provide technology-enabled learning environment. How good infrastructure was a big differentiator in the last decade, technology will offer that differentiation now.

The buck doesn’t stop at just buying a software. How does an institution plan effective implementation strategy especially the behavioral change?

Senior leadership must run pilots to experience the value proposition. A successful pilot can substantially change the mindset of the recipients and act as a catalyst for larger implementations.

Institutions must have a social collaboration platform to enable each other and drive new initiatives. Most of the people are already familiar with collaboration platforms in their personal lives such as whatsapp, facebook, etc. As all the stakeholders are physically co-located and can easily reach out to each other in an education institution, they don’t feel a need to adopt enterprise-level social collaboration tools unlike an industry which have physically distributed teams. However, they must leverage social collaboration platforms to leverage collective intelligence.

Again, I would like to repeat – pilots are the best way to adopt technology.

You have seen the best of both the worlds now – industry as well as academia. What have been the key differences in your experience?
These are two very different worlds. In industry, there is great transparency driven by government regulations and highly-demanding customers. While in education, students are the recipients whose life and career is at stake, and they mostly accept what is provided to them.

But soon this will change. I see corporatisation of education institutions happening in the positive way. And this will largely be driven by students who are more aware and confident. They will have many options to consider with the way new institutions are coming up.

Building the right culture is most essential to an organisation’s success. Do you think education leaders are giving enough attention to this? Most ed-tech projects get killed because of this.

Culture is an outcome of the leadership style and the values system top management exhibits. This lays out how formally and informally organisation operates. However, often change in culture is forced by the competition and the customers, otherwise organisations continue to be in their comfort zones.

So far education institutions haven’t given due attention to technology and building culture that accepts it. The way most sectors have advanced themselves with technology, education has a lot to catch up. So there is no other option for them. They will have to do it.

Private education institutions have come up in a big way only in the last 10 years. They are still in their early days and I am hopeful that they will speed up.

Adopting the new way often means letting go the habits, processes and systems of the past which haven’t worked. What would be your advice to education leaders who have to manage a lot of change going forward?

Any change needs change-champions. It needs a strong commitment and clear road-map from the leadership. Finally, there needs to be a tangible outcome that they are trying to achieve and a well-thought metric to measure success. So my advice is very simple:

  1. Find change champions and empower them.

  2. Have a clear road-map and let everyone have clarity on their role in it.

  3. Define metrics to measure outcomes.

You have been a well-wisher of CollPoll and we have benefited from your guidance in the past. In this new era of digital education, what will be your advice to us?

You should stay on your track and keep going. As I had shared with you earlier, with more number of institutions adopting CollPoll, you have to ensure stability and performance at scale. You must continue to institutionalise processes and systems so that there is enough confidence in your capabilities to deliver to large-scale institutions.

Time has come you must start being more visible now. Bring out the success stories you have and let the world see the value.