In an effort to cut costs and run more efficiently, the Australian National University is conducting a massive rationalisation of its IT systems.
“Like most universities at the moment, we’re under cost pressures,” ANU CIO Peter Nikoletatos told CIO Australia last week at the Dell Enterprise Forum in Melbourne.
“A lot of the university sector relies on funding coming from a variety of sources including government. That’s becoming much more competitive [because] there’s less of it going around.”
That has led ANU to focus on making sure its IT operations are efficient and sustainable, he said.
The university’s total IT budget was between $60 million and $70 million per year. “We’re looking to find a couple of administrative efficiencies in that amount across the whole university.”
A big challenge for ANU has been to rationalise investments across the university, which has long operated with a decentralised IT model.
“Every area, every college, every business unit has come up with a different solution to solve the same problem. So, we’ve had a plenitude of different suppliers and vendors provide solutions,” he said.
“All in isolation worked quite well”. But looking at them together, it didn’t make sense to have so many different products and services, he said.
“I don’t necessarily suggest you need to have one solution. You need to have a couple but you don’t need 10.”
Nikoletatos, who inherited the problem when he became CIO of ANU at the start of 2012, said he can understand how it got that way. The ANU has historically given autonomy and independence to each of its colleges, he said.
“That’s served them well over the last decade or two decades, but now we’re moving into [a time when] technology is part of everyday life. We’re looking at ways to become a lot more efficient.”
Rather than do a tender process to find a vendor to help with the rationalisation, Nikoletatos said it was “easier” to expand the role of an existing supplier. He decided to go with Dell, which had been a major supplier for the last 10 years.
“All we’re doing is extending current arrangements,” he said.
Nikoletatos reported some early progress on the rationalisation. “We’re probably a year into a three-year program.”
“We started with some things that were pretty straightforward,” including email and technical support, he said.
“We had over 32 different email solutions on the campus.” Now, ANU has moved everyone to cloud-based email through Microsoft Office 365, he said.
Also, ANU has moved support to a single help desk, down from nearly ten across the university, he said.
Work continues with Dell on IT rationalisation projects including the network, storage and private cloud, he said.
In addition to the rationalisation of IT, providing an adequate level of wireless networking remains a pain point that ANU is working hard to address.
“I can’t get wireless [access points] out there quick enough,” he said. “The reality is that every piece of the campus is a next-generation learning space. So, four or five students might pick a grass pitch and say I want to get wireless here.
“We’ve invested quite heavily and we will continue to invest in an ongoing way in wireless.”
Students have been bringing their own devices for years, but a question for ANU is when it will also become a requirement for staff, Nikoletatos said.
Uptake among staff is “fairly low” right now due to the high cost of the equipment, he said. “But I think over the next three to five years, I think it will change quite a bit, particularly as people get much more comfortable with small-form devices.”
Nikoletatos recently spoke with CIO Australia about ANU’s mobile initiatives, including a new augmented reality function for the university’s mobile app.
Nikoletatos said he looks forward to the NBN – not for its ability to pull data quickly into the university, but for its power to push data out of the university to students in homes around the world.
For example, the NBN will enable more students to join massive open online courses (MOOCs) that the university is conducting, he said.
The government’s rollout of the NBN “needs to accelerate”, he said. “We needed it about five years ago.”
The CIO said it doesn’t matter to him whether the high-speed broadband service ends up being fibre to the premise (FTTP) or fibre to the node (FTTN).
“The people that need the really high speed [of FTTP] at their houses are a small percentage. As an interim solution, [FTTN] will get us to a certain point. You can always fit in the last mile any time you want to.”
Read more tertiary education interviews with CIOs from , Flinders University, the Australian National University, Monash University, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the University of Technology, Sydney, Curtin University, and the University of Sydney
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