Digital Strategy Definition

Creating clarity for the future direction
of Imperial College London

Strategy & consulting


Jon Faulkner whilst working with Domain7 was approached by Imperial College to support them with their digital strategy definition. 

Imperial College, a large and complex higher education organisation with a mission to “achieve enduring excellence in research and education in science, engineering, medicine and business for the benefit of society” was seeking to collaborate to define the basis of a future-minded digital strategy.


The approach was to bring together the foundational pillars of the organisation and enrich the strategy definition by adding people-centric and researched inputs and using an evidence based collaborative approach to articulate what the organisation needed to strive towards.


Digital strategy definition was the primary goal.  Advancement across organisational capabilities, service & knowledge management provision and change and governance practices with an ultimate focus on student experience and academic outcomes were the core of the work.


​Over a period of 3 months we were able to develop a deep understanding of current state and future ambition for the college and achieve broad-reaching engagement and agreement with a definition of what future organisational capabilities were required.  The resultant discovery and definition work provided for initially the Professional Services Transformation Board and subsequently the Provost’s  Board defines the tranches of activity needed to fulfil that future ambition, enabling the associated budgeting & planning and change & governance activities to proceed.


The definition of the digital strategy provided an umbrella vision, clarity of direction, elucidation of the journey for transformation, and a framework for delivering change and business as usual operations more beneficially through digital means. It provides a clear statement of an aspired future state for organisational capabilities from a people-centric experience point of view, ensuring that all activities are working together towards the fulfilment of overall objectives, not in a piecemeal manner.  It also provides a framework, set of principles, clarifications of approaches and requirements for any digital transformation activities, so that all future activities may be steered to fulfil common objectives and a consistent experience.

Understanding the context

The initial phase of work was to appraise the diverse array of current strategic papers across the organisation.  For a higher institution such as Imperial College, this affords great insight into the complex challenges and many different strategic drivers and communities to be served and supported.  Discerning key elements of importance from the blend of Faculty, Professional Services and Organisational and Technical Capability strategies in alignment with and for the fulfilment of the overall Corporate strategy helped bring clarity to the common themes and areas of divergence.

A foundational element of contention and subsequent collaboration was the discussion relating to how digital strategy relates to other strategies across the organisation.  At one end of the spectrum is the suggestion that digital strategy is an umbrella vision, clarity of direction, elucidation of the journey, a set of principles and a framework for delivering change and business as usual operations more beneficially through digital means.  At the other end, it is about the technical underpinning pillars of service capability through which all needs may be served.  We agreed that it is a primary overarching array of elements that through deep embedding across all other strategic and operational activity will lead to optimised organisational capability for future growth, sustainability and community-serving outcomes.

Interviews with core groups

We held over a dozen interviews and small group sessions with representatives from across the full range of stakeholders at the college.  These sessions helped bring together an articulation of what each stakeholder type understood of digital capabilities and solutions, an indication of what they had experienced favourably within the college and where they felt there was opportunity for improvement.  A final phase of discussion sought to identify digital experiences from their broader lives that might fruitfully inform potential solution elaboration from case studies from other sectors.

It was essential that the full range of college stakeholders were engaged in this phase of the work in order to hear and respond to the collective voice and complete needs.  Key emerging themes included improved collaboration and communication capabilities, solutions to aid evidence-based decision making, technology and people capability development to aid multi-mode teaching, research, information-sharing and communication, advanced business insights & analytics and development of positive user experiences both internally and externally & frictionless journeys for everyday operations.



Assessing the external digital landscape

Planned from the start, but ratified during the strategy review and stakeholder interview phases, it was evident that a far-reaching investigation into what both peer organisations were progressing in advancement of digital and organisational capabilities, but perhaps even more importantly what other sectors were doing.

We did extensive research into comparable service provision and diverse solutions that would bring benefit to both internal and external stakeholders across key user journeys and enable the achievement of individual and organisational outcomes.  Key considerations included virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, APIs, blockchain, IoT and smart campus solutions.  A further element that was key concerned the use of experience mapping techniques applying the lenses of key stakeholders groups such as students, staff, external collaborators, suppliers and commercial organisations to ensure the future service designs and implementations truly work for the needs of all stakeholders.

Imperial College London campus birds eye view

Final outcome

The final deliverables included a pack providing digital strategy definition, an overview of the approach and synthesis of the findings, articulation of prioritised change programmes for progression, recommendations for advancement across governance, change and communication capabilities and indication of budget and time considerations to aid decision making.

students sitting outside of imperial college london campus