Customer perspective: Transforming the employee and student experience

What are the practical steps institutions are taking to digitally transform their employee and student experience?

To find out, we spoke with Stuart Hildyard, Chief Technology Officer at La Trobe University, alongside Neville Hiscox, Chief Student Services Officer and Philip Thomas, Director of Finance & Disruption, from Curtin University.

Both universities partnered with TechnologyOne to digitally transform their institutions, shifting from an on-premise to a Software as a Service (SaaS) ERP solution. By switching to SaaS, they can now securely access their enterprise data on any device, anywhere, at any time – transforming the way they interact with staff and students.

Why do you think having a clear vision is key to digital transformation success?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University)

A clear vision is really important to understand the drivers for change, the opportunities your institution is faced with, and the process that you need to work through.

At La Trobe, we had a very clear vision to adopt Software as a Service (SaaS) for many of our tier one applications so we could become more flexible, agile and responsive.

While it’s okay to have a digital vision, you’ve also got to understand your institution’s digital ambition and financial appetite. You’ve usually got to meet somewhere in the middle, as they’re only going to provide you with a certain amount of funding.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University)

A clear vision focuses on the future and guides the changes that you're implementing across the organisation. Importantly, it aligns all employees’ activities and efforts to the overarching objective and goals you want to achieve.

That clarity helps you to focus and optimise your resources and services while working to a set of agreed outcomes. In our case, we were moving our Student Management System (SMS) from on premise to SaaS which would deliver clear benefits for the university community while also managing risks around infrastructure and costs.

The move to SaaS was strategically important for Curtin as it is one of the key platforms that form part of the new digital technology ecosystem that will enable us to transform the way we do business and deliver services to our stakeholders.

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Why is it important to have a business plan before embarking on digital transformation?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

A business case is important to establish how to measure success and know how you’re going to get there.

Previously at La Trobe, there has been a lot of organic technology growth that would often overlap in capability, without actually addressing things from an architecture or strategic view point. Having a business plan helps you prioritise your effort, dictate how much funding you can get, and how quickly you can show a return on investment – which in turn helps you to gain the confidence of the organisation.

Philip Thomas (Curtin University)

If you don't have a business plan you don't know how you are going to get where you're headed. You need to create a structured set of activities with timelines and objectives.  Enacting that plan also requires thinking ahead about the capabilities of your team.

The Finance team at Curtin are in the early stages of fundamentally re-skilling our entire team so we're ready for the future. That means that through our hiring and training we are more focused on agility and soft skills—rather than technical skills—because the technology is changing so fast. If the systems you introduce can perform tasks better, we need people to be creative and work on solving business problems.

What are some tips for securing executive sponsorship?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

In the context of universities, I think it’s about making sure that your governance is the right size. At La Trobe, we set up an executive steering committee and a governance committee with the vendor below this - where we met regularly and worked through a lot of issues. This means that when the main steering committee with the executive group meet, the confidence is high on both sides. Senior executive group members often don’t have the time to know a lot of the detail, so they’re trusting what’s coming through and what they’re being told.

Secondly, it’s important to be really clear and sit down with them to explore what you’re trying to achieve from a business aspect and what it will deliver.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University):

It is critical in an initiative like this to keep the executive fully engaged and informed by focusing on the benefits this change will bring to the university. The business case for this project was clear on the key benefits that the move to SaaS would enable – improvements to the student and staff experience, enhancing business continuity management, and enable new and modern functionality to be adopted. It would also allow the university to scale its operations during peak periods with the built-in elasticity of the SaaS platform. These are clear and important outcomes and ones that the senior leadership of an organisation can identify with.

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What were the first steps you took in your digital transformation journey?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

It goes back to that whole piece around what the drivers for change are and what we are trying to transform. Stepping through these opportunities actually creates a goal. At La Trobe, we’re undertaking a strategy refresh at the moment and are fairly clear on the objectives. What we’ve done is draft these objectives and created principles, which most are outcome and time-to-value focused, to help us stay true to what we’re trying to achieve. Our community is always at the centre of what we’re designing, in line with our as-a-Service strategy.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University):

At Curtin we have embarked on a major transformation of our digital business technology platforms. Moving to the cloud aligned with our overarching strategy to design a digital ecosystem that delivers integrated and seamless end user experiences.

For this project it was about understanding the benefits and opportunities of moving to SaaS and how these aligned and enabled the overall digital strategy of the university. Establishing a project team that had deep knowledge of the product and the complexities around the system integrations was critical in delivering this initiative.

Philip Thomas (Curtin University):

The first step for Curtin’s Finance team was solving some specific risk issues: a big one being credit card fraud. Because the solution we implemented was cloud-based and it worked well, it helped everyone to begin to understand what Software as a Service meant. It simplified our lives and gave us the appetite to try new things.

What went well on your digital transformation journey?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

We have matured progressively on all our transformation projects and are really trying to adopt the mindset that if you’re investing in a platform, then try and treat it as a product so that you’ve got continuous delivery, continuous funding and you’re creating a product that you’re really trying to move forward.

To do that, you need a cross-functional team to own it and drive it. One of the key learnings we found on a recent project at La Trobe is that some internal people who we signed up realised in the discovery phase that the agile way of working wasn’t suitable for them, so they fundamentally opted out. This was a positive, because not only could we test the vendor in their discovery, we could also make sure we created the right project structure and culture internally.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University):

What stood out was the team’s ability to adapt and work through a myriad of time sensitive challenges. They really embraced the move to SaaS and engaged regularly with TechnologyOne who provided guidance and assistance throughout the transition.


The move has enabled us to establish key workflows while also implementing some important Ci Anywhere features. Student Management also integrates directly with our CRM so we’re better positioned, with some of the new functionality, to build a more detailed view of the student journey using real-time information from multiple sources and systems. This is providing terrific insights to guide what we need to do as a business and how we assist our students in succeeding in their educational endeavours.

Philip Thomas (Curtin University):

We can deliver much more complete, comprehensive, real-time information. We can also implement system changes much faster. We can essentially ‘turn on’ new product features within the TechnologyOne platform, which means our system is no longer a limiting factor.


Now, guiding our people through the change process is the constraint on our speed, so that’s awesome. We are learning to engage with staff better—through an active and continual engagement with frontline users—as well as doing a lot of testing and prototyping.

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What would you do differently? Advice for others?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

We’re just refreshing our digital strategy now, but in hindsight, we should have done this earlier and got buy-in. At times you go “this project fits this gap by delivering to the university strategy” without actually understanding how it’s fitting into the digital enablement – it's a hard sell if you don’t have that digital strategy to revert to.


Another learning – not just in terms of technology projects but for any project – is to not necessarily be the first. Take an iterative approach to getting there, build in milestones and don’t be afraid to pull the pin if it’s not going well.


Even though we were the first university in Australia to move our student management solution to SaaS, halfway through the project, I got involved and we changed our whole project structure to an agile program framework. We started looking at it in terms of tranches and that delivery model allowed us to iterate and it actually changed the dynamic of the team to focus on success.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University):

I think Curtin could have benefitted from asking more detailed questions about the Ci Anywhere platform and where and how this functionality had been adopted and implemented at other Australian higher education institutions. This would have provided valuable insights and helped manage the expectations around what moving from Ci to Ci Anywhere SaaS would provide.


Also, you need to really understand the amount of integrations and the time required to move from one technology to another as you transition from on-premise technology to SaaS. Organisations can find themselves caught out if they don’t have the right resources with the required skills to integrate existing and new business applications into the new SaaS infrastructure.

Philip Thomas (Curtin University):

Know your organisation and your senior executives well. Every organisation has a unique set of cultural norms and you need to be able to ‘read the tea leaves’ so to speak. Do more listening and thinking, and less talking.

How has SaaS helped you better navigate the 'new normal' in 2020?

Stuart Hildyard (La Trobe University):

One of the benefits of SaaS is that you can reshape your institution around the platform. Once you’ve got your software on an as-a-Service platform, it’s certainly easier transitioning to remote working because it’s so much easier accessing these platforms remotely from anywhere through a secure web browser.

Neville Hiscox (Curtin University):

Having moved to the SaaS platform in November 2019 I’d suspect we would have faced a number of challenges over the last six months if we hadn’t transitioned off our on-premise legacy infrastructure before the pandemic. Knowing the system was being fully monitored and supported by the vendor and could scale as required was one less thing we had to dedicate time and resources to. The move to SaaS also enabled us to pivot more quickly to the work from home arrangements allowing staff to easily access Student Management through a secure web browser.

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