Pattern based strategy – is the sector agile enough?

I attended a session on the final day of Educause09 on applying pattern based strategy in higher education. The principle is that an organisation looks to identify patterns (from some of the softer indicators such as whether alumni would recommend your institution), analyse the impact of those patterns and then make a decision to adapt current business processes. The intention is to pick up those unplanned interventions and react accordingly – for example, the growth of the use of the iPhone might be seen as a pattern that could have an impact on the way an institution operates.

In order for pattern based strategy to succeed the organisation needs to have agile decision making. This is perhaps where the difficulty will be in implementing this in higher education. I don’t believe that institutions’ decision making is always based on sound business intelligence; where there is use of key performance indicators in decision making it is often to make a reactive rather than proactive change. Interestingly Brenda Gourley, the former Vice-Chancellor of the Open University highlighted such an agile structure in the final keynote of Educause09. She instigated scenario planning and a high level of performance based management. It is possible that the planning supplemented by pattern searching would work in such an environment.

However it is often the unplanned changes that have the biggest impact on an organisation. If institutions are to be able to anticipate and react to those unplanned changes then there need to be cultural changes within institutions to allow more agile decision making. Currently I believe that a significant amount of management is reactive rather than proactive. In my view this highlights the lack of leaders within the

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