Case study - Henley College Coventry
Digital strategy, process improvement and transformation, requirements capture, architecture, systems recommendations, documentation.
Over multiple pieces of work in 2014 and 2015, I was brought in by the team at Henley College Coventry (a leading Further Education college) in order to help with their digital strategy and transformation goals, and to make independent recommendations.
- Client: Henley College Coventry
Indication of project time: 1 month
- Skills/work type: Digital strategy, process improvement and transformation, requirements capture, architecture, systems recommendations, documentation.
- Select project tools/technologies of note:
- Umbraco (CMS)
- EBS by Tribal
- Amazon EC2
My work with the College has spanned a number of pieces of work, and involved both on-site research with different Henley teams, as well as remote planning.
Work package 1
Initially I was brought on board to do a high-level, independent audit of their current situation, specifically focusing on three key areas that the College were keen to get my thoughts on. As is often the case, it transpired that these were much more interlinked than originally thought, and the scope of my investigations and feedback widened. The key focus was that information was getting put into numerous different silos, but they didn’t intelligently talk to each other. I started to look into how this could be made more effective.
After my initial time on-site, I worked remotely to compile some recommendations and a report for the senior management team, presenting this back to the Vice Principal and Digital Media team.
Research & discovery
People and processes:
- Meeting relevant Henley College staff, speaking to them about their work and use of College systems.
- Understanding Henley College’s digital roadmap.
- Looking at the current challenges and frustrations.
- Identifying key teams and tasks engaging with the digital systems at present.
- Are there any manual tasks that could be made more streamlined?
- Could we capture more useful information?
- Discussing the processes in use, including things like documentation, knowledge sharing, and project backlogs/planning.
Investigating the systems and technology – including the website, other internal systems, and ideas for the future (an elearning platform etc):
- What was being used, and is it the best solution to meet their needs?
- How do the different components fit together; how do systems work together; how could they work better?
- Understanding the impact of changes.
- What could be made more efficient or effective?
- Website review (high-level usability, accessibility, performance, technical checks).
After this investigation time, some documentation was produced to support the face to face handover day. This included reference documentation for the College, and recommendations for the future. The documentation included:
- Diagrams of the high-level system architecture and interfaces between systems, showing potential areas of improvement in the future.
- Website feedback.
- Code standards.
- CMS recommendations.
- Development processes recommendations.
- Documentation and knowledge sharing.
- Specific feature/system recommendations (assorted, including eLearning, single sign on, custom interactive display, student/staff portal etc).
- Initial review of key processes including applications, interviews, enrolments, payment.
- Suggestions around future technology and strategy.
- Business changes to better embrace digital.
Recommendations were each given an estimation in terms of impact, complexity and importance, and options were provided where changes could be made incrementally. The information included a description of how any proposed changes would work with the existing systems, and also flagged any necessary process improvements, training, and impact on staff. The recommendations were then put into a suggested roadmap, with items to tackle within 3 months, 6 months to a year, and 1-3 years.
This was presented back to the College in person, with some final amends being made before the report was officially handed over to become a starting point and a reference resource for the team to work from whilst compiling their ongoing roadmap actions.
Work package 2
After the College had spent some time reviewing the recommendations and putting together a plan, I was asked to come back for a second piece of work, this time focusing on specific areas in greater depth.
Based on the timescales we had previously discussed, the potential for gains, and the order of priority made around recommendations in my previous report, we decided to focus on improvements that could be made primarily to the online application and enrolments processes. Once starting to break the processes down, however, we split these out in a bit more detail, to cover:
- Course creation.
- International applications.
- Registration (formerly “enquiries”).
The processes were heavily paper-based, prone to error, and required a large amount of manual work where information often became duplicated. There was huge scope to not only help with day to day efficiencies, but also to provide a better experience for both the staff and students.
Work included a considerable amount of time on-site with the digital team at Henley, including whiteboarding processes with different subject matter experts, and working alongside the IT team who maintain the core records system in order to understand the impact of exposing/consuming data from the website. We looked at all of the processes as they stood, including assessing all of the physically forms currently used to see if they could be streamlined and standardised digitally, and discussing different ways to solve the problems that were being experienced.
The College wanted this piece of work to be much more in-depth, and to be a blueprint for build to happen rather than aiding strategic decisions. As such the level of detail was much more granular than before.
There were also various options open to the business around the nature of the implementation, much of which was outside of technology and had knock on effects for licensing, maintenance, ownership, and resourcing. With these, I gave my recommendations – outlining the impact of different approaches – but ultimately the College was responsible for choosing their path.
Information fed back included:
- Exploration of a tightly-coupled, portal-based approach vs a loosely-coupled service-led approach.
- Illustration around different options available for online payment processing (and levels of integration).
- General requirements and principles.
- Annotated process illustrations (from the perspective of both admin and front-end users).
- Technical annotations around actions, status values etc.
- User stories.
- Form fields (including data type, validation and notes – e.g. around the use of HTML5 input types or logic required). Many of these were amended to capture more useful information, to simplify the process, or to provide a better experience.
- Actions required in each process, including the integration with the back-end EBS (student records) system.
- Impact of each piece of work, including changes needed to the existing core system.
- Data cleanup/restructure recommendations.
- Identification of future opportunities – e.g. the introduction of a generic online booking module to be able to cater for restaurant/playing field bookings digitally.
Each requirement and user story was given a priority level. The report was again fed back in person, with amends being made as requested. All originals, including diagrams and the main document in Google Doc form were handed over, in order to give the College a starting point for living documentation.
On one of my final visits I was able to sit in on a staff training session being given on the new elearning system that had been introduced by the digital team, which was great to see. This, along with many other changes, are due to be rolled out at the start of the next academic year.