“In times of digital disruption, to focus on innovative applications of technology is not enough,” says Deakin University’s CIO, William Daniel. “Digital transformation must be understood as the journey to acquiring digital maturity.”
This journey consists of two interweaving developments: the first is about achieving digital high performance, while the second involves the transformation of the organisation’s DNA from ‘industrial to digital’, Confalonieri says.
“Both characteristics – performance and essence – are necessary for a sustainable digital future. Acquiring digital DNA is the most difficult part of the transformation because it involves people and organisational arrangements, and requires shifting the focus from internal structures to stakeholders. I have led this profound transformation at Deakin,” says Confalonieri.
The use of digital innovations to deliver premium experiences to students and staff is essential to Deakin’s strategy positioning. Over the past 12 months, Confalonieri has spearheaded several projects that are transforming the way education is delivered at Deakin University.
Under its Watson@Deakin project, the university was the first in the world to use IBM’s Watson cognitive computer to provide advice and answer questions fielded by 50,000 students. Confalonieri and his team worked with Big Blue to create a ‘student engagement advisor – used through the university’s ‘DeakinSync’ online hub – allowing students to use desktop and mobile devices to ask simple questions or complex queries that require more personalised responses.
Deakin University has also rolled out ‘Scout IoT’, a location-based services application that helps students with orientation of the campus; and Deakin Genie, a proactive smart agent for students which can respond, run actions, and provide advice. Deakin Genie is composed of several technologies including chat bots, a mobile interface, artificial intelligence and a predictive analytics engine.
Augmented reality classes are now in full production, with the School of Medicine already on board and with more to come, including optometry and architecture.
The university’s IT team has removed all physical phones with phone lines that follow staff on any device, anywhere; and cameras follow teachers in lecture theatres to broadcast lectures to students.
Finally, the university has built a space called ‘Deakin Digital Future Lab’ where it runs many pilots and tests ‘bleeding edge’ technologies. Ideas for all projects are generated through this lab and, when relevant, the university partners with an external organisation to take these ideas to market.
“In most cases, we have been the first in the sector in doing these things. No other organisation in the industry can display a set of innovations as we do, and in general, we are considered the benchmark.”
In a few years from now, education is going to be dramatically transformed,” says Confalonieri.
“One of the trends that is going to affect this industry as many others is extreme personalisation – to really respond to individuals on a massive scale but with a really intimate relationship.
“We need to respond to preferences, even personality traits. From an education perspective, we need to deliver teaching in a way that is relevant to the person receiving that teaching. I am trying to interrogate that space when the learning performance is at its peak. The only way to respond to extreme personalisation at massive scale is through sophisticated digital platforms,” he says.
A true business partner
Confalonieri has changed the structure, culture and dynamic of his team as well as how it engages with the rest of the organisation.
“My team now works with a 3-dimensional matrix, also with boosted commitment and engagement. A large number of activities have been automated with people being re-skilled and redeployed from operational to innovation activities,” says Confalonieri.
“My team has moved from being a service provider to a genuine business partner. A holistic approach has substantially improved the decision-making process, avoiding typical inefficiencies in the deployment of corporate solutions.”
Deakin’s transformation has repositioned the university as a clear digital leader which has delivered strong financial performances, says Confalonieri.
The university has also been the leader in ‘student satisfaction’ compared to other universities across Victoria for the 6th year in a row, based on an annual VIC government student survey. This is the most important key performance indicator for the organisation.
The Watson@Deakin project was covered by more than 300 newspapers, magazines and TV channels globally In 2015; and Deakin won first place for IT service and support at the Wharton-QS Stars Awards – the ‘Oscars’ of innovation in education, he says. The IT group competed against 560 submissions from 31 countries.
“This global reputation has many benefits in the form of more students, international collaboration initiatives and projects within the industry,” he says.
Strong team leadership
Confalonieri regularly addresses the organisation through several channels, participating in programs and workshops with senior managers as well as leading the digital transformation in his position as vice-president.
“I am in charge of designing and selling the digital vision for the organisation, which is a pre-requisite to be able to bring the people with me through a very challenging journey,” he says.
Confalonieri has initiated an “Our People Program” running within his team focusing on values, communication, innovation, culture, equity and collaboration. Deakin also participates in the annual ‘iSay’ employee engagement survey run by Voice Project.
In the October 2015 survey, substantial improvements were seen across Deakin’s IT team compared to the October 2013 survey in relation to the university’s IT team. Staff were more engaged in areas such as entrepreneurship, digital, leadership and career opportunities.
“One of my teams won an iSay national award based on the cultural improvement between surveys,” he says.
Key challenges in education
The education sector hasn’t changed in 1000 years, says Confalonieri. But he reiterates that this is the first time in history that institutions are starting to deal with individuals – millennials in particular – on a massive scale.
“That wasn’t possible before. It’s a big tectonic change in the next five to 10 years. My challenge from here is that I don’t have a map. I am trying to be at the forefront of this change. We are discovering that path as we go,” he says.