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Aalto University’s Tips for A Successful Digital Transformation Journey

By Guest Author August 10, 2020

By: Patrik Maltusch, Head of IT Architecture, Aalto University

For some higher education institutions, a digital transformation journey is an overwhelming challenge. For me and my team at Aalto University in Finland, we view it as an opportunity to transform operations across our campus.

We had two questions to answer to begin the journey: where do we go and how do we get there? Above all, we kept our primary focus on what we stood to gain at the end of our digital transformation journey.

Aalto University students chatting outdoors

Digital transformation was a natural step to better supporting students.

The Digital Imperative

The imperative for change became a strategic priority for senior leadership at Aalto as legacy systems, poor data collection, and lack of cohesion across the institution was proving to impact the experience we wanted to provide our students.

There’s always a moment that serves as the catalyst for change. That moment for us was when our management team took a long, hard look at our reality ‘as-is’ versus our vision of ‘to-be’. This realisation convinced Aalto’s senior leadership that we as an institution needed to do the difficult, but important work of revamping our systems–for the faculty, stakeholders, and, most importantly, our students.

The buy-in from our senior leaders proved to be the most critical factor to our digital transformation journey. Without their support, vision, and guidance throughout this project, achieving this goal wouldn’t have been possible. Ensure your senior leadership team is driving the initiative forward with you, while also trusting you and the wider team to do what they were employed to do.

Once we got the buy-in from leadership, the team got to work on iterating numerous scenarios — over 200, actually — before deciding on a proof-of-concept practice to build our connected campus. This helped us to understand what is practical when it came to deciding between when to customise processes and when to accept best practice solutions. After much deliberation, we selected Salesforce as the practical test bed for our Service and Process Platform Development Initiative.

“You must have people on board who believe you’ll succeed. Be agile. Fail fast but learn faster.”

For us, listening to advice about the successes and failures from our higher-ed peers was key to our success. We used their feedback to shape, define, and hone our process design.

Digital Transformation Isn’t a Sprint, it’s a Triathlon

To begin with, you’ll need to swim through a vast ocean of requirements, wading through what’s most essential and what’s not. If you focus on too many things, you’ll be waded down by the extra baggage and won’t make it to shore. Focusing on too few items brings its own risk in leaving your team empty handed for the next discipline.

When it comes to the cycling portion of your feat, we’re talking about a need for agility in your procurement. This part demands your focus, determination, and discipline to see it through. Don’t be tempted to take any shortcuts here, though, or you’ll be swiftly disqualified.

After all of that, you still have the run to complete. This part is sure to slow you down and test the measure of your procurement team. If you don’t have everything dialed in up to this point, it’ll be a long and painful run to the end.

Aalto University students in class

The digital transformation journey required buy-in from everyone.

Higher Education is at a Turning Point

There’s a learning curve that’s to be expected with an undertaking like this, but don’t let that deter you. Embrace it, and lean on those who’ve done it before and enlist the help of consultants who have critical insight into the process. There’s a newness to this that’s both exciting and challenging as our eyes were opened to new ways to approach the digitalization of business processes.

We learned that as daunting as it may be, it’s not rocket science. Success is in the details. Make sure there’s seamless functionality between all features and know the difference between what you need and what you want.

Above all, though, collaboration and communication are paramount. Have honest conversations amongst your team and with Salesforce reps to map the functionality and match it to the context of your organisation.

“We’re engaged in this endeavour to serve our students, we want them to benefit from all of this.”

Ultimately, digital transformation will benefit everyone across your company, organisation, or institution. The benefit of digitising your operations is to reduce data silos and build a new, comprehensive system that works cohesively across all teams. See beyond your department and account for everyone’s needs and objectives in order to achieve the goal.

With more than 150 individuals helping us to support Aalto on this digital transformation journey, I’m so proud of the team effort to get this project to the finish line.

To learn more on how to support students digitally, download the Connected Student Report.

About the Author

Patrick Maltusch, head of IT architecture at Aalto University,

Patrick Maltusch, head of IT architecture at Aalto University, is a digital transformation evangelist using enterprise architecture methodology and skills to develop organization capabilities and business models.