CIO50 2018 #26-50: Trevor Woods, Monash University
Globalisation, innovations in technology and shifting expectations are driving universities to change almost everything they do, says Monash University’s chief information officer, Trevor Woods.
Large universities are like mini cities and have to support a wide range of services to students and teaching staff.
“Most people I meet from outside higher education are surprised at how much more diverse and complex the technical environment is and how much is accomplished for so little money. The difficulty in getting things done reminds me of a funny quote from Henry Kissinger who, among other roles, was a professor at Harvard and US secretary of state. He said: “University politics make me long for the simplicity of the Middle East.”
Woods has initiated a broad transformation of Monash University’s administrative culture and capability to deliver simplified services to position it as a modern institution. He has driven new behaviours and capabilities through a defined and consistent management practice, while introducing scaled agile ways of working, hackathons, and a startup innovation program. Staff and students are now empowered to solve problems and test new concepts.
Woods and his team have used Google Cloud Platforms to roll out custom developed systems. These include a system to replace the submission and management of 40,000 paper applications from international students and its network of 400 agents. AI chatbots are used to respond to common student enquiries; a new eAssessment approach was created within four months; and an onsite data centre was shut down over the same period of time to align with the university’s ‘cloud only’ strategy.
“Monash is leveraging its new capabilities to fundamentally change how it is delivering and assessing learning,” Woods says.
“A prime example of this is the university’s current transition to eAssessments which goes beyond digitising exam papers to deliver custom-built solutions and is sparking innovations in how academics design and assess learning in the future.”
Woods’ focus has been on changing the core culture and capabilities of the university rather than building a separate digital team that innovates in isolation and through pilot projects and is often disconnected from the rest of the organisation.
A low appetite for change
A number of key operational and cultural impacts needed to be managed effectively. A shift in mindset where staff had a low appetite for change was the main barrier, which was mitigated through open communication and being highly visible to staff, he says.
Structural changes were made by moving to a scaled Agile framework. Cross-functional teams were created, co-located and provided with onsite coaches and strong leadership support.
“We had to change our approach in a number of areas. For example, risk profiling, procurement, production deployment, ongoing support models, business engagement, and enterprise architectural reviews,” he says.
“Our traditional models could not be applied effectively to our new ways of working. It was important that people understood the reasons for the changes and in the early days, different groups tried different approaches to see what did and didn’t work. Community of practices were created, which enabled teams to come together and share their learnings.”
Woods and his IT group created student development teams that provide Monash students with work experience and mentorship to complement their studies. The teams also collaborate with faculty staff to provide real world experiences for students and their projects as part of their formal unit assessment.
“The team also provides insights into the digital tools students want and expect from a modern university to support their studies and created several apps – MoVE, SwapMe and MonPlan – specifically to address some of their needs,” he says.
CIO role not under threat
“I don’t think the role of the CIO is under threat from the CDO – it needs to continue to evolve and adjust as it always has,” says Woods.
“There is an increasing need for a senior executive to pull together the enabling and integrated role of technology and digital capabilities in an organisation. The CIO needs to be more connected to the organisation than ever before and this trend will continue as the world becomes more digital-enabled and dependent.
“The role and its importance is expanding. Roles such as the CDO often describe a set of responsibilities that the CIO has always been accountable for. It’s better to have a CIO with the digital responsibilities that can pull all the other parts of the business together.”