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CTO Spotlight: How Stuart Hildyard is driving digital transformation to improve the staff and student experience at La Trobe University

“TechnologyOne SaaS has allowed us to be more innovative, so we can remain competitive”: Stuart Hildyard, Chief Technology Officer, La Trobe University

 La Trobe University Chief Technology Officer Stuart Hildyard has had a long, illustrious career in student and software administration for leading Australian universities.

After starting as a Liaison Officer supporting the student association at Australian Catholic University 16 years ago, he undertook several other student administration roles before switching to a systems management focus with his first role at La Trobe University in 2006.

Working his way up from a Business Analyst to Chief Technology Officer at La Trobe, Hildyard says his career path has provided him with a unique perspective of the issues faced when driving student experience, both from the outlook of students and staff.

This special interest has enabled Hildyard to drive digital transformation at La Trobe University, as he focuses on improving student experience and ensuring operational excellence.

How are you driving digital transformation within La Trobe University?

A key program I have been involved in since 2014 is moving the majority of our applications to a managed services model. This process has drawn attention to the fact that our legacy “ways of working” need to change, to take advantage of the benefits that technologies like Software as a Service (SaaS) offer.

My role in this program has been driving the implementation of TechnologyOne’s Student Management SaaS solution, and I’ve taken an agile project management approach to deliver real benefits faster.

Before undertaking this project, we spent the majority of 2012 - 2015 upgrading our on-premise software. This involved major upgrades, often taking up to 103 work days on average to complete, and meant we had no time to take advantage of new functionality. We were behind our competitors.

Since moving to TechnologyOne’s SaaS solution in 2016, we’ve removed the need for major upgrades, so we can instead focus on implementing new functionality. It’s allowed us to be more innovative, and remain competitive.

As part of La Trobe’s transformation, the University has developed a strong customer service charter supporting our cultural qualities, which is driving employee behaviour and changing the way our employees work to be more accountable and innovative. Thanks to our shift to SaaS, ICT has helped free up people’s thinking to focus on achieving these organisational goals of driving operational excellence and delivering an outstanding customer / student experience.

How is this helping you improve student experience?

Firstly, moving to SaaS has enabled us to provide a broader group of staff with access to the Student Management system, which has increased the resolution of student queries at the first point of contact. And by default, that has improved our student experience.

Secondly, through being on SaaS we’ve rolled out both real time account activation and TechnologyOne’s Business Process Management (BPM) forms tool, which has enabled us to establish a framework for moving from a paper-based to digital process, and automate administrative processes such as change of name, and improved offer and processes for updating student details, As a result, we have seen a direct reduction in the number of student queries (specifically related to Account activation) received through Ask La Trobe reduce from 3490 to 821 from Semester 1 2017 to Semester 1 2018 (time period 1st November – 31st March), because students are able to access the student system and enrol or update details straight away.

We have also rolled out the agreements functionality of BPM Forms for High Degree Research (HDR) students, and that has absolutely transformed this area in terms of efficiency. The previous process was very paper-based and manual. Now, it’s a more user friendly experience, which will help to drive completion rates for HDR students. It is providing us with a real, financial return.

What was the biggest challenge you experienced on your journey to digital transformation?

Our path to SaaS hasn’t always been smooth; however, it has enabled La Trobe to leapfrog our competitors.

The greatest challenge we had was to change the way the University thought around operating models and business processes, to ensure continuous delivery becomes a priority.

For example, we established ‘fusion’ or ‘hybrid’ team during the Student Management SaaS implementation project that is cross-functional. We put project representatives from the ICT and Student Administration teams together for the Student Management implementation, and similarly, representatives from HR and ICT together for the HR system implementation, and so on.

This was key to ensuring the business units took joint ownership of the system and its outcomes, and removed the need for specialist systems skills

This kind of operating model is always common practice in a project sense, but the real challenge for us was to stop it from breaking down in an operational model. It is really important for us to align ICT with our business lines, to ensure the focus wasn’t on the underlying technology, but on how you can configure the software to really push forward continuous improvement.

What is your advice to other executives considering digital transformation?

Everyone talks about digital transformation, but you need to have a really clear vision on what transformation means for your organisation. For your particular programs, it could be that you’re looking to transform through a major organisational change, or it could just be a combination of step changes.

So for each project stream, I recommend having a really clear definition at the start, and then holding onto that vision throughout. Focusing on an incremental approach, using Agile principles, and celebrating incremental wins is also key to managing expectations and ensuring your people don’t get project fatigue.

Then, once the project is complete, continue operating in a project model past go live. This is the reason we have embraced the ‘fusion’ team approach, and it has changed our whole organisational dynamic.

 What should other executives look for in a technology partner?

Remember that a successful technology partnership is about more than just the technology. It’s important to build a strong relationship, and that goes both ways. You both need buy in to each other’s success.

As the customer, you are paying for a service, so you have absolute right to hold the vendor to account. But the way to do that is about building the relationship and keeping commercials front of mind through regular engagement with key executives across both organisations.

By developing a strong relationship with TechnologyOne, it has helped us through some difficult times, and has also resulted in some big wins. The strength of our relationship has been key to our digital transformation, and is helping us build a platform for the future.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re really proud of being the first university in Australia to move our Student Management system to the cloud.
Now, my goal is to help drive our organisational strategy and student experience, and to look at how we can continue to be real innovators. I’m certain that will involve continuing to work with industry innovators like TechnologyOne.

TechnologyOne provides an integrated enterprise Software as a Service solution built specifically for the higher education sector.

 To read more stories from TechnologyOne’s customers, click here.

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