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Digital transformation: Academics and adminstration must go hand in hand

The implementation of the new university-wide timetabling system is now drawing to a close, and the system will soon be in use across the university. In this article, three of the central participants in the roll-out share some highlights from this massive digital transformation.

2021.03.23 | Anders Hylander

[Translate to English:] Arbejdet med implementeringen af det nye fælles planlægningssystem er nu i sin afsluttende fase, og inden længe er systemet i brug på hele Aarhus Universitet. Foto: AU foto

Obviously, introducing a new, university-wide timetabling system for classes and exams across five faculties is not accomplished in the wink of an eye. On the contrary: the roll-out is an example of a massive digital transformation that has required changes in how employees think and work at the degree programmes, the faculties and in the administration. The implementation of the system has demanded close collaboration between decentral and central administrative units, and not least with the degree programmes and research groups.

Each faculty has had its own preexisting routines, systems and procedures for timetabling classes and exams. For all these reasons, it has been – and still is – important that implementation processes are tailored to local conditions.

Aarhus BSS Director of Studies Anni Bækgaard Langberg is heading the implementation of the system at her faculty. She emphasises that throughout the process, Aarhus BSS has prioritised close dialogue between the degree programmes, working groups and the steering committees at Aarhus BSS and AU respectively.

“One early and extremely important step for us was to set up a local steering committee at the faculty with a broad range of representatives from the departments and the administration. Throughout the process, one of the group's main tasks has been – and still is –to discuss and find solutions to the bumps on the road encountered in the different phases of implementing a new timetabling system, and which affects every aspect of our timetabling and annual planning cycles across the board,” Langberg said.

In addition to the steering committee, a number of working groups were set up, comprised of staff members who work with the systems on a daily basis and who therefore have a thorough understanding of the needs and challenges that arise in connection with a new system.  The working groups have thus played a central role in providing valuable input to the decisions the Aarhus BSS steering committee has had to take during the process.

Openness about needs, expectations and problems

The steering committee at Aarhus BSS has been particularly sensitive to the consequences that the new system will have for lecturers, who in many cases need to adapt to a new way of planning their classes and exams.

"It's been crucial that we have been able to talk openly with our academic colleagues about needs, expectations and not least the problems that unavoidably arise when such major changes are introduced," Langberg said. She emphasised that this open dialogue has been made a useful contribution to adapting the system and ensuring a smooth transition:

"With a project like this, it's crucial that we ensure that academics and administration go hand in hand. The project has reminded me once again that the administration must be very conscious of how new systems affect the work processes at the departments and centres,” she stressed.

Just as at Aarhus BSS, all of AU’s faculties have had their own steering committees. Each steering committee has been represented on the central steering committee, where Anni Bækgaard Langberg represented Aarhus BSS together with department head department Jacob Eskildsen and former vice-dean Per Andersen.

Cooperation and communication got the project off the ground

Peter Guldbæk Larsen is programme director for Educational Administrative Systems under AU Student Administration and Services. He has been involved in the project since the tender phase and has been involved in cross-faculty coordination. From the very beginning, he has kept in mind that the technical implementation of the system is actually minor aspect of the project. Most of the work lies in changing the processes, work routines and culture surrounding the system.

"It's been crucial that we have created a clear division of roles, basically, the central administration team has had overall responsibility for the project, while our colleagues at the faculties have established and maintained close dialogue with the users from the degree programmes," Larsen explained. He highlighted the importance of the faculties’ role in tailoring communication and practical training in the system to end users.

“This project has confirmed one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my years as a project manager: namely that implementation, training and communication should preferably take place as locally as possible. Our most important role in the central administration is to support the faculties’ processes and provide common solutions and standards, so that we can achieve the goals set at AU,” Larsen said.

Deputy Director Kristian Thorn, who heads AU Student Administration and Services and has overall responsibility for the implementation of the new system is pleased about the common ground that is being created; he sees at as an important precondition for getting the timetabling system off the ground.

“Finding common solutions is essential to achieve our goals with the project. That’s why we are working to create a solid foundation in the form of a single system and common procedures and work routines. This will provide a good point of departure for the next phases,” he said. He also pointed to the inclusive project organisation – with representatives from local steering committees and the collaboration between AU IT and AU Student Administration and Services – as an important foundation for the project. 

The entire life cycle of the project is part of the digital transformation

The technical aspects of the implementation of the system are nearly complete. TermTime, the timetabling tool for classes, will soon be in use across the university. The ExamTime component is expected to be ready before the end of the year. The primary focus of the project will now shift to realising the organisational objectives related to the implementation of the system. According to Larsen, this is also part of the digital transformation.

“The entire life cycle of the project is part of the digital transformation – not just the system implementation alone, as you might assume. For the next couple of years, we will focus our attention on the objectives we formulated in connection with the beginning of the project back in 2016 – which are about using our rooms more efficiently – and in this way ultimately free up  resources for the university’s core activities,” he concluded.

Facts about the new university-wide timetabling system

  • The objectives of the project include generating better data about room use, optimising room use and ultimately freeing up resources currently spent on rent for the university’s core activities.
  • The project has been in progress since 2016, and is overseen by a steering group with a broad range of representatives from the entire university. In addition, local steering committees, a process working group and other committees were also established, in order to ensure communication and coordination between the central administration and local end users.
  • By March 2021, TermTime, one of the two main components of the system, will be used for course administration at much of the university. The other main component, the exam administration system ExamTime, is expected to be in use later this year.
  • One of the major challenges connected with the transition to the new system is the transition from registration-based course and exam administration to so-called ‘curriculum-based’ course and exam administration. The idea behind the new system is to give lecturers and students access to their timetables earlier than is the case today.

Administrative, Administration (Academic), All groups, All AU units, Aarhus University, Policy and strategy