by Andrea Benito

Disrupting education: Digital transformation changes teaching

Sep 13, 2020
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

Krishnan Gopi, chief disruption officer at GEMS Education, explains how analytics, AI, virtual reality and blockchain will transform education and why every company should have a CDO.

krishnan gopi
Credit: Krishnan Gopi

After working two decades in technology leadership roles for Fortune 500 enterprises and large Middle East banks, Krishnan Gopi became chief disruption officer at GEMS Education, one of the world’s oldest and largest K-12 private education providers. In this Q&A, he explains the role of the chief disruption officer, and talks about recent accomplishments at GEMS.

 What is the relevance of the role of Chief Disruption Officer in today’s competitive technology landscape?

 The emergence of new technologies requires senior executives at the helm to drive business growth. The boardroom that historically was dominated by CEOs, presidents and board members, has grown over time as more roles move from the managerial level to the executive level.

Today, organisations are unaware of what is lurking around the corner, what can pose a survival challenge to their business model. Are they future-ready? Disruption can come from any domain and at an unexpected time.

Digital transformation requires people who can take the lead in a permanent cycle of change. The newest member of the C-level executive suite is the Chief Disruption Officer (CDO). Companies across the globe have started recognizing the need for a CDO to ensure their survival. The CDO is their “Man Friday” for this task.

The CDO is the person in charge of digital transformation programmes across the entire organisation. She or he has the goal to make the organisation as technologically future-proof as possible.

CDOs are seen as the people who can step in to fill the gaps while managing conflicts between marketing, business lines and technology, striking the perfect balance between the disruptive imperatives and end-to-end process transformation.

 How is a Chief Disruption Officer (CDO) different from a typical Chief Information Officer (CIO)?

Although the CDO might appear as a more dynamic version of the CIO, there are several critical differences between both roles. A regular CIO runs the business as usual, caters for growth and is also involved in the transformation of existing businesses. Traditionally, CIOs are not tasked with radically changing the business model itself: that is where the CDO comes in.

Among the tasks assigned to the CDO is discussing and challenging existing business models. The key difference is that CDOs also deal with growth-related transformation projects. The CDO foresees the solutions that will alter the industry landscape. The CIO is traditionally busy firefighting, ensuring stable and secure business operations.

CDOs have a few important mandates on their agenda that differentiate them from a typical CIO: determine the future of the industry and the organisation, strive for disruptive innovation, adopt disruptive technologies, creating a change management culture and acquire, integrate and collaborate with disruptors.The ‘Tesla moment’ of cars, the ‘Spotify moment’ of streaming, an ‘Apple moment’ for smartphones – that is exactly what the mandate of a CDO should be. A CDO is a tech-savvy expert who is specialised in running large-scale digital transformation programmes; well versed in business processes, operations, technology and strategy formulation; a techno-functional expert with experience in revamping the business model; better positioned to resolve conflicts between IT and business; and strategically placed to take bold decisions and rally support from all stakeholders.

 Brief us on the disruption journey at GEMS Education. What are some key success stories you would like to share with us?

 At GEMS Education, we have embarked on a technology disruption journey (FY18-21) to create agile, scalable and future-ready technology capabilities for the education needs of today and tomorrow. This journey consists of executing technology initiatives segmented into six themes, namely Customer Experience & Engagement, GEMS IP & Ed-Innovation, Data & Analytics, Process Engineering & Automation, Consolidation / Standardisation and Information Security.

Some of the success stories include: enhanced end-to-end customer journeys with state-of-the-art digital platforms, harnessed the power of data, better analytics, faster decision making and greater competitive intelligence. On the other hand, we integrated and fully automated processes with enhanced efficiency and effectiveness resulting in the automation of the equivalent of 10,000+ man days. In addition we have built an innovative intellectual property suite of products and solutions, which includes:

Phoenix: End-to-end school management platform

Classroom : Advanced learning management system

Pulse: Education CRM

Connect: Enterprise Mobility Platform

Data Hub: Single source of truth for real time business intelligence

HSE: Health and Safety & Child Safeguarding System

GEMS Garage: Digital re-purposing platform

AppStore: Unified view of education apps

GEMS Alumni: Platform to connect Alumni members

These products have resulted in significant efficiency increases, customer experience enhancements, cost optimisation, control improvements as well as greater consistency throughout our network of schools.

 How did GEMS Education cope with COVID-19 to ensure continuity of quality education? What were the key challenges and how were they addressed?

 We prepared a detailed remote learning plan, which was digitally shared with students and parents on a weekly basis with access to: teacher-developed learning resources, lessons and collaborative activities, personalised interaction between students and teachers, for example.

Using our own suite of IP product offerings, we have been delivering exceptional remote learning plans, conducting over 29+ million collective remote learning sessions to date, with 96 percent student satisfaction. Our remote learning programme has also been rated the top-tier ‘Developed’ by external agencies in the Distance Learning Evaluation conducted across UAE schools.

Most of our schools were already well versed in the use of online collaborative platforms to deliver digital learning. However, key challenges included managing change among students, parents and teachers to adapt to this new normal on a regular basis.

To ensure a seamless transition, we trialed remote learning sessions with dedicated teachers at home, testing online platforms with students. Furthermore, we set up a centralised helpdesk to respond to parent and student queries and provide appropriate technical support during the remote learning period.

 How do you envisage the future of education to be? How is GEMS Education preparing itself to meet the technology needs of education of tomorrow?

 Despite all the technological advances of the modern world, the classroom of today is strikingly similar to the one experienced by our great grandparents.

In the future, we will see the rise of personalisation and competency-based education. Students will be unshackled from the physical classroom and time-based, grade-level progression. Simulations, virtual reality and AI-based personalised learning will help students develop critical thinking skills in a collaborative environment.

To meet the needs of future of education, we are working on a number of truly exciting and ground-breaking EdTech initiatives, such as establishing an advanced online tutoring platform, offering online K12 schools with blended learning provisions, developing intelligent AI-driven virtual avatars for enhanced teaching and learning outcomes, building an advanced adaptive learning platform driven by cognitive AI solution, introducing a versatile mixed reality-based platform for immersive learning experience, and creating a unified blockchain-based credentialing system.