We should be clear: our objective is not to create a world class IT organisation, that is for the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Apple, etc. Rather, our purpose is to deliver the IT services required by a world class University; our immediate objective is to create an IT function one would expect to find within a world class University.
What might an IT Service in a world class organisation look like?
Requirements between organisations differ and hence the services provided by supporting IT teams will differ. However, it is feasible that although the exact nature of the service may vary there would be some common characteristics that would indicate an 'excellent' service.
Excellent core services might be characterised by:
- High performance and availability – comparable with other leading institutions
- High financial/process efficiency – low waste, fast cycle times
- Clarity of service and ease of access – simplicity of use
- Valued and valuable – clarity and recognition that the service is needed; less about the number of services, more about the quality and relevance of services.
However, excellence in core services is probably not enough; necessary, but not sufficient. Many good organisations could claim to have excellent core services, and yet the wider organisation may not stand out as world class.
Our proposition is that within world class organisations excellent core services would be supplemented with a small number of genuinely differentiating services – services that allow them to stand out from other good organisations. It is not so much that organisations are world class because the underlying services offer ‘more than core excellence’, it is more that world class organisations challenge service providers to offer more than core excellence – and then exploit those differentiators to enhance their overall standing. Clearly additional, differentiating services would still need to be relevant. In our context differentiating services would be designed to generate high quality research outputs, attract high calibre students and staff, and to contribute to building reputation and public profile.
Differentiating services might be characterised by being:
- Unique within, or limited to a very small sub-set of, the sector
- Quantifiably ‘head and shoulders’ above similar services in terms of performance, scale or scope
- Highly attractive to a non-technical audience, i.e. appreciated by all users
- Audacious – breathtakingly different and daring
- Full, production services – not pilots or experiments
- Transitory – what is breathtaking today will be banal tomorrow!
We hope that this approach is recognised as maintaining the traditional collaborative, collegiate style of the Higher Education sector – while still striving for excellence. By setting the measure of world class around differentiation, we accomodate the idea that several institutions can claim to be world class, through the combination of excellence and distinctiveness – more of a club than a hierarchy.