The road to flexible service delivery

I attended the second gathering of the Strategic Technology Group of JISC’s Flexible Service Delivery Programme. The first half of the day included suppliers with the broad aim to introduce the programme to them and to look at how effective communications with suppliers, between suppliers and between members of the community could be managed. It was an interesting day with a number of points and questions raised by the audience.

The Programme needs the suppliers to be engaged in order to deliver the benefits aimed for. The target is to break down applications into suites of interoperable modules. Each module will have a defined high level function and inputs and outputs. This should allow institutions to select best of breed at the module level, something that is already emerging as a trend in the sector. This may infer a move towards standard modules (ie all ‘student finance’ modules working in exactly the same way) but I don’t see that it necessarily will. The inputs and outputs do need to be standard in order for modules from different suppliers to plug into each other easily but if the definitions are high level then there is scope for more variety and for institutions to be able to select modules that best fit their mission.

There is not going to be an instant remedy. Rather it will be a long journey and progress is likely to be measured in small steps rather than giant leaps. There is some evidence that suppliers are already heading down this road and are starting to disaggregate their applications and to talk with competitors and suppliers complementary applications in order to improve interoperabiility. Others however still need convincing. Could it be that those suppliers already modularising their applications are stealing a march on their competitors and have seen where the sector will be in two to three years?

It isn’t just a matter of selling the programme to suppliers. There is a need that the more agile approach outlined in the programme will deliver benefits to the institution and does not present an unacceptable risk. It isn’t really possible to build a business case for flexible service delivery per se although it will be necessary to explain the concept. It is more about looking for the opportunities where the principles of the programme may be applied, to identify those areas where moving to a modular approach could improve competitive advantage or where costs could be reduced by moving to a managed service. This may not be an easy sell. Change is never free and the current pressure on resources will mean that the case for change or service enhancements has to be strong. The programme needs some quick wins and follow up case studies targeted at senior management in order to gain real momentum.

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