We have prepared this discussion paper to support conversations within and outside IT Services about the strategic approach we will take in support of the University’s strategic framework, Birmingham 2026.
In recent weeks we have held a series of workshops for Professional Services staff, academics and researchers; and workshops specifically for IT Services staff. At the start of the new academic year, we’re inviting students to join the conversation.
If you haven’t managed to get to one of our workshops (or even if you have), we invite you to read this discussion paper and share your thoughts. We want to find out:
- Are we on the right track with the discussion document?
- What have we missed?
- What aspects of what we do/could do digitally are most important to you?
- What do you need in order to make the most from digital in your workplace?
Professional Services, Academic and Research colleagues: please send us your feedback via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on this page, right below the discussion paper.
If you’re interested in an IT colleague attending your team meeting to talk about the strategy and what it means for you, your colleagues and stakeholder groups, please send us some details via email.
IT Services colleagues only: access the Digital Workshop online here (O365 login required).
IT Services is an enabler, providing and supporting the systems critical to teaching, research and business operations.
Essentially, the role of IT is to help make important things happen at the University of Birmingham.
When complete, the IT Services Digital Strategic Framework will consider the current state of IT at the University of Birmingham, the target state of IT required to support the Birmingham 2026 Strategy, and identify the methodologies by which IT Services will help enable that strategic vision.
In 2026, the University of Birmingham:
- Has grown the student body by a third, to 42,000, including large growth within Dubai, other overseas facilities, and in distance learning, while maintaining and improving teaching and learning capabilities.
- Is a more research-intensive environment with significant growth of research, both in the number of research staff and the value of the research grants won.
- Is a recognised ‘rising star’ institution, ranked among the top 100 in all major international league tables.
- A place of transformational education at the cutting edge of educational delivery.
- A destination of choice for staff and students.
We are developing the IT Services Digital Strategic Framework using the University’s Professional Services Best in Class philosophy; collaboration, simplification and innovation.
We will tailor the vision and mission through consultation with IT Services staff, students, academics, researchers and Professional Services staff, ensuring a vision our stakeholders are invested in. The following is a starting point…
Co-created IT at the University of Birmingham delivers transformational education, supports world class research, and promotes collaboration in a global context.
To continue to securely and resiliently provide responsive technology, services and support that enables opportunity to transform and support business process and efficiencies.
By 2026, staff and students use the right technology in the right way through seamless interfaces that bring users together, supported by joined up intelligent analytics.
The University of Birmingham’s Professional Services Values, tailored and combined with additional IT Services Values, underpin the way in which we will deliver our vision.
Birmingham Professional Provisional Values
We will finalise the values section following approval and adoption of the new Birmingham Professional Values:
|Collaborative||We work together with our students, academic colleagues, local, national and global partners, and each other. We listen to our colleagues, having mutual trust and respect. We are connected through our shared commitment to the way we work.
What that means for IT: We collaborate to understand, focus on and respond to the customer touch points that will make the most difference.
|Innovative||Birmingham Professionals are enthusiastic, resourceful and creative in supporting the University’s aspirations. We are agile and willing to try new ways of working that make a difference and have the courage to change when needed.
What that means for IT: We always seek new and improved ways of working, we automate, simplify and standardise where we can. We help the rest of the University to do the same by empowering staff to help themselves and focus on transforming education and delivering research.
|Excellent||Birmingham Professionals provide consistently high levels of customer service that is people-centred. We focus on solutions rather than problems and ensure decisions are followed through with action. We are reflective, providing and receiving constructive feedback in order to learn and move forward.
What that means for IT: Our joined up systems and analytics help us to continuously learn and improve, co-create with customers and provide proactive support for our services.
|Inclusive||Birmingham Professionals are committed to equal access to opportunity for all so that everyone has the chance to shine and feel part of one community. We empower our people, in order to maximise everyone’s potential. We expect everyone to act with sensitivity, respect, and fairness.
What that means for IT: We provide any time, any place, anywhere flexibility in accessible formats and language. Our seamless, integrated solutions are simple to access, simple to navigate and simple to use.
|Confident||Birmingham Professionals are informed, knowledgeable and demonstrate expertise in supporting students, academic colleagues and each other. We are positive in our approach based on our professional skills, we are bold and take intelligent risks.
What that means for IT: We advise on and provide the appropriate technology enabling relevant, rapid and meaningful positive change for our global university context.
The current IT Strategy, developed in 2010, refreshed in 2016, focussed on the themes of:
- Advancing the University
- Effective Information Stewardship
- IT Complexity Reduction
- University Operational Excellence
- IT Functional Excellence
Some of the highlights it delivered include:
- A new data centre which hosts over half of the University’s Advanced Research Computing capability
- A common, robust and resilient platform for on premise applications
- Identity Management Platform
- Second generation of mobile device security
- Two-factor authentication secure remote service
- An enterprise integration core service
- Implementation of demand management
- Project prioritisation framework
- IT Business Partnering
- Rolling, two year business planning for IT Services
- A strategic relationship with IBM around data science and AI and ownership by the University of the largest IBM AI cluster in the UK
Whilst significant improvements have been made in many areas, we also recognise a range of technical debt and multiple overlapping or similar services and systems.
The New Core programme, which replaces core Human Resources and Finance functions, is nearing completion, providing an appropriate opportunity to redevelop IT Services strategic plans. Whilst a number of the strategic directions remain valid, changing environmental factors such as delivery of New Core, and digital capabilities across the Higher Education sector mean that we are better positioned to review our existing technology choices and priorities.
 Technical debt “describes the consequences of software development actions that intentionally or unintentionally prioritise short term client value and/or project constraints such as delivery deadlines, over more robust technical implementation and design considerations…”, Journal of Information and Software Technology Journal, 2018.
Since the development of the previous IT Strategy, a host of new or improved digital technologies now exist, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation. With technology moving at such rapid pace, this will increasingly be the case. In order to develop and hold our competitive advantage, we need to move with the pace of technological advancement.
Digital technology is now ubiquitous in most everyday elements of the lives of people and organisations. We expect systems which enable fundamental activities, whether directly such as supporting research and education activities, or indirectly by improving our ability and efficiency of service delivery and administration.
According to the latest international CIO Survey published by Harvey Nash and KPMG, the highest IT priority for the education sector is on service stabilisation. Amid a plethora of IT projects to deliver new exciting new features and user experiences, reserving sufficient time to update and maintain core IT infrastructure and systems to keep them reliable and at their peak performance can be at risk of taking a backseat.
Twelve months data from across IT Services, June 2018 to May 2019, demonstrates average monthly resource allocation of 80% to business as usual work and 20% to projects, and demand for IT Services has exceeded capacity by an average of 6% per calendar month. We must continue to prioritise preventative maintenance, automate back office processes, and de-duplicate both systems and effort. Identifying time for these fundamental works and for the full implementation of service excellence principles will allow and enable us to accelerate service optimisation and further increase reliability, stability and reduce downtime.
Researchers increasingly expect high performance networking, storage, specialist software and computing capacity available on demand and to not have technical barriers to their research ambitions. It is key that we invest in data assets through the creation of valuable datasets and big data with analysis and the development of data science.
Our highly specialised Advanced Research Computing (ARC) team have been building on the foundations of High Performance Computing domains in science and engineering. Demand from new areas, principally in the life sciences, has grown significantly over recent years. The University is now a partner of the Alan Turing Institute, one of 13 Research Institutions at the forefront of data science and AI.
AI has extensive computational demands and, through our strategic relationship with IBM, the Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR) is well-equipped to deliver a globally-significant AI platform in support of the University’s ambitions.
The BEAR facilities provided by ARC are already used extensively with the rate of user registration increasing as new disciplines discover the value of advanced computing resources. An additional 1,400 academic and research-focused staff will inevitably place further demands on the resource, representing as it does a greater than 50% increase on the current potential user base. Careful planning and additional investment is required to deliver Birmingham 2026.
In order to effectively underpin our research ambitions directly within the Colleges, our End User Services team provide highly accessible and focussed support personnel with significant specialist knowledge. They deliver a locally tailored service that includes a wide variety of services, from assisting in developing successful research bids to the specification and commissioning of high performance workstations and dedicated devices that drive research equipment. It is key that we continue to enhance our local services to ensure our research community have effective access to the specialist resources they require, from the rapid installation of highly specialised research software to seamless access to the collaboration platforms that are crucial to the co-authoring of papers with research partners from around the world.
The market for students and staff is competitive, with increased global competition and engagement. The ‘digital offer’ is increasingly part of the overall experience that Birmingham must use to attract and retain them.
Currently, only 41% of students within UK higher education agree that their courses prepare them for the digital workplace, yet 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills within the next 20 years. Growing numbers of global organisations are suffering technical skill gaps, including 72% of large companies in the UK.
The UK Government recognises the fundamental importance of digital competencies and skills of educators, as well as ‘awareness and adaptability of education institutions to changes in technology’ acknowledging that digital skills of higher education staff need improvement.
Keeping our digital ecosystem current, with a focus on student engagement and outcomes informed by learning analytics, through high quality reliable services will become more important. We must invest both in new digital capabilities, and in ensuring that these meet user needs and are presented as a seamless experience.
We need to be institutionally responsive to change, understand our digital potential, know the areas where change and innovation can positively impact customers, and be able to respond rapidly to opportunities. This should be built on a clear set of principles which enable the differentiation of the University of Birmingham experience from others.
Current Business Systems
High level strategies are in place for a number of our top business systems, which involve system development, system review, replacement, or removal. Where strategies do not exist, they will be developed.
Vendors are increasingly provisioning technology as a service, and 70% of organisations globally report increasing investment in cloud. The prime characteristics of cloud services are the same – a utility supply and charging model, with a (usually) remote hosting solution and limited ability to change or customise the service.
With around a third of our systems already cloud hosted, we will ultimately reach a position where most of our systems are delivered this way, or as hybrid models incorporating cloud and local, on premises solutions. What this means:
- We will need to increasingly move toward a model of continuous operational expenditure (Opex) rather than periodic capital expenditure (Capex).
- With costs based on metrics such as number of users, space or compute used, they are dynamic as the metrics change.
- Our day to day dependence on third party organisations will increase.
- Each cloud solution move must be assessed on risk and cost factors: supplier failure, supplier lock-in, data ownership, data back-up, price escalation, and benefit comparative to remaining in-house.
- Many software providers are moving to a cloud model.
Similar to Cloud, another emerging and connected trend is the move to highly configurable systems. Examples of this type of system include portal and mobile platforms such as myDay and customer relationship management (CRM) technologies such as MS Dynamics. Users have the ability to customise their own experience, as well as the University providing a more personalised experience. These applications will make visible difference and improvements for users, but require investment for additional technical and configuration resources often above what we have had in place to support incumbent applications.
 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2018.
Throughout the development of this strategy, we are engaging with our users to develop the target state of IT Services which will support delivery of Birmingham 2026.
Future State will be presented with the final strategic framework for each of our key user groups, which include:
- Professional Services Staff
- Support Staff
- Prospective Students
IT is a known proactive enabler for business transformation, the type of which can help achieve true competitive advantage, particularly where people are digitally skilled and empowered to continually improve.
In many cases, our focus will be on enabling our services in alignment with the offerings of our competitors, however we will continually scan for actions that we identify as providing competitive advantage.
We will do this by:
- Ensuring that IT Services is rapidly responsive to change in order to gain the advantage, where appropriate, by delivering new, innovative, and useful functionality first.
- Implementing regular listening and rapid response mechanisms/structures with our students and key business areas to deliver changes in user apps and AI before our competitors.
- Keeping abreast of technical change to ensure that we are aware of relevant emerging technologies.
Concepts for competitive advantage will always be driven collaboratively, in direct response to identified University needs.
Regular strategic refresh
The rapidly changing technology environment makes it difficult to predict the precise activities needed several years ahead. Instead of attempting accurate longer-term predictions, the strategic plan will combine both short term specific initiatives and longer term directions. We will review our strategic approach periodically – around every two years – to refresh both the short term and longer term elements.
We have eight underlying principles which explain how we will support delivery of Birmingham 2026. These principles will provide guidance on how we develop and implement the roadmap that will lead us from our current to our future state.
We factor in the impact of ongoing costs for everything we do so that full investment benefits can be realised.
Transition to cloud will drive reduction in capital expenditure (capex) increasing operational expenditure (opex) and limiting our opportunity to use assets beyond their expected life span. The benefit is long term reduction of internal lower value-add work, risk reduction, and more rapid benefit from supplier innovation.
Our core and important systems are always up to date.
Maintenance and upgrade costs for critical infrastructure will be forward budgeted for, to avoid major risks where critical hardware or software is unsupported. Examples include the campus network and applications such as Banner 9. An increased move to cloud services and regular supplier updates will to some extent force this change.
Buy not Build
We configure rather than customise.
We will move to increasingly off the shelf products seeking only minimal customisation where necessary to ensure a manageable and flexible technology estate, or where there is major competitive advantage. We will adopt and promote central service offerings to support efficiency and scalability.
Ours will become a primarily cloud-based model.
We will provide technology that enables flexibility, accessibility, and effective collaboration within a global university context. For example cloud-based Office 365 SharePoint sites versus existing localised custom SharePoint applications.
We support the effective use of technology by developing solutions in close collaboration with our users.
We will focus on the customer experience and personalisation across each full lifecycle supported by joined up systems and analytics. We will understand the impact of technology changes in order to successfully deliver systems. We will employ continuous improvement processes to maintain alignment to University and user requirements.
We deliver background services silently and efficiently enabling our staff to focus on transforming education and delivering research.
We will provide proactive support, making effective use of our available resources, and encourage self-service by default by providing user friendly system interfaces and information. We will support University staff to focus on their tasks through system and process automation, self-service and optimisation.
Our technology estate is based on standard enterprise architecture approaches, controls and standards, and our infrastructure provides reliable, predictable performance.
We will implement technology oversight capability and extract value from our existing IT real estate. We will optimise our system maintenance to resolve issues and prevent downtime. We will manage our core business systems in ways which make us more agile, opening up new possibilities rather than presenting obstacles, with IT empowered to fund, provide and manage the background IT on behalf of the University. We factor resilience and risks into service design.
We recognise that people and process underpin the value that technology can provide. We are trusted partners and advisors who focus on the areas that make most difference.
We focus not only on what we do, but how we do it. We have the right networks in place across the University and we listen, consider, and respond to the needs of our users. We advise on technology to enable transformational delivery, and share best practice with our peers.
All current digital capabilities require ongoing maintenance and/or enhancement. We will also implement a range of major initiatives that will deliver new capabilities or material changes to existing services.
|Strategic Approach||New or Existing||What we’ll do|
|We need step-change to focus on helping staff and student develop their digital skills capabilities. Without increasing skill levels we will be unable to achieve the operational efficiencies needed in the challenging business environment. Students’ digital skills development is required to make a success of the digital transformation of education, as well as better prepare students for the increasingly digital contemporary workplace.
Though an area outside IT Services control, we will develop partnerships with relevant cross-functional teams in order to encourage and support this vital change.
|Our increasing dependence on third parties, in particular cloud services, means we must spend more time working with and co-ordinating suppliers. This requires supplier management processes and specialist roles and/or training opportunities.|
|The ability to collaborate easily and quickly is an important capability, needed across almost all parts of the university. Whether academics working together on a research paper with internationally distributed co-authors; students working on a project or helping each other understand a lecture; or professional services staff working on a project across multiple sites or teams; collaboration needs and approaches are similar.
Online collaboration tools will facilitate meetings not limited by geographic location, supporting the global university and international research collaboration. This enables social, informal, and formal learning spaces where content, work and conversation can be shared, and has potential be used in innovative cross campus teaching delivery.
In order to do this efficiently at scale we will need to make some choices on tools and platforms, and facilitate the cultural change required to encourage all areas to embrace the benefits this offers. Foundational initiatives are already underway in conjunction with Academic Services and LRAT.
|Information Security is everyone’s responsibility. We will maintain an ongoing commitment to our information security, continuing to invest in tools, process and people. Our systems are secure by design. We will continue managing our regulation and standards compliance, and keep pace with what is regarded as good practice within the HE sector. We will manage our risks appropriately in consultation with business owners/process experts.|
|Network and Core Infrastructure||Existing||Enhance|
|The network underpins everything we do and will do; from cloud computing via our Janet link, unified communications with audio visual over IP, location services, intelligent campus and so on. We will maintain and support both our fixed and wireless networks. We will increase our network capacity to cater for the increasing demand of both internal traffic and cloud access, and will design and support our network to make it highly reliable and resilient.
We will keep up to date and support our core infrastructure elements (compute, storage) which supports all of our onsite technology. Periodic refresh, enhancement, and replacement will happen as needed.
We will investigate technologies that further enable the digital freedom of the user, for example portability, IoT, Govroam and increased security. Increased and automated monitoring capabilities and improved resilience will lead to a more stable foundation and increased up-time.
 Govroam, ‘government roaming’ provides public sector staff with seamless roaming internet access across multiple public sector locations. It is similar to eduroam, the education roaming network used across Higher Education for the past 15 years.
|Tooling and Automation||Existing||Enhance|
|We will improve efficiency through automation. Many of our systems include the ability to automate routine tasks, or make them more efficient through elements of process flow and task allocation. Where these can be contained with a single solution the native tooling will be used. Cross systems automation will be handled by a combination of integration and workflow tooling. Recent examples include the implementation of Automated Testing which is a growing opportunity within and outside IT Services, and automated patching. Whilst automation requires up-front financial and resource support, it allows downstream savings.|
|To extract maximum value from the University’s IT systems and data, we will design and procure systems with respect to service orientated architecture principles. These include interoperability, reusability and modular design. We will use integration tools and technologies that support common standards, which in turn will allow systems to be integrated and updated more efficiently.
System integration is a key enterprise requirement, enabling rapid service development, continuous service improvements and automation, for enhanced productivity.
|We will move testing to the beginning of the development cycle, and incorporating it into the requirements gathering/design stage of applications. We will effectively manage the budget/forecast for quality assurance activities with a clear pipeline of projects and fully scoped test requirements.
We will apply a risk-based, measured approach to testing to support improved return on investment (ROI) and reduce wasted effort. We will map our tooling estate to understand usage and identify opportunities for consolidation. We will record the relevant quality metrics and build dashboards to allow more efficient management, analysis and promote continuous improvement. As a priority we will ensure GDPR compliance through data obfuscation and better data practices when testing.
|We will rationalise our engagement solutions, or customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. This will enable a more coordinated approach to relationship engagement by using and building on existing contacts appropriately rather than each area working in isolation.|
|The three elements of Research Computing: compute, storage and Research Software Engineers (RSE) support will continue, with capacity driven by a chosen level of investment. On site hardware will continue to be cyclically refreshed, as well as moving workloads to cloud services where feasible and cost effective. We will develop the capability to hold and work on health data in a secure manner.
Advanced Research Computing (ARC) is playing a leading role in discussions relating to essential data analytics skills training for both research and teaching. Current provision is fragmented across all Colleges and consolidation would deliver better utilisation of resources (staff and infrastructure). ARC will continue to support filling the training gap by providing courses on software development; and help deliver a collaborative community on campus through peer group support and Special Interest Groups.
ARC has developed a national and international reputation which shows the University in a positive light.
|StARS and beyond||Existing||Transform|
|The current StARS programme will deliver an update to our core student record system (Banner) and return it to mainstream support while contributing to the 2026 vision through the implementation of new features. This initiative enables business process transformation, part of which is to restructure the modelling of the curriculum in Banner that is best suited for the needs of our students leading up to 2026 and beyond. This will involve embedding flexibility to effectively manage local, distance and global learning modes. As part of the business process transformation we will be looking to reduce day to day transactional activity on the system, replacing it with more automation and allowing staff to concentrate on activities that add value, i.e. supporting the teaching and learning experience of our staff and students. We will use clear service design and transition principles for delivery of this initiative, which will embed standardisation, simplification, automation and efficiency, while improving the student and staff experience through self-service and workflow.
We will use lessons learnt from previous large initiatives to support delivery of this project. Beyond the current initiative, the strategy moves towards simplification in order to enable greater future agility. We will seek to retire the last of our in-house bespoke elements (including BIRMS), replacing them with supplier solutions and moving student systems to the cloud. This will allow for 24/7 infrastructure and time zone support.
|A new initiative, an apps ecosystem for University of Birmingham applications, will help us to ensure that all our applications and portal tools are coordinated, designed and implemented in a way which mitigates overlaps or gaps between solutions.|
|Student Digital Access||Existing||Enhance|
|As our teaching becomes increasingly digital, students will require easy access to resources from whatever device they use. We will make all learning resources available in a flexible manner, enabling access as needed, including providing a ‘floating software’ model that allows remote access to software.|
|Single Standard Portal||Existing||Transform|
|Staff and students currently access multiple systems, through multiple mechanisms. Everything looks and behaves differently, making the user experience a frustrating challenge. A single standard portal, consistency across systems, built using a standard set of UX and UI design standards provides a more personal, simpler experience for the user. As we look closer toward 2026, opportunities for greater self-service and automation will be possible, delivering value-add functionality to meet identified user needs.|
|End User Device Agnostic||Existing||Transform|
|The number and diversity of end user devices and platform is ever increasing. We will introduce standards, designed to support users having the ability to access all key services from all devices.
This will include delivering existing style solutions such as web sites or hosted apps, and mobile applications on a platform by platform basis.
|Content Management and Standards||Existing||Transform|
|The volume of digital content being created is growing rapidly. There is now additional need for us to be able to create, manage, dispose of or archive in a coordinated manner across the organisation. We will establish a joined up approach for managing content which takes into account legislative standards such as accessibility, what we can do with the tools we have and what else we must do to manage both effectively and efficiently for example the library archival systems.|
|Cross location and Time Zone Support||Existing||Enhance|
|The current eight hour a day, five days per week model is no longer suitable. As the university expands, we must provide increasing levels of support both in location and time. Significant customer feedback is received regarding the unsuitability of the existing model with issues raised around international expansion, the 24 hour support model of the main University library, and student welfare.
This is a contentious issue, which would require change in areas including team capacity, third party support, tooling, and automation. Options will be reviewed and staff consulted in order to determine the best approach to take.
|Business Intelligence, analytics, reporting, AI and machine learning||Existing||Transform|
|Data quality, standards and integration are critical for effective and efficient service delivery. The data we capture, and hold is a key component in allowing us to deliver high quality services to staff and students. We will establish structures in alignment with the principles of the University of Birmingham’s Data Strategy.
To get the greatest value from our data we must be able to collect, connect and analyse it effectively. We’ll do this through a combination of in-system reporting, using the functions that come natively with our systems, and an aggregated data warehouse containing large amounts of data from multiple data sources for complex, cross systems requirements with analysis tools implemented that can be used by casual and power users.
This data can facilitate powerful business transformation and enhanced student support. Potential examples include identifying when a student has not been attending lectures and offering early intervention, identifying and improving unused aspects of learning systems, identifying student audiences who are less likely to engage with the university’s commercial offerings enabling development of targeted marketing or propositions, or advising students of the most used aspects on their reading list from the previous year so they can learn from the previous cohort.
|Learning Support Platforms||Existing||Transform|
|The single standard portal will enable seamless access to our learning tools. Further enhancement to the data flows will enable us to enhance accessibility of analytics to help understand how well our learning support systems are working, and identify opportunities for improvement.|
|The Internet of Things (IoT) is a growing area, where the ability to ‘make things smart’ creates new opportunities within an intelligent campus. We will use existing data sources, such as geo location from the wireless network, and new sources such as data from sensors to create new data flows, creating one version of the truth for data about our estate. The addition of an IoT layer would form part of the enhancement of new, improved network capability. This can then facilitate other needs, such as better space utilisation tracking and planning, and enable more advanced analytics to allow data driven decision making and a smarter performing campus.|
July – Aug 2019 Workshops with:
- Professional Services Staff
- Academic Staff
- Internal IT Services Staff
Draft Digital Strategy prepared
Sense check draft Digital Strategy with internal IT Services Staff
Review draft Digital Strategy with students
Final Digital Strategy published, promoted and implementation commences