How Federation University is transforming and innovating IT to deliver digital services

As the move towards digital becomes a priority for most universities, the role and function of the IT department in enabling and supporting digital transformation has become increasingly important.

Traditionally, IT in higher education has been more of a follower, rather than a pioneer or leader. But the move to digital is disrupting this role, placing increasing emphasis on IT departments to innovate and adapt to deliver new learning outcomes.

Federation University has responded to this challenge by implementing a 100-day IT transformation plan, which involves evolving and transforming their existing IT structure and services to cater for digital.

“The 100 day IT transformation plan looks at everything from environments to architecture, people and culture, to systems and infrastructure. The aim is to become a provider of services for our institution, with is very different to traditional IT service methodology, models and approach,” says Andrew Tully, Executive Director, Information Technology & Business Solution at Federation University.

Andrew and his team are currently in the process of executing the plan, which was rolled-out in July 2014, and has a projected outcome of an 85.5 per cent transformation of the entire IT structure at Federation University.

According to Andrew, the key success factor of the transformation is going beyond technology to offer a responsive IT service.

“We’ve created a business partnership team and identified three main areas within the institution where IT can become a provider of services, including digital learning and technology, corporate and operational services and research solutions.

Through this business partnership focus we’re revising our entire service catalogue to ensure we are providing the appropriate services needed by each of the core areas or departments across the university,” he explains.

One way Andrew’s team is achieving wider-business engagement is through the establishment of monthly working groups and steering committees, to engage with business and functional owners to identify specific needs and issues.

“We are going deeper into the organisation to assess the pros and cons and understand business needs so we can service them in a more end-to-end service-centric approach,” he says.

But the journey towards IT transformation has not been without challenges. Moving towards a centralised IT structure and system has brought about a number of cultural and organisational issues.

To overcome these challenges, Andrew says there are four key areas which are fundamental to the success of IT transformation, which he shares below:

  1. Fostering a culture of change towards digital

“We’ve changed the identity of IT within our business – it’s a fresh, new start. Change, in any form, can bring with it uncertainty or resistance. So we’ve really had to focus on changing individual attitudes within our IT team.

The way I’ve done that is by using the power of personality and innovative thinking to bring my staff along the journey of digital transformation. I’ve gone back to the basics and asked: what do we do? why are we here? what are we focused on?

It’s about showing them the opportunities we have from going from a reactive IT team to a proactive team, and the steps needed to achieve this.

Another challenge we’ve faced is the fact our existing IT services model was very narrowly focused – it was a decentralised model, which resulted in different service approaches and conflicting interests across teams and departments.

Our journey towards centralising IT has involved significant engagement with all the senior leadership of the university – this involved consulting, understanding, listening and amending our plan based on feedback.

It really has come back to embracing the concept of change, in order to foster a culture of digital innovation.”

  1. Taking students along the journey

“Improving student experience and learning outcomes is one of the major drivers of digital transformation. I actually went out and met with the student council and engaged with them personally to bring them along the transformation journey.

We asked them to map out their student experience from a technology perspective. We then asked them to tell us where they encountered challenges, difficulties, frustration and also what the positive elements were. From this feedback, we pinpointed their pain points and have identified over 116 potential initiatives to improve student experience through technology.

We’ve labeled this a ’120 day plan’ (because it took us 120 days to put together), which includes initiatives that are tiny micro-initiatives which can remediate a problem within a day, and then other significant initiatives which will take 3 – 6 months to solve.

We’ve broken down each of these initiatives based on criteria such as; are we going to make an investment to fix this, grow our student base, to retain our student base, to save on costs, to optimise or mitigate institutional risk?

Based on those criteria we have then prioritised 116 pieces of work and are looking at addressing the areas which have the maximum benefits for as little effort as possible. We’re then going back to the business and saying ‘you require investments to transform the experience and these are the initiatives we are going to drive to achieve this.’

It’s about saying to the business: please support us to kick off these initiatives on the understanding that we have a new organisational structure for IT that is adaptive and no longer reactive, but proactive.”

To read the other two steps Andrew and his team are taking as part of their digital transformation strategy, download the full eBook Higher Education Digital Transformation Roadmap; Trends Challenges and Opportunities in 2015.

The eBook also features case studies from the University of Melbourne, Curtin University and Monash University, and the strategies each are using to integrate digital throughout their IT and business models.

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