10 key lessons learned from technology transformation in higher education

This is a challenging time for the HE sector in the UK with rising student expectations, continued financial uncertainty and strong competition from a range of new providers.

Many of our clients are turning to technology to help them keep pace with the demands of a rapidly changing market.

As the Global Lead for Education at Deloitte I have seen first-hand how our teams work collaboratively with their clients all over the world to successfully deliver “technology transformation”. In doing so we have helped our universities to embrace new ways of work and implement a range of new technologies from Student Information Systems and online learning platforms to CRM.

Ten key lessons that we have learned along the way are:

  1. Lead from the top: Technology transformation affects everything including your data definitions, operating model, organisation design and much more! Establishing a governance structure underpinned by strong leadership is essential to make key decisions and act decisively. Creating the right environment for success requires leaders to be visible and actively driving forward and embracing the change. 
  2. Develop a strong business case and stick to it: Be realistic about the costs of procuring and implementing any new technology solution and about the benefits and efficiencies you expect to achieve. Remember it’s important to think about all of the associated costs of new technology including the time and investment needed to redesign business process, organisation structures and to embed new ways of working. 
  3. Get the right advice: Technology transformation requires deep technical expertise and a range of skills which are completely different from day-to-day systems maintenance and management. Make sure you invest in the right advisors with the skills and experience and a proven track record of successful delivery transformation and business change across a range of technology solutions to support you throughout the project.
  4. Engage staff and students: Remember to spend the time engaging with staff and students from across the university community, allowing them to contribute ideas and offer their insight. Getting ‘buy-in’ right from the start of the project and being honest and open about the difficult decisions you are making will reduce the resistance and improve business readiness.
  5. Document and plan your implementation properly: Poor management is the single biggest threat to any project and systems implementation and integration projects can last over 24 months. It is therefore essential to spend time planning your project properly and documenting every step of the process. Being clear about the timing of key decisions and project milestones will help to ensure your project stays on track.
  6. Deploy the right team: Most major student systems are expected to last over 20 years, and represent a huge investment for any University, so it is essential to create a project team with the right blend of skills, experience, attitude and commitment from right across the University. 
  7. Strive for quick wins: Think about ways to demonstrate success throughout the lifecycle of the project. We advocate a phased approach to implementation, introducing new functionality to business users continuously, thus increasing support and buy-in, whist allowing benefits to be realised quickly and maintaining a positive profile for the project.
  8. Limit customisation of systems and processes: Major systems implementations can be extremely complex and it’s important to resist the urge to change the way your chosen product works. Customisation of COTs products is expensive, time consuming and reduces your ability to upgrade and maintain the software in the future. Try hard to stick with the core ‘vanilla’ package and invest the time adapting your processes to align with the software.
  9. Manage third party supplies: Many of our clients choose to engage a number of third party technology suppliers in an effort to reduce costs and engage SME’s. Managing them can be complex and requires both deep technical and contract management expertise and skill to ensure timescales, costs and risk are successfully managed and a common sense of purpose and ownership is maintained.
  10. Go-live’ is not the end of the project: Once you complete implementation make sure you invest the time to ensure the system is properly embedded across the university and that users have ongoing access to the right support and training to maximise the success of your investment. Maintain a focus on continuous improvement post go-live so that new benefits can be realised now and into the future.
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