UTS: What it takes to keep up with digital customer experiences

Tertiary institution's Web development leader shares how the push to be more customer experience led is changing how digital technology is used, pursued and transformed

Organisations need to be careful they don’t look too far forward in their quest for digital transformation and technology innovation and focus on the customer problems of today or risk being paralysed into inaction.

That’s the view of University of Technology Sydney Web strategy and platforms manager, Kelley Johnson, who spoke on a panel at this week’s Acquia conference in Sydney about how the tertiary education institution is working to improve experiences across its student, research, industry partner and general public customer bases through digital and content innovation.

It’s inevitable UTS needs to invest in technology platform modernisation and digital improvements, and Johnson and her team are working to make back-end systems seamless and unified in the teeth of organisational silos. What helped is changing the way IT capital works is distributed across the organisation in order to position transformation as a process, rather than technology issue, she said.

“We are focused on processes so that we are able to react to these rapid changes and are developing an operating model to be more agile and that meets that customer need,” Johnson told attendees. “We are also looking at technology that makes it quicker to get to market and supply content.

“But can’t look too far ahead. You have to deal with the problems here today. If you go too far into the future, you get so lost in the digital of tomorrow that you’re missing the ball today. And you become quite paralysed.”  

As a case in point, Johnson said what keeps her awake is not necessarily the technology but the content management practices at the university.

“Without the content in play, rules and governance, you can have the best technology in the world but still have a rubbish experience at the end,” she said.

To combat this, UTS is investing heavily in human-centred design to help understand what it is its ‘customers’ need in order to facilitate a good experience. A core framework being used to help teams is “continuity of experience”.

“We are talking about being the university that offers great experiences. But I don’t think everyone knows what good, tangible experience is,” Johnson continued. To make that experience tangible, she said UTS started at the base of what’s required and found it was about continuity.

In practice, this means every digital property needs to offer similar experiences and feel of being still with UTS, not a foreign website.

“That continuity is getting the front-end and user interface right, but also taking away back-end systems so customers are not fighting with them,” Johnson explained. “The utopia is that you come to our property – the UTS portal – and whatever of our four segments you are [student, researcher, industry partner and general public] it’s consistent. You start in an experience as the user, and you’re not thinking about technology or fluidity into other parts of the site where the experience is different. You don’t want to have to re-login, for example. You’re just within a UTS property.”

Of course, long-standing organisations such as UTS have to live with legacy technology that cost millions and won’t just be flicked out, Johnson said.

“We have a technology debt to deal with. So we have to deal with that in our commitment as an organisation,” she said.

In addition, decentralised areas of the business means different parts of the customer journey are owned by siloed departments. For instance, with students, multiple divisions own different parts of the user journey and it’s a difficult task to blend the silos, Johnson said.

Personally, she advocated someone owning the experiences and journey all the way through. “That’s not necessarily all the technology and processes, but someone who can gather people together for projects… and work across marketing, finance and IT,” she said.

The other problem is organisations like UTS don’t talk to the user enough first. That’s why UTS has established a human-centred design office out of Johnson’s unit to talk to the end user before getting down to business requirements. “This is starting to unbuckle that journey,” she added.  

Another change has been doing away with the large-scale, multi-million transformation project in favour of “starting small”.

“We started by looking at the business problems, and we identified four underlying problems, then said last year that we’d tackle 1-2 year at a time,” she said. “This allows us to start to get runs on the board, build trust and make an impact then on the next business problem.”  

The four areas were improving what was considered an “ugly” design linked to siloed style sheets and owned by different departments; search functionality; flexibility of the CMS; and changing perceptions of content so it evolves as digital platforms and experiences evolve.

For fellow panellist, Deloitte Digital Craig Levy, customer experience excellence is the ultimate goal for most organisations today. How to get there, however, is the big challenge.

“You bring all the silos into one room, and the ideas start and stop,” he said. “We are in an outcome driven world, but when we ask clients what the business requirements are, they’re not clear.

“You won’t get to outcome without business requirements. But many organisations are not sure how they get there.”

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