4 minute read

Managing Enterprise-Level Systems During Digital Transformation

12/12/2023 9:00:00 AM

As higher ed institutions take steps towards innovation, strategy and technology need to be developed together. On this episode of FOCUS, Heather Fraser of Dalhousie University discusses the strategic approach the institution is taking to manage campuswide digital transformation. Fraser, the Director of Enterprise Application Services at Dalhousie, is responsible for managing recent efforts to innovate the institution’s enterprise portfolio. Listen to learn about the importance of ownership of technology and key strategic insights as you bring your institution forward in the digital space.


Approach to managing enterprise-level systems

Dalhousie is a long-time user of TouchNet solutions such as OneCard and Payment Center, and more solutions as their digital transformation has evolved. The university also uses Ellucian’s Banner as their ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

A recent merger of digital teams brought the management of enterprise applications including OneCard and Banner into one office. The portfolio also includes cloud service technologies management, project management, systems architecture, infrastructure and databases, program development, business intelligence reporting, and the university’s web presence.

Deciding who “owns” the technology

The restructuring of Fraser’s department presented the opportunity to review how the university as a whole approaches enterprise applications. The DalCard, Dalhousie’s OneCard system, has historically been owned by the IT department because of the need for technical support resources.

However, the team is looking at shifting how they manage the DalCard. The idea is to shift the decision-making process to better accommodate needs from the business units that use the technology. Using a similar governance to how they already manage Banner, IT partners with all the functional areas across campus that run the business processes of the technology. This means offices such as student affairs and ancillary services would be the front-line support for the end users (students), with the IT team being back-end support for those teams.

Driving forces behind moving to the cloud

Fraser’s team is looking at a two to three year plan to relocate their data center off campus for a variety of reasons. In doing so, they are using this as an opportunity to reevaluate which technologies are hosted on premise versus moving technologies to the cloud, assess which can help mitigate the risks of on-campus data storage, add flexibility, and lay a foundation for additional technology improvements.

Additionally, a lot of Dalhousie’s technology partners are making greater investments in their software-as-a-service (SaaS) or in other cloud offerings that are overshadowing what is happening in on-premise solutions. In order to keep up with student expectations, a move to the cloud is an integral part of Dalhousie’s strategy.

Dalhousie University’s strategic plan and digital strategy

Fraser explained that none of this could be done without a unified vision for the university. Dalhousie is currently working through a five year strategic plan that includes an accompanying digital strategy led by the university’s Chief Information Officer and Dean of Libraries.

The digital strategy has been a driving force behind the decisions they are making, which encompasses both technology and people. The document focuses on five key pillars which outlines leadership’s commitment to making Dalhousie a state-of-the-art digital learning campus with an intense focus on research: teaching and learning, people-centric, research and innovation, community collaborations, and digital foundations.

“There is a lot of human focus in this strategic document that you normally may not associate with something that is a digital or technology plan,” said Fraser. “But really it’s a way to look across our entire institution at how we’re going to be able to meet the needs of today’s digital learners and digital teachers.”

Advice for leading digital transformation

It’s important to remember that Dalhousie University’s commitment to strategy and leveraging technology-based decisions didn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing initiative in which they pull together key stakeholders at various times to get buy-in on new directions. This helps cross-campus teams feel like they have ownership of decisions and understand the work that is needed to make transformation happen. Fraser credits Dalhousie’s progress to the trust within her team and colleagues across campus.

For other institutions looking to create change in the face of difficulty, Fraser’s biggest piece of wisdom is to not only trust your team but work to anticipate the future technology needs of students, faculty, and staff and start the work now. Under a unified team and strategy, shaping the digital landscape of higher ed institutions becomes an exciting exercise of “what if we did this.”