Digital transformation | Everybody wins if we get this right

Professor Jo-Anne Murray’s academic career began in animal nutrition. Now as our Pro-Vice Chancellor for Digital Transformation, Jo-Anne sets outs the University’s mission to drive forward change.

Photograph of Professor Jo-Anne Murray

It’s quite something for my generation to look back to the way the world worked when I was just eight years old. We had a dial-type telephone at home. I’d come in from school and wait for BBC One to start playing kid’s programmes. Videotape was all the rage – we had a Betamax and then came VHS. Back then the internet was just the stuff of science fiction.

Today our students – many from the Gen Z era – have probably had their own smartphone for most of their lives already. My daughter, born the same year the iPhone came out, has never known a world without a smartphone. When my son was born, I was still using dial up to access the internet. Everything’s ‘smart’ now – have you noticed? We have sat navs, mobile banking, online shopping, the internet of things and access to almost boundless information and knowledge through the web.

In short, many of the touchpoints in our lives, both professionally and socially, are through the medium of digital technology. Some describe this as the golden age of digital, some call it the fourth industrial revolution. The pace of change during the past 25 years has been nothing less than phenomenal – and it’s not stopping any time soon. Expect faster advances in artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and virtual reality in the next 25 years.

The explosion of digital has made our lives easier but it’s evolved so quickly that large institutions, including the University, struggle to stay ahead of the curve.

It’s common to see hundreds of different systems in play that don’t talk to each other. End users have to navigate a highly complex and often confusing and inefficient digital landscape. This creates frustration for front-end users – a problem we all are too familiar with in the University. Many systems in big organisations soon become dated because the job of ripping out and replacing them with the latest technology is costly and disruptive.

As technology that we use in our personal lives moves forward, the technology we use at work or in our learning environment can soon fall behind. The user experience can be vastly different. Surely, all of us just want to fire up our computers and know exactly which button to press to get a particular job done. Is that too much to ask? The short answer is no. More importantly, if we don’t accelerate our digital capabilities at the University, we will struggle to grasp the real opportunities to sustain a first-class learning environment to create the critical thinkers and global citizens of tomorrow. We’ll struggle to deliver cutting-edge research to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. We’ll struggle to build a great place to work for our academics, postgraduate researchers and our professional services. We’ll struggle to learn from the data that flows through our systems, that can help to build inclusivity and fairness; that can help, for example, neurodivergent students and colleagues to perform at their best.

I am a passionate advocate of the power of technology to enhance all aspects of the student experience; staff productivity and satisfaction; and research innovation, impact and knowledge exchange. I am a firm believer that digital systems should work for people and not vice versa. This lies at the heart of our digital transformation strategy. It's my job to make sure we maximise these opportunities, overseeing the digital transformation strategy that underpins the University’s overarching strategy, Universal Values, Global Change.

Our vision is to bring to the fore creative and innovative digital and data approaches that really elevate our ways of working, our research capabilities and our student learning experiences. To deliver, we have eight core programmes coming on stream. We’re at the early stages, building business cases to secure the investment required. We’re mapping out co-dependencies between these core digital programmes – and other substantive pieces of work, particularly those that fall under the remit of our new Transformation Office, such as the Digital Enablement and Be Safe programme. 

In the coming months, we’ll share more information with you. We’ll be launching a new Digital Transformation knowledge hub early in 2023, and we plan to run a series of relatively informal events, where we hope you’ll come and chat with us over a coffee.

It’s absolutely critical that we hear about the experiences of our colleagues and students. It’s really important that we test ideas and new solutions with them right through the lifecycle of our digital transformation programmes. We will ensure their needs, experiences and expectations are central to everything we do. Every voice is important as we move through this body of work – this is a team effort and a collaborative process. It’s complex and it will take a little bit of time before we start to see the real impacts and benefits on the ground. Ultimately, if we get this right, everybody benefits, everybody wins.


Before joining Leeds, Professor Murray was a Managing Director at Higher Ed Partners (HEP), where she worked with senior executive-level colleagues within universities across the UK to define and deliver strategic vision for digital transformation in education.

Professor Murray was also Assistant Vice-Principal for Digital Education at the University of Glasgow, and before that held senior roles at the University of Edinburgh leading learning technology teams and online learning.

She is Professor of Educational Innovation and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has led the development of many novel approaches to learning, teaching and assessment, including virtual worlds, mobile apps and the use of robots in education.  

Professor Murray has also led and participated in a range of research activities in education and the biological sciences (Animal Nutrition) and has published more than 130 peer-reviewed articles in these areas. She is also the first and only, Animal Nutritionist to be awarded Fellow of the Association of Nutrition.

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