The tagline for Deakin University\u2019s virtual assistant Genie is \u2018here to help you succeed\u2019.\nThe artificial intelligence, personalised assistant is designed to help students navigate and organise their tertiary experience.\nIt uses a familiar chat interface and voice recognition coupled with machine learning, which enables it to continually get smarter and more intuitive as more students access the software and build on their conversations.\n \nGenie has a number of features; including a 24\/7 question and answer service; the ability to clearly display coursework due dates (in response to text commands like \u2018What are my deadlines?\u2019), the day\u2019s timetable, and available learning resources; as well as student tools like assistance with referencing, library loans and holds information and an easy look-up of support staff to connect to.\n \n\u201cLevering an AI engine, Genie analyses and \u2018learns\u2019 about students\u2019 preferences, academic progress, interactions with the university environment and learning content,\u201d says William Confalonieri, the university\u2019s chief digital information officer.\n\u201cGenie is personalised for each and every student, while remaining fully integrated with the university\u2019s enterprise systems \u2013 this gives us an edge over all other smart agents in the market,\u201d Confalonieri, who conceived the idea, adds.\n \n\u201c[It\u2019s] an inventive response to persistent problems among university students, including information overload, disengagement from generic, impersonal teaching and learning methods, and student attrition.\u201d\n \nThere are a number of technologies involved in Genie, including IBM Watson cognitive engine which handles 1600 questions a week from students to \u201clearn the ins and outs of life on campus\u201d.\n \n\u201cOne of the key objectives in developing Genie was to enhance the way student services are delivered to students. Genie does not simply answer a student\u2019s queries, but rather predicts their needs, prompts with \u2018just-in-time\u2019 information, helps with planning and motivation, and automatically undertakes repetitive tasks,\u201d Confalonieri explains.\n \nFollowing an initial release to students within the Faculty of Business and Law, Genie was rolled out whole of university wide in January this year.\n \n\u201cDeakin University\u2019s main KPI relates to student satisfaction, and while the organisation is already a leader in this domain, Genie is takes student experience and support to a completely new level,\u201d Confalonieri says.\nOut of the bottle\nNow Genie is out of the bottle, as it were, Confalonieri is facing some new challenges. Due to the virtual assistant\u2019s success \u2013 it was a winner of IDG\u2019s Digital Edge 50 award late last year \u2013 there is an opportunity to sell the tool externally.\n\u201cThe major impact was unexpected at the beginning of the journey: opportunities for commercialisation,\u201d Confalonieri says.\nPreparing the university to sell innovations coming out of the IT division has been no small feat.\n\u201cMonths of negotiations and explorations of opportunities and scenarios finally opened the door,\u201d Confalonieri says.\n \n\u201cAnother current challenge is the prospect of a division of the IT team, which will soon form a start-up company to commercialise emerging technology innovations. The main challenge in this case is the expanded technical workforce required, in a market so competitive for top resources,\u201d he adds.\n \nTo respond to this problem, Confalonieri and his team is exploring the potential of standing up a team in India.\n \nMore than technology\n \nAs a member of the university\u2019s senior executive, Confalonieri is responsible for delivering Deakin\u2019s strategy to be \u2018Australia\u2019s premier university in driving the digital frontier\u2019, with the mandate and influence to make the vision a reality.\n \nDespite the obviously technological angle to that mission, Confalonieri says the technical side is not everything.\n \n\u201cThe biggest lesson learnt over so many years was to understand that technology knowledge is only a small part of leading in the technology domain. Leadership involves establishing the right combination of vision, governance, people, behaviors, processes, culture, operational models, and technology,\u201d he says.\n \n\u201cAfter so many years of efforts in the discipline, this is now so easy to see, it is almost trivial, but it was not evident to me when I started my career with a newly minted computer science degree and all the future ahead. It has been a long journey of constant learning,\u201d Confalonieri adds.