How Huron and Innosight Are Using the Dual Transformation Strategy to Innovate in Higher Education

This episode is part of the EdTech Times podcast series Higher Ed Transformation for the Campus of Tomorrow, sponsored by Huron.

Higher ed institutions are constantly adapting, but how can they plan to stay relevant and innovative for years to come? Many higher ed leaders are looking to other industries for the best models of how to prepare for the future, while sustaining a healthy organization in the present.

According to David S. Duncan, senior partner at Innosight, even in the business world, organizational evolution doesn’t happen overnight.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in it, and it’s changing in such a way that the success formula that led them to become successful is being challenged by the changes around them,” says David. “And to some degree they need to create the next version of themselves.”

Innosight works with large companies across a variety of industries who are struggling to successfully modify their practices in a rapidly changing world. David says Innosight has a comprehensive set of solutions to help companies evolve for the future.

“We look at it from the perspective of helping them to develop strategies that orient them towards a kind of transformational direction over the long term,” says David. “We do a lot of work around evolving their organizational capabilities to be able to execute on those strategies.”

One of the guiding principles of Innosight is a process called “dual transformation,” which David says helps companies compete in today’s market while creating long-term plans for consistent growth.

“We call it a dual transformation, because you actually have to worry about two types of transformations separately,” says David.

“There’s the transformation in your core businesses of today, which is about repositioning those businesses to adapt to the changing environment and continuing to serve the customers that you’ve served in continuing to solve the problems that you’ve solved. The other type of transformation is you have to simultaneously create new businesses, solve new types of problems for new customers. And again you have to do all of that at the same time.”

About a year ago, Innosight was acquired by Huron, a global consultancy with a large higher ed practice. The two organizations aim to combine their capabilities to focus on strategy across a wide range of industries.

“Huron has very deep experience in a number of industries including higher ed, healthcare, life sciences. And some of our IP and ways of thinking about things could be helpful to those industries,” says David.

“And there’s also a wonderful combination of, I’d say, capabilities where we focus a lot on strategy. And Huron has a whole range of capabilities about helping to actually get stuff done and operationalize and implement things.”

Now, with Innosight on board, Huron can apply their work to help higher ed institutions adapt to the changing expectations of education. Peter Stokes, Managing Director at Huron, says the firms are focused on a “future-back” approach, which uses scenario planning about the future environment an institution will need to operate in.

“So, let’s really try to imagine the future environment. What are customers going to be seeking?” asks Peter. “What are the technologies that will be available to deliver service to them? How do we need to prepare in order to be a leader in the provision of education, in that sort of a scenario?”

According to Peter, the future back approach is “a different way of orienting institutions toward problem solving and how they think about their potential contribution to delivering education over the long term.”

One of the issues Huron looks at is disruption in higher education. Peter says they look at the term “disruption” in the sense of a new model that displaces the current dominant model in higher ed. Disruption can cause significant change in areas like scale, student population, and how technology influences classroom styles. Peter says one example of disruption is the emergence of credential bootcamps.

“Consumers are suddenly confronted with a choice: do I go to an elite private university and pay $300,000 for a four-year computer science degree? Or do I go to a bootcamp for 12 weeks and spend $15,000, and then get a six figure job? Those are not equivalent educational experiences. They don’t have the same long-term career path. But they’re choices that consumers can choose between.”

According to Peter, consumers have more choices now for education with different returns, and for some, but not all, a more accelerated, lower-cost option is appropriate.

This image of higher ed looks very different than it did 10 or 15 years ago. But are higher ed institutions ready for this type of disruption? Peter says the reaction is mixed.

“I think that in any given institution there are folks that have seen this stuff coming for a long time. Sometimes those folks are on the faculty. Often those folks are in the president’s office or the president’s suite,” says Peter. “And the challenge is not so much, do people see it? Are they able to move forward? But how do you bring the whole team forward.”

Peter says that because universities are large organizations with thousands of employees, the real challenge is “not so much identifying where the opportunities for innovation are, what direction to head in, but how do you bring the team along with you?”

Some higher ed institutions are looking to implement very new technologies, like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, to keep education and enrollment processes competitive and innovative. Peter says one of the most emergent opportunities seems to be with blockchain and the future of credentials.

“One of the real barriers to entry that traditional nonprofit universities have that make them long-lived organizations, is their access to accreditation. And one of the reasons why they’re able to protect themselves is that the federal government and its agencies of accreditation bless them as being the organizations that are capable of granting credit and diplomas for the education they provide,” says Peter.

As a multi-credential environment develops, with badges, diplomas and certificates, Peter says other providers and tools, like blockchain, can provide a different kind of record of learning experiences to potentially “supplant the relevance of accreditors as essentially the quality assurance agent in higher education.”

Peter notes that in the past, higher ed institutions didn’t feel as much pressure to help all students complete their degrees. But now, he says student success must be a primary focus for institutions, and there is a growing need for long-term support of students, even after they graduate.

“We now need to not only get better at producing graduates, but we’re dealing with a growing population of students that have less familiarity with what it takes to get through a college education,” says Peter. “One of the ways that we can address that apparent mismatch is to drive toward increasingly personalized education. And again, that can be driven in part by technology, but in part by human interaction as well.”

Peter says that the drive toward personalized education is not a “one and done kind of experience where you get that bachelor’s degree over four years, and then you go off into the labor market for the next 40 years.” Instead, the support is lifelong, where institutions provide “service to their alumni over the course of their careers.”

Peter says innovation is crucial to higher ed’s survival, because the expectations of the market and consumers are changing.

“The challenge for universities that want to continue to be leaders in the field is to stay close to the customer and to continue to get better and better at that kind of empathic understanding of what it is that customer is seeking,” Peter says. “And to continue to evolve their services in ways that meet the expectations of customers. Because there are other alternative providers out there seeking to do that as well and I think that those competitors can help make our universities more competitive.”

Yet while higher ed institutions need to plan and grow just like any other business, they still hold a special place in the community. In addition to supporting business growth, Peter says that Huron is also trying to support this role through their work.

“We also want to help institutions think about their impact in the communities that they serve,” he says. “So, you know, that can be as, you know, engines of economic development. As you know, organizations that undertake basic science or translational research.”

According to Peter, enriching communities involves employing community members and supporting the arts. He says Huron works to guide clients in a collaborate way to think about “how to best harness their resources to deliver meaningful impact.”

This impact makes it all the more important for higher ed institutions to keep up with the times. And today, the one certainty in higher ed is that it will change. And how institutions prepare today will determine whether they survive and thrive in the midst of those changes.


This episode is brought to you by Huron.

Huron is a global professional services firm with an extensive history in higher education. For nearly two decades, Huron has provided consulting services for over 500 educational institutions, including all 100 of the top research universities in the United States.

You can learn more about what Huron does by visiting

Listen to the full series:

Higher Ed Transformation for the Campus of Tomorrow