What are the differences and similarities between the role of a CIO within a large corporate and a state education department?
Stephen Wilson (SW): The technical challenges are always the same so you need the formal processes; you need to understand what the technology can or can't do; you need to be good at project management and service delivery.
What changes in education, and makes it exciting for me, is that technology is front and centre with the delivery of teaching and learning. Any big company is a product-driven business and ICT is not of very large importance in the day-to-day selling.
There are also cultural differences between the private and public sector. I can't say I'm an expert after three years but I've learned a lot. You have to be patient, and never give up, but I've found that if you're passionate about what you do and can articulate your message well, people will listen. It's quite contrary to the public perception - if you're prepared to take risks, people in government will step out of your way and let you go to the front of the queue because they're not used to people putting themselves on the line for an outcome.
I've been quite successful in securing substantial election commitments and money to back it up. In the last state election we got $158 million of additional funding for our Connected Classrooms program. I'm pleased that they saw the vision we're trying to push for technology in education.
So tell us about the connected classroom program.
SW: There are three basic elements to it, the first of which we call the Interactive Classroom. That's a $66 million commitment that will put an interactive whiteboard, videoconferencing facilities and a standard set of software for developing and sharing lessons into every public school in NSW. It was a tremendously difficult exercise in the first year to get all the procurement right because there are so many bits of gear and we had to make sure we got the best price. We signed contracts with systems integrators and committed to do 200 in the first year [to June 30, 2008]. A further 400 will be rolled out every six months from now until we have done all 2250 sites.
We markedly reduced the price of things like videoconferencing and interactive whiteboards, which were previously being bought in substantial quantities through discretionary purchases by public schools as a result of their own fundraising activity. We've signed a systems integration contract with Dell Computer, which has about 20 teams roving around the state installing equipment on our behalf. We've standardised what was a cottage industry approach with better pricing; and introduced a process where schools can have the equipment installed, tracked by asset management software and supported.
If a school has a problem within its Connected Classroom they call our helpdesk through a VoIP connection and we take first-line support. If it ends up being a hardware fault we pass it through to Dell, which manages service levels for more than 10 vendors on our behalf. That gives us a single point of contact for warranty and support.
The technology enables us to do video calls with somebody at the bottom of the ocean in a marine park or to [Australian astronaut] Andy Thomas at NASA, plus there's interschool collaboration on projects, teachers are using the technology for their professional learning, and DET management and school principals are using it to connect regions.
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