Oxford's digital future

Portrait of David de Roure


I encourage everyone to engage in the consultations and bring your input during this important period of change.



Last October, Professor Anne Trefethen, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (People & Digital), presented an excellent introduction to the University’s Foundations for Digital Transformation programme. Just five months later, things are moving apace. This blog post provides a personal academic perspective on our wide-reaching change programmes.

The University’s Digital Transformation programme is just one of several concurrent initiatives to investigate and instigate change, responding to the opportunities of digital innovation and practice across the institution. In parallel we have an IT infrastructure services review, IT governance and funding reviews, and new investments in research culture. Our landscape of transformation also features Strategic Research Fund investments, and numerous digital transformation projects within divisions and departments.

I have the privilege of being involved in just a few of these, and am pleased to provide three personal observations: (1) these endeavours are comprehensive, aspiring to a cross-institutional perspective which has not been attempted before; (2) they are pulling the same way, always with an eye to better achieve our strategic aims; and (3) they are highly consultative, while also cooperating to share insights and not overburden us with consultation processes. They also share the view that this is not just about IT, but about the University’s culture, processes and technology and how they must evolve in the digital era: digital transformation is more than IT transformation.

The Digital Transformation programme has proceeded with impressive pace, putting in place its Foundations phase. Several of the programme's interventions immediately address existing problems for staff and students, while investigative assignments drill down in areas which have been identified as needing to be better understood in order to recommend new solutions. Competency Centres are new hubs of expertise, sharing capabilities and enabling colleagues to create change in the future. The programme is now considering the future transformation that will build on the foundations. You can read about Oxford’s digital transformation here.

The IT infrastructure services review is managed by Focus, the University’s continuous improvement team, in support of the Digital Transformation programme and as a part of Professional Services Together. The ambition is clear: a more effective IT infrastructure operating model that will reduce risk, remove repeated effort and improve security and compliance. The scope of the review is impressive, and the teams are using their established Focus service review methodology and associated Service Assessment Model. A resource survey has already provided an informative evidence base, and the team has embarked on an extensive programme of consultations, currently working closely with divisions. Find out more on the New service review: University IT infrastructure webpage.

Simultaneously, the University is developing a programme of work to advance research culture at Oxford, with three academic leads in place to drive improvements. Early outcomes were the launch of the Researcher Hub and the development of a three-year action plan to support the Researcher Development Concordat. Research Practice is the most recently launched, addressing how research is designed, planned, executed and reported to drive innovation – including the FAIR principles and reproducible research. Research data management underpins digital scholarship, and clearly the Research Culture programme has an important and close relationship with digital transformation.

There is much more to talk about in this rich and evolving landscape – for example, the Digital Scholarship investment by the Strategic Research Fund, multiple divisional and departmental initiatives, and service transformations that were already in progress.

I hope this blog has helped provide an overview and some pointers. I encourage everyone to engage in the consultations and bring your input during this important period of change.

David De Roure, Professor of e-Research in the Oxford e-Research Centre (Department of Engineering Science) and interim Academic Director of Digital Scholarship for the Strategic Research Fund investment in Digital Scholarship.