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‘What works’ for IT transformation in FE colleges: organisation, culture and integration


The aim of this white paper is to bring together an analysis of why IT transformation projects don’t work as well as they should in colleges, and to share good practice to ensure success.

We define IT or digital transformation as: “…a series of deep and coordinated workforce, culture, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models, and transform an institution’s operations, strategic directions, and value proposition” (Source: EDUCAUSE). This perspective establishes that IT transformation is more than simply introducing a new platform. It intimately involves the college culture and operations, staff capabilities and pedagogy – the way teaching can be understood and delivered.

IT transformation projects are strategic, not simply technical. We spoke to four ‘on the ground’ IT professionals with substantial experience of college IT environments to comment on common problems and solutions. We summarise here what they found.

IT transformation projects in colleges: pinch points

Organisational culture:

  • There were fears among staff that new IT or digital systems could replace them.
  • Staff often found it easier to stick with what they already knew.
  • IT may not be top of the list of college priorities, as they are largely focused on the student.
  • There may be silo working, where there is confusion about who is choosing, leading and involved in the IT project versus who will be using it predominantly.

Skills deficits:

  • IT skills among staff are assumed rather than taught.
  • Skills deficits do not just relate to new systems, but can be as basic as editing PDFs, recording and uploading videos, or exporting Excel documents.
  • IT skills are generational, meaning students may be more skilled than tutors.
  • Skills may be differentially spread depending on department, with many trades not yet systematically using IT. This can impact take-up of new platforms.
  • There is a known inequality of access to devices and functioning broadband among staff and even students.
  • Colleges may not have yet established how digital capability sits with other policies, such as safeguarding and mobile phone use.
  • Colleges are not good at making time for staff to get comfortable with new systems, and this matters given that functionality is affected by front-ended effort.
  • Many of these issues are in transition due to the acceleration of digitalisation through the pandemic.

IT system failures:

  • The choice of system is critical to the success of an IT transformation project.
  • Too often, the right people aren’t in place from the start, from choice of system and specifications to implementation.
  • Colleges, like many large institutions, may have multiple systems that are poorly integrated with each other.
  • Poorly integrated systems impact on functionality and end-user frustration.

Get your copy of the white paper here.

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