Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.
Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how Nottingham Trent University has sought and gained strategic operational efficiency and improved IT management.
In this case study discussion, we hear how a combination of professional services and portfolio management technologies allowed this 25,000-student university, one of the UK’s largest, to improve end-user satisfaction while freeing up IT resources to pursue additional innovation.
To understand how, we're joined by Ian Griffiths, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Nottingham Trent University. Welcome to the show, Ian.
Ian Griffiths: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Gardner: We’re also here with Michael Garrett, Vice President of Professional Services for HP EMEA. Welcome to the show, Michael. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Michael Garrett: Thank you Dana.
Gardner: Now, Ian, the first question goes to you. When you began to think about improving how you did IT there, in your mind what was the one glaring thing that needed to be changed?
Griffiths: We were very, very good at moving forward and doing lots and lots of things, but delivering products at the end of that period was more difficult. We seemed to be running around in circles and didn’t quite meet customers’ expectations. So, we were doing a lot, working really hard, but not really delivering the last mile.
Gardner: When you started to peel away the layers and tried to figure out why that was the case, what did you discover and why did something like a professional services involvement become a priority for you?
Griffiths: We found that our processes were not really defined well enough. We really weren’t getting sign-off from the business, and the expectations were never really met. So it was clear that we were not doing something well, and we didn’t quite know what that was. And our teams within the department weren’t gelling that well together either.
Gardner: So perhaps having some outside additional authority and experience seemed to work for you?
Griffiths: Yes. That worked really well. We had had another attempt about 18 months before and had some consultants in, but it didn’t really gel. We were aware that we had a partnership with HP, and HP Professional Services seemed a sensible way to go. But we were still doubtful as a management team within the IS Department whether it was really going to work. And we are very pleased with the outcome.
Gardner: Let’s learn about Nottingham Trent University, one of the largest. You’re in Nottinghamshire and you have 25,000 students. Tell us a bit more.
Griffiths: We’ve been a higher education establishment for about 160 years. We’re one of the biggest providers of "sandwich education," which means that students have two years at the university, a year in industry, and then a year at the university.
We're seen as a popular university that has good reputation for placing students at the end of their courses, and we got top of The Green Agenda twice in the last three years within the U.K. We've got about 150 people working in the Information Services (IS) Department on three campuses and nine academic schools.
Gardner: Tell us about your responsibilities. What is it that you’re involved with in terms of helping these 150 people do their jobs better?
Griffiths: I have responsibility for the strategic partnership we have with companies and with firms. I have responsibility for the regional network within the East Midlands of the U.K., which is connecting all the universities in that region and all the further education colleges. And I also manage relationships with key suppliers, such as HP.
Gardner: Let’s go to Michael Garrett. Michael. It sounds as if Ian has had a relationship with HP, but looked for something bigger, and they were even doubtful that you could help them at first.
Garrett: It’s often imagined that these organizations look to pure play consulting organizations for that advisory activity. In Nottingham Trent’s situation they were willing to listen to a different type of vendor or organization in that space as to what they could offer in their approach. What’s different for HP Professional Services is that it forms part of HP’s Software organization. Our consulting capability is very focused on IT transformation, operations, organizations, and applications.
But it’s about bringing that into real practical use quickly with the support of technology. That's the real differentiator we wanted to bring to customers like Nottingham Trent, and hopefully that’s true with what we've seen in the practical implementation and the work we've done with them.
Gardner: Ian, tell me a bit about the journey. How has this worked out for you? When you began to try to determine what was wrong and what you needed to do, how did that unfold? It sounds as if you had a forest, but the trees somehow weren’t working in a capacity that allowed you to achieve your requirements.
Griffiths: That's correct. We had some initial workshops where all the senior management team of the IS Department worked with HP and looked at what we wanted to achieve and looked at what the journey might look like to get there. I have to congratulate HP. They were able to get that team to gel together within IS in a way that we hadn’t before.
We spent a lot of time working together and working through the structure, the plan of the department, and what we called the tube map of the department. Everything, in a sense, was allowed. HP was very good at giving us a straw man to look at. In other words, giving those examples of what other companies have done, but forcing us to discuss them in detail and change them into what was right for Nottingham Trent.
They weren’t trying to sell the straw man, but were using the straw man as an example to move us forward, and it worked extremely well. Although there were some heated discussions amongst IS staff, HP was very good at facilitating those discussions.
Gardner: Typically we hear about the need to address people, process, and technology, when it comes to these sorts of projects. But it also sounds as if you needed to have a high level of customization, that it needed to be recognized that you are your own organization with your own variables, and that a cookie-cutter approach or a too general or methodological approach wouldn’t really be right.
Griffiths: That's correct. We had to go back to the rest of the department to try not to force something new on people that, as far as they could see, had no relevance to the situations they were in. We had to find a way as well of getting the business to buy into our new methodology, getting the business to feel some ownership, and getting the business to make some decisions during the planning of projects and the ending of projects.
Gardner: Michael Garrett, the need to customize, is that something that you valued? Do you think that this is an example of an area where HP is differentiated?
Garrett: It’s that level of being able to bring the input, the straw man, and then guide organizations around that model. To customize from scratch takes a great deal of time and can take too much energy and cost. What we’re trying to do is bring our method and models at the start point and then work in a very collaborative, but directed, way to get clients to a point, although, a configured approach rather than a completely dispersed approach.
Therefore, we get to things more quickly, but absolutely meet the requirement of the individual organization. We’ve got to appreciate they are different across different industries and different areas, and strong cultural alignment is critically important. We certainly saw that in this program.
Griffiths: The important thing again was that we were producing our outline, and that outline allowed us to go away and do a lot more detail later. In other words, we got the big picture agreed upon and then all the details were passed back to teams within the department to build up details in the areas where they had real knowledge of what happened.
Gardner: It also seems important, when you’re going about such a large-scale activity, to be able to measure along the way how things are going and perhaps offer feedback. Incentives were necessary or even helped a few more heated discussions, as you said, but you can’t measure where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.
Was there a point at some time, where you needed to get a state, an understanding of where and what’s going on in order to know how to measure, and what did you to do to get that?
Griffiths: An important step early on in this was beginning to define how many projects we were running as a department and to categorize work into projects that were developmental and projects that were more of the business-as-usual type.
We found in the end that we had over 100 projects running simultaneously. Some of those projects had been running for more than a year, some had no real defined endpoint, and the customer requirements weren’t documented in a thorough way.
It’s important to measure how many projects you’ve actually got, and actually have a start date and a planned finish date for them. One thing we learned was that 100 was too many for us to run, and we were able to cut down by finishing some off, to less than 50 that we have now.
Gardner: So by rationalizing this, getting some visibility, exercising triage and prioritization, you've been able to cut your active projects in half. Is that correct?
Griffiths: That's correct.
Gardner: And what has that done now? What are some of the metrics of success by getting more of a handle over your portfolio and managing it?
Griffiths: Probably the biggest one is that projects are getting completed and the project didn’t become the be all and end all and continue running forever. We were actually delivering something that the customer was expecting. And the customer, the student or the staff department, had a glow that they have had something delivered to them.
Gardner: And what have been some of the educational benefits at a larger perspective beyond the strict technology benefits? Has this improved in any way in which you can measure your success and your basic mission in life of educating students?
Griffiths: The student satisfaction with IS has gone up over the last two to three years. They're very happy with our technology and technology moving forward. But again, we found that people were happier with the delivery of an item, rather than as IS was before, striving for technical perfection.
Gardner: So you were really understanding your requirements and what was necessary to get these goals.
Griffiths: If I have to give advice to other people, it is about the 80/20 rule that 80 percent can be delivered in 20 percent of the time. Most people are happier with something delivered that matches the expectations, but perhaps not all the bells and whistles, and then move onto the next project.
Gardner: A lot of times in organizations, the budgets are not growing rapidly and nowadays that's clearly the case. I imagine you had to be thinking about cost consciousness and energy conservation. Is that true that you’ve been able to keep your cost level, but increase satisfaction and allocate your IT resources more efficiently?
Aiming at 50/50
Griffiths: Yeah, it’s correct. Before, we’ve had the figures of, again, 80 percent being used in the areas of business-as-usual and only 20 percent in project and development work. We quickly moved to a 70/30 split and our target is to move towards 50 percent. We're not quite there yet, but we’re a lot more like 60 percent business as usual, 40 percent new development work.
Gardner: So all things being equal, you've been able to take your operating, maintenance-level budgeting, reduce the percentage there and put it more into innovation, creating more productivity, and developing therefore even higher satisfaction. It sounds like a virtuous cycle of adoption.
Griffiths: It’s a virtuous cycle and the other thing that is gained from that is appreciation amongst other departments within the university and with senior management with what IS was delivering, and getting them to prioritize what we did.
There was a problem, if we look back two or three years. IS very much decided what the priorities were. Now, the business is deciding and even deciding in the case that a project that was a favorite of a senior member of staff, he or she may decide that it no longer is a top priority, compared with other projects that needed to be delivered.
Gardner: Is there something about the products themselves, the portfolio management approach, that now allows the business side of the organization, the leadership in this case, to have more visibility or input? How were you able to get it?
Griffiths: More visibility and more input. The example we always give is of a jam jar. You can keep putting rocks into a jam jar, but in the end, it becomes full. Unless you allow something to come out of that, nothing happens. So you’ve got to be able to allow things to finish and give you some capacity.
The other thing that I talked about was looking at the business benefits of everything we were doing and deciding the nice-to-haves probably weren't going to get prioritized at this stage.
Gardner: You mentioned earlier the tube map. Has that also provided visibility across the IT and leadership or organizational divide, or is this something you’re strictly using within the IS or IT organization?
Griffiths: We're using it outside the department to make people realize that we are working to an operational framework. As such, we have them stuck up round the department. And in the rooms where we have project meetings, they exist as well. As to vocabulary, we have senior staff using the phrase "the gate," where approval has to be given. The business has to be involved in the approval and deciding what priorities it has at that stage.
Gardner: Michael Garrett, the way that Ian is describing this, being able to double their innovation budget, cut their project numbers in half, get buy-in from leadership, a sense of cooperation across the organizational boundaries, is this typical? How would you describe this in terms of the industry at large?
Garrett: It's a typical situation that we see in a lot of organizations, even in very mature, even global and enterprise organizations that struggle with these challenges of organizational alignment and processes to support that. Project selection identification and transitioning to survey is the common problem we see.
With Nottingham Trent, we regulated it very quickly through that organizational design, then into the process to support that, and then working out what are the catalog and services that they offer. How do we then build that into projects and programs and then manage that into service transition?
It's very common. We see it in a lot of places. More mature organizations believe they do this very effectively. Nottingham Trent acknowledged that they needed help. It probably put them ahead of a lot of other organizations, especially in university space, which is a fast moving sector in UK, to be able to do something that many other large organizations just can't do.
Gardner: And clearly, the need to understand the software, the technology, the culture, really is a comprehensive holistic activity. Hitting one or two of those alone won't do it.
Garrett: It's important that it's continuous. If you build the right organizational relationship and engagement model, you take the workshop approach that we have up front and take your organization through that, right through to something tangible that’s delivering the real outcome in the business that’s very visible and usable. I think that’s very different than having different organizations do different types of consulting.
There aren’t many organizations that have that breadth and scope of capability to take someone from conceptual situation right through to practical implementation of technology to support that problem, and that’s where we like working with organizations like Nottingham Trent, that’s a great model.
Gardner: And Ian, is this something now that you’re building on? You mentioned that virtuous effect, the adoption effect. Are you able now to move toward working at service-level-agreement (SLA) levels or with key performance metrics and indicators. Is there a broadening of how you’re rationalizing and even professionalizing how you go about these processes?
Griffiths: That's correct. We produced a lot of what we call Level 3 processes from this and we looked at what our customers felt. We found that we’re having regular discussions about how we can tweak the diagrams and the systems that we’ve got in place. We see it very much as a live document, a live methodology and we’re looking at ways we can improve as time goes on.
Gardner: In wrapping up, I was hoping, Ian, that you might be able to share some 20/20 hindsight. If you were to offer some advice to an organization that was beginning to move more towards a comprehensive portfolio management, project management approach, looking at this more holistically and from the process level, what might you offer them in terms of lessons learned?
Griffiths: It's important that you have all your senior staff together designing the system from the start. We found that if people miss the early workshop, we tended to go back around the loop again. So I would say get your staff together and devote enough energy to it.
But don’t go into all the detail. Leave your staff on the ground, who’ve got more knowledge of the details inner workings of some elements of it, to do some work so they feel some ownership. And very quickly get an appreciation with your senior staff within your organization, not within IS, but from outside the IS department, of what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve.
But in the end, you need a few quick wins. In other words, if you can get a couple of projects working through the scheme quickly, people begin to think it's going to work.
Gardner: They'll see the success and they'll double down on that. Michael Garrett, we've come back to this workshop concept several times in discussion, I think that it's called the Transformation Experience Workshop. Why is that so powerful? Why does that seem to really work in terms of coalescing and getting these larger projects under way?
Garrett: It's something we've used for a few years now, something we developed in-house and we see as a really effective mechanism. It starts off in a fairly classic way of where are we, the current state, looking at future state, and workshop of the organization through that. But it's done in a very live, interactive way.
So it's not a classic style workshop. We walk people around the room. We take them on a journey, and we bring them together through that process. As Ian said, if you didn’t attend the early workshop process, then you struggle sometimes to buy into it. It takes more time, and we end up reiterating things later on. The Transformation Experience Workshop is a way of bringing people together and bringing them around their own problems in a very active physical way.
We can do it in a small period of time, but usually people dedicate a day or so to that process. What they get out of it is that they bring themselves together around the challenges, the problems, and as Ian said, the quick wins, the things we can then go and address quickly. So it has a very different feel and a very different outcome than a classic workshop approach that many consulting firms have.
Gardner: Very good. I'm afraid we have to leave it there. You’ve been listening to a sponsored podcast discussion on how Nottingham Trent University has sought and gained strategic operational efficiency and improved their information technology management. I'd like to thank our guests. We've been joined by Ian Griffiths, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Nottingham Trent. Thanks so much, Ian.
Griffiths: Thanks very much, and it's a delight to pass on our experiences to others.
Gardner: And we've also been hearing from Michael Garrett, Vice President of Professional Services for HP EMEA. Thank you so much, Michael.
Garrett: Thank you and thank you, Ian, for the great partnership and work.
Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks again for listening and come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.
Sponsored podcast discussion on how on the UK's largest universities gained control over project management with a transformation workshop. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.
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