Swansea University has a world-renowned engineering faculty and a solid reputation for post-graduate research. In business since 1920, this institution is not resting on its laurels. Swansea is expanding into a second campus to help secure its position among the top 30 research universities in the UK.
A recent assessment saw Swansea ranked second in the UK for Civil Engineering work. The same study rated Swansea as enjoying the largest overall increase in research excellence in the UK. This achievement feeds into a broader ambition for the University to excel in multidisciplinary research and collaboration with industry.
The technical infrastructure, which underpins this energetic centre of learning, has to shadow the academic roadmap. But getting a raft of different departments to agree on a coherent IT development strategy would not be easy.
How can an IT support operation meet the needs of students and staff?
The Swansea Information Services and Systems department (ISS) wanted to combine many strands of thinking to answer a crucial question. How should its IT support operation match the needs of computing-intensive departments and keep 15,000 students and staff happy?
The answer lay in HP’s Applications Modernisation Transformation Experience Workshop, known as a TEW. The TEW employs a unique format to guide participants through their decision-making process. This is not your typical management workshop. Seating is at a minimum. The lengthy PowerPoint slide decks we all dread are replaced by panels spread around the walls of the room.
Each panel contains specific information related to key elements of an IT transformation. Participants collaborate with each other as they are walked through the panels. The whole event was created with one thing in mind - to marry business outcomes with an IT roadmap.
Transformation Workshop helps both techies and non-techies
Swansea’s ISS wanted to recruit key stakeholders from senior management. This broad team would need to agree on actions to help Swansea meet aspirations of a 21st Century student population. HP’s TEW is designed to lead non-technical staff through the decision process that their IT-specialist colleagues face. This strategy helps non-techies understand the potential and the practical limits of IT.
Phil Gough, Swansea’s Director of Finance, found the TEW employed some novel ways to keep things moving. “It was clever not to allow too many chairs in the room. That seemed to get people to contribute more and to keep moving around looking at the different posters.”
His colleague David Williams, who runs the University’s Human Resources department, agrees that the TEW took participants in new directions. “It was a valuable opportunity to take time to stand back and look at the big picture in terms of IT.” David sees the TEW as a means of getting people to think outside of their familiar confines.
Practical teamwork requires TEW participants to be open
Ground rules established at the outset stressed the need for participants to be completely frank. The ISS department was able to expose the processes it needs to carry out. Their goal: To support other parts of the University as they approve research grants and launch courses.
Kevin Daniel, ISS director, feels from early in the day, people stopped seeing his work in isolation from other functions. “The Workshop enabled us to discuss features of the business requirements and explain why we had to have a certain technology in order to meet those requirements.” This dialogue gave ISS a platform to explore how IT could support the plan for a new campus.
The split across two sites will require a high-quality data network. The second campus will be dedicated to science and engineering. And as Kevin Daniel points out, the engineering school with its appetite for data-crunching is “basically a computational department.”
IT Transformation Workshop helps focus the attention of a diverse group
The collaboration that emerged at the Workshop between different University elements promises to make Kevin Daniel’s life a lot easier. “It focused the attention of a very diverse group of people and allowed ISS to communicate the targets it is trying to attain.”
As the group placed Post-It notes on the wall charts, the level of participate contribution began to rise. For example, actions such as “Replace the HR payroll system” were posted by a particular year on the charts. Post-It notes allowed players to add personal priorities on a plastic sheet and determine an optimum implementation timescale. The wall posters acted as aids to the discussion, narrowing down the sensible choices and highlighting the attainable targets.
“A consensus emerged on each idea, with participants agreeing on the priorities and projects,” says Phil Gough. “Everything had to be consistent with the roadmap, which laid out a plan of where we wanted to go. So if it was obvious that a major system was going to be replaced in a couple of years time, it made sense to carry on with the existing application rather than replacing a part of it.”
Fixed sum of money for IT means cash is a priority
Finance Director Phil Gough had an obvious concern. “We have to work within a fixed sum of money, and we have to see it spent properly. So to have a chance to establish our priorities carefully was very important.” The workshop helped people from different backgrounds look at what they wanted and established goals to benefit the whole University.
HP’s own experience of using the TEW approach meant a lot to participants. “HP’s involvement proved decisive,” says Phil Gough. “We haven’t been consistent with our IT development in the past, but with HP there to give a professional overview, we achieved consistency.”
Gough recognises the depth of expertise that HP staff brought to the event. “Following the workshop, the University is working towards something that has been needed for a long time – an IT road map," says Gough. “That is what we needed to do.”
IT Transformation Workshop is Time Well Spent
HP’s people “were sharing worthwhile experiences” in the Workshop Gough says. “They were not selling anything, absolutely not.” HP’s role in this event was not what might be expected from an IT supplier. The company’s ability to translate its own struggles into lessons for others made a huge difference to the cross-disciplinary group at Swansea. The University’s money man sums up the TEW as “time well spent.”
For more information on HP’s Application Transformation Experience Workshop, contact David Lake Morgan, UK&I Applications Business Development or visit these resources:
- Application Transformation Experience Workshop Video
- HP Application Rationalization Solutions
- HP Applications Services
- HP Applications Modernization Services