Mandatory Computer Initiatives and Their Impact upon Marketing Strategy for Colleges and Universities

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past decade, a significant number of colleges and universities have adopted some sort of institution-wide computer initiative (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001). These initiatives span a wide array of approaches, impacting both the instructional and business operations of colleges and universities. To date, a broad range of colleges and universities have imposed a computer ownership/lease requirement on their student population (Brown, 1999; Olsen, 2001). An emerging approach is to focus more on a PDA-based strategy, such as the University of South Dakota has done (Carr, 2001). Whether or not future trends move toward smaller and more mobile computing, clearly an increasing number of colleges and universities are moving toward mandatory computer initiatives.

In approaching the decision to implement a computer-based initiative, it is critical for colleges and universities to understand key elements of the decision-making and implementation process, as well as the marketing strategy implications of this type of overall decision. By conceptually using an internal marketing (vs. external marketing) framework (Arndt, 1979), key decision-makers can better frame and understand both process / implementation issues, and the strategic implications of a university-wide mandatory computer initiative.

MANDATORY COMPUTER INITIATIVES - INTERNAL MARKETING

Institutions that have pursued the development of an MCI program appear to have done so for a variety of objectives, including improving student and faculty access to technology and enhancing the curriculum and pedagogy. Some institutions have launched MCI programs for market positioning reasons and have promoted features and benefits of the initiative as competitive points of differentiation. Likewise, many different types and sizes of institutions, both public and private, have successfully launched MCI-type programs.

Regardless of the type of institution or its objective for implementing a program, most campuses to this point have been market pioneers. As pioneers, internal marketing efforts are critical, especially those internal marketing efforts directed to current students, staff and faculty members. Furthermore, the development and implementation of an initiative has a profound impact on a variety of institutional resources. To obtain buy-in, it is necessary to seek an internal customer understanding of the initiative, both tangible and intangible components, as well as its value and economic benefits. It is plausible to project that at some point, institutions will no longer be pioneering, but following, and a majority of an institution's internal customers will be wanting or "needing" a campus-wide computing solution.

Successful implementation of an MCI requires a campus culture willing to accept change. It also relies on the use of traditional change management strategies, including having top administrative support, identifying current student, faculty and staff champions of change and using a cross-functional, campus-wide initiative development team.

During the early stages of the MCI development process, (i.e., idea generation, screening, concept testing, business analysis and program development), several issues affecting these internal customers and stakeholders need to be addressed.

These issues include, but are not limited to: will student participation be mandatory or optional, will either a PC and/or Macintosh operating platform be supported, will only one model or several be offered and/or supported, will students be required to purchase a machine or will a unit be leased, rented or provided by the institution as part of tuition and required fees? Other factors that need to be considered include what, and how, software will be provided and supported and will the faculty "buy-in" to the initiative and use the technology for instructional and course management purposes, enhancing pedagogy? …