Case study: How professional services and portfolio management helped Nottingham Trent University transform IT

We found that our processes were not really defined well enough. We really weren’t getting sign-off from the business, and the expectations were never really met. So it was clear that we were not doing something well, and we didn’t quite know what that was.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor:HP.

The latest BriefingsDirect case study podcast discussion centers on how Nottingham Trent University gained strategic operational efficiency and improved IT management.

A combination of professional services and portfolio management technologies allowed the 25,000-student university -- one of the U.K.’s largest -- to improve end-user satisfaction while freeing up IT resources to pursue additional technology innovation.

To learn more, BriefingsDirect brought together Ian Griffiths, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Nottingham Trent University, and Michael Garrett, Vice President of Professional Services for HP EMEA. The discussion was moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner:What was the one glaring thing that needed to be changed when you began to think about improving how you did IT?

We were very, very good at moving forward and doing lots and lots of things, but delivering products at the end of that period was more difficult.

Griffiths: We were very, very good at moving forward and doing lots and lots of things, but delivering products at the end of that period was more difficult. We seemed to be running around in circles, and didn’t quite meet customers’ expectations. So we were doing a lot, working really hard, but not really delivering the last mile.

Gardner: Why did something like professional services become a priority for you? Griffiths: We found that our processes were not really defined well enough. We really weren’t getting sign-off from the business, and the expectations were never really met. So it was clear that we were not doing something well, and we didn’t quite know what that was. And our teams within the department weren’t gelling that well together either.

Gardner: So perhaps having some outside additional authority and experience seemed to work for you?

Earlier attempt

Griffiths: Yes. That worked really well. We had had another attempt about 18 months before, and had some consultants in, but it didn’t really gel. We were aware that we had a partnership with HP, and HP Professional Services seemed a sensible way to go. But we were still doubtful as a management team within the university's Information Services (IS) Department whether it was really going to work. And we are very pleased with the outcome.

Gardner: Let’s learn about Nottingham Trent University. You’re in Nottinghamshire and you have 25,000 students. Tell us a bit more.

Griffiths: We’ve been a higher education establishment for about 160 years. We’re one of the biggest providers of "sandwich education," which means that students have two years at the university, a year in industry, and then a year at the university.

We're seen as a popular university that has good reputation for placing students at the end of their courses, and we got top of The Green Agenda twice in the last three years within the U.K. We have about 150 people working in the IS Department on three campuses and nine academic schools.

I have responsibility for the strategic partnership we have with companies and with firms. I have responsibility for the regional network within the East Midlands of the U.K., which is connecting all the universities in that region and all the further education colleges. And I also manage relationships with key suppliers, such as HP.

Gardner: Ian had a relationship with HP, but looked for something bigger.

Garrett: It’s often imagined that these organizations look to pure-play consulting organizations for that advisory activity. In Nottingham Trent’s situation they were willing to listen to a different type of vendor or organization in that space as to what they could offer in their approach. What’s different for HP Professional Services is that it forms part of HP’s Software organization. Our consulting capability is very focused on IT transformation, operations, organizations, and applications.

But it’s about bringing that into real practical use quickly with the support of technology. That's the real differentiator we wanted to bring to customers like Nottingham Trent, and hopefully that’s true with what we've seen in the practical implementation and the work we've done with them.

Gardner: Ian, how has this worked out for you?

Initial workshops

Griffiths: We had some initial workshops where all the senior management team of the IS Department worked with HP and looked at what we wanted to achieve, and looked at what the journey might look like to get there. I have to congratulate HP. They were able to get that team to gel together within IS in a way that we hadn’t before.

We spent a lot of time working together and working through the structure, the plan of the department, and what we called the "tube map" of the department. Everything, in a sense, was allowed. HP was very good at giving us a straw man to look at. In other words, giving those examples of what other companies have done, but forcing us to discuss them in detail and change them into what was right for Nottingham Trent.

They weren’t trying to sell the straw man, but were using the straw man as an example to move us forward, and it worked extremely well. Although there were some heated discussions amongst IS staff, HP was very good at facilitating those discussions.

We had to go back to the rest of the department to try not to force something new on people that, as far as they could see, had no relevance to the situations they were in. We had to find a way as well of getting the business to buy into our new methodology, getting the business to feel some ownership, and getting the business to make some decisions during the planning of projects and the ending of projects.

We had to find a way as well of getting the business to buy into our new methodology.

Garrett: It’s that level of being able to bring the input, the straw man, and then guide organizations around that model. To customize from scratch takes a great deal of time and can take too much energy and cost. What we’re trying to do is bring our method and models at the start point and then work in a very collaborative, but directed, way to get clients to a point, although, a configured approach rather than a completely dispersed approach.

Therefore, we get to things more quickly, but absolutely meet the requirement of the individual organization. We’ve got to appreciate they are different across different industries and different areas, and strong cultural alignment is critically important. We certainly saw that in this program.

Griffiths: The important thing again was that we were producing our outline, and that outline allowed us to go away and do a lot more detail later. In other words, we got the big picture agreed upon and then all the details were passed back to teams within the department to build up details in the areas where they had real knowledge of what happened.

Gardner: Was there a point at some time where you needed to get an understanding of where and what’s going on in order to know how to measure any improvement?

Define projects

Griffiths: An important step early on in this was beginning to define how many projects we were running as a department and to categorize work into projects that were developmental and projects that were more of the business-as-usual type.

We found in the end that we had over 100 projects running simultaneously. Some of those projects had been running for more than a year, some had no real defined endpoint, and the customer requirements weren’t documented in a thorough way.

It’s important to measure how many projects you’ve actually got, and actually have a start date and a planned finish date for them. One thing we learned was that 100 was too many for us to run, and we were able to cut down by finishing some off, to less than 50 that we have now.

Gardner:And what has that done now? What are some of the metrics of success by getting more of a handle over your portfolio and managing it?

We were actually delivering something that the customer was expecting.

Griffiths: Probably the biggest one is that projects are getting completed and the project didn’t become the be-all and end-all, and continue running forever. We were actually delivering something that the customer was expecting. And the customer, the student or the staff department, had a glow that they have had something delivered to them.

The student satisfaction with IS has gone up over the last two to three years. They're very happy with our technology and technology moving forward. But again, we found that people were happier with the delivery of an item, rather than as IS was before, striving for technical perfection.

Aiming at 50/50

Before, we had the figures of 80 percent [of IT projects] being used in the areas of business-as-usual, and only 20 percent in project and development work. We quickly moved to a 70/30 split and our target is to move towards 50 percent. We're not quite there yet, but we’re a lot more like 60 percent business as usual, 40 percent new development work.

It’s a virtuous cycle, and the other thing that is gained from that is appreciation amongst other departments within the university and with senior management with what IS was delivering, and getting them to prioritize what we did.

There was a problem, if we look back two or three years. IS very much decided what the priorities were. Now, the business is deciding and even deciding in the case that a project that was a favorite of a senior member of staff, he or she may decide that it no longer is a top priority, compared with other projects that needed to be delivered.

Gardner:Is there something about the products themselves, the portfolio management approach, that now allows the business side of the organization, the leadership in this case, to have more visibility or input? How were you able to get it?

There was a problem, if we look back two or three years. IS very much decided what the priorities were.

Griffiths: More visibility and more input. The example we always give is of a jam jar. You can keep putting rocks into a jam jar, but in the end, it becomes full. Unless you allow something to come out of that, nothing happens. So you’ve got to be able to allow things to finish and give you some capacity.

The other thing that I talked about was looking at the business benefits of everything we were doing and deciding the nice-to-haves probably weren't going to get prioritized at this stage.

We're using [the tube map] outside the department to make people realize that we are working to an operational framework. As such, we have them stuck up round the department. And in the rooms where we have project meetings, they exist as well. As to vocabulary, we have senior staff using the phrase "the gate," where approval has to be given. The business has to be involved in the approval and deciding what priorities it has at that stage.

Gardner: Ian is describing being able to double their innovation budget, cut their project numbers in half, get buy-in from leadership, a sense of cooperation across the organizational boundaries. Is this typical? How would you describe this in terms of the industry at large?

Typical situation

Garrett: It's a typical situation that we see in a lot of organizations, even in very mature, even global and enterprise organizations that struggle with these challenges of organizational alignment and processes to support that. Project selection identification and transitioning to survey is the common problem we see.

With Nottingham Trent, we regulated it very quickly through that organizational design, then into the process to support that, and then working out what are the catalog and services that they offer. How do we then build that into projects and programs and then manage that into service transition?

It's very common. We see it in a lot of places. More mature organizations believe they do this very effectively. Nottingham Trent acknowledged that they needed help. It probably put them ahead of a lot of other organizations, especially in university space, which is a fast moving sector in the U.K., to be able to do something that many other large organizations just can't do.

If you build the right organizational relationship and engagement model, you take the workshop approach that we have up front and take your organization through that, right through to something tangible that’s delivering the real outcome in the business that’s very visible and usable. I think that’s very different than having different organizations do different types of consulting.

There aren’t many organizations that have that breadth and scope of capability to take someone from conceptual situation right through to practical implementation of technology to support that problem.

Gardner: We've come back to this workshop concept several times in discussion, I think that it's called the Transformation Experience Workshop. Why is that so powerful?

Garrett: It's something we've used for a few years now, something we developed in-house and we see as a really effective mechanism. It starts off in a fairly classic way of where are we, the current state, looking at future state, and workshop of the organization through that. But it's done in a very live, interactive way.

So it's not a classic style workshop. We walk people around the room. We take them on a journey, and we bring them together through that process. As Ian said, if you didn’t attend the early workshop process, then you struggle sometimes to buy into it. It takes more time, and we end up reiterating things later on. The Transformation Experience Workshop is a way of bringing people together and bringing them around their own problems in a very active physical way.

We can do it in a small period of time, but usually people dedicate a day or so to that process. What they get out of it is that they bring themselves together around the challenges, the problems, and as Ian said, the quick wins, the things we can then go and address quickly. So it has a very different feel and a very different outcome than a classic workshop approach that many consulting firms have.

Gardner: And Ian, is this something now that you’re building on?

Griffiths: That's correct. We produced a lot of what we call Level 3 processes from this and we looked at what our customers felt. We found that we’re having regular discussions about how we can tweak the diagrams and the systems that we’ve got in place. We see it very much as a live document, a live methodology and we’re looking at ways we can improve as time goes on.

It's important that you have all your senior staff together designing the system from the start. We found that if people miss the early workshop, we tended to go back around the loop again. So I would say get your staff together and devote enough energy to it.

Feeling ownership

But don’t go into all the detail. Leave your staff on the ground, who’ve got more knowledge of the details inner workings of some elements of it, to do some work so they feel some ownership. And very quickly get an appreciation with your senior staff within your organization, not within IS, but from outside the IS department, of what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve.

But in the end, you need a few quick wins. In other words, if you can get a couple of projects working through the scheme quickly, people begin to think it's going to work.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor:HP. You may also be interested in:


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