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Episode 8

transformed: Cultural Change and Digital Transformation at the University of Greenwich

Higher Digital has just published the next installment of its new audio interview feature, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promise represented by both. 

Higher Digital President Joe Gottlieb sat down with Paul Butler, Director of Information & Library Services at University of Greenwich and Higher Digital Advisory Board Member, to chat about the university’s digital strategy to discover the ways in which the university uses data to support cultural change and decision making.

Joe Gottlieb: 0:00

Hello, and welcome to another Higher Digital podcast. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president of Higher Digital. And today I am joined by Paul Butler, Director of Information and Library Services at the University of Greenwich. Welcome Paul.

Paul Butler: 0:14

Thanks, Joe. Great to be with you today. What do you want to talk about?

Joe Gottlieb: 0:18

Well, I know I want to discuss your digital strategy and how you came to it, but first I’d like you to share a brief overview of the University of Greenwich and the role of your organization there.

Paul Butler: 0:29

Okay. Thanks, Joe. Yeah. Happy to do that. So the University of Greenwich is about 125 years old , Providence in Southeast London and Kent. Our main campus is in the heart of Greenwich in London, which if you’ve been to it you will recognize it’s a world heritage site. It’s a fantastic set of buildings. If you’ve not been there, you will have seen it in all sorts of Hollywood films. So it’s a lovely set of buildings to run a university from. We’re also in a more greenfield campus, about four or five miles away. And then down in Medway about 25 miles away, size-wise about 25,000 students studying full-time and part-time on campus across those three campuses. And about another 12 or 13,000 students who study in a franchise model across 40 countries around the world through 70 or so partnerships , um, subjects wise , the full mix. I think pretty much the only subject we don’t do is music, fine art, and medicine, but everything else that you’d expect a comprehensive university to do, we do do. A real focus on professional programs, accredited courses. And so my understanding is that we’ve got the second highest professional accredited number of courses in, in London. So a real focus on, on skills competencies, vocational training and degrees and people, students gaining really good careers.

Joe Gottlieb: 2:03

Excellent. It’s great to see that particularly though that ladder , topic, right. The move to more skill-based offerings as our labor force really continues to evolve, particularly with the need to be more digitally literate, right. And that’s sort of challenged , um, how the vocational factory has needed to flex to address that. So I appreciate you sharing those, that overview of University of Greenwich , uh , really interesting school. Great history. Tell me a little bit about the role of your organization there. That’s really , I want to just sort of set the foundation for organizationally the role that you run and what you guys do.

Paul Butler: 2:45

Sure. So my role, as you said in the intro is I’m effectively a CIO role at the university. So I run all of the central IT services and that includes, I mean, we don’t have much in the way of devolved. I’d say that that’s very much , come to the center in, in recent years , um, IT digital services. And then actually also , all of the university libraries report into our directorate as well. And within that, we have the services that support students directly around induction, academic skills, information and creation, digital skills, and really focusing on students’ skills and their ability to learn, curate information and research as well. So what you’ve got there are kind of really, really core infrastructural responsibilities network wifi and everything else that we have to do in digital services, but also very much working with students. Day-to-day on the front line , we also own the responsibility of the development and creation of the digital strategy , which I’m sure we’ll talk about as we go through this. And the transformation program within that. So I have the PMO, the change program, project managers, and the budgets associated with the digital flashy as well. And from my perspective, I’ve been at the university a long time. Um, and I, and I’m certain, we’ll talk about that a little bit over, over the next half an hour or so. I’ve been in this role about eight years previous to that, I ran the business systems group, and then I had one or two other jobs. So I’ve been at the university a long time and really morphed our directorates to be really the front door for everything IT and learning services.

Joe Gottlieb: 4:37

I really get excited when I hear you talk about the fact that that includes the student services and bridges into, you know, their digital literacy, right? Their ability to start to use the services, the digital offerings that the university of Greenwich has provided , uh, to its entire staff, but also of course its students and the way that they need to use them and be effective at using them as they go about their study . So such a critical part of the user experience, the student experience these days in higher ed , good stuff. So indeed I want to talk about this digital strategy of yours. And I know, as I’ve thought about it, we’ve talked about it in the past. And I really, I really believe that you’ve, you’ve arrived at a digital strategy , uh, sort of like the old fashioned way you’ve earned, right? You’ve built it over time. And so I want to help our listeners to really understand the way that you got there and some of the key elements of it, because there are many, many roads to a positive outcome where there’s a nice rhythm. I believe university of Greenwich has a very nice rhythm in terms of its digital services and the ability to adjust and evolve and change. And you’re at the heart of that. But there there’s multiple ways to get there. And so I I’d love for you to sort of help our, to understand how you got there. And let’s start , um, let’s start with this notion of the two speed strategy, cause I know that’s foundational to the way that you yourself thought about what’s needed and how to make it appealing to an organization looking to, to evolve.

Paul Butler: 6:13

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. And there are different ways to do this, I guess that there’s a certain luxury to being in a university in a reasonably , in a middle management role and being able to very clearly see what the problems were, but not necessarily have the full control to, or ability or power, really, to be able to influence a direction that’s quite different. So when I came into this role, I largely knew the kind of macro level what needed to be done. So we developed what was then called an IT strategy. And at that time we didn’t have a PMO. We had no real security strategy, our support model, you know, basic KPIs, like first time fix where 30% not, you know , really not good enough. There was no, no real governance. There was no recurrent capital or revenue budgets around enhancement. And actually there was no strategy. So for me, you could quickly put that together. And I think before we got to the concept of a digital strategy, we needed to do an awful lot of foundational work to get the basics right. Make sure the infrastructure right, was correct. Make sure that our information systems were appropriate and integrated properly. The security model was there. Fundamentally that we knew where we were going and how that connected into the university strategy. The governance and decision-making and prioritization was there and put in place. And that allowed us then to , um, develop a digital strategy. And that’s about 18 months old, although given COVID , we’re all, I’m sure. Starting to relook and refresh , what are our strategy? So 18 months in , and I think it’s still a thematic level. It’s still right. But interestingly, the digital strategy at Greenwich is pretty much silent on technology. It is not a technology strategy. It’s really about outcomes and people , an institutional impact and experiences and skills and capabilities. And for me, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that outside our IT people are pretty uninterested in technology. What they want are solutions that work , simple, they understand how to use and help them to do their work or learning or research or whatever that might be. So I guess the one, the one difference between a technology strategy and a digital strategy is really about that two speed element. So we do have major programs of activity. So, you know, you change an HR system. That’s going to take you a year, 18 months, lots of lots of projects, some big, some small, but interestingly that whilst there’s a lot of projects that connect back into the digital strategy individually, they don’t necessarily drive forward the themes and outcomes of the strategy you’ve got, you’ve got a plan, a program, but the two speed element is the fast bit as you’re doing projects and trying to implement new features, new solutions and get impact , but actually the themes about changing the institution, culture , people’s experiences, people being able to work more effectively. They’re small slices from all of those projects and programs. And that’s the longer game. That’s the bit that takes years and years to change culture perception, people’s views of what you do, changing people’s ability to work and learn and research. And whilst the projects you can deliver pretty quickly, let’s face it in the scale of things some quicker than others, of course, but the changing an institution, at a cultural level, that takes longer time.

Joe Gottlieb: 10:01

I love that, you know, fast project, slow change just sounds so practical, right? It sounds even liberating, right? To think about it in that way, that there’s all this talk about change and we’re guilty of stoking it , I’m sure on many days. I recently was doing one of these talks with Wayne Bovier our CEO, and we talked about the tortoise and the Hare , you know, Aesop’s fable. It was , you know , the classic, right. And we talked about how the tortoise is a really attractive role model for particularly higher ed institutions that they’ve , yeah, they’ve heard a lot about change, but they know how complicated their organizations are. I mean, look at a school, a university is a, it’s a small city. It’s got, you know, it’s doing, it’s delivering its product, but it’s also housing students. It’s delivering food, right? It’s like all these things that have to go on and make that , uh , like whole city operate. And so there’s high complexity. And of course the academic history trajectory has us up in pretty complex organizations. And so this idea of fast projects, slow change , um, it really feels like it’s , uh , it’s the more fitting description then a lot of people would talk about

Paul Butler: 11:14

It’s a great metaphor. I couldn’t agree more. And actually when, when sometimes you or our really senior leaders will go to a conference or read in a magazine or that they want to do digital transformation, or they want to improve the student digital student experience and want to wrap a project around it. And of course you actually can’t do that. Um, it’s a combination of a awful lot of things , um, and small slice change over time. And I think it’s, it’s , um, it’s definitely the hare and the tortoise model. You cannot flick a switch on enhancement like this. It takes time to get it right. I mean, I think it’s also around the creation of the digital strategy being authentic and the , of the institution and being real and meaningful for, for the place. Um, and I’m a firm believer that, that , that, that needs to come from within, and you can’t download someone else’s strategy or bring in a consultant from outside and tell to tell you what your digital strategy is. It needs to be authentic and real and believable. And then you’ve got a chance of being able to change the culture.

Joe Gottlieb: 12:22

Yeah. So, so true. And so that’s why the digital strategy is really a platform for interaction, right? It comes to life and the relationships, the discussions it’s application to deliberations that are necessary to , to consider trade offs the concept of driving priorities, right. Given finite resources. And so, and let’s not leave out the importance of what we just talked about, fast p roject. So you started right off the bat, you talked about outcomes, right? You talked about when you initially got there, they weren’t even really measuring, but what you found was that that was like t he 30% success rate on closure of open items. And so demonstrating that yes, you’re willing to be patient and you all agree, it makes sense to be patient with your long run change. It’s not an excuse to not be on the spot, delivering value everywhere you can, r ight. With any given t hings.

Paul Butler: 13:30

Yeah , absolutely. Absolutely. And, and I think you know, regular incremental, constant change , um, also believe generates demonstrable, what , what’s the word believability. So if you’re setting out a multi-year cultural vision , and it’s going to cost a lot of money, of course, people a lot of change and it’s not going to come instantly. Um, you, you need people to believe you and , and , and the way you get people to believe you is , is to draw on your demand, demonstrable, previous successes, which are likely to be smaller and more incremental. So trying to get into that virtuous positive cycle of conversation. And , and, and I think the other thing for me is, and this is the real change in tone. The university that we brought when we brought the first IT strategy in is actually to, to it, isn’t just its business. We don’t call projects. It projects that they’re business projects that are, that have an it component, the technology solution component. And we, we elicit , you know, first a windows update or an infrastructure refresh we’ll sponsor it ourselves, but, but actually we always try and find a sponsor from outside my directorate to lead and they’re accountable. So when we put a new finance system in the CFO sponsors that you , you put a new HR system, the HR director sponsors that, and actually doing pro project work effectively and getting those outcomes. It’s all about, for me, the benefit in the outcomes technology is unimportant. It’s about the outcomes. It’s a team sport and the less the business works with you on a 50 50 basis, it won’t deliver.

Joe Gottlieb: 15:10

Right. Right. So that, I think that’s a great reminder to our audience about the need for business focus, business sponsorship , um, business leadership to engage, right? Cause this stuff, this stuff can’t be relevant if that’s not happening, how has the UK higher ed governance structure helped and hurt, you know, this process and, and, and sort of cause , cause like, you know, even in the , in the UK where you get some good drivers towards common sense, you know, services that need to be applied , um, I’m sure there’s a broad range. I know there’s a broad range of outcomes happening based upon different postures relative to that.

Paul Butler: 15:54

Yeah. Yeah. I mean , uh , the UK, like , uh , uh, a lot of regions in the world is quite regulated when it comes to higher education and , and, you know, and, and also all levels of education, frankly, it’s only in recent years that we’ve had a concept of a private university that can be profit making. Um, and they’re very small, quite niche there aren’t, there aren’t many of them. Um, and uh , most of the university sector in the UK is, is , um, what I think you , you pull in the States , um, a public university , um, and we’re, we’re the , the fees we can charge the UK students , um, sadly not , um, European students anymore. Um , but UK students , um, is regulated. It’s the , there is a maximum threshold we can’t charge more than, than that threshold. And there’s a lot of oversight on quality. There is a national student experience survey. There are national league tables , um, that , that kind of reflect on quality and student , student experience results. Uh , there are post-study jobs surveys. Um, there’s a lot of regulatory , um, kind of constraints around certain programs. So if you’re, if, if we’re teaching say architecture, the pro in order for that, that, that degree to be accredited by the RBA, which is the professional body in this country , um, they, they have very exacting requirements on, on what is taught and how it is taught. Um, so all of that into the mix means that the , um, we’ve got a whole range of things we have to do in order to be , uh, to operate , um, in, in this region. Um, they all do , they all generate a lot of it requirements. So as you can imagine, data, a lot of regulatory, I mean , uh , the world over, we have to do, we have to deal with this, but ultimately though in this country, universities are autonomous and we ultimately succeed or fail on our own merit. Um, and we’ve got a new university strategy coming, which is, which is confident and ambitious. Um, and , uh , and I’m certain, the entire organization is going to get behind it , um, which is all about becoming a better and being better for our students. Um, and I think with re really focused change , um , and investment , um, you, you can change the position of your university and the sector. Um, and our , I would argue very strongly that digital, but now more than ever actually is , is an enabler and is actually a differentiator for that. So one of the reasons I mentioned a minute ago that we’re, we’ve lifted the lid on our digital strategy, which is really literally only 18 months old. Um, it’s one because of COVID and the post COVID era. And, you know, if we’ll all be doing this and the other one is, is to reflect back from , um, the signals that we’re getting from the new university strategy , um, because it’s, it’s really empowering. Um, and, and , um, my view is that the digital strategy is just an element of it’s a, it’s a effectively, a drill down from the university strategy needs to take all it signals from that. Um, yeah. So going back to your first question that the UK is it’s highly regulated. I like a lot of regions , um, but there’s a lot of , um , autonomy within that. And , uh , for me, digital is a , is a key lever to be the best we can be.

Joe Gottlieb: 19:24

Yeah. And I think that’s reflected in the rhythm that you’ve established there. And, and , um , I’m looking forward to seeing things , uh, as a you new university strategy comes out. Um, let’s talk a little bit about the, the importance of, of leadership changes in, in terms of opportunities to evolve. You know, what it is that you’re doing. And of course, the importance of relationships in doing that. I mean, you talked about how , um, there’s, this strategy comes to life. We talked about how the strategy comes to life in the form of exchanges, relationships, interactions, you know, deliberations meetings, et cetera. Um, but that’s, to me that that’s one of the hardest things, part of maybe it’s more art than science here. Right. But yet it’s so, so important. Tell our listeners a little bit about , uh, some of the ways that you made that happen, or you experienced it at university of Greenwich.

Paul Butler: 20:19

Sure. I mean, I, my own view is that , um , a university is effectively a people , people based organization and people believe people. What I mentioned earlier about trust and believability and demonstrable six tests. Um, and, and that comes from working with people and people trusting you. And you’ve got to be able to, to, to really build that trust. Now I’ve worked at Greenwich for a long time. I’ve been here through something like six vice chancellor . So that’s precedents in, in, in us terms. Um, I know how the university works. I know its history. Um, I know where we’re strong. I know where we’re weak. Um, and I, and I do think that when you, you have to sit down and start to develop a strategy and , and show a straw man to the institution for consultation, it provides a real bond because you’ve got that eight understanding of institution. And, and , um, and I think the interesting thing as well, of course, it’s , it’s the , because you’ve seen a lot of senior leadership people come and go, but there is almost a constant probation through that in terms of their, their perception of it services from where they came and what they’re expecting to see , um, when they come, come into Greenwich. So I think it’s really, really important that , that you form really close work in effect, effective relationships with, with people , um , at every level in the institution, you , you have to, you have to be , um, th the digital agenda is about lead leading your team, but also leading the institution. And , um, they’ve got to believe you, and they only believe you if, if you, if you deliver and perform and can convince , um, colleagues that, that the direction you’re trying to take, then it is it’s the right one.

Joe Gottlieb: 22:14

Yeah. It’s , uh , it’s interesting. The, the, that you mentioned when you, when you need to delay , uh, the delivery of value, because there’s going to be some trade offs in, let’s say standardization or getting things right at the foundation, and you, you therefore need to be transparent about that, right. And this is where the relationships really kick in. I think you alluded to this earlier, right? Where, where if those relationships are established and strong and there’s trust, then they’ll believe that there’s a meet . There’s a, there’s a reason that we’re slowing down at one particular point, right? Let’s say to , to , to improve the architecture and support of something new as an example. And I know one of the areas where you’ve made that investment and leveraged your relationship collateral to them to make, and then gain a return on that investment is in a common data model. So now let’s turn a little bit technical for a moment, and let’s talk about how you’ve gotten leverage out of this common data model. And I know it’s a little bit different than what most people intuitively think first, you know, oftentimes people think integration of systems before they think data, cause they just want to get, they go and they see plumbing and they go for plumbing. Right. So tell me about this common data model and how it helped you to , um, sort of navigate the delays and the returns on those investments.

Paul Butler: 23:39

Yeah. I mean, the university’s digital strategy on our website, so feel free to have a look at it, but there are some principles that are set out there , um, around , um, data authority in integration, not duplication , um, simple processes, consistency consolidation, and, and, and actually they’re , they’re fundamental, but whilst they’ve been articulated in the current digital strategy , um, I’ve been running it for eight years previous to that. I ran the business systems space , um, for, for 10 years or so. Um , and during that time we’ve changed pretty much everything , um, an enterprise level. So one of the , one of the benefits, again, I’ve been in a place for a long time is if , if you’ve got your principles right early on in your tenure and you then start to apply those principles, as things happen in house , as things change over time, that the result, I guess, is that you’ve got a whole set of systems that are built on sensible principles. Um, and one of the principles that we have and have applied for as long as I’ve been involved in , in , um , technology at great edge, is if we’re going to build a system or buy a system or implement something , um, when we describe the stuff that’s going into it, whether that be a person, a login , an identity, I program code a campus code, a module code, Y it might be, we use the same model it’s identical. And, and it , it, it staggers me that so many places that I talked to haven’t got that, and they have to do a lot of mapping between systems with integration platforms, as you said, but actually we don’t have that problem. So if we want to link , um , say our student records system to timetabling the , the, the challenge is a technical link. One, not, are they, are we talking apples and pears in terms of data because it’s the same data? Um, so I think when we, when we wanted to very, very long time ago to put a portal, then , um, you know , pro probably 18, 19 years ago , um, and have single sign on for an all of our self service systems under, under one roof. Um , it just was a technical challenge because it was totally feasible because everyone had one username and password. Um, so that, that, that common data model , uh, just a logical simple, let’s just reuse the same concepts and reuse them consistently just makes life a bit easier. And when you do want to start to connect things up and have more of an ecosystem view of the world , um, it’s entirely feasible. So another, another more recent example , um, is , is we wanted to, to enable MFA multifactor authentication from a security perspective for absolutely everything that is externally accessible, whether that be VPN rote , desktop, whatever self-service systems mood , or whatever it might be. Um, that was really quite straightforward thing to do when we took that decision, because everyone was described using a common data model,

Joe Gottlieb: 26:51

Right? So you immediately knew how to refer to , um , groups of roles of individual identities and , and , and , and the , and then connect them to the circumstances that were going to determine the logic of is this an external access to a sensitive resource, right. And , uh, and therefore had that straight forward . So, but to get there, just to reflect back on that , to help our audience a bit, you know, it did take discipline and where we often talk about avoiding customization of SAS as a, as a good practice as SAS becomes a more prevalent part of our portfolios in, in, in technology. Um, this is, I would, I would call it, refer to this as almost good customization, right? So, so you’re sort of, you’re staying high, you’re staying at the data level. And so if you’re imposing this discipline, it really comes in the form. Oftentimes if the way you implement a, yet another SAS offering, making sure that you’re utilizing your common data model , um, is a bit of a form of customization, but you get a great return on that, and you’re doing it with an architectural , um, do care that that translates to great benefit. So it’s a good nuance there products to , to touch on.

Paul Butler: 28:03

Yeah. I mean, I think I’ll probably argue that, that it’s, it’s, it’s , uh , a data decision, so that there’s an element of configuration because let’s face it. If you implement a new student records system, you , you have choice around how you describe entities, whether the entity is a person or a program or a building or whatever it might be. Um, and, and it’s just making sure that when you have that choice, part of it is governance and making sure that when, when we’re implementing a new system, it’s not, it’s not done that a local devolve level with, with the central it not involved, as I said, right at the beginning as a partnership. And so when we’re making, there are sensible principles applied , um, and we have all this documented that when, when we make implementation decisions, they come back to those principles . And so if there’s a choice on the user ID that you put in, you just use it, you have the same one, you don’t go with with a random one or a different one, or the one the supplier might have suggested we have a model for user identification and access management and everything else. Um, therefore connecting the ecosystem up becomes straightforward,

Joe Gottlieb: 29:13

Right? No, I think it’s just a , it’s a great discipline to share. And , and so I know it’s translated to some, a lot of great benefits in , in your world. So as I, as I zoom out on this and I reflect on the approach that you’ve taken, Paul, like I said, you really have , um, by, by earning this trust , um, and by coming into what you described yourself as a middle management role early on, right. Without control, but with a lot of responsibility, what you did over time was you, you, you built an infrastructure, you earned trust, and you ultimately, by imposing a discipline on yourself, you , you challenged yourself to talk in business terms versus technology terms, and that made it more embraceable by the broader organization that now is more effective at embracing it. Right. And so yet, instead of, you know, having the opportunity to be at the table from the very beginning and, and, and facilitate , uh , you know, a digitally minded sort of leadership evolution, right, you showed up with business recognizable sort of bedside manner. If you will, you wrapped technology in business and us made it much easier for people to consume it. And over time they wound up having those conversations increasingly themselves. I imagine in cabinet meetings, leadership meetings, right, as they thought about changes, they wanted to make the strategy to the way they run the operation. Right. You had, you had seasoned them with, with platform languages that they could use. Is that, is that up ?

Paul Butler: 30:57

I think that’s fair. I think, I mean, for me, I won’t go if we go back Joe, to very early part of the conversation a bit about , um, uh, B being an ally, a partner , um, and relationships, and one of the, one of the tactics Barry might have been here for awhile . Well , one of the tactics I’ve employed for some time is as new senior leaders come in, I make friends with them before anyone else can. Um , because I get their email address , um, from HR and say, I’d like a conversation with the new vice chancellor. And actually I’m now more often than not on interview panels for senior leaders as well. So they’ve already met me. Um, and I reach out to them and I say, would you like a laptop? Would you like a phone? Um, and then start a conversation. Would you like to get access to email and, or all of your calendar enabled systems , um, before? So our current vice chancellor started , um , about a year ago, she, she had access to everything, a new laptop, a new phone, and was having kind of meetings in outlook and her email about four months before a start date. Wow . I’d , I’d had, by the time she started probably three or four conversations, one-to-one in the office with her and on the non teams. Um, and we, we had had a conversation about digital strategy. She’d seen the strategy, we’d had a number of discussions about plans and future, and , and she was months away from starting. So relationships and , and, and being friends with this decision makers are absolutely key for me. And then, and then it’s about transforming the attitude of the institution about it from one, which is kind of, I would call , I would call it old fashioned computing services , um, commodity services from that to one, which is about being a partner, being an ally, being able to talk in business terms. And one another tactic I’ve used also to try and , um, be, be on the same page with academic faculty staff is I I’ve got involved in their world. So I’ve, I’ve done some , um , part-time lecturing. Um, I sit on some of our quality assurance panels and we have in the UK, we have to have , uh , an annual, a quinquennium five-year review of our portfolio, so that any chairing by senior managers. So I’ve chaired reviews. I’ve gone out to chair panels in Malaysia and Vietnam , um , and sit with academics, reviewing academic content and academic performance. So I know their language , um, and , uh , you’re working with them in their same space, they say in that level. And that again, breeds trust. Um, and , and when you need to have those difficult conversations and , and , and try and articulate a future, you , you you’ve won the relationship already. And it , and I think that that’s, that’s really, really crucial. It’s , it’s all about relationships and, you know, the , the, the, the business world would call it, know your customer. Um, and that’s so important. I know my customers, I also sit on the trustee board of our students , Guild students union. Um, so work directly regularly with students. And a lot, my colleagues in my directorate are working with students all the time. So we’re taking information and feeding from student feedback, student observations, talking with students, and the same with academic staff and academic leadership. And then you’ve got a shot at being able to deliver a strategy, which is in context, because you know the business,

Joe Gottlieb: 34:42

Right. Well, you draw a pretty big picture there in terms of the broad variety of things that you’ve done to make this, make this successful at university of Greenwich. Um, it , it, it definitely draws on a lot of skills and a lot of willingness and discipline and commitment. Uh, and, and so that’s , uh , not to be taken lightly. So I want to ask you , uh, what you think about the term digital transformation. This is a term that I think it’s a lot of abuse. Um, it’s often used , uh, as just a crutch, I think on many off many times taken out of context. So the next few questions I, I want to ask you, Paul, what do you think of that term? And , and how would you describe what you do? And so what’s , this is what you do, digital transformation. You just said a moment ago, you used the term transforming in sentence that talked about you transform the attitude of the organization towards technology from a commodity sort of default perception to one of partnership, right? How can, how can technology be a partner in any endeavor? So is this digital transformation, do we need subtler terms as the context, you know, does the context have to dictate? What do you think about that?

Paul Butler: 36:01

Yes , it’s a really interesting one, Jo Ann , and I’m sure there are lots of books that , that describe it in different ways. How , how would I coin digital transformation? So, so for me, it’s about, I think having a long-term sensible technology investment strategy, which is explicitly one-to-one explicitly connected into the university strategy and mission. Um, it’s one which enables students and staff, academics, researchers to do their work , um, effectively, efficiently, simply. Um, it provides organizationally advantage and agility. Um, it empowers users provide skills and development so that they can navigate technology solutions with confidence. Um, it provides service and support that is proactive and high quality. And, and, and it’s a part of a positive conversation and you’re at the table, not a negative one. Um, and , and to me, what , what, it’s not is a technology strategy. It’s about business outcomes, capabilities, people’s skills, confidence, and, and the institution outcomes. We should be contributing to the institutional outcomes. As I say to my colleagues, many times, if you’re doing a piece of work that you can’t somehow connect back to our digital strategy, which in turn is connected to the university strategy, stop doing it now, because we shouldn’t be doing it. We don’t do tech for tech. We do tech for business outcome, and that’s absolutely crucial.

Joe Gottlieb: 37:40

Yeah. Interesting. And so, and so the term digital transformation, I think the part that doesn’t work for most is that it feels like a quick fix. It feels like a , uh , well, it’s easy to, it’s easy to dismiss as something that feels like a quick fix or, or a one and done type thing. But, but as you just pointed out, your first terms, when you were describing is it’s a long term technology investment strategy align one-to-one with the strategy of institution, right. So it’s, long-term is the opposite of quick fix, right? And so I think you’ve hit on it right there that we have to convey that transformation is what business agility is about, but in, but in a rhythm with a long-term view, right. In a, in a, in a, in a, like you said, that that would come back a two-speed strategy, right. Where you, yes, you’re , you’ve got, you’ve got the things that you do quickly that, that are addressing immediate needs that are known, but you’ve also got a long game you’re playing to make sure that those quick opportunities are actually quick and have a good ROI. Right. And so that rhythm going back .

Paul Butler: 38:57

Absolutely. I mean, if you can look at, look at it as a cake , um, and , um , what senior leaders really want is the cherry on top of the cake. That’s that’s they want the , the, the real value. Um, whereas the cherry won’t work on the cake unless you’ve got all the layers in place and they fit. Um, and, and our job, I think, has, as digital leaders is to progressively create those layers. And we’ve not finished yet having we’re not necessarily at the cherry completely , um , but create all of those layers so that you can put the cherry on top of the cake. And then that’s when the real sweet spot, the value the value happens. Um, and, and in digital terms, you cannot flick a switch on building that cake. It takes time, absolutely time and money and effort and people to do that

Joe Gottlieb: 39:50

Right now. You just, so when you said we’re not quite there yet , um, to offer , to have the cherry available, ready to be consumed, is that a statement that you’re never done or do , are you still in the midst of establishing the rhythm that you think is still evolving to a place before? Not, not the point of stasis, but to the point of now the rhythm can just be the rhythm. Right. Am I making sense there?

Paul Butler: 40:21

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So let’s take the metaphor on a bit, I guess. So , so if you imagine there’s multiple cherries on top of your cake, I guess , um , we’re now in a position where, where we can put them on. And so we’re, we’re well through that journey. So the layers are there, all of the things I said that they’re foundational , um, things that are in place and our ability to deliver on the value repeatedly and consistently is , is there. So now it’s just a question of, of working through those things, so that , that’s why I’ll go back to the , the difference between an it technology strategy and a digital strategy. And I don’t think you can really do additional strategy properly, which is about the value and the outcome, the cherries, until you’ve done your technology strategy and largely completed that and got all of your governance and service and , and security and basic system interconnect, all of that stuff. Once that’s done, then you can start to layer on the digital and, and re really if you’re, if, if you, if you’ve got more of a journey to come from, I would be starting with a really high quality foundational technology strategy, and then push the digital bit out because you can’t, you can’t deliver one until you’ve got the other one in place and working effectively

Joe Gottlieb: 41:37

Great reminder. I mean , I think that’s just, okay, because in all the discussions about this in the literature and the , you know, the press and things you read and , and the, and the vendor hype and all that stuff, right. It’s easy to get lost in the fact that, or lose the sight of the fact that one is required to have the other. So, so, and yet the one is a means to an end, right? So, so you’re , you’re , you’re after the digital strategy, that’s what you’re going for so that you can have this rhythm and you can put cherries as part of your plan and strategy on when, when they’re , when they should be arriving on for consumption and there are different, and you might, you know, you might have nuts, you might have other toppings, but the point is, is that the cake is evolving and you’re in a rhythm of delivering. And there’s, there’s always a little bit of the time needed to make the next thing happen. Um, but to get there, you have to have the right foundation. If you tried to go straight to digital strategy and be popular with business leaders, you would find yourself probably with a whole lot of spaghetti, you know, underneath, instead of cake layers. Right. And you’ve got different. And therefore your ability to be popular will be very short term .

Paul Butler: 42:58

Yeah, absolutely. And one of the one , uh, let’s face it, there had been a CIO and it directs you. You have to , you have to be a bit, bit of a salesperson . So , uh , if you go back to the technology strategy, what, what we’ve got to do is be able to articulate to the university, the business, why we can’t do this really interesting value driven thing, because actually we need to change the network or we have to virtualize, or we have to go to the cloud, or we have to replace this basic system, the youth having to get money and get agreement and support to do something that people can’t necessarily touch or use or generate any value from. Because actually that’s part of the sequencing before you can get to the value. And that’s part of our job is to , to, to sell that vision to the institution and say, we’re not forgetting the value, but before we get to the value, we have to do this, and it’s important. And we must go through that journey first, because otherwise what we’re creating is something which isn’t sustainable.

Joe Gottlieb: 44:04

Yep . No, it makes total sense. And of course the more, the more you’ve invested in the, the, the sort of the, the thoughtfulness of that architecture, the, the, ideally the less of that you have to do with each new project, but there will be exceptions. There will be big, big projects where you say, wow, this is a tectonic level change. This is a macro change. And we do need to overall part of the architecture, which was well-suited to the things we navigated before, but now we’re navigating something brand new. And now we have to make that investment that comes back then to the relationships and the trust and the credibility that you’ve established to take people on that journey. Okay. So what , uh , begin to bring this to a close Paul I’d like to ask, what, what three suggestions would you offer institutional leaders that are looking to bring their higher ed institutions into an increasingly digital world and to thrive in that world? What would you, what would you suggest to them?

Paul Butler: 45:07

Okay. Um, great . Really good question. So firstly, I would suggest that you involve your senior, it lead in everything that there’s very little that goes on in any organization these days, particularly now that doesn’t have some impact or can have gain value from digital number two , um, consider technology investment with the same mindset that has always been applied to a state to buildings. They are part of the same coin, two sides of the same coin. And , um, investment is crucial. You can have the best strategy in the world. If you haven’t got the budget to back up, it won’t land , um, and three empower your senior it leadership to lead digital, set them up for success, give them the structure and the freedom and the ability to , um, develop a strategy and implement it, trust them because without that trust , um, they won’t be empowered to deliver.

Joe Gottlieb: 46:14

Excellent. Very useful. So now if I turn that around and so what, what three suggestions would you offer up to it, leaders that, that , uh, are, are looking to work with those institutional leaders? What would the three suggestions you give them,

Paul Butler: 46:29

Make friends with the senior leadership, be their partner first and foremost, trust comes from relationships. Um , number two fund , fundamentally understand your institution , um, get involved on the academic side and remember what this is. You know, it , not every institution is the same, but, but certainly for Greenwich, I’ve learned that , um, mostly staff outside and students outside central, it , um, don’t really care about technology. They want outcomes and you need to know what outcomes they want in order to deliver them. And I guess the third one, and this is about breeding confidence and demonstrable success is make sure you deliver what you say you will , um , from successful delivery, trust comes and it becomes a virtuous circle. Um, delivery breeds, confidence, confidence, beach breeds , trust, trust, braids , investment , uh , budget , Um, and then good things can happen. Wow.

Joe Gottlieb: 47:34

Well, I couldn’t have put a finer point on it, myself, Paul. That is excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. Paul really appreciate you being with us here and sharing your perspectives with our audience and thanks to all of our audience for joining us for another Higher Digital podcast. We’ll see you again soon .

Paul Butler: 47:54

Thanks, Joe. It’s been a pleasure.

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As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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