What Open Universities Australia did to enact a complete business and technology transformation

Online education marketplace provider details the digital transformation overhaul it embarked on in order to improve student and provider engagement and find business growth


Data challenges

A significant challenge along the way, and one Nori admitted his team underestimated, was data migration technically, as well as from a business perspective.

“From 1990 to now, there were lots of regulatory and compliance changes around the data we take from students to help enrol in courses,” he said. “When we migrated with the new student experience and processes, some of that data wasn’t available to fit into the new processes and systems. At that time, that rule wasn’t there and data isn’t there.

“That’s an example of a challenge around rules changing over the years, because the data changes with it. We didn’t anticipate that.”

Data migration and management remains a constant, ongoing focus as a result, Nori said.

Success measures

Overall, OUA increased conversion rates by almost 50 per cent within first seven months of going live. After 15 quarters of decline in overall student numbers, it’s also seen its first quarterly leap.

A second important metric for Nori is how quickly the team is able to onboard a new university – from four months to two weeks.

“We’ve done at least 300 releases in the last three months, which is substantially different to the old landscape, where it used to take weeks and sometimes months to make such changes,” he said.

Read more: Why financial services companies should be in fear of the tech disruptors

The transformation was the launching pad, and lots of improvements are planned this year to improve student performance both individually, but also across the spectrum, Nori said.

“From a business perspective, one thing we want to do is bring in more universities to the platform and offer greater choice to students. We also want to bring more students to universities as well as help them realise their dreams of higher education,” he said. “We currently have 13 universities offering courses via OUA, and within those we’re looking to understand their entire offering and how to facilitate that online as well.”  

The good news is OUA has a strong, simplified ecosystem that can scale to suit business needs, Nori said. “It’s built to scale but it has to scale based on where the business opportunity is,” he said.  

Another priority is looking at improving enrolment rules and processes to make them even easier, while further changes are the result of going live.

“There were lots of technical and business improvements we learned along the way. For example, improving the integrations between systems – until it went live, we couldn’t see that,” Nori said.

Culture shift

It’s vital with any such substantial transformation to bring both technology and business teams together from the outset, Nori said.

“We were trying to understand what those core business processes are and how we constantly simplify them, critically look at them. This required transformation of the entire organisation,” he said.  

“I see this as a changing paradigm across organisations – technology and business transformation has to be one and the same thing. It’s about one team trying to solve a problem. As an organisation, as a team and for me personally, we all learned working together as part of this transformation project was key to accomplishing what we wanted.”

Nori suggested next-generation platforms such as Salesforce and IBM are forcing this cultural change.

“Being cloud-based, these force business and tech to work very closely and the gap is disappearing,” he claimed. “To lead this platform, you have to understand the business. And to operate the platform, the business person has to understand the technology. Both have to sit together and do it, otherwise it’s never going to happen.”  

Strong board direction and buy-in also ensured the OUA business was focused and aligned on platform strategy and found common purpose.

“Teams worked together and delivered to this, and partners played a significant role in expertise, challenging us and assisting us,” Nori added.  

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