When the CIO can claim an average business performance improvement delivering an average 2,000% ROI a year, the organisation is clearly onto a very good thing. For David Matthewman at the Open University, IT is spearheading the university's ability to refashion itself for today and tomorrow, with its pioneering MOOC alone gaining the OU 1 million course sign-ups and 500,000 students in its first year.

When did you start your current role?
2010.

What is your reporting line?
COO and CEO.

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes.

What other executive boards do you sit on?
Student recruitment and learning and teaching strategy.

Does your organisation have a CDO?
No.

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
1. Student recruitment – advising students on OU study, course choice and how study will help them to achieve their career and other ambitions. Delivered through 400 people in three UK contact centres.

2. Student fee income delivery – around £250m a year.

3. Business performance improvement (Lean reviews and internal consultancy), delivering an average of 2,000% ROI a year.

How many employees does your organisation have?
11,000.

Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
Yes.

How many users does your department supply services to?
11,000 staff and 200,000 students across the globe 24 hours a day seven days a week.

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
With the expansion in my role in 2014 to include a significant business operation (student recruitment and fees), I am now directly responsible for a key part of the customer journey. I am particularly involved in work to understand retention and acquisition. I regularly listen to calls with prospective students, have regular informal group sessions with student-facing staff at all levels, and meet students at their face-to-face tutorials and at graduations.

Open University technology strategy and agenda

Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Yes.

Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes.

Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
The OU has lead the way in disrupting the UK education sector with the launch of its MOOC (massive open online course) platform, which provides free, short courses from leading UK and international universities. FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/) is widely seen as the leading European platform for MOOCs and was developed and is run by the Open University. We set this up at arm’s length to allow the solution to be developed in radically different ways, and I acted as the senior technology adviser to the vice chancellor through this process. The service has reached over 1 million course sign-ups and 500,000 students in its first year, with over 40 partners developing content and courses.

What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
We have significantly re-engineered the OU’s internet student recruitment presence and telephone experience to adapt to the changes in student needs and to ensure every student gets the best possible advice. I was a key driver of the programme that radically redesigned and launched the OU student recruitment internet presence, which has enabled the OU to exceed its student acquisition targets in 2014.

We are now implementing crowdsourcing tools to empower frontline staff to identify and promote improvements in working practices to benefit students.

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
These initiatives will offer significantly improved customer service for prospective students, empower our people and enable them to have a stake in further improving our services. It has also enabled the OU to achieve student numbers targets in a competitive market.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project
Keeping the focus on the outcome for the customer and encouraging and empowering the team to consider new and potentially challenging ways to deliver.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Software as a service (SaaS) has the greatest potential to allow the OU to experiment, disrupt and transform its business. A good example is the use of crowdsourcing tools to allow frontline staff to contribute improvements, allow the community to decide which are important, and monitor the delivery. All of this was and is possible with on-premise software but the cost of entry and speed is hugely improved.

Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
Yes.

What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
Analytics is core to the strategic plan and the aim is to put the means of asking and answering a question as close to the business problem as possible. IT provides a well-defined data warehouse and standard reporting tools and has created a community of interest among a very diverse group of analysts to ensure best practice is shared. These analytics are then used in many areas including my own responsibilities in understanding student acquisition and retention, and fee income.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
We are seeing and supporting increasing expectations for all of our services to work on mobile devices. One example of where we have responded to this need is by making all of our books, video and audio available on tablets, allowing students to have their study materials with them all of the time.

Social media channels are now integral to the way we work with full-time staff focusing on these areas. Our primary focus is around Facebook (around 150,000 likes), Twitter (over 100,000 followers) and LinkedIn (over 160,000 followers). We have been using these tools for a number of years with the principles of social media and networking also integrated into our core learning platforms. They are used proactively to support student acquisition, build academic reputation and engage with past, present and future students.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
BYOD and shadow IT are important to the OU’s operations and offers cost and convenience benefits. The strategy is to ensure that data and services are appropriately protected and to support colleagues, at an early stage, in making appropriate solution choices.

The majority of core IT services are centralised . There are a number of specialist areas including space sciences and cyber security where complete autonomy is necessary to support research and course development. This is supported in a safe environment.

We have a large number of colleagues using personal devices to undertake their roles. We provide a safe virtualised environment for staff, student and other personal data to be processed in, which is accessible from a BYOD. BYOD is not possible in regulated environments – eg where payment cards are processed.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
We have moved to SIP with Gamma for voice telecommunications.

Who are your main suppliers?
Microsoft, VMWare, Oracle and Gamma.

Open University IT security and budget

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Yes.

Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes.

Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Yes.

Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
Yes.

What is the IT budget?
£30m.

How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
7%.

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
1. Delivery of the strategic projects to further support students, develop the OU's reputation as a centre of research excellence (which in November 2014 included the OU delivering its part in the Rosetta comet landing) and improve operational effectiveness.

2. Further improve project prioritisation and benefits realisation.

3. Further improve the exploitation of the OU’s significant data assets.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Yes.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
No.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

Open University technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
Supportive, driven and challenging, with a strong focus on the right outcome for the end customer.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
The team have distinct areas of responsibility and are encouraged and empowered to take an executive role in the overall strategy and operation of the department. We have developed a very good level of trust and encourage strong debate and collective ownership of decisions. Exposure to all areas of the OU and other organisations keeps the team connected with the work of the university and external developments.

How many employees are in your IT team?
300.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
90/10.

Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?
No.