Building Digital Support Teams in Higher Education

Digital Transformation is often written about for its impact on an organization. Especially in higher education, there is a monumental effort placed by many teams across multiple departments to evolve digital systems and best practices. The goal for any institution is always simple in nature: deliver on technology’s original promise—to get a multiple of work done with fewer resources. We often dress up this promise to be more complicated in our efforts to coordinate, project confidence, and (sometimes) coerce others to get in line with this transformation. 

That level of commitment is required in order to evolve an organization’s digital practices. 

But oftentimes organizations are later left in a lurch after the promises have all lost their luster and the real work starts to set in. 

How do budget-limited, politically contentious organizations overcome the systemic hurdles built into their DNA?

In short, at Facet, we believe that the answer is organizational engineering

Organizational Engineering is the process of building new collaborative systems by reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, leveraging intrinsic value from easily accessible mechanisms, and building new processes around organizational hurdles. 

It takes a creative leader in order to pull off, but more importantly, it takes someone like you—who is interested in reading this article, ready and willing to apply the techniques to come up with an organizational system that uniquely suits your strengths and weaknesses.

Standard Digital Team Problems in Higher Education

While many institutions in higher education have a marketing and IT department, few have kept pace in their staffing with the rapid evolution of technology. The issue is less about the individual team’s set of skills, and more about the requirement to be highly collaborative, cross-functional, and united around key outcomes and objectives while delivering digital systems and experiences. 

Here are a few of the common problems we have seen:

  1. Lack of a unified Digital Support workforce, with silos between marketing, IT, and customer departments whose content is being published online.
  2. Incohesive execution of a unified Digital Experience. 
  3. Fragmented online publishing tooling.
  4. No brand governance.Meager practices or processes to audit digital content against brand guidelines. 

Incomplete Digital Transformations in Higher Education

We’ve seen many universities make the shift to unified online publishing tools such as Drupal Content Management System (CMS). Drupal’s publishing framework can easily support a hub-and-spoke configuration of digital support—with one unified content publishing configuration distributed to many departments who can easily customize layout, content, and some look-and-feel without breaking brand guidelines. 

Where we see this process break is in the departmental rollout, adoption, and support after launch. 

Why? Well, there just aren’t enough resources or people to educate a working body of digital content publishers on the new platform, give them the access they need to digital platform experts. Not to mention, the unique problem that most departments do not have a dedicated web content publisher—they rely on their staff who are already managing other job responsibilities. 

Business Case for a Centralized Digital Support Team

To direct the organizational engineering required to fully support a digital transformation towards a unified digital publishing platform, first, we must make the case for the expected outcomes and results.  

Qualitative Outcomes and Results

Unified publishing platforms for universities…

  • Empower the delivery of content with consistent brand guidelines. 
  • Provide the department websites with secure tooling and aesthetic brand standards.
  • Centralized security updates and IT risk mitigation. 
  • Position the university as an academic leader through high-quality digital content delivery.
  • Introduces the opportunity for high personalization for prospective students, faculty, and donors. 
  • Provides a foundation for unified data collection, analysis, and insights.

Quantitative Outcomes and Results

  • Reduced cost of maintenance. Consolidated tooling allows for regular security updates, maintenance, and centralized development of new features. 
  • Decrease the timeline between departmental feedback and implementation of new features. 
  • Percent of departmental platform adoption. A high percentage of departmental adoption means leverage for a centralized budget for Digital Support, whereas low adoption means more departments will break away from University leadership’s directives. (After all, the best alternative to a single platform is for a department to go off and make their own website.) 
  • Gain consistent analytics insights through unified tooling. Setting up key metrics tracking and a unified analysis against key objectives and goals will more easily disseminate knowledge to departmental content users who quite simply want to know how they’re doing. Without centralized reporting, many departments are often locked out of analytics, without a feedback loop to guide them towards better performance. They may end up publishing content for vanity’s sake, as opposed to supporting the universities clear metrics: typically university donations, and student applications. A unified platform is the only way for a typically siloed set of web properties to gain unilateral insight into online web user behavior without expensive data engineering costs. 

The Case for a Unified Digital Support Team

Equipped with desired outcomes and measured results, now you’re equipped with the ability to make a case around centralizing resources into one Digital Support team that spans development/IT, and marketing support for web properties. 

Scale adoption across departments by supporting a single tool, and gain leverage to build your Digital Support team of the future. One that is best equipped to support many internal and external customers at scale, while reducing the risk around brand quality and security. 

The Ideal Team Composition

Rather than giving you the numbers of team members, salaries, and interdepartmental billing strategies, I’ll instead focus on how this team should be modeled. 

The ideal Digital Support team in higher education should be modeled after an agency. The case is quite simple, you need a centralized team of digital professionals, who work in a highly collaborative environment, to come up with creative solutions to service a large number of customers in a consistent and scalable way. 

Many higher education institutions are familiar with this model in IT Support. Typically IT Support is centralized for the consolidation of IT knowledge, ability to cross-functionally support various IT systems, and the opportunity working in such an environment offers technical talent who want exposure to increasingly difficult problems to match the trajectory of their career. 

Digital Support teams are equally motivated by their ability to impact their customers, gain cross-functional knowledge about front-end/back-end development, marketing technologies, and user experience. Perhaps this is the greatest indicator of a good digital professional and a differentiator from their IT counterpart: their interest in the user experience, and the curiosity for human psychology that typically drives marketing and digital.

Digital Support Team Composition

  • 2 Developers in-house
    • Option to augment these developers with outside help during major builds
  • 1 Designer
  • 1 Content Support 
  • 2 to 4 work-study students providing production support
  • 1 Photographer

As the Digital Support team scales up, the rate of increase typically pushes more heavily on development and content support. Make sure all of your team members are appropriately project managed, and you have someone owning the Digital Support processes that allow your team to scale efficiently. 

Digital Support Packages

Create standardized support packages to define interdepartmental support tiers.

By qualifying departments for a certain amount of support and interdepartmental billing, you ensure their support and contributions towards the Digital Support team are in lock-step.

Standard Operating Procedures around common requests will empower your Digital Support team “internal agency” to scale to meet the number of requests they will see once your unified digital publishing platform is rolled out. 

Be sure to regularly meet with your staff and review requests outside of the scope of standard packages so that you can build new processes for support, train your work-study students, and adapt. 

Common Standard Operating Procedures for Higher Education Digital Support Teams

  • Website Planning & Content Strategy 
  • Photography 
  • Event Promotion
  • Graphic Design Support
  • Other repeatable requests 


Ultimately, this roadmap is a collection of best practices, insights, and ideals we have polished while working with a number of higher education institutions in digital transformation planning, consulting, and training. 

To elevate your university and your team’s efficiency, reach out to us with any questions you might have!