educationtechnologyinsights

Higher education mergers and the impact on Information Technology environment

By Jeffrey Cepull, VP for Information Resources and CIO, Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) East Falls campus And Nassar Nizami, SVP & CIO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health

Jeffrey Cepull, VP for Information Resources and CIO, Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) East Falls campus

Organizational mergers are quite common in the private sector. In fact, many corporations view mergers and acquisitions as a growth strategy and are aggressive in their approach to acquiring attractive companies both within and outside their core industry. Product and revenue stream diversification is also a common driver for mergers in the private sector. Higher education has experienced numerous mergers over the past few decades, but the frequency is substantially lower than corporate merger activity. Our intent is to identify a number of factors that have impacted the information technology environment during the process and the implementation that has taken place to date (July1, 2017 through June 30, 2018). We will also address challenges and opportunities that revealed themselves and how we are addressing those during the merger of two Philadelphia institutions in to a new, comprehensive university, Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University).

"IT support is responsible for a comprehensive portfolio of responsibilities with the added complexity of design, engineering and architectural programs"

In December of 2015 Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University signed a Letter of Intent to explore and perform the due diligence required to merge the two institutions into a combined new university. After 18 months of planning and review, coupled with the endorsement of the regional accrediting agency, the two institutions legally merged on July 1, 2017. On that same date the process of integrating the two entities into the new, combined university, Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) officially began.

The new, combined institution has 7,600 students, more than 160 academic undergraduate and graduate programs, and is a comprehensive university with preeminence in transdisciplinary, experiential professional education, research and discovery, delivering exceptional value for the 21st century students with excellence in architecture, business, design, fashion, engineering, health, medicine, science and textiles - infused with the liberal arts.

Among numerous factors that impact merging of higher education institutions, culture and organizational structure are two most critical components..

Culture

The former Philadelphia University campus (East Falls) has a distinct focus on undergraduate and graduate professional programs with a significant component of

Nassar Nizami, SVP & CIO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health

industry engagement and partnerships. East Falls provides a residential undergraduate experience, operating on a standard nine-month academic calendar augmented by an adult evening program as well as an expanding array of online offerings. IT support is responsible for a comprehensive portfolio of responsibilities with the added complexity of design, engineering and architectural programs. The East Falls IT culture is driven by the desire to find ways to say “yes” to faculty, students, and administration, and as a result is regarded as collaborative by its campus constituents.

The Thomas Jefferson University campus (Center City) is primarily a graduate student non-residential campus, including a large medical school and nursing school. Center City has a health center/hospital culture that could be described as corporate in comparison to the East Falls campus. Although the East Falls culture has a singular focus and the Center City culture has multiple points of focus, the two institutions meet at the intersection of the academic mission. The Center City IT organization is hierarchical and is highly focused on the substantial clinical demands of the health system and hospitals. The East Falls IT team (20 professionals) has been merged into the Center City IT team (750+ professionals).

Organizational Structure

The Center City IT team is large team with a high degree of specialization around health care and clinical systems. The East Falls team is an average sized team (based on a campus FTE of 3,500) with a broad range of experiences and skills, but operates as a flat, agile organization. Center City IT is very hierarchical in its structure and tends toward a transactional approach to service. Center City IT supports a large academic and clinical research operation ($130 million annually). The East Falls IT team provides comprehensive academic support (instruction, classroom/lab/studio activities as well as an applied research environment) and with a high-touch approach. The Center City team is driven by process in order to provide services to a very large group of constituents. The East Falls IT team is adjusting to the larger organization and structure. During the integration process a number of staff on the East Falls campus (especially thinly staffed teams and beyond the IT staff) felt the pressure of an aggressive schedule to integrate, while facing the prospect of performing their current jobs and simultaneously expected to work on complex integration issues. Many of these situations were stressful and placed strain on the employees in those areas as well as the integration projects.

While these two factors have significant relevance when it comes to higher ed merging, we also expect other factors will emerge and possibly come to the forefront as the process of integrating the two campus information technology teams continues.

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