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Episode 23: “Learning to Change with Technology” with Tom Dionisio, Executive Vice President of Technology and Transformation at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

Higher education is getting smarter, thanks to technology and Tom Dionisio. Tom is executive vice president of technology and transformation at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Gone are the days of rigid, formal programs and degrees. Instead, today’s learners are curating and customizing their curriculum and experiences – and leveraging technology to make it happen. Head back to school with Tom and me in this episode of Reimagining Communications, “Learning to Change with Technology.”

Beyond Your Imagination: “Devices and the modalities have changed rapidly and will continue to change. The key right now in the communication space is, how will those modalities and devices continue to change? Yesterday's technology has given way to all kinds of social-based capabilities that companies are using to speak not only to each other, but also to their employees and customers. Companies have to abandon the old, adopt the new, and understand where their employees and customers are going. It behooves companies to stay abreast of what's happening, prototype and experiment, and find that their customers and employees are likely going to respond in ways they had never imagined.”

Richness or Reach? The Correct Answer is “Both”: “At SNHU, we had a small, traditional university and, all of a sudden, we had 100,000 students. Its processes and systems were not capable of handling that kind of growth and responding to the kinds of things that online students wanted. We were challenged with the idea of rebuilding the technology stack – from the bottom all the way to the top – making it modern, agile and flexible, leveraging the cloud and moving SNHU rapidly to a platform and a set of frameworks that could support its aspirations of growing to 250,000 to 300,000 students. We did that over the course of about three years, which is almost unprecedented in the industry… It was the experience of using and installing large, global-based enterprise systems, and getting the people here that were accustomed to doing that to move the university at a rapid pace. As these online experiences get richer and richer, it's our belief that traditional education will fall by the wayside. Not only will the online experience be much less expensive, it will be a better experience. The person that takes ancient civilization will have a pair of VR goggles and they'll be touring the ruins of Europe, looking at the actual sites versus reading about them in a textbook or looking at pictures or videos. The opportunity for richness and reach is really driven by technology.”

Make it Difficult on Yourself, Not Your Customers: “Today's CIO, and certainly the next-generation CIO, needs to be a business person and not a technology person. They can go and get the technology assets they need, but they need to be the business person sitting at the table in the executive suite and they need to understand the customer. It's by understanding what the customer wants and translating those needs into what can be delivered digitally that will bring the CIO to the level of involvement in the strategic planning of the organization… Everybody is going to be deconstructed in their industry if they don't keep up with where technology is going. So it's not just about replacing systems, it really is about reimagining how we use them and the customer experience. If we need to make it a little more difficult for ourselves to do something, but, by doing so, we make it easier for the customer, then that's where we need to be.”

Artificial Intelligence is Getting an Education: “It's hard to have a discussion about future technologies today without the mention of artificial intelligence and machine learning. If you remember just 10 years ago or less, we were able to buy automobiles with voice commands, but none of them worked particularly well. Today, they're actually conversational. In our call centers, we measure the inflection of people's tone when they call in, and we gauge from that how happy or satisfied they are with the experience they're having.... The combination of machine learning and artificial intelligence is enabling things, like deep rich conversational voice, and it promises to change everything we do in ways that we can't even think of today.”

To dive into these topics and more, check out our podcast, Reimagining Communications.