Strategic Plan

Digitally Enabled

“The University provides the information people want, when and how they want it, simply.”

A Strategy for the Digital Age

To meet this vision the University must have a digital strategy. It has to be digital because this is where the exponential growth in the knowledge economy is occurring and is the environment and means being embraced by those the University seeks to engage in research, learning, and work. 

The Strategy must create appeal, engagement, impact, and capacity in meeting users’ needs.

The Digital Strategy supports the University Strategic Plan by enhancing the ability of students and staff to collaborate and providing them with the skills and knowledge to transform the way in which they study and work, now and in the future. The plans will evolve with and be developed by the University's Chief Digital Officer.

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To meet these needs the University must understand the students heading towards it: Generation Z (Centennials born 1996 and later). They are different from those attending the University now and understanding them, and their needs, is already a challenge. They have grown up with rapidly evolving digital technology; a claim made in the past for other generations, but it has not always meant they are as tech savvy or dependant as perhaps expected. 

Gen Z, however, are different and schools are finding them increasingly challenging to engage. This is not because they are any less interested in learning, but because they are not as comfortable engaging face to face, often preferring to interact through a digital medium those with whom they are not very familiar. Gen Z has an almost umbilical relationship with the smart phone.[1]

This does not mean they do not use other devices (laptops, tablets, and games consoles), but the device they use multiple times every day and turn to first is their smart phone. 

Whereas Baby Boomers, Gen X, and even many Millennials welcome the occasional period in a WiFi free zone, Gen Z fear the social disconnection that comes from poor WiFi connections or a lack of power to charge their smart devices. The imminent arrival of Gen Z’s “i” members as students and staff requires a fundamental shift in the University’s approach to the provision of information, knowledge, and education and our collective culture.  

The expanding digital environment and population require the University to adopt a “mobile first” approach to deliver secure content to any device, anytime and anywhere. The number of connected devices per person has risen over the last ten years to now include laptops, tablets, mobiles, and wearables. This approach does not discount the use of desktops, books or face-to-face learning, but prioritises the University’s interaction with students and increasingly staff through mobile technology. 

If we do not think “mobile” we will lose our connection with our most important customers, be they students, potential students, or their gatekeepers. To maintain an effective connection to our customers we must deliver to each individually what they need, when they need it, and how they need it: “now, customised for me, simple”.

This understanding of customer requirements has driven what has become an increasingly common element of people’s digital experience: personalisation. Executed well it is welcomed; executed poorly it is a frustration and a turn-off and destroys engagement. Getting this personalised element of digital engagement right is dependent on a relentless focus on the customer. 

 

[1] Mary Visser: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/nine-things-you-need-know-generation-z-mary-visser  accessed 4 Jan 18.

Strategic Plan Digital Requirements

To achieve the University’s Strategic Plan objectives and meet Gen Z’s needs, the University’s technology provision must continue to rapidly evolve:

A student working on a laptop in a crowded lecture theatre

We need to provide:

Robust, resilient, and secure infrastructure, which can be quickly expanded and exported to seize new opportunities. It must be agile and flexible enough to support new developments in leading-edge teaching, learning, and research applications regardless of where users are located.

A group of students with a mobile device sitting and chatting in a seminar room

We need to:

Promote an agile culture with frequent and timely changes to services, which are led by discussions with customers to improve the overall user experience. This approach means accepting rapid improvements can lead to failure and in some cases will require a redesign process to incorporate the lessons learned.

A student working on a laptop in the library

We need to:

Secure access to data and applications anytime and anywhere through a variety of mobile interfaces, which can be personalised by the user.

Three students working on laptops in a seminar room

We need to develop:

The ability to exploit emerging technologies and disruptive influences to enhance performance, revolutionising the way we work and transitioning away from rigid manual or digitised processes to digitalised, intelligent learning processes.

A critical component of the University’s digital architecture is the provision of WiFi, which is fast becoming a human right in the developed world; it is certainly a human need in most people under the age of 35 and must be constantly available. The University must continue to provide a high data capacity WiFi network throughout the campus and invest in the latest technology to meet the requirements of all its users. It must encompass buildings and the space in-between, and consideration must be given to how students and academics living (and working) away from the University campus can access the knowledge and data they require 24/7 free from barriers, interruption, and delay. 

The key to success will be to provide a digital architecture that enables the University to take advantage of new capabilities as they emerge and not be constrained to operating one system or process: to “plug and play” new capabilities and, equally important, to easily unplug obsolescent capabilities, to experiment and incrementally evolve new capability exploiting others’ ideas and innovations.

Digital Development Path

An important first step in enabling the change in culture and thinking required to succeed in this environment and to embed a “mobile first” approach will be changing the equipment all members of the University use to work, teach, and learn. It will require the replacement of fixed infrastructure with mobile technology.

To provide an engaging personalised experience, the user must be connected to the information they need to make effective decisions effortlessly. The information provider must determine the user’s requirement, match it to the relevant information, and make it available to the user through a secure medium seamlessly

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This is done through an intelligent integration layer, which uses real-time data integrations utilising the defined master data models that store the key data assets for all current students and staff. It then connects the necessary data to the services required, using an interface familiar to the user, one they are confident and comfortable manipulating. 

The interface has traditionally been a hard copy book, manual, or spreadsheet, but is increasingly a digitised soft copy of the same (e.g. e-book, online manual, or excel file) or a completely new digitalised form of information (e.g. VR, AR, or digital data files) accessed and manipulated using digital technologies (e.g. smartphones and tablets using apps, web applications, and software programs). The ability to design and manage the integration layer and to manipulate the interface to create a profitable and engaging user experience is the critical skill set required to deliver a productive digital capability.

This approach changes the role of IT departments and requires a wide range of skill sets. It is IT capability defined as “service integration”. A traditional IT department may not have held these capabilities in the quantities required to deliver high speed service integration. To overcome this capability challenge, a cloud-first strategy enables access to specialist development expertise within a contracted service. The supplier-led specialist capability can be deployed to solve particularly complex process/data/integration issues, and provide support models over longer periods of time.

The in-house capability will continue to be developed working alongside contracted expertise from key service providers (e.g. Microsoft, Softcat, and TechnologyOne). Minimal development requirements for processes not provided within contracted solutions will utilise “low code” (e.g. MS PowerApps) for rapid development (a good recent example of rapid low code development is the University’s Test and Trace App).

Complex developments use a standardised code base to provide a solution to meet the University’s requirements (e.g. Attendance Monitoring and NavigateMe). These solutions are often time-limited developments, which can be withdrawn once the functionality is available within one of the University’s contracted capabilities.

Organisation Development Path

To compete in the future digital operating environment, the University must further develop its integration layer and connect data by enhancing its digital capability governance arrangements and transforming its data landscape. Other large complex knowledge-driven organisations have created chief digital and information officers to drive an intelligent customer approach focusing attention on the centrality of information, the digital environment, and the customer. 

The centrality of digital capability to successful businesses has seen the CDIO join the executive to ensure the senior leadership has direct oversight of a business-critical function – digital is not merely a delivery or management function, it is at the leading edge of the business’ interaction with its customers and potential customers.

Read More About the 'Organisation Development Path'

Further transformation of ICT should see it continue to develop as a Service Integration and Management (SIAM)[1] service investing in cloud technologies and toolsets that enable greater automation of processes, increased monitoring of and service levels for all services, rapid incident response, and continuous improvement activity. Investment in Software as a Service (SaaS) has diversified support requirements across numerous suppliers with the added benefit in some cases of 24/7 support and access to large-scale development resources. It also reduces the overall cyber security risk. ICT should seek further opportunities for external service integration where the benefits can be demonstrated similar to its relationships with large suppliers such as Microsoft and Softcat.

ICT has adopted the Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) and Dev/Ops approach, which ensures development teams are responsible for design, implementation, and critically support of internal software solutions and leads to more reliable software. These concepts developed by market-leading customer-focused companies such as Google, Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, and Airbnb have been found to be “wildly successful”.[2] 

At the same time, the Department’s focus on built-in resilience and disaster recovery must continue to be at the forefront of system design. Monitoring tools and visual aids are used to monitor the University’s internal digital capabilities and, in the event of failure, rapidly return service to normal. The SaaS delivery model removes the risk of major solutions being unavailable as key suppliers have 24/7 support models (e.g. Blackboard). 

The other major change in governance should be the introduction of service owner boards to ensure digital development is business driven. Service owner boards own demand and the prioritisation of requirements. They are accountable for establishing the funding and resources required to deliver the service, setting the service’s strategic direction, accepting its delivery into service, and approving service levels, costs, and risks. 

 

 

[1] Service Integration and Management (SIAM) is an approach to managing multiple suppliers of services (business services as well as information technology services) and integrating them to provide a single business-facing IT organisation. It aims at seamlessly integrating interdependent services from various internal and external service providers into end-to-end services in order to meet business requirements. Goldberg M., G. Satzger and A. Kieninger; A Capability Framework for it Service Integration and Management in Multi-sourcing dated 2015.

[2] https://increment.com/on-call/who-owns-on-call/ accessed 071927ZFEB18.

Digital Leadership

To draw the customer, information, technology, and organisation lines of development together to deliver the strategy and its benefits will require the recruitment of a chief digital officer (CDO). The CDO must have a strong background in delivering outstanding customer service, a good grasp of current and emerging digital capabilities, a clear understanding of information management and how to combine and use data to provide business advantage, and well-honed organisational skills.

A line graph displayed on a digital screen

Background Information

In support of the Digital strategy, we have pulled together a range of background information about our approach.

'Definitions'

Definitions

In defining a strategy for the digital age, we must distinguish between words and phrases often used interchangeably. A digital strategy is a business answer to a digital question: how should the University evolve to thrive in an increasingly digital sector? An IT strategy is a technical answer to a business question: how will IT help the University meet its strategic ambitions?  

Digitalisation is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide revenue and value-producing opportunities (processes conducted more effectively, tackling business problems and creating operational efficiencies). Digitisation is the process of converting information into a digital format (automation of existing processes and practices). The Automation Pilot is a good example of using technology to tackle a business problem.

'Mobile First'

Mobile First

A “mobile first” approach is about framing the University’s approach. It is not about stopping everything done now and attempting to deliver everything on a mobile platform. It means just as the approach used to be to collect information in a book from which learners extracted information and manipulated it to suit their purpose, including digitising it for use via other means, the process should be reversed. 

The first consideration should be how can this knowledge or information be displayed and accessed effectively on any mobile platform? Once this question has been answered effectively thought can be directed into how it is transferred effectively to a static digital platform (e.g. desktop or wall mounted screen) and finally in hard copy (e.g. books and posters). 

Such a shift in approach will only be achieved with a significant investment (of time, effort, and resource) and a commitment to embed this mind set in the University’s culture. This approach is equally relevant to students, academics, and professional services staff: a mobile first vision will change the look and feel of the University and its ways of working. 

In many organisations there is increasing differentiation between digital capacity (software) and information technology (hardware) delivery. The focus has shifted from hardware (including wiring) to applications and the smart integration of data to provide an engaging customer experience – the aim is to surprise and delight users with new features and connections. This shift in emphasis has seen many organisations out-source or commoditise the delivery of hardware (including WiFi provision) and concentrate in-house on understanding the customer and designing the interface and data connections required to deliver an excellent user experience and to create differentiation (the University’s brand).

The University has moved in this direction as evidenced by the decision to outsource Student Accommodation WiFi and adopt a cloud-first strategy for services, which has removed the need for large-scale investment in development, infrastructure, and support teams. This saving has enabled an increased focus on delivering a better customer experience. It must continue to move in this direction.

The focus cannot be exclusively on development and the introduction of new capabilities. The introduction of new and exciting applications will not remove the customer’s high expectation for uninterrupted high-capacity service. This requires the constant internal monitoring of live services delivering business-critical activities, such as the network and storage, and the ability to fix problems very quickly.

Other universities have imported the Military’s Situation Centre (SITCEN), Operations Bridge, and Operations Officer approach to provide a constant view of system performance and the means to commit the right people to rectify problems rapidly. ICT have implemented monitoring tools across its infrastructure and have used this concept to increasing effect. The SaaS model for key critical business solutions with associated service levels minimises the risk of downtime. Furthermore, the utilisation of cloud technology with all suppliers allows services to be rapidly returned to normal when an event occurs.

The approach to procuring, configuring, and maintaining standard ICT equipment (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) has also changed. Rather than receiving vanilla copies of equipment, it is configured, primed for use, maintained, and replaced by the supplier on an agreed schedule. This approach reduces time to effectiveness, maintains equipment capability, improves consistency of experience, ensures efficiency through volume, removes friction and delay, and allows technical personnel to be reassigned to more critical customer facing roles.   

'Service Owner Boards'

Service Owner Boards

To maximise the University’s investment in digital infrastructure, a more structured and disciplined approach to determining and defining the connections between the extensive data being produced and collected must be implemented. This will require a business-first approach and should be led by business requirement owners. Digital requirements come from all areas of the University to include research, teaching and learning, professional services, and the broader student and staff community with good ideas.  

This breadth of requirement can be unfocused, is often unfunded (hence our current large ETSG Potential Projects List), and can lack clear benefits realisation. This can lead to the IT introduced to support digital initiatives being stove-piped and inefficient and result in a fragmented set of digital capabilities. Service Owner Boards own demand and the prioritisation of requirements. They are accountable for establishing and securing the funding and resources required to deliver the service, setting the strategic direction for the service, accepting its delivery into service, and approving service levels, costs, and risks. 

IT own and manage the supply side of the equation. They are responsible for understanding the technology, technology developments, and service delivery, which can be designed and delivered in-house, outsourced, or provided through SaaS. A modern technology platform is based on cloud technology, SaaS, an integration layer to provide agility and rapid application development tools. These are the enablers of a service integrator capability, which must be embedded in ICT if it is to change perception of the function from being an “overhead” (IT) to creating “value” (digital). The following service owners’ boards should be introduced as a minimum: Teaching and Learning, Research, Professional Services, Estates, and Partnerships. 

'Data Collection and Analytics'

Data Collection and Analytics

The collection of data and its analysis is already done well by the University, but the approach has evolved over time and has had to be retrofitted onto the systems and processes already in place.

With the benefit of understanding how vital this capacity has been in driving the University’s progress the next generation of capabilities must be designed to connect the data in order to enable still more powerful analysis and in turn stronger business decisions. One education solution provider’s strap line is “create capacity through data, not bricks”.  Its proposition is that by combining data one can avoid having to build unnecessary buildings or at least design what you really need by better understanding the requirement. 

Capacity in this case is seen as the interaction of space, people, and time, which come together in the timetable. It draws on and combines data from the student management, academic workload planning, and space management systems to provide the delivery plan. Enabling the timetable to draw “usage” data from these and other systems such as Student Attendance Monitoring would allow the delivered plan to be validated against the original plan and any excess capacity identified and exploited (be that in terms of space not used, hours not taught, or workload not optimised). 

This specific capability has also been developed by the University though we are still to utilise this business information in the manner suggested above. Further development of the University’s data warehouse capability, which utilises data from all the University’s main services to provide key reporting in one place is critical if the University is to remain ahead of the competition in its effective use of data.

'Digital Platform'

Digital Platform

If the interface is critical to user data, connections analytics are critical to the business. The University must establish a digital platform, which connects the technical building blocks needed to enable digital services and analytics to be delivered quickly and effectively in support of business requirements and innovation.[1] The building blocks are:

Information Systems Platform: supports the back office and core systems such as finance, HR, student management, library, collaboration tools, etc. A partnership relationship with the key suppliers of these services is crucial to improving user experience, processes, and data. The current critical strategic University suppliers are JISC, Softcat, TechnologyOne, Microsoft, Blackboard, and Zellis.

Customer Experience Platform: contains the main customer-facing elements such as the website, VLE, blog sites, Microsoft 365, and internal student and staff applications.

Data and Analytics Platform: information management and analytical capabilities including Enterprise Service Bus, Master Data Management, and the Data Warehouse.

Internet of Things Platform: connects physical assets for monitoring, optimisation, and control.

Ecosystems Platform: supports the creation of and connection to external ecosystems and communities such as UCAS or the OfS. Key suppliers are contractually responsible for integration with those ecosystems.

 

[1] Platforms: an interoperable set of services that can be brought together to create applications, apps and workflows … that form a symbiotic collection of technology capabilities and components. Gartner; Building a Digital Business Technology Platform dated 8 Jun 16.

A successful University strategy for the digital age must enable it to meet its two primary purposes: the creation of knowledge and learning. To do this it must connect people to knowledge and information in the most effective way possible. This is equally important for students, academics, and professional services staff.

University of Lincoln Strategic Plan 2022-27