Universities Australia Conference 2018: Tribal Breakfast Briefing Wrap-Up

Posted by Liam Banks

“Modernising the University in an era of rapidly changing technology and solutions” was the topic discussed at the Tribal breakfast briefing during the Universities Australia Conference.

Tribal were delighted to welcome Trevor Woods, CIO at Monash University, who is charged with leading the university through this technology transformation as our speaker. He was joined by many senior leaders from the Australian and UK Higher Education Sectors.

When discussing modern technology and its adoption (or otherwise) in Higher Education, Trevor reflected on the challenges he has observed in driving real long-term change in the sector. Jon Baldwin, Tribal's Managing Director, Higher Education, had the following to say about the presentation. 

“Trevor offered a timely and compelling insight into the challenges the sector is facing and how, working together in partnership, institutions can respond positively to those challenges. Leading and managing change has many twists and turns and culture, style and technology are all important ingredients of finding solutions that work in any particular context”

Below is a summary of the major points discussed by Trevor. For any further information, please contact the Tribal team at hello@tribalgroup.com

Changes in student experience and expectations

Much of the force of change is coming from shifts in the expectations of university students, predominantly individuals who have grown up surrounded by digital technology, they simply think and act differently.

They are familiar with the world of Uber, Amazon, online banking and social networking, and they are looking for similar experiences when they interact with their chosen university. Where once students would have been happy to fill out paper forms and patiently wait in queues to have questions answered by staff, they now want online transaction channels and instant access to information.

They expect digital portals, accessible from mobile devices. Students are looking for efficient ways to manage everything from their course enrolments to the submission of papers and receipt of exam results.

The cost of "change" in universities

Faced with fundamental shifts in expectations and demands, universities must change or streamline many of their existing internal processes and behaviours.

While adopting new technologies can enhance the experience of the users, it also comes with baggage; new ways of working, problems and solutions, and of course there are the doubters.

This is not simply a matter of investing in new technologies. While technology will be a component, the change required is cultural. In any group, there will be people resistant to change, and a university is no different. There should therefore be more focus on change management and change management communications should not be treated as a side project.

There are always individuals that resist change. People may defend the status quo and not understand the potential benefits that any proposed shifts can deliver. Such perspectives will need to be managed and benefits clearly communicated. It was observed that in the end, it’s often the initial detractors to an idea that become your best supporters.

Agile methods, the pace of change and communications

It was discussed that with changes in technology and with student expectations accelerating at a rapid pace, many institutions including Monash are moving to, or attempting to move to agile project methodologies.

Agile methodologies have reshaped the software development sector, so they can surely deliver significant advantages to universities. With them in place, an institution will be much better placed to meet current student demands and be ready to change as those demands shift over time.

Agile management allows for; better collaboration and team input, continuous improvement, innovation, and scope flexibility. Traditional top-down project management styles which often involve management teams, steering committees and old ways of working, do not hold in rapidly changing environment.  What may have taken months to build in the past, can now be done in matter of weeks.

In an agile environment technology and the scope of a project are changing daily and so communication must be frequent and effective. Gone are the days of the PMO meeting fortnightly or monthly to review deliverables.

Agile methods require more communication, Trevor discussed his implementation of daily 15-minute stand ups. Whereby every stakeholder of 900-person teams at any level of seniority in the organisation is made aware of issues that affect them within two hours of these stand ups taking place. It highlighted the need for people to be connected when solving complex solutions whilst moving at a faster pace.

Some takeaways for success:

  • Listen to the students

    The student body already knows what it needs and wants. Take time to listen to their input and the guidance such contributions can provide.
  • Communicate broadly

    Ensuring all staff are aware of the need for change and the benefits it will deliver is crucial. Communicate effectively and regularly with everyone across the university. Consider a form of the stand-up meetings in order to keep projects on track.
  • Examine management practices

    Old bureaucratic structures will have to change and become more flexible. Recognise that this will be an ongoing process and one that could meet staff resistance.
  • Constantly monitor progress

    Becoming more agile and responding to student requirements is a journey, not a destination. Constantly monitor the progress being made and use this to steer future projects and initiatives.

By undertaking a sustained strategy based on agile principles, a university can ensure it is not only able to meet the student demands of today but is well placed to evolve over time.


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