CIO50 2018 #24: Aidan McCarthy, Catholic Education of Western Australia

  • Name Aidan McCarthy
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Catholic Education of Western Australia
  • Commenced role July 2016
  • Reporting Line Executive director
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function More than 100 full time staff
  • Catholic Education of Western Australia is a global trailblazer in how it is using technology to deliver better educational outcomes, according to its chief information officer, Aidan McCarthy.

    “Every school, no matter how remote, has access to the same resources, training and platforms,” says McCarthy. “Everyone from students to principles has access to external resources and can participate in shared learning and real-time collaboration. Every student can now take virtual school classes to complete secondary school without leaving family and community.”

    McCarthy and his team have enabled this by introducing technologies that have united 163 schools and four central support sites under a program called LEADing Lights. It serves 80,000 students, 15,000 staff, parents, preservice teachers and wider community.

    Previously, each school had operated independently and autonomously in implementing and maintaining their technology environments. This meant CEWA incurred significant technology expenditure across administration and individual schools during the previous five years.

    Technology is the second largest expenditure for schools – after salaries – so it was imperative that current and future technology needs are managed from a holistic perspective to ensure that intended outcomes are achieved, budgets respected and timelines met, says McCarthy.

    The new program has connected all schools, which has reduced management and costs to ensure equity for all regardless of financial capacity. The agency’s software engineers and developers, and security architects have built on the capabilities of Microsoft Azure, Cortana Intelligence Suite, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 to connect all 167 locations.

    “It provides best in class digital technologies – deep security to manage to duty of care of young people, and analytics and cognitive services to provide the insights needs to support the daily conversations of students, teachers, leaders and parents,” says McCarthy.

    School leaders benefit from the integration of activities involved in running a school from streamlined administration processes to advanced benchmarking of teaching quality and academic outcomes, he says.

    Administrators benefit from streamlined student and staff management with a centralised information hub for enrolments, communications, marketing and accounting.

    “For parents, LEADing Lights brings transparency,” says McCarthy. “They can see their child’s progress in real time and find the resources to support their education journey.

    “The goal is attainment of knowledge. Through the power of analytics, the platform can generate real time insights into how every student, teacher and school is performing. The information can be used to make better decisions to support everyone within the CEWA community,” he says.

    LEADing Lights is a digital transformation rather than an evolutionary change program, says McCarthy. There is a deliberate shift from what has been experienced in recent years when a more gradual, reactive and decentralised approach to IT was the norm.

    The program will ultimately lead to a more integrated and measured whole of education experience, less disruption for end users and improved alignment to learning and school needs, he says.

    “It will result in dramatic improvement in both micro and macro data analysis which will assist not only individual schools and teachers but will also support CEWA to better plan for and anticipate required changes or intervention on a broader scale.

    “Organisationally, it will enable greater levels of collaboration, leveraging of expertise and effective practices and a coherent community. Educationally, it will enhance access of all students to quality learning experiences, environments and resources where and when they are needed.”

    McCarthy and his tech team have worked with education leaders worldwide on the program. Key partners include Michael Fullan to create a framework to drive change; new pedagogies for deep learning in partnership with City of Helsinki schools; and Florida Centre for Education Leadership to drive the technology integration matrix for Australian schools.

    “Internally, it has meant assembling a team of more than 7o software engineers, policy and pedagogy experts. By employing a flat management style, I have created an environment that encourages open collaboration where everyone feels free to share ideas,” McCarthy says.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, McCarthy says he has involved users every step of the way.

    “Teachers and administrators have collaborated in defining the platform objectives, user testing and sprint reviews. The result is that they are taking ownership whereas previously they only every had systems pushed on them.”

    CIO dependent on digital

    McCarthy believes the CIO role has become dependent on the chief digital officer (CDO) and vice versa.

    “The CIO remains as a leader who drives this ‘what is’ while the CDO engages in ‘what could be,’” he says. “Together they weave together technology, digital user experiences, design thinking and agility and facilitate a change culture between past, present and future.

    “The CIO and the CDO can be one person, a leader who can drive and enable seamless transformation but the roles require different skill sets,” he says.

    Byron Connolly

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