Published by Cybersecurity Practice
November 30, 2023
As anyone involved in overseeing an institution’s IT systems will have been told, the promise of digital transformation is one of innovation, efficiency, and interoperability: a concerted push for low friction, deep integration of technology into all parts of an organisation, to fundamentally improve how it operates. However, given technology’s constant state of progress and development, it’s not uncommon for attentions to focus unduly on the ‘new’ – new systems, new hardware – that can result in the impression that digital transformation is more about replacing existing systems than improving them. For many academic institutions, with their limited resources and complex interconnected estates, such an impression can make engaging with digital transformation seem like a doomed venture from the start. The reality, however, is that digital transformation is as much about maximising the efficiency and value of the systems already in place, as it is about adding to or replacing them with new solutions.
True digital transformation is a broad, strategic effort that takes a holistic view of an entire organisation and its estate, with the understanding that no one part is entirely independent and uninfluenced by those around it. It’s not about simply dropping in the latest and greatest in digital hardware, nor is it a single task to complete and forget. Rather, to ensure success and maximise the resulting benefits, digital transformation requires an approach that is tailored directly and inextricably to the institution in question, designed to ensure that they can not only benefit from new solutions, but also harvest as much value as possible from their existing investments – all based around their timetable and strategic goals.
Striking this balance between introducing innovative new solutions and optimising and enhancing existing systems is at the heart of digital transformation, and it’s a mixture that will be unique for each organisation’s situation. For this reason, it’s vital that organisations start by developing a clear understanding of the existing systems under their control, along with the limitations, bottlenecks, dependents, and dependencies that come with each. Without this, it can be impossible to gain a clear picture of which systems are truly working as intended, and which are most in need of attention. Of course, gaining such an overview is easier said than done, and for organisations whose estates are the result of years of partial upgrades, replacements, temporary fixes, and workarounds, it can represent a herculean challenge. No more so is this the case than in the education sector, where many IT teams are already stretched due to staff shortages and increasing demands, and are working on complex estates with component parts that can stretch back years, or even decades. In such situations, a third-party partner can be invaluable in providing a dedicated workforce, an outside perspective, and the close collaboration needed to effectively develop a comprehensive understanding of the institution’s systems.
Once these systems are fully understood, organisations may find that new opportunities present themselves without the need for additional hardware or disruptive new processes. Previous investments may mean that unrealised potential exists within the estate itself, or within licences that the organisation has already acquired for other purposes. As an example, in ITGL’s recent work with Birmingham Community Healthcare, the NHS Trust’s previous investment in Cisco technology meant that they were already eligible for licences to the ThousandEyes application health tool. This allowed for the successful deployment of the app on top of their existing systems, and for them to successfully diagnose the high latency they were experiencing in accessing a specific clinical app. These are opportunities that it can be very difficult for internal teams to see when working on the systems every day, but can make a substantial difference for minimal new investment.
Even if a need for new investments has been identified, an organisation that moves too quickly or without careful planning can end up with results that are far from desirable. Institutions are, after all, made up of much more than just their systems. Many have long, established histories, and while the manner in which they work will be informed by their incumbent estate, it will also have taken shape due to the people and culture that surrounds it. Implementing major change in such an environment without due consideration can mean even the most cutting-edge technology solutions ending up with worse results upon deployment. Just as care and attention must be paid to the intricacies of the existing estate, working and collaborating with the stakeholders and users of these systems is paramount in understanding existing workflows and expected user experience. While no change is entirely frictionless, by establishing a dialog with all those affected, institutions can limit unwanted or unnecessary upsets to processes, better identify targets for optimisation, and avoid duplication of effort across the organisation.
Sometimes, of course, it really is necessary for new or replacement technology to be introduced into an organisation. It’s inevitable that as systems age, they begin to introduce incompatibilities, issues, and roadblocks with the technologies that come after. And while they may be familiar and trusted by members of staff that have become used to their inner workings and quirks, new hires may increasingly find onboarding more difficult in comparison to more modern systems. Similarly, maintenance costs will increase over time, as those familiar with the system become less common and replacement parts are no longer produced. And of course, there are cybersecurity concerns around maintaining systems that may no longer be receiving security updates from their vendors.
Legacy systems have remained in place for a reason, however, and extricating them from an existing live environment can be daunting without outside help and consultation. Institutions therefore need to ensure that, in enlisting the help of a partner, they engage with one that is appropriate for their needs. One that will work with them at every step and every level, to ensure that they maximise the value of their existing investments, as well as successfully integrating new solutions through close collaboration. ITGL has a wealth of experience working with organisations to integrate and update systems while minimising disruption, particularly in education settings, where there is often a complex mixture of old and new systems that need to be navigated, understood, and assessed before any changes take place. Get in touch with our dedicated public sector team at email@example.com to talk more about how we can work with your institution to maximise its existing investments and drive its future potential.