This post was authored by Bev Wright, CIO for the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, South Australia
The University of Adelaide is a public research university in Australia that is a member of the Group of Eight, a distinction equivalent to the Ivy League in the United States. We have over 23,000 students, including international students from over 100 countries. I commenced with the university in 2017 as only the second CIO with the task of reimagining the role and structure of the Information Technology and Digital Services (ITDS). Prior to 2015, IT was largely decentralized. IT staff were located within the functional departments they supported, and decisions were made in that localized setting rather than consideration of a more centralized overarching enterprise level approach to technology. IT was seen more as an order taker and had limited influence on strategic decisions. In addition, the funding model and understanding the cost of IT systems and projects was complex as they were funded from multiple sources.
Creating transformative change
In 2017, the mandate was to create transformative change and shift the technology function to a strategic business partner moving from “Service Provider” to “Business Enabler”. To support this capability, we undertook a range of activities, they included an IT maturity assessment that highlighted our areas of improvement necessary to support the future needs, development of an IT investment strategy that supported our “Future Making” strategic plan. Financial review of IT operating and investment levels. This plan also included a new operating model for the ITDS function that identified key responsibility areas of IT Strategy, Planning and Governance (“Plan”), IT Digital Transformation (“Build”) and IT Operations and Digital Solutions (“Run”). Our team developed and implemented common technology platforms and developed the key enablers which formed the elements of our digital strategy around key areas, such as digital experience, relationship management, research, learning and teaching and key foundational elements of IT such as collaboration, networking, security and storage that drove scale, efficiency, and improved service. We centralized IT roles and responsibilities and ensured that our staff were equipped with the skills necessary to operate under this new model. With a strong foundation in place, we were able quickly pivot to remote teaching and learning when COVID hit, something that would have been a challenge under the old operating model. Most importantly, ITDS shifted away from putting out fires and providing more visible, value-added services. The perception of ITDS shifted from behind-the-scenes IT provider to strategic business partner delivering improved experiences for students, and staff.
Moving to this new operating model took time and required patient, thoughtful change. As I reflect on this five-year journey, a few lessons learned come to mind:
- Enterprise-level technology is a critical foundation for meaningful, sustained digital transformation.
- Digital transformation is complex! It takes time and continued investment in people, process and technology.
- The relationship between IT and business units is critical! Alignment and collaboration drive success!
- Transformation requires the commitment and support from university leadership
- The IT department must be strong from top to bottom, and it must understand the business needs of the university.
- Communication is critical
At the University of Adelaide, we are well on our way with our digital transformation journey. Thanks to our partnership with Cisco, we have laid a strong foundation that sets the stage for continued innovation to drive student success, faculty and staff engagement and cutting-edge research.