Building for a digital future

anne trefethen

As I was writing this blog, the World University Rankings 2023 were published with Oxford at the top – I am sure like me you feel proud to be part of this institution. During our nine centuries of existence, the institution’s ability to evolve with changing times is a constant theme in our success story. Today, we are continuing to grow and adapt in this ever-changing world. In particular, with our Digital Transformation programme, we are reimagining how Oxford University’s culture, processes and technology must evolve in the digital era.  

At its last meeting in July, University Council agreed to fund the Foundations for Digital Transformation programme. Many colleagues helped shape the focus of activities for the programme – thank you – and now we’re off the starting block.

It became clear talking with colleagues and students last term that before we attempt an ambitious programme of change, we need to put in place some building blocks and fix some of the issues with existing systems. The Foundations programme aims to do just that. Over the next 18 months you should begin to see improvements: a better integration of some of the systems used for education; expansion of eAssessments in the Exam Schools; and improvements in some of our key administrative systems, including X5 to make sure you don’t get timed out mid-research costing! We’re ironing out the wrinkles in the existing digital services – none of which is terribly exciting but in their own way will transform how we work and hopefully will make life easier. 

At the same time, we are putting in place a new type of support hub, called Competency Centres, focused on some key technologies. These will be based in different parts of the University with workflow and automation as the first technology area to be addressed, and cybersecurity as the first capability focus. The business case provides details if you’re interested. This is a bit of an experiment – a new way of growing our capability. I hope it is a success. 

This is just the first phase and if we get this right then over the next few years, through working in partnership across the collegiate University, we will be able to introduce appropriately paced and coordinated changes that meet both central and local needs.  

Core to this and future phases are the principles for how we deliver digital experiences that are good for the user and for the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported estimated values suggesting that consumer devices, data centres and data networks account for anywhere from between 6% and 12% of global electricity use. We need to use this digital transformation to help our sustainability targets, not to get in the way of them. To achieve that we will introduce carbon calculators to help make decisions about new investments in new technology and existing service delivery.  

As we deliver this phase of the programme and develop the next, your continuing involvement will be vital to its success. There will be many ways you can continue to share your views and get involved, including an Open Forum on 9 November. Together, we will enable Oxford to preserve its unique place in the world by being digitally fit for the future.