by James Hutchinson

Incoming RMIT exec turns IT focus outward

Mar 22, 2011
CareersEducation IndustryIT Leadership

Though only two months in the role, RMIT’s newly appointed executive director of IT services already has big ideas for the university.

The technology-focused institution has lacked a formal CIO since Brian Clark’s predecessor left in September last year, with the role being filled in the interim by a senior member of the IT services team.

While Clark commends his staff’s performance during the transition period, he told CIO Australia there was plenty to accomplish to keep on track with the university’s 2015 vision.

Having spent the majority of the last decade overseeing various aspects of technology at ANZ’s Australian consumer and wider Asia Pacific operations, Clark made the switch to the university sector in January as part of move back to Australia, and a search for a challenge outside of the financial sector.

Fresh into the role, Clark has already mandated and is sponsoring a migration of all student and staff email to a hosted solution from either Microsoft or Google by the end of the year, a move pre-empted by most other Australian universities but previously lacking at RMIT.

The migration, which follows a similar move to a hosted solution for the university’s Blackboard student resources system in December, has also formed the basis of a new Cloud strategy under which substantial application upgrades at the institution will undergo assessment for possible Cloud hosting.

A wider assessment of the IT services department, expected to be delivered to the chief operating officer within coming weeks, will likely take stock of the university’s services as a whole and direct strategy for the next five years.

However, Clark said he saw the most pressing need in turning the department’s focus away from an administration-driven set of projects and more toward integration with academic needs.

“For me, a university of technology like RMIT has the opportunity to connect to some really interesting stuff going on inside the university as distinct from inside the IT function within the university,” he said.

Clark had begun installing key members of the academic staff on project steering committees, evaluation panels and ICT strategy development meetings in an attempt to better engage with academic staff for feedback and grow the university’s reliance on research.

He said he hoped the tighter integration of academics and administration would yield faster deliver of projects – already manifested in Cloud email migration plans – and would in turn provide easier change management of processes among the entire staff base.

“I’m trying to organise and orient the IT team more towards the business of what we do as a university as opposed to the administrative side which has been largely its focus,” he said.

As part of this, plans are afoot to boost technical education at the university. Clark confirmed high-level talks with at least ten major vendors including Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, HP and others in an attempt to bring further certification training within the university.

It is unclear whether the talks will extend to partnerships similar to that signed between the university and Huawei last year for specific networking engineering education, but Clark said he was particularly keen to build on industry knowledge for server-based, high-end computing projects within the university’s college.

For the short term, Clark said his role is largely in its “foundational phase”, though he hoped plans would yield results quickly.

“We’re getting some core stuff right over the next year or two, but I think there’s something interesting stuff we can do off the back of that,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say there’s not going to be any change, but at the same time it’s not a wholesale shift – we’re not going to outsource the entire IT function,” he said.

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