by Jennifer O'Brien

Exclusive: Monash Uni taps self-service IT platform

May 03, 2017
Technology Industry

Monash University is “taking the next step in its digital transformation journey,” adopting a self-service IT platform that’s changing how students, academics and administration staff work around their IT challenges and interact with technology.

“We’re trying to create a user experience that is modern and ready for the future,” Monash University director of support services and engagement, Matt Carmichael, told CIO Australia.

Matt Carmichael

BMC’s platform is providing a digital workplace environment for us to do that. We can take the service management modules traditionally used by Monash to the wider audience so we can expand it to other divisions and departments within the university. We can now have a single uniform user experience for any cohort or individual who might wish to engage with the internal university service providers.”

Founded in 1958, Monash University is the second oldest university in the State of Victoria. The Australian public research university has five campuses, caters to 65,000 students, employs about 17,000 staff, and has an international presence in South Africa, Italy, Malaysia, China and India.

Known as a progressive institution locally, the university is making great strides on its journey towards digital transformation – and the next step is getting the administrative house in order, Carmichael explained.

He said the intention behind the BMC adoption is to create cost efficiencies, improve user experience and also change how IT is perceived in the institution.

“Monash University has been on an upward trajectory for a number of years. But in order for us to continue in that vein, we need to be bleeding edge in technology, research and teaching. And the logical landing point is if we want to be bleeding edge in all of those spaces, we need to be bleeding edge in administration as well.”

Additionally, the university is leveraging other BMC services to reduce network outages, improve security and compliance, and lower infrastructure and management costs for internal systems.

Carmichael said sweeping changes across the higher education sector are prompting massive technological changes across all levels of university life.

“Monash has been on the BMC platform since 2010, but we are now taking the next step in the digital transformation journey in order to address the sweeping changes taking place across higher education where people are demanding more variety and instant gratification.”

Personalisation with a twist

Asked what the technology adoption will mean for key stakeholders – staff and students – Carmichael said it is changing people’s lives in two ways.

“One we are looking to provide a single portal for them, regardless of whether it has an HR inquiry, IT inquiry, finance inquiry or an academic transcript inquiry. We are looking to provide a single platform for them to be able to engage in that. Secondly, the aim is to provide a complete and utter personalisation of mobilisation, so they will be able to engage with us on any device from anywhere.”

He said students or staff can log into the system and view their personalised preferences. “If I’m a student, my courses are shown, if I’m staff, my access is shown, so it is very much personalised,” he said, explaining the next step in the digital journey involves personalisation with a location-based twist.

“We’re heading towards, not just personalisation, but location-based personalisation, which offers enhanced service,” he said, giving the example of a student who can log a technical issue via their mobile device about a malfunctioning laptop, which then prompts ‘tailored service’ from university support staff who can track the location of the student, pick up the computer, take appropriate measures to fix the problem, and then deliver it back to the student without interrupting their schedule.

“We get notification about where she is going to be travelling. We then send her a photo of the support staff member and advise the student that the staff member will meet them on the walkway to collect the laptop. The staff member will take the laptop away to a centralised location, service it and repair it and get it working. The support staff will then meet the student and deliver the laptop.”

Growing pains

And while there’s growing acceptance of technological change, including personalisation, at the university level, he said the journey (which started 18 months ago and will last for another six months) has seen its fair share of pain points – convincing colleagues has been tough.

“The investment is not just the financial investment, but it can be a business change investment or a process change investment. Bringing everybody on that journey has certainly been challenging. We’ve had to spend a lot of time workshopping and building coalition,” he said.

Dealing with infrastructure changes has been another top challenge, he admitted.

“We need to make sure all of our integrated systems, including our student management system, financial management system or our relationship management system, are all ready and available with accurate data to feed in and receive data from our digital platform.”

A number of changes had to take place before the technology adoption could go into effect.

“We had a three year compounded technical debt that we had to address including things like our networking equipment, which we had to upgrade just to enable any device anywhere to connect seamlessly and smoothly with appropriate speeds.

“We also had to deal with a lot of application integration work, so we had to build a new API platform to enable all of these disparate systems to talk. That’s probably been the biggest takeaway: a lot of these systems aren’t talking together – so we’ve built an API platform to enable that.”

Unlike many of his colleagues, who are on a perpetual journey to consolidate, he said his team isn’t looking to integrate all systems.

“We’ve accepted, and we are continuing to accept, that it is okay to have a lot of disparate systems. Where the difference is made is in the integration of those systems so really good APIs, really good system-to-system talking or communications – and that is going to be key,” he said. “We’re not trying to all of our eggs into one basket. It still feels like a current topic to me – many people are trying to consolidate all onto one platform. They’re trying to consolidate all into one vendor. In my experience, you’re better going with subject matter experts in a particular field and then integrating.”

Invisible IT

Looking ahead, he envisions a world where technology will become invisible – a scenario where IT seamlessly intertwines into people’s lives in a meaningful and non-intrusive way.

“What excites me is where technology is going to go to enhance the education and the research that we are producing. I love the fact that we should be able to enable technology so that the technology group almost becomes silent. I think that is a reasonable landing point. We should become invisible, and I’m excited by all of the technology that is enabling us to do that.”

What also excites him, he said, is the advent of robotics process management (RPA) at the higher education level – a technology that holds a lot of promise and goes beyond a simple discussion on cloud.

RPA is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

“Cloud is now. Cloud is not coming at us. It is now. Monash has taken a cloud-only approach to all of our services as we’re upgrading. But what I think tomorrow looks like involves lots of robotic process automation (RPA), which is breathing down our necks. I think we have to get rid of our transactional activities so that our people can do value-add human to human interactions.”