How Federation University is transforming and innovating IT to deliver digital services

As the move towards digital becomes a priority for most universities, the role and function of the IT department in enabling and supporting digital transformation has become increasingly important.

Traditionally, IT in higher education has been more of a follower, rather than a pioneer or leader. But the move to digital is disrupting this role, placing increasing emphasis on IT departments to innovate and adapt to deliver new learning outcomes.

Federation University has responded to this challenge by implementing a 100-day IT transformation plan, which involves evolving and transforming their existing IT structure and services to cater for digital.

“The 100 day IT transformation plan looks at everything from environments to architecture, people and culture, to systems and infrastructure. The aim is to become a provider of services for our institution, with is very different to traditional IT service methodology, models and approach,” says Andrew Tully, Executive Director, Information Technology & Business Solution at Federation University.

Andrew and his team are currently in the process of executing the plan, which was rolled-out in July 2014, and has a projected outcome of an 85.5 per cent transformation of the entire IT structure at Federation University.

According to Andrew, the key success factor of the transformation is going beyond technology to offer a responsive IT service.

“We’ve created a business partnership team and identified three main areas within the institution where IT can become a provider of services, including digital learning and technology, corporate and operational services and research solutions.

Through this business partnership focus we’re revising our entire service catalogue to ensure we are providing the appropriate services needed by each of the core areas or departments across the university,” he explains.

One way Andrew’s team is achieving wider-business engagement is through the establishment of monthly working groups and steering committees, to engage with business and functional owners to identify specific needs and issues.

“We are going deeper into the organisation to assess the pros and cons and understand business needs so we can service them in a more end-to-end service-centric approach,” he says.

But the journey towards IT transformation has not been without challenges. Moving towards a centralised IT structure and system has brought about a number of cultural and organisational issues.

To overcome these challenges, Andrew says there are four key areas which are fundamental to the success of IT transformation, which he shares below:

  1. Fostering a culture of change towards digital

“We’ve changed the identity of IT within our business – it’s a fresh, new start. Change, in any form, can bring with it uncertainty or resistance. So we’ve really had to focus on changing individual attitudes within our IT team.

The way I’ve done that is by using the power of personality and innovative thinking to bring my staff along the journey of digital transformation. I’ve gone back to the basics and asked: what do we do? why are we here? what are we focused on?

It’s about showing them the opportunities we have from going from a reactive IT team to a proactive team, and the steps needed to achieve this.

Another challenge we’ve faced is the fact our existing IT services model was very narrowly focused – it was a decentralised model, which resulted in different service approaches and conflicting interests across teams and departments.

Our journey towards centralising IT has involved significant engagement with all the senior leadership of the university – this involved consulting, understanding, listening and amending our plan based on feedback.

It really has come back to embracing the concept of change, in order to foster a culture of digital innovation.”

  1. Taking students along the journey

“Improving student experience and learning outcomes is one of the major drivers of digital transformation. I actually went out and met with the student council and engaged with them personally to bring them along the transformation journey.

We asked them to map out their student experience from a technology perspective. We then asked them to tell us where they encountered challenges, difficulties, frustration and also what the positive elements were. From this feedback, we pinpointed their pain points and have identified over 116 potential initiatives to improve student experience through technology.

We’ve labeled this a ’120 day plan’ (because it took us 120 days to put together), which includes initiatives that are tiny micro-initiatives which can remediate a problem within a day, and then other significant initiatives which will take 3 – 6 months to solve.

We’ve broken down each of these initiatives based on criteria such as; are we going to make an investment to fix this, grow our student base, to retain our student base, to save on costs, to optimise or mitigate institutional risk?

Based on those criteria we have then prioritised 116 pieces of work and are looking at addressing the areas which have the maximum benefits for as little effort as possible. We’re then going back to the business and saying ‘you require investments to transform the experience and these are the initiatives we are going to drive to achieve this.’

It’s about saying to the business: please support us to kick off these initiatives on the understanding that we have a new organisational structure for IT that is adaptive and no longer reactive, but proactive.”

To read the other two steps Andrew and his team are taking as part of their digital transformation strategy, download the full eBook Higher Education Digital Transformation Roadmap; Trends Challenges and Opportunities in 2015.

The eBook also features case studies from the University of Melbourne, Curtin University and Monash University, and the strategies each are using to integrate digital throughout their IT and business models.


A glimpse into the school of the future

It’s no secret that schools and universities of the future are going to look very different to how they do today.

As new technologies continue to transform the way students learn and engage with each other, learning spaces must continue to evolve and be designed to cater for new innovative styles of learning.

The UTS Ku-ring-gai site is undergoing an innovative transformation to become a new school which will cater for ‘stage not age’ learning.

The UTS building in Lindfield, which won the prestigious Sulman medal for architecture in 1978, will be redesigned to include a P-12 school which may eventually include university-level subjects.

With potential to cater for up to 2000 students, the new model is being designed by BVN Architecture, along with the NSW Department of Education and with the help of world leader in learning, British academic Professor Stephen Heppell.

Ahead of New Generation Learning Space Design 2015, Fiona Young, Architect at BVN Architecture, explores the elements that make the Lindfield school a unique learning environment, the process behind establishing a ‘stage not age’ learning model and how the space has been designed to foster innovation and cater for a new approach to learning.

Developing and choosing a new educational model

The Lindfield project has been unique in its approach, involving the public in the development and decision-making process for the new educational model. BVN and the Department undertook a series of community consultation workshops with Heppell, to allow the community to participate in and provide feedback on the project.

With the first stage of public consultations now closed, Fiona Young says that it was the collaboration with the public and the internal project team which has helped foster innovation and create a new approach to learning.

“This is the most collaborative project I’ve ever been part of. It is largely due to the way that the public consultation strategy was focused, and the visionary nature of the public workshops facilitated by Stephen Heppell. These workshops allowed him to share his research on innovative schools from around the world which opened the community’s mind to new possibilities,” she says.

The other unique element of the engagement process was the technologies used to involve the public in the process.

“We used a virtual consultation tool which was an incredible way to engage the community in a genuine, two-way process. We also used social media to engage the community as well,” says Young.

The consultation site was used to ask the public questions about their aspirations and visions for the site and for schooling, and learning into the future. During the consultation process three educational models were developed and shared on the project’s official website for the public to comment and vote on.

Young says this was a unique way to involve the community in the design process and has helped them to design a school which caters for the needs of the community.

“The community was a part of designing this model. They were given three options and people voted on which model they liked or didn’t like, the majority of feedback was that people liked elements of all three models. So the final model could easily have been a hybrid of the three and that’s the direction we’ve taken,” she says.

Download the full article Learning better and teaching smarter to read more about how the Lindfield Learning project team paved the way for ‘stage not age learning’ and how the space has been designed to match this new style of learning.

The core elements of Monash University’s Digital Transformation Strategy

The emergence of the new tech-savvy student has changed the game for the higher education sector in Australia. The rise of mobile, online and personal devices has shifted student learning expectations, who now expect anytime, anywhere customised learning supported by new tech.

With digital disruption here to stay, universities must adapt and innovate or risk rapid loss of market share. And while most universities recognise moving towards a digital approach is the way forward, it also brings with it significant IT and organisational challenges.

Ahead of Higher Education Digital Transformation 2015, Richard Palmer, Director of ICT Coordination at Monash University explores the the fundamental elements of Monash’s  approach to digital transformation, and how they are positioning and integrating IT into their wider business in order to improve productivity and learning outcomes.

Below is an extract from the article. To read the full article Three core elements of Monash University’s digital transformation strategy click here


As students increasingly turn to new channels such as Facebook, Twitter or other online platforms to communicate and seek information, it seems like logical for universities to integrate these platforms into their wider IT strategy.

But Richard says it’s actually quite dangerous to think about things like Facebook as belonging to the university’s IT strategy, as they are part of the students’ world, not the university’s. Even marketing needs to respect social media as common ground, rather than a university-owned medium, like the website.

Another core challenge for IT is to provide the right platforms to support multi-device learning across the university.

“Our students often bring three or four devices onto campus and the predominance of them are small format – a tablet, a phone and a notebook is  common for students these days. So making sure that everything that we put online is able to seamlessly work across all formats is important,” he says.

Despite the rapid up-take of personal devices amongst students, Monash has leveraged existing technology to reach students on these new platforms, rather than integrate new technology simply for the sake of it.

“We’ve generally avoided iOS and Android apps and stayed with pure HTML5 wherever we can as a basic strategy. While we’ve got a few specifically targeted apps, our platform independent strategy is playing out pretty well. We’re already seeing a change in the most predominant smartphone platform and expect the churn to continue,” Richard explains.

And this ‘less is more’ approach has had big benefits when it comes to cloud integration.

“Integration between systems is critical.  We’re finding that the tools we use for in-house integration aren’t always the right ones for integrating with the cloud, so we’re moving to a much lighter weight and more tactical approach to integration,” Richard says.

Taking on cloud services has posed other challenges.

“We now have a lot more vendors that are critical to our daily operations, not just third level support of systems and infrastructure. We have put a lot of focus on maturing our vendor management processes.

In the last twelve months we have taken two major steps, last year we extended our IT Service Management (ITIL) processes to include vendors at the contractual and operating process level. We’ve had to move away from the IT team knowing every intricate detail of what’s going on and trust our vendors to deliver their part of the overall picture.

Currently we’re working on a Master Service Integration layer to help orchestrate and manage everything. We simply didn’t have enough operational visibility of what was happening across our own space plus our vendors and, because of this, we were less able to take advantage of a key benefit of the cloud – the ability to move workload to the best price-performance location at will,” Richard says.

Read further how Monash is revising all student interaction and directly aligning IT to the overall business model in the full article here

Richard Palmer is presenting at Higher Education Digital Transformation 2015. For more information call +61 2 9229 1000 or email