UCISA24 Thought Leadership - The Introduction

01 May 2024 - UCISA24 Thought Leadership - The Introduction


Digital Strategy in a University Context

All of Dickens major novels were published serially, in monthly (or weekly) instalments. A full-length novel was out of the price range of most of his readers but a monthly instalment, 32 pages with two illustrations and advertisements, could be sold for a shilling. Dickens wrote each instalment with this type of publication in mind, many of the instalments ended with a hook that kept the readers glued to the edge of their Victorian seats wondering what would happen next, thus ensuring the sales of the next instalment.

In a similar way, we would like to share with you our thoughts on Digital Strategy in a University. This builds on the discussion at the Leadership conference in Edinburgh. I can’t always promise you illustrations and we will try and avoid advertisements, but I am sure that in all other respects it will be just the same. It does seem equally important that the strategy in the current financial environment is reasonably priced and it is delivered in a way that universities are able to consume. I recently had a senior academic colleague ask me, “with all of these investments you are making in the Digital space, you must be finished pretty soon, and you won’t need to spend any more money”. The Digital strategy is part of the answer to why this is unfortunately not the case – or  “Please sir, I want some more”.

I feel that sometimes the CIO role is a little like that of a Dickensian hero. She has to make her way in a complex world often against great adversity and with a few unhelpful characters wishing her ill. Despite this she normally triumphs and learns many things along the way. Our hope in writing these articles is to give some light for the darker moments of that journey and to provide camaraderie along the way.

Digital Strategy is not an easy thing to do in a university. It can be a defining moment for a CIO and their team and usually is only something you get to do once. How do you balance financial pressures and urgent needs with making strategic progress? Who do you work with to make it happen? A strategy process is a great opportunity for a CIO and their team to engage with their organisation and answer key questions about university goals and priorities. How do we do this well and come out ahead?

The groups in Edinburgh dug into the following questions:

  • With Universities facing a challenging economic climate and the pressure to make financial savings leading to short term vs long term trade-offs - how can a Strategy help address this? - Vipin Ahlawat, Director of IT Services, Loughborough University
  • Digital Strategy – role of the CIO and how to engage the wider organisation.– What are the leadership challenges for a CIO? Emma Woodcock, CIO, York St John University
  • AI and Digital Strategy – How will technology cause disruption and demand a strategic response? Simon Corbett, Director of IT Services, Northumbria University
  • Harnessing external help – Should you do it, and how do you get value? Brian Henderson, Director, Digital & Information Services, University of Aberdeen
  • Strategy and Digital Operating Model – What is the connection and does one drive the other? Jason Oliver, Director of IT, University of Sussex

I am delighted that Vipin, Emma, Simon, Brian and Jason will contribute a chapter to our weekly series which I am sure will leave you hooked. Standing on the shoulders of these giants, I will try to being some threads together and create a Dickensian climax when we discover that the CIO who had been abandoned in childhood and sold to a major strategy consultancy to pay for their keep, was in fact heir to a significant fortune which they inexplicably had decided to donate to the university to implement a new student records platform.

Until next week gentle readers.

Andy Smith