Digital Strategy + Case Studies

Ohio State’s Big Digital Idea
Ohio State constituents, just like the rest of modern society, are actively using digital, social media and mobile services and tools. The university must offer equally compelling services and content in this space to engage, excite, motivate, and inform our audiences. We must transform our approach to how we offer digital experiences. We must be faster to adopt industry best practices, and we must share data about and for our audiences throughout all Ohio State digital applications for the benefit of user experience. We must adopt a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to every digital experience we construct – independent of any vendor, product or technology. By moving quickly and reacting to new opportunities, we will keep Ohio State constituents engaged. We will surprise, educate and motivate our audiences by offering personalized and relevant online experiences.

Ohio State’s Digital Strategy – Draft – 

  • Deliver digital services that absorb the complexity of Ohio State on behalf of all users.
  • Make available, and continually improve priority user-centered services for mobile use.
  • Decouple data, presentation and end-point delivery.
  • Measure performance and user satisfaction to improve services.
  • Foster collaboration through encouragement and support from a digital services advisory group.

Deliver digital services that absorb the complexity of Ohio State on behalf of all users.
Ohio State’s constituents should not have to seek out department after department to get a full picture of what Ohio State has to offer. Our user-centered approach means that we will make it easy for them to find and share the information they need and to accomplish tasks.

Case Study – Media Magnet
George, an Ohio State alumnus in chemistry, receives the e-newsletter Connect, and follows a link to an interesting story about recent research advances in his field of study. While on the research feature page, the alumnus looks for more information about other advances related to chemistry. However, because there is currently no way to communally tag content across departments and units, the only content George sees are others items from the e-newsletter.

With the proposed Media Magnet project (contact to learn more), all Ohio State units and departments can participate in an aggregation service that will solve George’s problem. When content is tagged and shared in a common, predictable way, web applications can be built to take advantage of new content without human intervention.

Media Magnet

Make available, and improve priority user-centered services for mobile use.
Make priority information and services available on demand and on any device. Doing this work creates the opportunities for sharing data, pulling from common data resources, and making experiences consistent across a multitude of devices and platforms. This involves identifying the highest-priority services to optimize for mobile use.

Case Study – OSU Mobile Grades
OSU Mobile (iPhone/Android) has been a wonderful addition to Ohio State’s digital landscape. Not only are students able to check their final course grades using a mobile device, but with the most recent version, students are able to log in and see Carmen quiz and test grades. This new section of OSU Mobile is called “My OSU.”

Debra, an Ohio State alumna, is interested in continuing her education. If her account was activated, she could log in using OSU Mobile and see her grades from past quarters/semesters. She could order her transcripts directly from the same screen. Capabilities like this turn into engagement opportunities for continuing education, mentoring or volunteer opportunities, and more. A possible engagement tactic would be to provide Debra volunteer messages with strong calls-to-action alongside her personalized experience on OSU Mobile. Creating opportunities where the mobile experience continues through the life cycle of an Ohio State constituent is a major key to keeping alumna like Debra engaged in the university beyond the student years.

Grades on OSU Mobile

Decouple data, presentation and end-point delivery.
A college or unit’s website is not the only destination for the content and services offered through their business functions. Content, data, transactions, services, and profiles will be shared using a web services model. Applications can be built to personalize and customize content and services for individual users.

Case Study – Ohio State “portal”
As a recent alumnus, Tess would like to apply for graduate school. Since Tess has been out of school for two years, her account is no longer active. In fact, Ohio State messaging has directed her to create a new account in the TAS system. She is now online, trying to apply using her TAS credentials. Tess is getting frustrated with her online experience.

Ohio State needs a common portal for alumni, students, prospective students, faculty, staff and donors.  This web and mobile interface would follow alumni like Tess through the entire relationship life cycle. To make this digital relationship worthwhile for users like Tess, all units at Ohio State need to participate. If data is available about Tess’ relationship with Ohio State, it should be shared – with all security measures enabled – to create a robust user experience.


Measure performance and user satisfaction to improve services.
Develop objective performance measures and identify tools to measure performance and satisfaction with digital services. Create benchmarks and use analytics and surveys to constantly review user satisfaction with our digital services and content.

Case Study – A social digital partnership
Social media extends conversations beyond the traditional boundaries associated with marketing. Hashtags, direct responses, encouraging input, and other tactics create communities around topics in the digital space. Ohio State must use these, and other tactics, to engage and then direct our constituents to new opportunities – career development, volunteerism, event attendance and ultimately giving to the university.

Lucia graduated from Ohio State’s College of Business before it was named Fisher College. She has a great affinity for Ohio State, but has not given volunteering for Ohio State much thought. By placing messages in our e-newsletter products, social media channels, and traditional websites all directing Lucia to return to Ohio State digitally to re-engage through volunteerism, we create an opportunity to bring Lucia back into a meaningful relationship with her alma mater.

Tactics likes these are highly measurable. Ohio State must begin to put values onto Lucia’s interactions so that baselines can be created, and growth over time can be measured.


Foster collaboration through encouragement and support from a digital services advisory group.
In combination with units and colleges, an advisory group is needed to excite and activate our Ohio State digital developer and communications community. A core group of leaders will identify opportunities for sharing content, create policies where necessary, and establish best practice models. Led by a “Big Idea,” the advisory group will empower supporters and allow teams to form where inspiration and innovative opportunity meet. Overarching principles must be agreed to in order to get this off the ground. A core majority of the organization must be bought-in, and a “get-to” environment needs to be established to motivate volunteers. People must be inspired by the new opportunities, and invited and encouraged to participate through many small acts of leadership and recognizing successes.

Case Study –
Tony is a developer in University Communications. He’s worked at Ohio State for seven years – mostly at the college level providing web support and development to faculty members and department chairs. Tony has a long history with needing to recreate services because he has no data access to an authoritative source. He and other talented university developers launched a new service called the University Code Repository (UCR). UCR is a software repository management platform using git. UCR was created as a tool to provide a university-wide resource for code management, code review, and general collaboration for software projects at Ohio State.

Through encouragement from his peers and manager, Tony became excited about the UCR project because he saw a need, he saw how his skills and talents could influence the future direction of Ohio State. This type of staff engagement and involvement largely goes undocumented, and is not widely known about outside of very specific communities. This type of staff engagement is how the future digital Ohio State experience will be constructed.




Book Review: Accelerate Change at Ohio State

Imagine being able to run with new ideas generated from a cohort of the most energetic people you’ve met at Ohio State. Imagine focusing your energy on strategic projects, and taking risks by releasing new digital services that refocus the university’s attention, while laddering up into shared goals and objectives. Imagine moving the needle, even with small improvements.

Accelerate by John Kotter

Accelerate by John Kotter

John Kotter’s latest management book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, implores forward thinking firms and progressive organizations to establish a new organizational structure to accomplish this cultural change. This new structure, the Dual Operating System, is actually based on a state most organizations have experienced in the past; one organizations pass through naturally, but cannot maintain over time. The Dual Operating System is separate from, but moving in concert with, an operational/hierarchical structure, and keeps the organization on pace with the ever changing digital landscape.

Led by a “Big Idea,” and a “Guiding Coalition” of supporters, teams are formed where inspiration and innovative opportunity meet. Overarching principles must be agreed to in order to get this dual system off the ground. More than 50% of the organization must be bought-in, and a “get-to” environment needs to be established to motivate volunteers. People must be inspired by the new opportunities, and invited and encouraged to participate through many small acts of leadership.

Kotter’s overarching premise is that the traditional hierarchical management structure, rooted in the post WWII economic boom and cemented by corporate growth, will not provide the innovation and flexibility needed to succeed in today’s fast-paced digital world. To make his point, Kotter plots out the creative energy stages of most organizations – from start-up, to well oiled machine, reliable operator, and finally a bureaucracy unable to adapt quickly to changing opportunities. Kotter explains that there is a moment in time just before hierarchical structures completely take over and processes are necessarily operationalized, where innovative risk still remains at the core of a company’s culture. It is this moment, Kotter claims, an organization must recapture in order to progress in the new digital space. This moment is where hierarchies and agile structures recognize the need for one another, and work toward common goals.

It would be very easy to claim that Ohio State University is an organization stuck in the bureaucratic phase. However, I have witnessed all kinds “states” of Ohio States. We are many organizations at once. Without a doubt I have run up against bureaucracies, but I’ve been a part of innovative bursts, grassroots initiatives, and small creative efforts that have moved the needle in how Ohio State’s constituents use digital services and applications. There is no “one way” Ohio State progresses with digital advances and innovations. Ohio State is a hugely diverse organization that ebbs and flows with innovation – moving into command and control, settling into bureaucracy, only to be rocked by new innovation.

An obvious example of this would be OSU Mobile. I would place how social media programs were launched at Ohio State into this “strategic, agile, grassroots” category as well. The (Go) project also fits nicely into this paradigm. Go was first described to me by Eric Schnell, Beth Black, and Jim Muir at the Innovate 2010 conference, and then again in the basement of the Science and Engineering Library later in the Spring. Eric and Beth were looking for a way to keep URLs short and reliable over time, while utilizing the Ohio State brand to signify a trusted association with the university. Their original concept was centered around citation URLs for academic journal publication.

Since Go’s launch, the entire university has embraced the shortened URL service. Over 30,000 URLs have been shorten by Ohio State faculty, students and staff, and today, the largest users are social media managers and marketers providing short memorable links for promotion and general consumption. Go links are used in Wexner Medical Center TV commercials, on athletics promotions, on WOSU, and many other public spaces. Go started as an agile, grassroots, digital success that moved the needle on how Ohio State offers digital services to its constituents. Today Go has been operationalized, and it is a reliable, stable service.

How do we replicate this kind of innovation? How does Ohio State promote small projects that contain the potential to shift and accelerate digital innovation? For this digital innovator, the answer lies in John Kotter’s new book.