Tag Archives: digital transformation

Why don’t you – Weeknote #169 – 27th May 2022

I was in Manchester this week, running various meetings and sessions relating to the Jisc HE sector strategy.

Had an excellent planning meeting with our Student Services team.

sweets
Image by El Sun from Pixabay

I published a blog post reminiscing about the short and sweet sessions I had developed and delivered at Gloucestershire College when I worked there.

The use of digital technologies for learning and teaching, doesn’t just happen. Staff don’t always instinctively pick up the skills and capabilities to utilise the range of digital tools and services available to them. In a similar manner the application of pedagogy to mobile, remote and online delivery is not as simple as translating in-person pedagogical practices.

Do we have a shared understanding of what we mean by digital transformation? It was on this point that I wrote a reflective piece on the digital transformation of music.

When it comes to digital transformation in education, I wonder if we can look at what happened to the music retail industry and the impact of digital over the last few decades.

cassette tape
Image by snd63 from Pixabay

I looked at how the retail music industry had moved from vinyl to CD, to mp3 and onto streaming services. So, what does this mean for education? Well don’t make the mistake of equating music tracks with something like a lecture. Digital transformation of education is not about the Napsterfication of lectures or creating an education version of Spotify. What we can learn from digital music is reflecting on the differences between the digitisation of education, the digitalisation of education and then the digital transformation of education.

I participated in the LTHEChat and Advance HE tweetchat about wellbeing in higher education.

The next day I wrote a very similar piece to my music post (I think a better one though) on the digital transformation of the television watching experience.

So to remind us, when we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting. So when looking at the digital transformation of education, we really want to focus on the transformation of education and how digital can enable and enhance that transformation.

television
Image by Panyapat Rattanaprom from Pixabay

On Friday I attended Wonkhe and Adobe’s Education Espresso event on Pedagogy and playfulness.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Transforming the television watching experience

old television
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When we start talking about digital transformation, I often see people focusing on the digital aspect and expecting the transformation to follow on. Where we see true transformation, the focus is on the change and digital is enabling that change.

In a previous blog post I wrote about the changes digital had on the music industry, well a specific focus on the retail aspect. In this similar post I want to think about the impact digital has had on television and probably more importantly the ways in which we watch television.

Television has been around for a while now. The early 1950s saw an explosion of television ownership in the UK. These were analogue devices that enabled broadcast television in the home. Originally all television was live, it was the development of video tape that allowed television to be recorded in advance and broadcast later.

1998 saw the launch of digital terrestrial television in the UK with Ondigital. However digital terrestrial television really took off in the UK when Freeview was launched in October 2002. In order to view the digital signal you either needed a set top box or a television with an integrated digital tuner. This was very much a digitisation of the television.

Over the next few years we saw televisions become smarter (and flatter and larger).

Well what really transformed television wasn’t the digitisation or digitalisation of the hardware.

Remote control
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

If we separate the physical television hardware from the experience of watching television then we are now seeing the digital transformation of television watching experience.

When we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting.

If we go through the story of television again, but rather than look at the hardware to watch television, we focus on the experience of watching television, we can start to see how digital enhanced, enabled and transformed the experience of watching television.

When television was broadcast, you had no choice but to watch what was on when it was on. Yes you had a choice of channels, but not a huge choice.

The VCR (video cassette recorder) did transform the way in which we could watch television, we could now time shift when we watched stuff, and video rental shops allowed us to watch things which weren’t on television. I do remember travelling by train on the 4th July 1990 and there was someone in our carriage watching the World Cup semi-final between Germany and England on a small portable television. It was a tiny screen, it was back and white, and every time we went through a tunnel they lost the signal. The poor bloke was also surrounded by people who also wanted to watch the game. I remember the running commentary when the match ended in penalties. The portable telebision and the VCR were both technologies that led to the transformation of the television watching experience, but this was not digital transformation of that watching experience. However this change would influence how we wanted to watch television and as there were technological changes enabled by digital, this would result eventually in a digital transformation of that television watching experience.

The launch of digital terrestrial television of course changed the watching experience now we had access to lots of channels and the EPG (electronic programme guide) would enhance that experience. Though for some it meant more time scrolling through those channels.

What really transformed the watching experience was when digital technologies detached that experience from the physical television.

Back in the early 2000s I had a Compaq iPAQ handheld PDA with a jacket that could be used with a CompactFlash memory card. I do remember, as an experiment, ripping a DVD, compressing the resulting video file, copying it over to a 1GB IBM MicroDrive CF memory card and watching video on the move. It was challenging to do and not something the average consumer would do. However the concept was there of watching television on a small screen, regardless of my location.

There followed the development of small handheld devices, be they phones or tablets, which now have sufficient processing power to deliver high quality video. Also video content is now much more easily available. Connectivity has changed as well, with 4G (and now 5G) allowed high quality video to be streamed over the internet regardless of location.

Mobile video
Image by Claudia Dewald from Pixabay

Suddenly we could watch television when we wanted, where we wanted and how we wanted. Services exploited this transformation of the television watching experience, we saw subscription services such as Netflix, on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, downloaded content from services such as Google Play or iTunes really enabled and allowed people to have a very different television watching experience. In many ways the digital transformation of watching television has resulted in box sets being available (as opposed to releasing an episode weekly, though that still happens) . We’ve also seen a huge explosion in short videos, through services such as YouTube and TikTok.

One example of the impact of this transformation of the watching experience is how television episodes are no longer constrained by the artificial construct of broadcast television. Most US series, until recently, episodes were 45 minutes long, so with adverts they would fit into the one hour slot allocated to them. With services such as Netflix and on demand services, the removal of the constraint has enabled television production to produce episodes of different lengths to suit the story for that episode, some will be longer and some will be shorter. The fourth season of Stranger Things is a case in point, only one episode is an hour, five are between 74 and 78 minutes and the finale is one hour 38 minutes. Okay these are all longer…

So to remind us, when we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting. So when looking at the digital transformation of education, we really want to focus on the transformation of education and how digital can enable and enhance that transformation.

Napsterfication

guitar
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

When it comes to digital transformation in education, I wonder if we can look at what happened to the music retail industry and the impact of digital over the last few decades.

Of course you can’t directly compare and map what happened to music with education, but there are parallels and similarities, which can help us to reflect on what might and could happen in education.

record player
Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

Originally retail music was analogue, firstly with vinyl and then the audio cassette.

Bands and musicians would make music and then (usually through a record company) would cut a record, which would then be sold in record shops.

As a teenager I remember my local record shop, Andy’s Records in Cambridge and flipping though the singles and albums on sale.

cassette tape
Image by snd63 from Pixabay

In the 1980s we saw the digitisation of music with the release of the CD or compact disc in 1982. CDs were designed to hold up to 74 minutes of uncompressed stereo digital audio.

When I was at University in the late 1980s I would buy music on CD. The experience was very much as it was before when buying vinyl and cassettes, though this time I was frequenting Our Price records. The albums that were available on vinyl were then released on CD. Though the 74 minute limit did result in some changes to some albums.

CD player
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

What the CD did do though was start to change the way in which people listened to music. It was now easier to skip tracks, repeat tracks or just go straight to the track you wanted to listen to.

This can be seen as very much as digitisation of an analogue experience.

In the 1990s using our home computers we were able to rip our CD collections and put the files on our local hard drives. The uncompressed digital audio files were so large, a CD would take up 650MB of data, that we would use compression technology to reduce the size of the files to (usually) 10% of their original file size. So that ripped CD would take up just 65MB on your hard drive.

Ripping CDs meant you could rip just the songs you wanted from an album, or even create your own albums through the creation of playlists.

The concept of listening to an entire album, though entirely possible to do using mp3s in the same way as you could with vinyl was starting to be replaced by people choosing how they wanted to listen to music.

It’s not Napster

The late 1990s saw people using the internet to start sharing their mp3s, which was epitomised with the Napster peer-to-peer file sharing service.. Now you could share your music with others and listen to their music (ignoring the illegalities of this whole process). Napster ceased operations in 2001 after losing a wave of lawsuits and filed for bankruptcy in June 2002.

The music industry responded to Napster with not just lawsuits, but also licensing digital music through services such as Apple’s iTunes. Now you could buy not just albums, but you could also just buy a single track from an album. You could buy playlists of music as well, not just from music publishers, but also the lists of other music enthusiasts.

The release of the iPod (and other mp3 players) also changed not just how people listened to music, but also where they listened to music. Though the same could be said about the Sony Walkman twenty years before.

The move to digital music files can be seen as digitalisation of music.

The concept though was still there of an individual buying music which you then owned. You bought vinyl, you bought a CD and now you bought digital music files.

Where we really saw digital transformation of music was in the emergence and growth of subscription streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora.

spotify
Image by Deepanker Verma from Pixabay

We can think of music streaming as something relatively new, well the concept is a little older than that. Beginning in 1881, Théâtrophone enabled subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over telephone lines. This operated until 1932. However this was analogue, these new services are digital streaming services. You could stream music however you wanted, single tracks, albums, playlists, genres of music, or styles of music. Now you no longer bought music tracks or albums, you subscribed a service that allowed you to listen whatever tracks and albums you wanted, whenever you wanted. The only downside, was that when you stopped subscribing, you no longer had access.

I do see this very much as digital transformation. Music was no longer seen as a physical media, or something you owned. Streaming changed not just the way you listened music, but also the kinds of music you could listen to. Sometimes it constrained, and for others it liberated their listening.

So what does this mean for education?

Well don’t make the mistake of equating music tracks with something like a lecture. Digital transformation of education is not about the Napsterfication of lectures or creating an education version of Spotify.

What we can learn from digital music is reflecting on the differences between the digitisation of education, the digitalisation of education and then the digital transformation of education. Recognising where you are, but also thinking about where you want  to be and how you will get there.

Scary – UCISA 22 Day #3

I have never attended the UCISA Leadership conference before, but after the 2020 conference was cancelled, I was given the chance to attend the 2022 event. This was the third in-person conference I have attended since March 2020.

This year’s much-anticipated UCISA22 Leadership Conference will look ahead at the future challenges and opportunities for digital leaders in education. The theme of conference is Digital Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World.

I wrote about day one of the conference in this blog post and day two in this post.

This was the last day of the UCISA Leadership Conference, ending at lunchtime. We were in a different space, which though more impressive, was not as comfortable as the space used on the first couple of days.

Great opening session from Heidi Fraser-Krauss on her role of CEO at Jisc, where Jisc has been, where Jisc is, and her vision for Jisc going forward.

I did like this quote from her presentation.

There is something written by “John” in every university which was created twenty years ago and is crucial to the running of the institution.

There were lots of questions for Heidi at the end of the session, which for me shows that people found her presentation interesting and useful. There were some really positive comments on the Twitter as well.

I did think that the next session, What can your organisation learn from Formula 1? with 

Adrian Stalham, Chief Change Officer, Sullivan and Stanley wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, but it was in the end one of the highlights of the conference.

Business models break, new ones develop, technology evolves, regulations are revised and customers alter buying habits. Every industry is witnessing change, and Formula 1 is no different; as a multi-billion dollar sport it has seen unprecedented change in the last 20 years. Above all, Formula One’s leadership teams have had to communicate, manage and implement transformation strategies, bringing their teams with them, ensuring that they make the most from embracing change.

I did a sketch note of his presentation.

Adrian presented some of the key principles from Formula 1 that can be implemented into teams to drive high performance. He opened his talk with a 67 second pitstop from the past and how today the Formula 1 pitstop can be less than two seconds.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Continue reading Scary – UCISA 22 Day #3

Disruption – UCISA 22 Day #2

I have never attended the UCISA Leadership conference before, but after the 2020 conference was cancelled, I was given the chance to attend the 2022 event. This was the third in-person conference I have attended since March 2020.

This year’s much-anticipated UCISA22 Leadership Conference will look ahead at the future challenges and opportunities for digital leaders in education. The theme of conference is Digital Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World.

I wrote about day one of the conference in this blog post. This post is about the second day of the event. This was a full day of sessions, conversations, exhibition and networking. Certainly not enough coffee, but then again conference coffee is never anything to write home about.

For me the day started with the 9am session, From The Workshop to The Disruptor: Strategic Online Planning During the Pandemic which was delivered remotely by Adam Shoemaker, Vice-Chancellor & President, Victoria University.

In 2021, enduring significant lockdowns meant we had to be creative and authentic in the way we engaged with staff. This became especially significant during our new strategic plan development – as we wanted our staff to be involved in the process in a way that had never been done before. Utilising a crowd-sourcing platform that we named The Workshop, we harnessed people power and digital enablement to create something truly unique. This has led to a new way of imagining our senior leadership and designing our teaching, research and partnering future.

I did a sketch note of his talk.

Victoria University took a very different approach to their strategic planning. This was not a top down approach, the process initially involved nearly a thousand staff. This was a highly collaborative approach bringing in ideas, thoughts and visions from across the university.

Continue reading Disruption – UCISA 22 Day #2

Transformation – UCISA 22 Day #1

I have never attended the UCISA Leadership conference before, but after the 2020 conference was cancelled, I was given the chance to attend the 2022 event. This was the third in-person conference I have attended since March 2020.

This year’s much-anticipated UCISA22 Leadership Conference will look ahead at the future challenges and opportunities for digital leaders in education. The theme of conference is Digital Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World. Recognising our sector continues to operate in an unprecedented period of sustained change, the programme seeks to empower our leaders to not only navigate current turbulence, but overcome the challenges you face, such as cybersecurity, sustainability, and recruitment.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I kind of expected that this would be a highly technical conference, about how technology can deliver transformation and I can say that what I experienced was not what I was expecting.

The event was in Manchester and this was my first return visit to the city since a fleeting trip in September 2019. The conference was taking place at the Manchester Central conference centre.

I went to delegate registration and had the opportunity to grab a bag and a water bottle. It reminded me of the conferences I attended in the 2000s.

The conference kicked off with lunch in the Exhibition Hall. There was a wide range of exhibitors and lots of freebies as well.

The first proper session for me was the The power of IT – panel session

chaired by Laura Dawson, CIO, London School of Economics with two Vice-Chancellors: Andy Cook, Vice-Chancellor, Ravensbourne University and Professor Karen Stanton, Vice-Chancellor, Solent University.

Our opening session sees Laura Dawson , CIO at London Business School in conversation with Andy Cook, VC at Ravensbourne University and Karen Stanton, VC at Solent University. Laura will explore Andy and Karen’s career journeys, both having held CIO positions earlier in their careers, exploring what this experience brings to their role as Vice- Chancellor, the key skills digital leaders need in order to transform businesses and what it takes for a university to achieve digital transformation.

These two Vice-Chancellors who had previously been CIOs gave their insights into their journeys to leading their universities. I enjoyed the interview format which was engaging and interesting.

The importance of board experiences was discussed, especially the understanding of vision and strategy. Where senior management don’t really get strategy, then the organisation flounders around in the digital space and you rarely see transformation. I have recently read Good Strategy/Bad Strategy The Difference and Why it Matters and Richard Rumelt talks about how organisations often both fail to design and then deliver an effective strategy. There is much more to strategy than just being able to write a strategy.

The VCs also talked about how they needed to step away from technology and a CIO making that journey to VC (even the top table) was don’t focus on the tech. Interestingly it brought to the fore the importance of having a shared understanding of what digital transformation is.

The next session was Destination Digital. The ups and downs of UCL’s transformation journey with Andy Smith, CIO, University College London.

Who would join a university as CIO during a pandemic? Having joined UCL in May 2020 this has been the experience for Andy Smith and he lives to tell you the tale. Andy has set out to help this large and comprehensive university to harness modern digital methods and technologies to enable education, research, and to digitise how the university works. It has not all been smooth sailing and the transformation is far from complete. Andy will discuss the bumps along the road and what he has learned about trying to deliver transformational change in a university, including a shift to cloud and an ‘AGILE’ transformation. The drama has included a new Provost, the development of a new strategy for UCL, as well as all the challenges of university life, IT, and COVID that we share. Should that water really be coming through the floor of the datacentre?

Again much coverage about strategy and focusing on the end game, what outcomes do you want to have, what does it look like? There was recognition that transformation isn’t a linear journey, but is much more about looking holistically at the organisation.

Time also came up, however as with any discussion on time, it’s not about giving people more time, but recognising both what they will stop doing, and what they will then do with that time.

I had to leave the conference for a meeting in our Manchester office so missed the vendor session in the final time slot.

There was a conference dinner at the Albert Hall (the one in Manchester that use to be a Methodist Central hall, not that big place in London).

It was a nice dinner, and our team won the quiz.

Transforming – Weeknote #159 – 18th March 2022

According to a study museum visits do not improve GCSE results.

A family trip to the theatre or an afternoon at a museum may be a fun day out, but new research suggests that such cultural outings will not actually help children secure higher grades.

I love the implication that the only reason to do some cultural stuff is to secure higher grades at GCSE. Sometimes we as a family do stuff because it is fun, enjoyable or makes you think. A couple of weeks back we went to London for a day out, my daughter and I headed to the British Museum to see the Greek galleries. She had been reading the Percy Jackson series and now has a serious interest in Greek mythology. We both really enjoyed viewing the exhibits and reading the background and history of the different things we saw. Will this help her secure higher grades? To be honest we weren’t thinking or worrying about that. It was a great day out.

So how was your week? Mine, well I upset Spain with a photograph of the dish I cooked on Saturday night.

After a busy week travelling I was working from home on Monday. I finished my blog post on transformation, this is an area where I have been presenting and discussing and I wanted in this post to finalise some of my thinking on (digital) transformation.

Well, I have been thinking about what we understand mean by digital transformation and in some discussions, I have been using different kinds of explanations to explore what I see and understand digital transformation is.

In the post I went through the possible digital transformation of requesting and approving leave.

Tuesday though I was back to our Bristol office, for various things. Bristol Temple Meads that morning was full of Peaky Blinders types, suits and flat caps, all on their way (probably) to the Cheltenham Races. If Digifest (which was last week) was the same week as the Cheltenham Races, I would avoid the trains and drive to Birmingham. When I worked at Gloucestershire College, I would avoid our Cheltenham campus those weeks as well. Mainly as the trains were usually full and crowded of very drunk people out to have a good day, and it usually wasn’t even 9am!

I did some work on presentation formats for some ideas we are working on for online events and thought leadership content. Too often when it comes to online presentations, we see talking slides or talking heads. I have been reflecting and thinking about how we can be more creative, more innovative in the ways in which we deliver content during events or on the website. A lot of my thinking is based on the translation posts I did during the pandemic.

Thursday, I ventured back to the Bristol office again. It was much busier today with a couple of teams doing a co-location day. We also had a coffee and cake morning for charity.

The OfS are to launch a review of blended learning.

The Office for Students (OfS) has today launched a review of blended learning, amidst concerns that the poor quality of the online experience for some students during the pandemic has undermined the positive potential of mixing in-person and online course delivery.

It will be interesting to see the outcomes of the review in the summer.

Having defined the success criteria of our HE sector strategy I started detailing what this meant for one of our ambition statements and what Jisc could potentially do in this space to achieve the strategic aspiration.

I also started working on a second communication plan for the strategy. We did one last summer, but listening and talking to staff across the organisation, we have felt that we need to do more work to explore, explain and reflect on the HE sector strategy to the rest of the organisation. One challenge I am facing is what do we even mean by strategy?

butterfly
Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

I did another blog post on transformation, this one was on the nature of transformation.

In the world around us the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies is a marvel of nature. Though technically referred to as metamorphosis rather than transformation, the process for butterflies (and all insects) involves a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change. This got me thinking about digital transformation in organisations.

HEPI and QAA published a new report that unpacks the meaning of quality in a complex and rapidly changing higher education sector.

Quality is a slippery term, not least because it is in part practical, in part philosophical and (almost) always relative. Yet it underpins higher education provision and is central to policy debate and regulatory approaches across the UK. So how do we define quality? An understanding of the different mechanisms at play can provide context to the debate.

My top tweet this week was this one.

The Butterfly Effect

butterfly
Image by Desha from Pixabay

In the world around us the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies is a marvel of nature. Though technically referred to as metamorphosis rather than transformation, the process for butterflies (and all insects) involves a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change.

This got me thinking about digital transformation in organisations, so I asked on the Twitter:

Do you think transformation is something that has a result (we’ve been transformed) or do you see it as an evolving continuing process (we are transforming and continue to transform)?

There were mixed responses, some thought it was incremental, some thought it was a continual process, few though thought of it as some kind of “big bang” transformation.

Though I think transformation can be incremental, and for most organisations change is often seen as a series of steps that happen over time, rather than planning for a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change. But with incremental transformation, you still need some kind of vision or end game. Otherwise, you may find you have changed but not necessarily transformed. Another perspective is that you make incremental steps, but the full effect or possibilities isn’t immediately apparent. But at some point, in the future it suddenly all makes sense.

Of course there is the question what happens after transformation? With butterflies they flutter around, do all the stuff that butterflies do and then that’s it.

butterfly
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

With digital transformation, is there an end game, or because of the ever changing nature of digital, transformation is continual and evolving process. This is where the butterfly analogy starts to fall apart.

We can then start to see digital transformation under another lens, one of changing the organisation to one which can thrive in a constantly changing digital environment. This is where the organisation transforms to take advantage of the affordances and opportunities that, not just current digital and online technologies can bring, but also ensure the organisation is in a position, has the structure, the systems and processes, so can it take advantage of future and unknown digital and online technologies as they are developed and come on stream.

As we discuss and talk about digital transformation, it becomes apparent very quickly that digital transformation is not about digital causing transformation. It’s not as though if you invest in digital and online technologies that therefore you will be (magically) transformed.  Digital transformation is probably best explored and explained as transformation which is enabled by digital technologies and can take advantage of the affordances of digital.

Thinking about digital transformation

Venice Carnival
Image by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

This blog post is not about providing a clear definition or understanding what digital transformation is and how it applies to the higher education sector.

So, what is this blog post about then?

Well, I have been thinking about what we understand mean by digital transformation and in some discussions, I have been using different kinds of explanations to explore what I see and understand digital transformation is.

So, this is going to be the start of a few blog posts on my thinking and reflections on digital transformation.

In recent conversations and presentations, I have been talking about Human Resources (HR) systems, specifically that aspect of requesting leave.

The 3 D’s model of digital transformation from Educause is quite useful in explaining my thinking.

So if you are of a certain age, your original leave form may have been, as it was for me, a piece of paper. On that paper was my leave entitlement for the year and I would write down the date or dates I wanted to take leave. I would then go to my line manager who would then check I still had leave left to take and then could authorise the leave or not. It did depend heavily on us both having the time slots available to do this. My line manager would also need to check sometimes if I could take leave, what would happen if other people had leave booked at the same time. So they sometimes would have a larger piece of paper, more of a year planner, that they could use to check those dates, find out who else was on leave and then they could authorise it. You can tell straight away that there were challenges in this, who owned the single point of truth?

Digitisation often meant replacing those pieces of paper with spreadsheet files. So, you would fill in the details in the cells in a spreadsheet and send them to the line manager for approval usually by email. They would have a bigger spreadsheet, which they would need to check, before sending back approval by email. Of course there was no notification process, so your leave request could get lost in a bulging inbox. You never knew if you should send the email request again, in case the duplicate leave request got processed as well. You did though often have multiple versions of spreadsheet files across different computers. Institutional constraints on email mailboxes often meant you needed to delete email requests, which sometimes didn’t help with checking. Shared network drives did start to make the process a little easier, and did mean less bulging email inbox folders.

Nothing though had been really transformed, as the process was the same, it was just that pieces of paper had been replaced with spreadsheet files (sometimes masquerading as forms, but were still spreadsheet files).

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Your organisation then probably had a sales pitch from a company, to your HR or Personnel department, about the transformative opportunities that could be gained by purchasing a digital HR system.

You could take that leave authorisation process and digitalise it.

Staff would now log into a system, they could see how much leave they were entitled to, how much leave they had taken, how much they had left. They could then make a leave request on the system.

This would usually result in the sending of an email notification to their line manager. The line manager would then need to log into the system and go through the notifications and authorise the leave.

The system would be set up so no one could take more leave than they were entitled to. This did mean that one check on leave entitlement could be ignored. However, managers would still often need to review the leave request in the context of other leave requests by other staff.

What did help was when these systems went web based so you could log into them from outside the institution.

When you start to think about this digitalised process, using a bespoke system, over spreadsheets or pieces of paper, you may think of this as transformative. However, when you did deeper, there is still that same old authorisation process there.

Make a leave request, the system notifies the line manager, you then wait for authorisation, and so on…

typing
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

So, here’s a question for you, why does the leave need to be authorised?

A better question why does the leave need to be authorised by the line manager?

The paper based system required authorisation to ensure that staff weren’t taking more leave than they were entitled to. The digital HR system ensures that happens automatically. Make a leave request for ten days when you only have five days entitlement left, then the system will automatically reject your request.

Could the system be configured to automatically authorise leave then.

You request leave and if you have enough leave then it is authorised automatically.

When I first started asking this question a few years back, I was quite surprised by the resistance to the idea of a system or an individual self-authorising leave, and it got to the point where often the discussion would just fall down. Culturally people (okay managers) were struggling with the concept that they no longer had the power to authorise leave or not.

So why the need to authorise then?

There may be specific dates that people are not allowed to take leave on, development days for example, or when others are on leave. Well, these are the exception rather than the rule. Could the HR system in the same way it rejects requests where the days requested exceeds the days available, ensure that where requests fall on specific dates, or where other members of the team already have leave, that these then do go for authorisation. Couldn’t authorisation be by exception?

I wouldn’t have a system where such requests are automatically rejected, as the reason why some people are for last minute leave, are probably the requests that should be considered and dealt with by a person.

As you look into the potential of what a HR system could do, you start to realise that a well rounded and smart HE system could be used to reduce the administrative burden of booking leave.

However, what is transformative, is that though the introduction of an HR system may reduce the administrative burden of HR staff, the real benefits are on reducing the administrative tasks of staff and managers. Allowing them to take advantage to focus on the more challenging aspects of their roles and job.

This is just one aspect of one system. As you start to reflect on the possibilities and challenges you find that you can’t just change or transform one thing, you need to think about the wider aspects of transformation.

Building on this you start to realise that digital HR systems don’t live in isolation. HR systems also need to be fully integrated into other systems across the organisation, in the systems I use, you would have to manually copy your leave over to the Exchange server (Outlook), it was easy to have transcription errors, and if you ever cancelled leave, or added leave last minute, you might not remember to update your Outlook calendar. Likewise, it would be useful to have other kinds of calendars in both, such as bank holidays, annual closure or even school holidays (noting the regional differences that sometimes happen). I do recall lots of people booking meetings on bank holidays (when the organisation was closed) or booking annual leave when they didn’t need to.

Now looking further forward, could you use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from leave request, rejections and authorisations to have a better idea of when there are potential pinch points, so maybe bringing in additional resources during those times, or ensuring that staff are aware of the high risk times. You would probably want to avoid having a leave system based on the first past the post wins the leave arrangement. AI could also be used to recommend leave to staff based on their historical leave requests (and why).

Venice
Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

In the 1990s I would often take a week off to visit the Venice Carnival which was on a different date each year. Would have been nice for the HR system to book this leave for me automatically or at the very least make a suggestion I should book that week.

The digitalisation of the HR system only becomes transformative when you actually look at and transform the processes and the thinking behind those processes. You need to transform the process; the digital HR system enables that transformation. Simply digitalising your HR system results in less benefits than if you transform the organisation and use digital technologies to support that process of transformation.

Doing the Digifest – Weeknote #158 – 11th March 2022

Well a busy week with travel, an in-person conference and some forward planning and road mapping.

Spent much of the week reflecting on digital transformation. What do we mean by it? What does it look like? Is it a something that happens, you transform, or is it something that continues over time?

Monday I was in Birmingham in preparation for Jisc’s Digifest. I had a fair few online meetings on Monday so had travelled up the night before. Didn’t really want to have long online calls from the services on the M5, or in a hotel foyer. Maybe in a coffee shop, but in the end decided a hotel room was better than all of those.

Tuesday was day one of Digifest 2022.

Two years ago I attended Digifest 2020 on what was the eve of lockdown. There was back then a murmuring that with the imminent restrictions that digital and online would play a huge part in supporting education. I don’t think we really recognised how hard it was going to be.

As I walked around Digifest 2022 it didn’t really feel that it had been only two years since the last time we had done it in in-person. We know that the pandemic isn’t over by any means, but not only has so much happened, but we also learnt many things as well.

This wasn’t my first in-person event since the lockdown, I had attended a Wonkhe event a few weeks ago. However it did feel quite surreal. I have written up my reflections on day one on another post.

Wednesday was the second day of Digifest, again I have written this up as well.

For me I did notice that there was a lot less usage of Twitter over the event, I don’t know if this is because it was less used during online events that we’ve forgotten how useful a back channel can be, or just a general decline in the use of Twitter because of the noise.

After the conference I travelled down to London.

There was a bit of a Twitter discussion about digital transformation following this tweet.

It got me thinking that we don’t really have a consensus on what digital transformation actually is and what it looks like.

I have spoken about this in meetings and events but I am now planning some blog posts on my thoughts.

Jisc does have the following guide on digital transformation. This is derived from the DX work of Educause.

I have some concerns about the linear nature of the definition, as though if you undertake digitisation, then digitalisation, you will then be able to deliver digital transformation. There is much more to the Educase work on transformation, but sometimes people focus on the simplistic interpretations that you see in a diagram.

I also asked on the Twitter:

Do you think transformation is something that has a result (we’ve been transformed) or do you see it as an evolving continuing process (we are transforming and continue to transform)?

There were mixed responses, some thought it was incremental, some thought it was a continual process, few thought thought of it as some kind of “big bang” transformation.

I think it can be incremental. But you still need some kind of vision or end game. Otherwise you may find you have changed but not transformed.

Another perspective is that you make incremental steps, but the full effect or possibilities isn’t immediately apparent. But at some point in the future it suddenly all makes sense.

I need to do some more thinking, research and reflection on this topic. One thing that does come immediately to mind, there is quite a bit out there on digital transformation, does this help, or what kind of help do universities need to undertake digital transformation.

I went to the Jisc office on Thursday and though there were people there it was quite quiet. When I went out for lunch it was a different matter. I’ve not seen London this busy since March 2020. There were so many people, and queues in all my favourite places for lunch.

I had a multi agency meeting on widening participation which was informative, interesting and useful.

Friday I was also in the Jisc office and spent time road mapping

My top tweet this week was this one.