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The use of strategic management techniques is the solution to the problem of connecting Tasmanian educational institutions to broadband internet. This audacious opening remark is really the thesis of this paper.
This paper discusses the role that strategic management should play in making access to broadband a reality for all schools in Tasmania. According to Volberda et al. (2012, p. 7), strategic planning is the entirety of “commitments and actions” an organization takes to acquire some form of competitive advantage.
Usually the strategic management process starts after the development of a strategic plan. However, a strategic plan is not the strategic management process. The plan captures the strategic aspirations of an organization, while strategic management makes those aspirations a reality.
Tasmania is dealing with the challenge of ensuring that all its educational institutions get access to broadband internet. Learning institutions are lagging behind in the adoption of broadband for a number of reasons that form part of the subject matter of the next section of this paper.
This paper will explore the potential of solving this issue using strategic management approaches. Stack, Watson and Abbott-Chapman (2011) in the report titled “The Challenges of Creating Connectivity for Tasmanian Education” listed these concerns.
Their report is the case that this paper considers. This case study aims at providing recommendations in regards to the best way to resolve the issue using insights from strategic management.
The digital revolution is presenting various challenges to policy makers across the world. The need for IT skills is no longer a specialty for computer scientists only. It is evolving into a basic skill that everyone needs to survive.
In the same manner that IT is bringing revolutionary changes in the whole world, it is also creating very new and unique problems for policy makers. Tasmania already enjoys broadband availed through the National Broadband Network (NBN) to major towns throughout Australia.
The network serves as the backbone of the Australian internet infrastructure. Since the commencement of the NBN project 2009, the density of connections has been on the rise throughout the country, including Tasmania. This trend excludes learning institutions.
Several factors permeate the environment in educational institutions that influences their access to a broadband connection. Stack, Watson and Chapman (2011) carried out research into this matter and concluded as follows.
Many learning institutions in Tasmania do not have an internet connection that can support E-learning initiatives. This situation is remarkable because E-learning is possible even without broadband.
Secondly, connecting learning institutions to the NBN is more complex than just the provision of broadband. Policy makers need to determine whether this is the best way to ensure that learners have access to broadband internet, or whether other options exist to fulfill this function.
Thirdly, there is a growing “digital divide” in regards to internet access. This divide exists between home and school, between public schools and private schools, and between users and those who do not use the internet.
The fourth factor is that the relevance of schools is under scrutiny because learners have access to superior content online using broadband at home. This content is highly interactive and encourages learning in better ways than what learners experience in schools.
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The fifth issue relating to institutional broadband connectivity in Tasmania is that there is a need to support innovation through technology, policy, and funding. This means that broadband access is only one factor in uncovering the potential of broadband internet.
Sixth, there is clarity concerning the types of internet connections that schools can afford. The concern now is how to increase the capacity of these schools to upgrade to broadband, and thereafter to greater bandwidth within the broadband range.
Finally, there are no coordinated efforts towards standardizing E-learning across Tasmania, and across Australia. As such, there is no way of gathering all the lessons and experiences relating to E-learning in the country.
The recommendations developed from the research project were as follows. First, there is a need to advocate for better internet connectivity for learning institutions, preferably broadband.
Secondly, a cultural shift in teaching approaches is fundamental to the adoption of effective E-learning in Tasmania.
The third recommendation was that there is a need for better networking among all stakeholders in Tasmania to work together towards increasing connectivity for Tasmanian learning institutions and to advocate for the development of stronger E-learning systems in the region.
The final recommendation was the development of a Tasmanian open learning platform to harness the capabilities of E-learning for the benefit of learners in the region.
Based on the case under consideration, it is possible to isolate two main problems in the adoption of broadband in Tasmania. These two issues are achieving broadband connectivity for learning institutions and development of applications to take advantage of the connectivity.
The NBN is a central government project that aims at providing broadband access to all parts of Australia. The scope of the project is ensuring that broadband internet is available in major towns in Australia.
Thereafter it is up to local authorities to connect their residents to broadband. Since this part depends on commercial interests, the uptake varies in various sectors.
Schools are lacking access to broadband because of the costs associated with broadband access. Therefore, the first strategic issue that arises as far as broadband for education goes is connectivity.
After achieving connectivity, it is necessary to take certain steps in order to unlock the benefits of broadband connectivity. The ideas mentioned in the case include the use of broadband to deliver highly interactive educational content and supporting E-learning initiatives such as open learning.
In conclusion, the two broad strategic objectives that should guide the Tasmanian authorities are as follows. First, the authorities should ensure that all academic institutions have broadband internet, and secondly, the authorities should support innovation in the use of broadband for learning.
In order to develop a strategic management outlook for Tasmania’s internet connectivity aspirations for its educational institutions, there is a need to examine two models used for strategic management. The first model is the I/O model . This model focuses on the environmental aspects of strategic management.
It assumes that strategic advantage results from external sources. Therefore, the model proposes that any strategic management effort must start with an examination of the external factors affecting an organization.
The application of the I/O model in Tasmania will require an examination of the external environment in order to identify underlying opportunities. In the case study, the model advocates for the learning institutions to look around to determine how to compete with other broadband users.
This can mean looking at the benefits the other users derive from broadband. The I/O model includes five stages in the planning process for strategic management. The first step is studying the external environment.
The second step is identifying areas with high potential in the industry. The thinking behind this is that concentrating on the high potential areas in the industry leads to better organizational performance.
The third step is the identification of the specific strategy needed to take advantage of the high growth segments in the industry. This is also known as strategic positioning.
The fourth step is the acquisition of the assets needed to take advantage of the opportunities. The assets include both talent and equipment. This stage includes strategic human resource management.
The final stage is implementation. The development of strategy is futile unless strategic action follows.
The second model that describes strategic management is the resource-based model. This model is introspective in nature. The basic thrust of the resource-based model is that it encourages the organization to look inward at the resources available to it.
Then the firm can make an informed choice to determine the best way to use its resources for high returns. This model also has five steps.
The first step in this model is the determination of the strengths and weakness of the firm in comparison to its competitors. The result is that the firm can identify what gives it competitive advantage.
The second step is the definition of the firm’s capabilities. Internal capabilities refer to the things the firm has the capacity to handle competently.
The third step in the resource-based model is the clarification of the firm’s competitive advantage. This entails identifying the specific thing about the firm that makes its customers prefer it to the other firms.
The fourth step in this model is the identification of attractive industry segments.
The fifth step is the matching the firm’s capabilities to the demands of the clients.
The similarity between the two models is that they focus on one aspect of the environment to the exclusions of the other. The I/O model looks at the external opportunities, while the resource-based model looks at internal opportunities. Nothing compels a strategic manager to use only one model.
In fact, the tools used to determine the status of an organization tend to take into account both models. For instance, the PESTLE analysis provides a comprehensive framework for carrying out an environmental analysis. It does not limit an organization to either the internal environment or the external one.
On the other hand, a SWOT analysis provides a clear way of examining both the internal and external factors affecting the organization.
The following table shows a PESTLE analysis based on the situation in Tasmania. It will provide the basis for making recommendations on how the region can use strategic management to achieve its objectives in regards to broadband connectivity.
Table 1: PESTLE Analysis of Tasmania
The government of Tasmania can use strategic management methods to ensure that the region achieves its desire to have broadband connectivity in all institutions of learning. The strategic management process recommended for the region consists of the following five steps proposed by Hill and Jones (2009).
The first step is the selection of a mission and major goals (Hill & Jones 2009). In the prior sections, the overall objectives suitable for Tasmania were to work towards ensuring that all the learning institutions in Tasmania have broadband connectivity.
The second objective was to build the value chain that would exploit the connectivity to create the value the region desires. The mission of this initiative should describe the intended actions that will lead towards the attainment of these goals.
These activities include engagement of stakeholders and the development of a model that optimizes on the IT resource base of the region.
The second step in the strategic management process is the analysis of the external operating environment to identify threats and opportunities. Threats refer to the things that may hinder the development of the projects.
Some of the threats that the region must deal with is the possibility that the broadband connectivity in homes and in commercial areas will always be better than the connectivity in the learning institutions. In addition, the region needs to take into account the threat posed by a lack of financing.
Other threats to the project include a brain drain to other Australian regions that can offer ICT experts better working conditions. A related threat is loss of opportunities to create ICT centers to other regions in Australia that have better broadband connectivity.
The third step is to analyze the organization’s internal environment to identify strengths and weaknesses. In short, this step requires introspection similar to the I/O model that concentrates on internal capacity to develop a strategic management initiative.
The internal issues that will have an impact on the efforts of the Tasmanian government include access to financing to cover the project. It will also depend on the ability of this government to attract and retain the right talent geared towards the development of programs that will unlock the value of broadband connectivity.
There will be a need to find ways of bringing together the stakeholders in the region to support the projects and to encourage learning.
The fourth step is to develop a strategy that maximizes on the strengths and opportunities, while minimizing the weaknesses and threats. It should also emanate from the mission and goals set in the first step. This step requires the participation of stakeholders.
In this case, the connectivity projects would require the development of a strong financial base to pay for the connection. The state needs to find out which financing options it needs to employ to meet the need for connectivity.
On the second aspect of utilization of the broadband connection, the strategies developed must take into account the need to develop institutions that can spearhead innovation and uptake of new resources that broadband makes accessible. A regional commission on the uptake of broadband may be the answer.
Another possibility is the formation of a high-level committee to identify the issues that each sector needs to have in mind and to leave the details to the sector.
For instance, the opportunities available to educational institutions based on the availability of broadband are not the same to the opportunities available to businesses.
Educators may need to optimize the use of IT for the delivery of content to support virtual learning, while businesses may be interested in business process outsourcing.
The final step is the implementation of the chosen strategy. In many cases, organizations fail, not because of lack of strategy, but because of poor implementation. In fact, excellent execution of a sloppy idea will yield more results than poor execution of an outstanding idea.
The Tasmanian regional authorities must ensure that there is clear leadership in the two areas. Poor leadership can lead to catastrophic failures.
Tasmania has a formidable challenge in its hands characterized by the inordinate uptake of broadband by educational institutions. Reports indicate that business and homes in the region have better access to broadband. This is a challenge that Tasmania can mitigate by using strategic management.
Strategic management is ideal for the region’s situation because it will make it possible for the government to take a long-term view of the situation.
In addition, adopting a strategic management approach to resolve the current situation will make it possible for the policy makers to carry out a situational analysis before identifying solutions.
An analysis of the current situation suggests that the best way to handle the situation is to approach broadband connectivity from two distinct points. On one hand, there is a need to handle the infrastructure issues relating to access to broadband.
The region has broadband connections thanks to the NBN projects funded by the central government. The scope of the NBN project did not include connecting consumers to broadband. This is in the hands of commercial interests and regional authorities.
On the other hand, there is the need to create value streams from the capacity that broadband will bring to the educational institutions in Tasmania.
Achieving connectivity is only the first step in enjoying the benefits of broadband. More importantly, broadband needs to contribute towards innovation and value addition in Tasmania. It is the only way to justify the necessary investments.
A strategic management approach will call for the state authorities to use the five-step process proposed by Hill and Jones (2009), or something similar to it. The five steps include the identification of goals and the development of a mission statement.
The next two steps are conducting an environmental analysis to determine the internal and the external factors that will have an impact on the projects. The fourth step is the development of a strategy, while the fifth step is the implementation of the strategy.
The recommendations to the Tasmanian authorities are as follows.
First, there is a need to identify and engage all the stakeholder groups in the region in regards to broadband connectivity and applications and uses of broadband. The authorities need to meet them in order to determine the needs and expectations of these stakeholders.
Secondly, the authorities need to appoint a committee, or a commission to handle matters relating to broadband connectivity. The issues that will arise during the implementation phase are new in the experience of Australia. A permanent body has the best chance of success because of the capacity to learn and to adapt.
It may be necessary to appoint two such bodies, one to deal with the infrastructure part of connectivity, and the other to deal with the usage of broadband. It is clear that the infrastructure team will require a technical team while the broadband usage team will need broader membership.
The third recommendation to the Tasmanian Authorities is that it should develop terms of reference (TOR) for the body they put in charge of the broadband uptake. The TOR should include the timelines for the projects.
The following process should guide the implementation of the issues discussed in the paper.
First, the Tasmanian government needs to identify the agency that will spearhead the Broadband connectivity projects. It is important to identify the authority with the final say in matters relating to the project.
Secondly, the Tasmanian Government should appoint either a commission, of a committee composed of various stakeholders to implement these projects.
Thirdly, the government will need to develop a TOR for the working group to ensure the timely completion of projects.
Fourth, the government must find ways of inviting all the stakeholders to participate in this process.
Finally, the government must identify the revenue streams that will finance the projects.
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