Delivery Documentaries are a behind the scenes look at how our Enterprise Architects (EAs) in the field perform Value Realization activities for customers. The documentaries are raw and real, and the purpose is to share what actually happens on the ground. They are always a learning opportunity, and we hope that over time we can help bridge the state of the art with the state of the practice, and continue to move the ball forward.
What steps does a rural university take to begin meeting begin serving a more widely dispersed and larger student body? This example, provided by Nashreen Hofmeester, describes how a Microsoft Architect helped the university assess capabilities and develop a roadmap for their journey into 21st century learning.
This is a Delivery Documentary of an engagement led by the Microsoft Enterprise Strategy Program (ESP), which provides services to help customers realize the most value from their technology investments. In this engagement, an Enterprise Architect helped a university create a roadmap for improving capabilities necessary to expand educational opportunities to a broader community. Work supporting the roadmap included researching global trends in higher education; assessing existing challenges, drivers, capabilities; and aligning business objectives and technology enablers.
I recently participated in an engagement with a rural university that sought to provide higher education to a widespread student body. I was part of a Microsoft Consulting Services team, and was brought in to help assess IT service capabilities and maturities, align business objectives with technology, and help ensure that the university achieve value from current initiatives, as well as chart the way forward to place the university at the forefront of rural higher education.
Learning about Existing Challenges
To learn about the existing challenges and objectives of the university, we held a series of discovery meetings. Some of the meetings used the Value Discovery Workshop approach we have established in our Value Realization Framework. Other meetings were focused group interviews.
The main objective of the university was to transform from traditional offerings and infrastructure to a "comprehensive university" that enabled a broad range of educational opportunities for a larger and widespread student body. The transformation has two phases, of which we are currently helping with the first.
- Phase 1. Enable digital inclusion. While keeping some features and data on-premises, become ready to adopt digital-based technologies, improving connectivity, implementing cloud-based email, transforming and migrating data centers, and enabling cloud-based productivity tools.
- Phase 2. Using the technologies and capabilities from the first phase to enable a range of online and hybrid classroom experiences, gaining many more students, and increasing tuition revenue from the increased student population and government subsidies.
As we continued our discovery, we quickly found that the existing infrastructure was out of date, many components were obsolete and no longer supported, existing services were not stable, and users experienced connectivity issues.
There was no simple path to migrating infrastructure, services, and data. In addition, the university was finding it very difficult, due to their location, to get access to people with the kinds of skills needed to transform and operate the infrastructure.
Understanding Business Drivers
The university needed to improve the quality of services delivered to comply with government guidelines, attract and accommodate more students, and obtain more funding from students and the government.
We participated in many conversations about making the university more accessible to the surrounding communities, offering online education along with other forms of education, making the university more attractive to prospective students, and increasing enrollment.
In the national educational context in which this university operates, the government is encouraging traditional universities to expand offerings to include more technically-enabled education. The goal is especially pertinent to this university, which operates in a rural area where there is a need to contribute to regional economic growth.
The university was not geared up to interact with students using modern channels and infrastructure. The drivers for change were commonly understood and accepted at the university, but the means to reach them had not been identified.
Identifying Value Propositions
The primary transformational goal of the university is to change to a “Smart University” in order to make teaching accessible to students attending online classes, as well as students that attended classes in person.
The value of this change is reflected not only in expanding the influence and availability of the university, but in the associated increase in revenue from government, students, and businesses.
Operational value is defined and measured differently in the domain of higher education than in a purely business environment, although increasing revenue is significant driver in both areas.
The university receives government funding based on student headcount, as well as tuition fees from students. In addition, the university receives funding to perform Research and Development work on behalf of local industries.
The university’s overriding business objective for modernizing infrastructure is to drive up the number of students, resulting in increased support from the government, and driving the agenda for Research and Development.
Aligning with Existing Strategy
One of the most important activities we performed during this engagement was ensuring that we aligned business and technology goals early in the process.
Right from the start of the engagement, we focused on business objectives and mapped them to technology enablers. We used Benefits Dependency Networks (BDNs) to map from business drivers to investment objectives, and to help identify the benefits that would be achieved for various scenarios.
We also needed to determine how we would measure the success of initiatives, identifying quantifiable metrics that were meaningful to the university. We used many performance indicators identified by the university itself in a comprehensive business strategy document.
Unlike some public sector environments, we were able to work with hard metrics, such as:
- Increase government funding by 10% year on year for the next 3 years
- Increase student numbers by 20% year on year for the next 3 years
- Increase graduation rate by 15% within three years
- Decrease total cost of ownership for data centers by 25% over the next five years
To validate that we were correctly aligning business and technology goals, we identified primary stakeholders to review the documented alignment, as well as conducted face-to-face review validation meetings with executives.
Obtaining Support from Leaders by Accelerating Value
One of the first steps on the road to meeting business objectives, prior to enabling a full set of innovative features, was to establish a new baseline infrastructure and solve connectivity issues. We gained the support of many sponsors, including the Vice Chancellor Operations of the university, by speaking about making it unnecessary to acquire updated hardware and support personnel by moving productivity applications to the cloud.
To better understand and evaluate the transformation plans from an operational point of view, the university was very dependent on the Dean of Information Technology.
The Vice Chancellor pulled the Dean into our work, and from the beginning he was open to engaging with us. In the end, the Dean was a strong advocate for our initiatives and played important roles in adoption and change management.
The Vice Chancellor was also instrumental in helping us identify and work with the relevant stakeholders for research and planning. We were fortunate that the university had, through resources in the business school, a good understanding of the value of business planning.
Assisting with Remediation
A great deal of remediation was necessary to support connectivity, communications, and collaboration. Even with enthusiastic support, we found the university did not have mature enough capabilities to conduct remediation themselves, or even to plan remediating initiatives. We realized that simply giving the IT department a remediation checklist was not enough – we had to find another mechanism to help ensure success at the end of the day.
Devices to support were seemingly endless. The university had hundreds of devices, and though many students still used the computer labs on campus to perform work, more technologically saavy students were rapidly introducing new and remote devices.
We had an existing Premier support agreement with the university, under which we actively helped drive remediation, including sending skilled personnel to the campus and IT facilities, and to assess and automate remediation.
Assessing Maturity before Transformation
After performing remediation to ensure that the infrastructure was capable of supporting the more innovative initiatives, we began assessing the capabilities of the data center to determine maturity, gaps, and needed changes.
To evaluate maturity and perform the assessment, we formed a multidisciplinary team that included an enterprise architect and a solution architect with a specialty in modern data centers, in addition to members of the Microsoft Global Practice for modern data centers, and Premier.
As I conducted the maturity assessment, I determined where the client was with capabilities, what workloads needed to be supported, and what levels of maturity were required to support the workloads.
We held a number of workshops and provided questionnaires to gather the background information necessary to understand the environment. During the process, I helped guide our team and the participants from the university, I facilitated workshops and interviews, and helped validate information among stakeholders and sponsors.
To validate our assessment, we prepared detailed review materials, with a strong emphasis on semantics, and provided information in a form that was familiar to our sponsors.
Creating Deliverables to Support Transformation
Prior to creating the planned deliverables relating to a transformation roadmap, we found that our sponsors and stakeholders had few clear cut ideas about the architectural principles that would guide them in making decisions about planning and solution delivery. I helped them identify their objectives by explaining the benefits of pertinent principles that have been useful in my experience. For example:
- Systems need to be robust and secure.
- Data is an asset to the university.
- Systems need to adapt to a wide range of users' technological literacy.
- Solutions need to amplify learning and help reimagine learning experiences.
- To deliver as quickly as possible, use standard components and promote reuse.
The primary deliverable we created was a roadmap that identified the components in place, the changes necessary, the investments for the next three years, and ongoing value realization activities. In addition, the roadmap points the way to future opportunities for leveraging the cloud, such as enhanced mobility and device support.
The roadmap is supported by a reference architecture from the perspective of the business (higher education), and a reference architecture from a technology perspective.
To encourage sharing and discussing the roadmap, we created poster size versions of it for displaying in strategic locations. These posters attracted a lot of attention, furthered discussion about the projects, helped us refine our deliverables, and supported adoption and change activities.
Delivering Value during Transformation
We first enabled the university to stay in touch with staff, students, and alumni by creating mailboxes and a collaborative environment supported in the cloud. With these tools, teachers can work online with students, and students can work online with each other. Students can also prepare projects for delivery, and can carry on discussions around topics of interest.
All of these features were delivered prior to sorting out the on premise data centers, modernizing, migrating, or refactoring applications – tasks that the university is still carrying out.
Several aspects of this engagement were notable, including:
The considerable value of a fully engaged client executive sponsor: Having the wholehearted support and active participation of the executive sponsor was key to our success for opening doors and decreasing the barriers to engagement from a business side, particularly with the academic staff of the university.
Remediation challenges: It was important for us to understand the skill set, capability level, and maturity of IT service delivery for the university. We knew we should be prepared to provide actual remediation assistance in those cases where there was not sufficient skill. The initial position of the project team was that the client would be responsible for remediation, but it became evident at an early stage that this would delay the project.
Multiplier effect of embedded Enterprise Services Program (ESP): Embedding the Enterprise Services Program in a Microsoft Consulting Services project has provided us the opportunity to accelerate value realization, as well as identify additional opportunities for value realization for the university.
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