by Jennifer O'Brien

Sharing the stories of the CIO50: #14 William Confalonieri, Deakin University

Feb 22, 2018
Education Industry

Deakin University’s William Confalonieri has many learnings from his years in the CIO role. Most notably, he says one of his biggest lessons involves focusing on people rather than being fixated on technology.

“One of the most important ones is that the main challenges, the main opportunities and the main risks are always related to people, and not to technology,” he explains.

“The biggest lesson I have learnt over so many years has been to understand that leadership in the technology domain is, in fact, only partly about technology. Leadership involves establishing the right combination of vision, governance, people, behaviours, processes, culture and operational models – as well as technology.”

Another big lesson involves picking your battles, he suggests: “At any point in time, if the person in the role is doing what must be done and boundaries are being pushed, there will be several open complex political fronts. It is essential to smartly pick the battles.

“Additionally the focus, the vision should be always on how to reach customer’s hearts and minds through delightful, inspiring experiences. The job is not about hardware and software.”

Transformational times

And there’s lots to focus on. Looking back over the year, Confalonieri said there are many achievements and milestones he’s undertaken in the role.

“My most important achievement in the current role has been to transform the team, comprehensively outstripping our industry and beyond in strategic and technical capabilities, innovation and performance. This team has been swiping awards and recognitions at local and global scale at an amazing pace,” he notes.

He says Deakin has invested millions of dollars in a transformative digital program known as the Deakin Digital Plan (DPP), covering 2016-2020.

Over the last 12 months, DPP has started to deliver on a number of parallel projects, with the aim of enhancing three domains: innovation and market differentiation (digital personal experiences for students); business agility and flexibility (operational transformation through the integration of business ecosystems; optimising business platforms, processes and information flows); and cyber protection (securing digital assets and building organisational resilience against cyber-attacks).

As part of the innovation and market differentiation projects, Confalonieri says the university has rolled out the Deakin Genie, a disruptive digital assistant for students based on artificial intelligence (AI).

“It is a new way to experience university and engage with learning. Intelligent and conversational, Genie proactively guides students through life at Deakin.”

The university has also rolled out Smart Campus, which Confalonieri says is a comprehensive, ambitious and innovative strategy to deliver an engaging student experience – in addition to operational efficiencies – by digitising Deakin’s campuses.

Other projects include DeakinAR, which is bringing a “digital dimension to education, research and campus services, through delivery of pioneering Augmented Reality solutions and set of underlying capabilities.”

On the business agility front, Confalonieri says the IT/Digital Group has started to transform the Deakin operational model by applying a “Business Ecosystems” approach across the organisation.

“Based on our own-designed Business Capability Model we have divided the university into nine business clusters. These business clusters – or ‘ecosystems’ – are composed of processes, information flows, IT systems, infrastructure, and people structures. For each of these ecosystems, we are redesigning the ‘to-be’ position for 2020 and developing corresponding roadmaps.

“This approach is helping Deakin find disruptions in internal processes and customer experiences, while also guiding decisions about system implementations. We have progressed four ecosystems and have already delivered outcomes for each. These ecosystems – curriculum lifecycle, student experience, finance, relationship management and service fulfilment – interact in a way that continuously builds value. These roadmaps revamp typical ERPs while, concurrently, overhauling operational frameworks.”

Meanwhile, on the cyber protection front, he said Deakin has implemented a $8M+ project, termed “Deakin Shield”, which details a framework to build cyber resilience and protect Deakin’s data and systems.

“This huge transformational program required a massive effort in change management across all levels of the organisation. It has been essential to permanently reinforce our ambitions to ‘drive the digital frontier’. Industry recognition has also played an important role in reinforcing the need to keep the pace,”Confalonieri says.

Demonstrating innovation

Certainly, innovation is flourishing at Deakin. Confalonieri says Deakin’s vision is to be ‘Australia’s premier university in driving the digital frontier’.

As such, he says Deakin Genie, in particular, “marks a global breakthrough in the provision of services, explaining it uses AI, machine learning, chatbots and voice recognition to deliver premium and personalised experiences to students.

He says the Deakin IT Group has developed Genie in partnership with students and academics, with the aim of enhancing learning through services that: extract derived learning concepts (identifying for the student where these concepts feature within multiple learning resources); motivate students by observing their study behaviours and results compared to their peers; and connect students working on particular subjects with peers, teaching staff and related resources in real time.“

Deakin Genie has no equivalent, regardless of the industry. It leverages existing systems and data and integrates new emerging technologies, such as a conversational mobile user interface, artificial intelligence services and predictive analytics. It is a smart, personalised and proactive companion for all students,” he says, adding Genie is already in use in the Faculty of Business Law, with an enterprise roll-out planned by February 2018.

Another innovative program is DeakinAR, which Confalonieri says has not only delivered augmented experiences across campuses, but has also stepped into the classroom to change pedagogy.

“Medicine students at Deakin can study the heart by having a personal, floating and pumping heart in front of them, which simulates all the dysfunctions that can be found on the field.”

Certainly, these and other innovative projects are having a profound impact on the ways Deakin engages with students, staff and visitors. “The importance of innovation is felt across faculties and divisions, as staff strive for new ways to improve student experience, research outcomes and industry partnerships.”

Modern-day CIOs

Asked the top attributes of a modern CIO, Confalonieri says today’s leaders must become digital leaders and embrace transformational leadership qualities.

“Preserving a ‘service provider’ mentality will put many CIOs in a very fragile position. Transformational leadership is needed now. CIOs must help businesses quickly adapt to this new, still forming digital environment and succeed in the face of rapid, ubiquitous technological change. The market expects a new breed of digital leader who is focused on enterprise strategy and not solely on technology.

“Rather than only implementing foundational enterprise platforms, the primary focus must be on orchestrating complex digital ecosystems to deliver premium experiences to customers. New business value will be created through inspiring digital experiences, and it is therefore essential that digital leaders build a culture of sustainable enterprise change, embrace innovation, and take an outside-in perspective.”

No doubt, the role of the CIO has evolved – and for the better,Confalonieriadds.

“The job has evolved from being an authoritative position in relation to technology investments, to be one of the most complete and flexible business operators in today’s organisations. To survive and succeed in the role is necessary to master several disciplines, far beyond from computer science and to be an astute political operator. The most exciting part of the job is that we are literally creating the society of the future.”