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Building an ed-tech hub


Placing digital at the heart of the higher education agenda Coventry University is fully immersed in a technology transformation that will see IT support the modern-day needs of its staff and students WRITTEN BY




Campus at the heart of a city of culture


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rom 11 years of military service to leading the rebuild of Iraq’s post-war banking network to

serving oil and gas and mining industries across Africa, Simon Launder may not have foreseen a decade ago that he would be spearheading a digital transformation at Coventry University. Enjoying a hugely diverse career to date, Launder is living proof that technology crosses industry boundaries like no other specialist field, and when the opportunity 04

to move into higher education presented itself in 2016, he had a big decision to make. “The aspirations of Coventry University and the desire for innovation and excellence in everything it does to launch it up the league tables really sold it to me,” the Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer recalls. “Coventry showed me it was going places and that they are not afraid to take risks – we talk about the “Coventry Way”, which to me is all about the agile and dynamic environment in which we operate. We seek opportunities across all operating environments and, in some instances, act like a start-up by pushing boundaries to positively disrupt ourselves as well as our industry.”

Supporting teaching and research with the latest technology innovation


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Launder was proved correct. The first to

World Short Track Speed Skater, joined

state that the highly skilled and dedicated

Coventry as the Chief Digital Information

IT team – who go above and beyond to

Officer from Rolls Royce last year to drive

cater for staff and student needs – is the

high performance and its digital transfor-

University’s greatest asset, Launder

mation, the addition of digital to the

points to a vision and culture that stems

traditional CIO title a deliberate move to

from the top.

push the digital agenda at the organisa-

Steve Humber, a former Olympic and

tion. The move worked, and IT now


enjoys a position at the Coventry University Group’s top table when it comes to strategic decision making.

STUDENTS, STAFF AND THE DRIVE TO TRANSFORM Fast-forward to the present day, and the university has once again retained its title of top modern

24hr Open access IT provides the latest resources for all w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k

“We want to be at the centre of the ed-tech ecosystem, We are approached by all sizes of tech companies from start-ups to global names because we are on such a trajectory and willing to act like a startup ourselves.” 08

— Simon Launder, Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer

Click to watch: ‘Are you ready to be transformed?’

university from The Guardian in its University Guide 2019 for the 7th year in a row as well as many other accolades, including being ranked 13th in the UK in the same guide, and top 100 in Europe for teaching and top three for student engagement from The Times Higher Education. Underpinned by an IT department whose teams know their functions inside out, these accolades are in no small part the result of an ongoing innovation and transformation drive that has the student and staff member at its core. “It is about creating better futures,” Launder says. “and that’s not just for our own IT staff – it’s for our students, staff and anyone that comes into contact with us. Digital touches our everyday lives more than ever, and our work must ensure that our students especially are provided with the technology and services that enhance their learning and experience. We are helping shape their futures of which they are our future.” Younger generations of students passing through higher education institutions expect a technological experience to match that witnessed in other aspects of their lives. However, enhancing student experience and engagement is one of many factors behind Coventry University Group’s IT transformation.

A blend of digital and traditional at the Lanchester Library to support learning

“As an organisation, we need to maintain pace and agility” Launder states. “IT is supporting a dynamic environment that stretches far beyond the Coventry city boundary. We have a campus in w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k


Scarborough, two in London and a global presence with operations and opportunities for students to study for a Coventry University degree outside of the UK with one of our partners across 32 countries or through our online learning business. “We are a global organisation and we have to adapt to that. We must be flexible in our approach, but we’ve also got to be operationally sound and secure in our delivery as we support over 50,000 students’ who require access to data, products and services at any time from any location.”

VISION 2021 In order to serve students and staff and support the business in its strategic development, Launder, Humber and the group CTO 10

Stephen Booth identified the need for IT services to transform from a cost centre to a value added digital organisation. It has identified 10 departmental priorities, which beyond the current transformation efforts include the development of a highperformance culture, enhancing security operations and provision of safe and secure cloud-based infrastructure. Central to the transformation is a digital platform concept being developed and led by Launder, a transition that aims for IT services

Alan Berry Building

Technology supported learning

The culmination of years study concludes with a graduation ceremony at Coventry Cathedral


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07 Consecutive years

as UK top modern university

13th Ranked university in the UK


4,500 Number of employees


Number of students studying for a Coventry University award

ÂŁ330mn Approximate revenue

IT supporting everything from engineering and computing, health and life sciences, art and humanities, business and law


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“The devolved Governance of a Digital Platform at both business and IT Service levels ensures maximum focus is applied to strategic aims and operational efficiency, whilst increasing the agility of development and the deployment of change.” — Simon Launder, Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer

to become vision, value, user and outcome focussed in all that it does, working in the business as opposed to for it. The IT executive at Coventry believe that the key to achieving these business objectives is to organise business teams around solving a problem or pursuing an opportunity. Launder goes into detail to point out that: “This requires the unique ability to find where value is likely to be disrupted within the business, or the markets in which we operate. The risk we face is through getting caught up in our existing and legacy challenges that we miss the opportunity to re-imagine customer experiences and identify that disruptive way that takes us a step further to enhancing the student journey and experience or by providing lifelong learning opportunities for all.” To enable this, Launder, Humber and Booth are pushing to devolve governance to a level aligned with the differentiating business objectives that connect the product portfolio to the strategy of the University Group, and by how the University consumes its services and products. This devolved governance will be achieved by the establishment of a number of Digital Platforms consisting of product lines and the digital products that are used across the organisation. “We must ensure that the Digital Platforms achieve devolved governance to enable agility and a state of continuous develop and improve-

ment. The Platform controls the priority, people, processes, data and technologies that support the business objective,” says Launder. “The devolved Governance of a Digital Platform at both business and IT Service levels ensures maximum focus is applied to strategic aims and operational efficiency, whilst increasing the agility of development and the deployment of change. These Platforms provide the group with the differentiators to move from the current state to a more desirable, future state. They help drive innovation and competitive differentiation achievable only through effective product portfolio solutions.” This new approach is designed to deliver a dynamic product and process-based portfolio that identifies problems and presents solutions.

REACHING OUT Although the IT Services team is staffed with experienced IT professionals, Launder sees the importance in bridging the gap between the expertise behind the scenes and their end user beneficiaries. “We see value in having students come and work with us when they’ve finished their undergraduate degrees,” Launder says. “It is invaluable across all our disciplines and delivery”. “We’ve recently created a digital productivity team that crosses user groups between our staff, w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k



Simon started his career in the military developing a leadership style that saw him command detachments and troops in support of UK and international operations across the globe. After 11 years of exemplary service he went on to successfully manage the rebuild of the Iraq banking network across 80 locations in a hostile post war environment, introducing the technology and training to enable rapid currency exchange and

security and media organisations throughout Iraq Launder led communications and logistics support for Oxfam GB in North Dafur, Sudan at a time of population mass displacement and conflict before moving further into the African continent in support of offshore oil exploration on the edge of the Sahara desert of Mauritania and coastal regions of Tanzania to mining operations in Guinea and Sierra Leone

facilitate international transactions across the global Visa card network. Post bank network rebuild and a number of other projects supporting military,

with organisations such as Woodside Energy and Rio Tinto. With a business bias and understanding of business issues Launder strives to understand the

user context of an issue or requirement before applying an innovative approach to designing technical and business solutions that enable the using organisation to achieve and surpass its strategic plans. Having left operating across Africa, Launder looked for a UK based challenge to enable him to be closer to his young family, having been out of the UK for some time he also wanted to challenge the thinking that IT

industry borders are not barriers. This is certainly true as he moved into higher education as an IT Director at Coventry University and now leads the role of Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer responsible for engagement, innovation and digital strategy whilst at the same time conducting a part-time research Doctorate in business administration looking to develop an operating framework that enables organisational

resource and knowledge is aligned to the industry it’s in, believing and knowing that if you are exceptional and passionate about the work you do then

strategy processes to effectively manage digital disruptive episodes, enabling him to combine study with work for the benefit of both. 17

academics and our students to understand current digital literacy levels, we are then taking that knowledge to promote, train and educate at the right level on how to get the most from our supported products and services. The best way to do that with our student body, we’re finding, is actually working with students who present back to fellow students so that the message is pitched in the right language and tone.” Office 365 and Windows 10 have been two of the latest successful deployments across all staff and student facing desktop and laptop devices – of which there are over 12,000, and Launder also points towards the importance of close

— Simon Launder, Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k

collaboration and dialogue with staff and students before making major decisions on technology investment. “We work closely with academics and our researchers to understand what they are working on today and what they need to deliver excellence in their teaching or research, whether it’s HPC on-demand or our own on campus systems and services. We’re also actively and aggressively exploring other 18

emerging technology areas to see how they can be applied to benefit individual users, groups or the entire organisation such as blockchain, deep learning, augmented reality, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. “It’s ensuring that we’re not just going out and sourcing the technology or investing heavily in its development, but that we really are finding user cases for it before looking at how we can apply it. It goes back to understanding more about the user, the vision and business outcomes before looking at the technology”

“We talk about the “Coventry Way”, which to me is all about an agile and dynamic environment in which we operate. We seek opportunities across all operating environments and, in some instances, act like a start-up by pushing boundaries to positively disrupt ourselves as well as our industry.” — Simon Launder, Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer 19

Blending campus life with city living w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k


IT services mission statement From driving digital and developing high performing people, to becoming more agile and digitally product focused, while delivering a secure and exceptional user experience; Coventry University IT Services will enable our staff to transform the Group to be competitive, reach its corporate objectives, and create better futures. Core IT remains an essential part of growth and innovation 20

PARTNER PROWESS Indeed, when it comes to the application of technological solutions, external expertise and partnership has been invaluable to the Coventry University Group to date. “We’re a higher education institute, and we’re an IT depart-

An atmosphere to study

ment that is going through some dramatic change to meet this digital world that we operate in, but we can’t do it without the partners that we engage with and have trust in – and we make a big distinction

between suppliers and partners of which each bring their own value” says Launder. “I see little point in us trying to reinvent things that have been done in other digitally advanced and savvy industries such as seen in finance and retail – we can learn from the technology that these industries are developing with our partners to see where it can fit our own user cases to benefit our end users, whilst using our own knowledge and expertise to enhance what we do best.” One influential consulting partner

Trading floor technology simulating live environments

which has been on board at several

ence across the full lifecycle of IT, and by

junctures of the organisation’s

being external to our environment has allowed

transformation journey to date is

us to see the great work we are doing as a

Mozaic. By presenting initial

department today from another perspective

design ideas and guiding the IT

and the best way to advance our capability

executive team through the early

to achieve our digital vision.

stages of transformation design

“And likewise, with the technology choice

and development, Mozaic has

we are working with some great partners such

helped Coventry University

as Amazon Web Services, BT, Cisco, Atos,

establish a vision to leave that all

Aula and Maxica who are willing and eager to

important first base.

co-create and co-innovate with us as we

Launder adds: “Mozaic have

jointly look for new innovative and digital ways

provided us with in-depth

of engaging with our students and further

knowledge and proven experi-

developing our digital campus and journey.” w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k


ON THE MAP The progress made to date by Coventry University thus far has helped it become something of an ed-tech hub, building on the fact the organisation already has a physical presence well beyond the West Midlands. This is not to ignore exciting developments currently taking place at its Coventry home. The university is continuing its major investment in the form of a £500mn ($600mn) campus development and refurbishment programme which will significantly increase student accommodation, research facilities, teaching, social and public space, IT suites and engineer22

ing labs. IT services has had a key role to play in ensuring it meets the requirements of the modern-day digital user, be they staff, students, researchers or the general public. Such desire to invest in state-of-the-art

“The progress we have made as a University is phenomenal. Teaching excellence and student experience are our core.” — Simon Launder, Deputy Chief Digital Information Officer

facilities will help draw attention to the organisation. “We want to be at the centre of the ed-tech ecosystem,” says Launder. “We are approached by all sizes of tech companies from start-ups to global names, and that’s due to being on such a trajectory and journey of global growth. We’re willing to work with these companies and see where their products and services can


Collaborative and open space around campus breeds success take us – where we can do things better

are our core, and what we can do from

and where we can go further.”

a technical perspective to retain that

Even global heavyweights like Uber

excellence and better that experience for

are showing interest. In June, the

prospective students through to Alumni is

American ride-hailing giant recognised

always our priority – we have come a long

Coventry University as a collaborative

way, and we’ve got a long way to go but

partner on its flying taxis development,

we have the right people, plan and passion

something which could take off as early

to get there” Launder concludes.

as 2020. “The progress we have made as a University is phenomenal. Teaching excellence and student experience w w w. c o v e n t r y. a c . u k

Coventry University Priory Street Coventry, United Kingdom CV1 5FB T +44 (0) 24 7765 7688

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Coventry University Brochure – 2018  

Coventry University Brochure – 2018  

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