The education sector is undergoing a digital transformation and NZQA is leading in the area of digital assessment.
This is a multi-year programme with the aim of having all 93 NCEA subjects being assessed online by 2020, says Lukasz Zawilski, NZQA CIO.
“The programme involves significant both business and technology transformation as the intention is not only to digitise assessment but change the nature of assessment to support 21st century learning skills,” he says.
“As part of that we’ve had to modernise a large portion of our existing technology environment, shifted services to the cloud, built a cloud-native digital moderation solution and completed a series of digital trials and pilots with schools across New Zealand.”
He says the transition means their operating model has shifted from almost exclusively running services in-house to delivering through a mix of in-house capability and partnerships.
“We have re-aligned our structure and culture to this hybrid delivery model.”
“Using modern cloud technologies and services has allowed us to prototype more rapidly and scale innovations that have been proven to work,” he says.
“Using the right technologies has freed our people – both business and IT – to spend more time with customers, focussed on the business not on technology.
We have shifted from 75 per cent time spent on operational activities to about 60 per cent and this is further decreasing, he states.
He cites a small scale digital moderation prototype has now been scaled to being a national solution through the usage of a cloud-based platform approach.
This solution freed up school and NZQA staff to focus on increasing the speed of moderation feedback by removing the manual/administrative effort associated with submitting moderation evidence/materials, he says.
“Using the hybrid delivery model of in-house plus partnerships has allowed us to innovate more rapidly whilst retaining the core elements of our operating model.”
He says NZQA is working across the sector and with schools to look at the innovation in teaching and assessment being made possible through robotics, 3d printing and low-cost Internet of Things technologies.
“We have also run an internal programme of digital literacy and awareness – equipping staff with fit for purpose technology tools, lifting digital literacy and making people more comfortable with using technology,” he says.
The ICT team aims to shift more resources from operations into new projects.
Over the past 18 months we have shifted from 75 per cent operational focus to just under 60 per cent – resulting in more staff time being spent with customers on innovation, he says.
“We are utilising cloud-based services and products to free our teams up from running technology to focussing on business outcomes and innovation. We have maintained currency on our legacy technologies to ensure the lowest cost of ownership and risk.
NZQA is the first central agency to adopt Office 365 as well as a range of other cloud tools.
Zawilski says NZQA uses the AWS platform to free operational and software engineering teams to focus on co-production and prototyping with business leaders.
We have also implemented automated regression testing as well as some DevOps disciplines to allow us to deliver services more efficiently.
“We deliver services to 200,000+ customers at 99.99 per cent service levels.”
Zawilski joined NZQA more than two-and-a-half years ago, coming from the Ministry for Primary Industries where he was manager, strategy and architecture.
As CIO, he meets with the board every quarter, updating them on the progress of the information services strategic plan and planning the activities for the upcoming quarter.
He also delivers a range of presentations on emerging technologies to the Board and the Strategic Leadership Team. He is a member of the Future State Governance Group which allows him to influence the strategic business and technology direction of the agency.
He also meets regularly with executive leaders from other government agencies to keep their work programmed aligned and to find opportunities for joint investment.
An area Zawilski is proud of is the ICT team’s focus on building and shaping a culture that will allow them to thrive in the new digital environment.
At the start of his term, he met the 75 members of the team and asked them to write down their ideas on what they value on the job. A summary of the team’s ideas are now ensconced in a 22-page pamphlet, ‘We make the impossible happen often’.
The slim volume – or its soft copy – is given to all members of the department, or those wishing to join them. It is also referred to as the Little Book of Culture or the Culture Book.
“As part of that we have looked at bringing in graduates and people with different backgrounds/experiences to capitalise on diversity,” he says.
He says almost 40 per cent of the ICT team is female, and staff come from more than 10 countries.
“We have incorporated soft skills and mentoring into our professional development planning and my direct reports have mentors in other business units to grow a breadth of experiences/insight and provide succession planning.”