Top tips for selecting and implementing new technologies

Effective technology is now instrumental to the successful performance of universities at every level. Here, Chris Cobb offers his top tips on what to consider when choosing and implementing new systems

Chris Cobb's avatar
University of London
25 Aug 2020
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Key Details

This video will cover:

00:26 Why you should keep it simple and focus on the bare essentials of what a system needs to do

01:31 Ensuring the system is interoperable with other institutional technologies and sufficiently configurable to fit its purpose

03:23 Choosing a system that is secure and resilient


Hello, my name is Chris Cobb, I am pro vice-chancellor (operations) and deputy chief executive at the University of London.

The Times Higher have asked me to give some top tips on systems implementation, things to think about when procuring systems and going through the programme of implementation.

A first tip is to keep it simple.

It’s very seductive to think that a system is going to be the cure of all ills, that it’s going to resolve every aspect of the organisation’s challenges, when in reality you’re probably only going to implement about 80 per cent of the functionality the system has the potential for.

Circumstances will overtake you, agendas will change and actually the technology will probably move on as well. So, in defining the requirements, you’ve got to really consider the essentials over the desirables.

And you’ve also got to consider that actually it’s the organisation that might need to change as well.

That it’s actually some organisational change that might need to fit around the system rather than the system being expected to do everything.

So the first tip: essentials over desirables.

The second tip is to make sure that it is interoperable.

The system doesn’t really exist by itself, ever.

It will always need to interface with others and an overall architecture.

You’ll need to manage identity across systems, finance across systems, billing and so on, customer information.

And all of that information means that you need open standards to manage it and you should avoid sorts of proprietary systems that force you down one particular protocol.

Make sure the system is interoperable.

And that’s also between systems that you own, but also systems that you might just license in the cloud and do other things with.

So, make sure it is interoperable. The third tip is that it has to be very configurable.

Every institution is different and we’ve got to recognise that we all operate in very, very different ways.

And you’ve got to make sure that that system works to your agenda.

While you can change the organisation, you can change the way in which some operations function, you might also want to look at how you might configure the system so it uses terms that are familiar to you and processes that are bound by regulation or other things.

So, make sure it’s configurable.

And configurability is not to be mistaken with making something bespoke and customised. Make sure you do not customise the system.

It’s very, very sort of enticing to say, “Well, actually, I wanted to do this” when it wasn't actually designed to do that. Avoid customisation at all costs.

The fourth one would be about security and resilience.

Whatever you buy, it has to be very robust and that’s a lot to do with the implementation of it.

But security protocols, the way in which it manages identity and the way in which it works with your own security protocols will be essential.

So I think they’re my top four tips.

So, that’s around the keeping it simple; making it essential rather than desirable in the requirements; making it interoperable; making it work with other systems; making it configurable; making sure that it works in the way in which you want it to work; and lastly, making sure it’s secure and that you are keeping your data robust and behind firewalls and so forth.

So, I hope you find that helpful.

My name is Chris Cobb. Thank you.


This video was produced by Chris Cobb, pro vice-chancellor (operations) and deputy chief executive at the University of London

Read the contribution from Chris Cobb, pro vice-chancellor (operations) and deputy chief executive at the University of London, to our feature article “A practical guide to digital teaching and learning” 


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