It’s a phenomenon that continues to sweep the Higher Education sector.

Creating opportunities and challenges for all those involved. Some consider it a fad and a buzzword. Others see it as a necessity. Either way, the Digital Transformation era is here.

Having completed my third project of this nature, it’s important to point out that Digital Transformation isn’t just about technology. It’s the platform, processes and people.

That’s right. It’s not about a fancy website. It’s all the other components and entities that you don’t see on screen. That’s the misconception about these projects.

For any organisation, a new website is a challenge. Design, technical, content workflows etc.

The process is long and tedious.

For Universities, the added complexity of managing research and recruitment objectives creates a different dynamic.

Fundamentally, we need to understand what we want at the end of the process. And, when I say ‘We’ I don’t mean just the Marketing Dept. I mean EVERY department.

There are two types of customers for digital transformations – internal and external. We must consider both.

Market-led Digital Transformation

You only get out, what you put in.

To create a website that caters to a university’s needs, we must understand all aspects of its operations. A lot can be learnt about a University through its website. It’s why there is so much focus on them. It’s a shop window.

Most University websites are complicated and hated. In my experience it comes down to two main reasons:

  • Limited functionality and governance
  • The users’ needs (internal and external) were not considered

A digital transformation provides an opportunity. A way to build bridges and create a collaborative culture. Empowering departments to work together. Creating something which showcases all that’s good about the institution.

It probably sounds a bit crazy, but to tackle a project of this nature, it’s best to treat it as you would when designing and launching a new product:

Diagram showing the Digital Transformation process

It’s about building awareness and interest from those around you. Gaining buy-in supports the development of the project. Treating the website as a product that solves your market’s challenges.

Digital transformations are complex. They become harder when we don’t know, what we don’t know.

5 Steps to a Digital Transformation

For this blog, I thought I would talk you through the steps I took, leading to one of my projects being shortlisted for a Heist Award.

Step 1: Market scoping

Buy-in and awareness segment of the Digital Transformation pyramid

As with these things, it’s important to present a strong proposal. Highlighting the reasoning for digital transformation. To do this there are two main factors to focus on for your business case:

Digital factors

You need to consider trends within digital marketing, competitor analysis, best practices for website design, developments in apps and related technologies.

All intended to enhance the student (or customer/researcher) experience.

It’s focussing on the possibilities new technologies bring. It doesn’t mean it will all be delivered in one go. But understanding what’s possible means you can create informed project sprints.

Infrastructure factors

Understanding the external requirements isn’t the only priority. Having an overview of current processes, governance, resources and systems mean you can highlight possibilities and limitations within your current infrastructure.

The importance of this cannot be understated. If you’re looking to avoid system compatibility issues, you need to know what is possible and what isn’t.

It also adds the benefit of having early conversations with key stakeholders – helping with the buy-in and mitigating any push-back from suggested changes in workflows and governance.

Step 2: Generating insight and gaining momentum

Offering and interest segment of the digital transformation pyramidDo not underestimate the importance of your internal customers. Your current students and staff.

Surveys, workshops and Knowledge Cafés are an integral part of the buy-in stage. Market research is an essential part of any digital transformation. You will discover requirements that would otherwise be missed.

Not only does this provide a fantastic opportunity to gain invaluable insight, but it also ensures that everyone is being heard.

It creates clarity and purpose for your project. More importantly, it enables you to devise, shape and test new processes and workflows.

Share your findings with your audience and look at ways of keeping them informed of the progress through intranet updates, newsletters and regular roadshows.

If you want to maintain that buy-in and support, this is an investment worth exploring. It will actively support your migration phase of the project.

Remember, they’re not just your colleagues, they are your customers.

Step 3: The brief

Development and decision segment of the digital transformation pyramid

This is where all the research and requirements from your discussions come into play. It’s your digital transformation brief.

Your internal and external consultations provide an opportunity to manage expectations at all levels. Knowing what your infrastructure is capable of and the integrations which need to be considered.

You’re building a solution. This is being market-led.

It means a lot of the work an agency would charge to do, has already been completed.

By providing a brief and robust technical specification on your infrastructure, you can start the tender process.

A strong brief means you can be selective. Filtering agencies so that you only focus on those that have worked with similar systems and have experience in understanding what your user requirements are.

You know the position you’re starting from and where you’re going. If you haven’t got a procurement team, then look for external support.

Step 4: Think like a Product Manager

Product and action segment of the digital transformation pyramid

You need to constantly sell the vision, purpose and benefits (of the product).

You have done the market research. You know what your customers want to achieve. You know what is possible.

The functions and features of the website need to be built on the requirements, integrations and content. The user experience (and marketing strategy) should always be the driver for the decisions you make. The transformation creates a platform to enable you to achieve your objectives.

You must work on the principle of someone not knowing your organisation or set-up when it comes to navigation, site architecture and system integrations:

  • Where would they find the information they are looking for?
  • Who would they contact?
  • What’s the process?

This will help shape the training, guidelines and any future developments for your site.

As Steve Jobs once said:

“You have got to start with the customer experience, and work backwards to the technology.”

Always consider the output first. Then work back.

Step 5: The migration

You’ve got the product, now it’s time for migration.

Content and websites go hand in hand. Alongside wireframes and design concepts, you should actively plan the content that you want to include on your website. This includes considering accessibility needs.

Share this insight with your agency. It will actively shape your website in terms of structure and page flow.

Moreover, knowing what content must come across, means you can start creating your site architecture and planning your migration.

A website is an ever-evolving beast. The migration phase is to complete the new structure with the essentials. There is a continuous opportunity to enhance the website as part of your usual web activity.

To do this, a robust content marketing plan should be your next priority. Based on your institution’s requirements and the student journey.

Blogs, web copy, videos, imagery and interactive content should all form part of your content plan.

Even if the content hasn’t yet been resourced, knowing that it’s needed, will help shape functionality or outline the next phase of development.

It’s an opportunity to continuously refine workflows and new processes for website governance.

Critically, content should be developed in partnership with your internal stakeholders. They know what they want to achieve. Think of it as you’re the agency and they’re the client.

Finally, never forget the importance of technical Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Redirecting and indexing new pages are critical to mitigating any loss in site traffic.

Bonus tip

Surround yourself with good people.

Projects like this require a team of enthusiastic, brilliant and insightful people who can get the job done. Getting the team dynamic right is critical.

Too many cooks can spoil the broth.

Share your thoughts

Have you been involved in a Digital Transformation? What tips would suggest? Let me know in the comments below, send me a tweet @CJPanteny, or get in touch.

And if you liked this blog, don’t forget to share it on your socials and bask in its ranty goodness.

See you next time.


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