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Aligning Digital Strategy To Wider Strategic Ambitions Of Transforming Into A Truly Digitally-led Organisation

Thursday 12 March, 2020

Higher education, like many other sectors, has come under massive pressure to accelerate its digital transformation journey during the Covid-19 crisis. An otherwise traditional sector, where value has often been placed on face-to-face tuition is itself undergoing a crash-course in adapting to new methods of value delivery, maintaining its primary clientele whilst serving its wider role in society.

The leadership agenda has quickly moved from discussing the value of investments in digital initiatives to the ground realities of delivering full-time post-graduate degrees completely online (classes, assignments and graduation ceremony) whilst ensuring overall relevance and learning outcomes. It’s not up for discussion anymore. For many, being digitally enabled in all aspects of higher education seems to be the only way forward in what is being touted as the ‘new normal’.

Our client wanted to embrace these fundamental changes to maintain their leadership position among the world’s elite universities and continue being relevant and competitive in the face of disruption.



Ensuring the IT strategy was aligned to the wider journey towards becoming a truly digitally led University: Our work involved changing views around digital transformation being the responsibility of the IT organisation. We helped position the digital agenda front and centre of the wider strategy around future-proofing value delivery mechanisms across all parts of the university starting with student experience and extending all the way to research and general administration.

Digital Strategy Review: The review highlighted key areas of focus spanning both strategy and operating model. It helped provide a roadmap for developing a joined up digital strategy that catered to the unique requirements of the several directorates within the university.

Sector Scanning: As a part of the strategic gap-analysis, Coeus reviewed the strategies of a combined 34 other universities to demonstrate the client’s relative positioning within its global peer group, thus instigating the case for change.



A London-based global university engaged Coeus to help them address significant misalignment between IT strategy and their wider ambitions of becoming ‘digitally enabled’.

The university’s digital strategy was a document that was created within the central IT function with little to no impact on how the various directorates envisioned their digital future and almost no traceability to the wider university strategy. The document existed in isolation and was referred merely to provide ‘rationale’ for fragmented investments in technology. The document did not galvanise a shared vision and was more of a status report of point solutions that the central IT function was delivering or hoped to deliver in the future.

Understandably, the university’s leadership had poor feedback for this so-called digital strategy document, as it hardly reflected their ambitions or an actionable roadmap. Staff, student and researcher survey results were worsening year-on-year whilst siloed initiatives continued to flourish, and funds continued to be spent with little improvement to key user journeys and outcomes.



Coeus undertook a review of the university’s existing digital strategy document, assessing it against 6 key strategic and operational dimensions. Initial findings were validated via a series of senior stakeholder interviews across all key stakeholder groups including Student affairs, Administration, Research, Education and Professional Services.

Rather than just critiquing the content of the document Coeus took a holistic view of whether the right operating model was in place around the strategy for it to be delivered. We challenged the client around whether the ‘digital strategy’ needed to be IT-led, or whether IT needed to be a provider of capabilities to deliver the transformation agenda envisioned by the university’s senior management team. Our approach supported the client in taking a ‘user-journey’ and ‘outcome’ based view of their portfolio.

Coeus also conducted a high-level sector scan of the digital agendas of 34 universities (29 UK, 5 global) to demonstrate relative positioning of the client within their peer group. A roadmap for change was developed for the client’s transformation journey towards being a truly digitally-led university.



Within a short span of 6 weeks, two key benefits were delivered.

Firstly, the university received an objective list of improvement recommendations to uplift their digital strategy.

Secondly, and more importantly, the client received a wider case for change along the strategy, execution and optimisation dimensions. The university also benefited from a clear view of relevant trends within higher-education and the capabilities needed to respond to emerging stakeholder interests within the sector.

Coeus’ recommendations received unequivocal support by the senior leadership team with key decisions around operating model and positioning already taken as laid out in the roadmap for change. We continue to engage with the university to shape and support their digital agenda.

Read more about our Operating Model capabilities hereTo find out more about our Public Services offerings view hereBy Shakti Mohapatra