February Issue

CIO Helps Kaplan Keep Pace With Students

At Kaplan, a for-profit education company, IT untethers from old approaches and focuses on keeping up with fast-changing student needs

Our mission is to be as student-centered as possible. To do that, we have to break out of our old mode of operating and adopt new technologies at the same pace that they're being introduced into the marketplace.

Companies that are just forming today can make very different decisions than they would have 10 years ago because they don't have the baggage of an enterprise IT solution. So the question becomes how to enable that kind of agility without destroying the existing technology base and revenue stream.

The philosophy I've taken over the past three years focuses on analyzing how students and consumers use technology in their personal lives and then giving our nearly 30,000 employees those same levels of capability. We made the strategic decision to adopt Google applications and move as much as we could to cloud-based systems, including KAPx, an educational delivery platform we built entirely in the cloud. This frees us to focus more on the student experience; plus, our employees can better understand how students are experiencing technology in the real world and how technology disruption is occurring across the entire education life cycle.

At the same time, we couldn't just ignore issues like security and business support systems. The question became how to organize the technology team so that the two sides --the startup mentality and the legacy orientation --weren't pitted against each other. We organized IT to have two distinct personalities and missions. Most of the infrastructure and business systems team is centralized under our core technology division, and a separate innovation team was created to focus on technology disruption and new business opportunities.

With this structure, we've developed specific handoffs to move new capabilities from the innovation and growth quadrant down into the mature, business-as-usual quadrant. As new approaches get accepted, they work their way into the system and push the old ways out.

We also started an incubator program that looks at how education might change further out on the horizon --like intelligent agents providing students with the information they need at exactly the right time, or incorporating instructional design and cognitive science methods to help students learn more efficiently. Technologies like 3D printing and robotics will affect how students learn mathematical concepts, for instance. They'll be able to see how a math formula would be useful --how it would make something move in the physical world.

All of this is helping to un­tether the enterprise from the old approaches of the past. It used to be mobile that was the big thing; now that's commonplace and has been replaced by wearables as the topic of interest. To stay relevant, you need to establish a technology function that is rooted in what's going on outside of the enterprise. And if you don't give them the ability to be creative with that technology inside the enterprise, you'll never get there.

It's not just agile thinking about technology but also agile thinking about the business and staying closely tuned into fast-changing student needs.

Edward Hanapole is CIO at Kaplan Inc., a for-profit education company. He is a member of the CIO Executive Council.

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