The Open University is a success story for distance learning. Set up by Royal Charter and funded by student fees, as well as funds from the higher education funding bodies in the UK. Called the OU widely, it awards degrees, diplomas and certificates for continuing education. Due to its  unique model the OU is the largest university in Britain and Europe by student numbers and one of the largest in the world, over 1.5 million students have sat its courses.

IT Leader: David Matthewman, CIO

In role since: 18 months

Reporting line: COO and CEO

Board level seat: Yes – the University equivalent of an Operations Board

IT budget:  0.5 per cent of turnover

IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: IT is hugely important to the Open University. It provides educational and administrative services for the largest university in the UK with approximately 250,000 students using our systems directly from all over the world. We also provide services to 12,000 staff and Associate Lecturers.

Our technology supports the work of world class academics working in fields as diverse as Arts History, next generation internet and Planetary science. Some of our systems have to work in extreme conditions too; the OU provided the science lead in the OU/BBC programme Frozen Planet.

Level of the workforce that relies on technology to carry out their tasks: 100 per cent

IT staff currently employed: 230

Split between in-house/outsourced staff: 99 per cent in house

IT management team and reporting structure:  The IT team is organised into four teams:
    IT Development – the production of systems and implementation of line-of-business packages
    IT Programmes – the delivery of the OU’s major IT transformation programme
    IT Infrastructure – development of the network, server, desktop and security needs of the University
    IT Service Delivery – with a strong focus on ensuring our students and colleagues have the best possible systems availability and performance

All of the areas have specific roles in developing the relationship with our internal business partners to ensure the services we provide now and in the future support the ambitions of the OU.

Primary technology platforms at the organisation:
Our core systems are an in-house solution for student administration and managing the curriculum and Moodle an open source virtual learning environment.

Primary technology suppliers: Microsoft, Dell, Oracle. Redhat & VMWare.

Significant strategic technology deals been struck in the last 12 months: We’ve recently deployed Microsoft Lync for Unified Communications to 5,000 desks, providing telephone, video calling, conferencing, instant messaging, presence and desktop sharing and are gaining great benefits from it.

Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year: To deliver the first phase of our three year IT services transformation project. This will make the core systems more agile, provide a new HR, Loans and Research management solution.

To complete the next stage of the capability maturity targets I set the department when I arrived which will drive the quality and effectiveness of its services.

Technologies considered by the leader to offer their organisation potential:
We already rely on some cloud services and much of our server infrastructure is virtualised, however when we go to market for services our experience is that cloud isn’t fully delivering its potential yet. When buying generic packages I’d like to have more pay-as-you-use SaaS options.

I see mobile devices becoming an increasingly important tool for our students. The OU is already the largest university in the world on Apple’s iTunes U and as devices at lower price points become available they will provide an extra and convenient way for our students to study.

How do you see technology transforming your organisation in the near future? The Higher Education sector is undergoing huge change and the market will continue to evolve ever more rapidly. The OU is well placed to deliver services to help in the changing economic climate, one example of which is we’re providing education services to IT apprenticeship schemes for leading organisations.

IT is undergoing a transformation of the core business systems to enable the OU to respond rapidly to the changing needs of its students and B2B partners and to make our major internal processes efficient. This is a critical enabling role in the organisation’s future success and a core strand of the University’s strategic plan.

Read the CIO interview:

CIO Profile: OU's David Matthewman pioneered home banking

CIO Profile: The Open University's David Matthewman on the business of education

CIO Profile: OU's David Matthewman on learning technologies