Inside Track – Professor Neil Morris: Freeing up our time with digital technologies

As part of our digital transformation series of Inside Tracks, Professor Neil Morris looks at how we can improve our ways of working by using digital technologies.

Inside Track – Professor Neil Morris: Freeing up our time with digital technologies. November 2020

Before covid-19, a lot of my Twitter feed was about ‘automation’, and the growing use of digital technologies and digital approaches to automate manual processes across multiple sectors, with the associated need to support upskilling and reskilling of employees to focus on higher-order tasks.

As we look ahead to our future, many of us can now see a more central role for digital technologies in our everyday lives and work, having been forced to use them through a global crisis. 

As a large, complex organisation, with many diverse activities and business processes, we all spend time doing things that might be better (and easier) if they were automated and digitised.

Think about your average working week, and the number of forms, spreadsheets, documents etc. you complete and send to someone within the University. Imagine if all of those manual activities were digitised and automated, managed using known and trusted data from defined sources, and think about how much time we could all gain to focus on our core activities of student education and research and innovation. 

Sharing our vision

There are two key questions we need to ask at this point:

How do we work together towards a vision of a paperless university? And how can we best use new technologies to free up our time and improve our ways of working?

Clearly, we are on a journey to transform our student education administration, through the Student Lifecycle Programme, which is focussed on the student administration processes, as well as implementing technologies and processes for colleagues to follow simplified, digitised activities to support the student education lifecycle.

We all need to support this critical change programme to deliver its vision – only through transformative projects like this will we achieve efficiencies, reduce our manual processes and gain critical time.

We will, of course, have to be pragmatic and make compromises – we need to simplify our processes and do things one way, using managed, trusted data from defined sources. This will mean changing and adapting existing processes and accepting change.

A similar transformative project is taking place in the area of our finance and corporate systems, with the same goal – to consolidate our data and technology environment, and digitise and simplify processes. 

The vision in both of these programmes is a critical element of our digital transformation strategy, and they will set the standard for future endeavours to digitise and automate, where possible, our administrative processes, to improve our ways of working, create efficiency and realise valuable time for core activities.

Clearly, to get the maximum benefit from digital technology, we all have to have an open mind about its affordances (and understand the challenges it presents), and be prepared to spend the time to familiarise ourselves with new tools and ways of working. We will support that process, but it starts with us all as individuals being willing to embrace change in the technology landscape, and feel assured enough in our digital skills to be able to adapt as things change.

Get involved in shaping our digital transformation strategy

As we develop the digital transformation strategy, we want to hear your views across a range of themes – ways of working, research and student education. There are a number of ways you can get involved:

  • Register for the staff Teams event on digital transformation taking place on Tuesday 8 December, 10.30 – 11.30am (Update Monday 23 November: Please note this event is now fully booked, but we will be recording the event and we will share this on For Staff and through eNews);
  • provide a case study of effective digital transformation from your area of activity – you can provide an outline case study via the MS Form, and we will be in touch to discuss this further;
  • provide your ideas about what our digital transformation priorities should be in the areas of student education, research and innovation and ways of working using our Padlet boards;
  • contact us to express interest in joining the digital transformation advisory group (open to all staff and students); and
  • apply for one of the academic lead roles under the theme of digital transformation (internal academic colleagues only) – see our jobs website for current opportunities.

Further information

Read other Inside Track features recently published by Professor Morris:

Enhancing our research and innovation through digital transformation 

Introducing DVC: Digital Transformation portfolio

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