The University of Tasmania’s annual UHack event is growing in size and impact every year. The annual event – which has the highest prize pool in Tasmania and one of the largest in Australia – is run in Burnie, Launceston and Hobart where teams develop their pitches and business canvases and receive coaching from industry experts to take their ideas to the next level.
Four teams from last year are now establishing start-ups as a result of the competition; including IoT farm productivity tool One Farm, food van map app Curb Hunger and AI powered job-seeker to corporate team matchmaker service Sarox.
This year’s winner Secure Sustainable Education (SSE) developed an application using Blockchain to assist students from developing nations with their international university applications and is now partnering with the university to bring their technology to fruition.
UHack, and this year’s inaugural UPitch (introduced to allow the teams to pitch their ideas to assembled angel investors and industry judges), are run by the university’s IT Services arm, under the leadership of chief information officer Jeff Murray.
“We will grow the Tasmanian economy with more successful start-ups in 2018 and beyond,” says Murray.
And it’s not just student and external innovations being nurtured by IT Services.
“UHack innovation and creativity has influenced IT Services and the team have imaginatively developed two new internal digital innovations that draw the entire five-year system transformation program together into consistent collaborative places to work,” Murray explains.
The two innovations rolled out under the $120 million transformation initiative are the Service Portal which has drawn all university support processes including finance, human resources, infrastructure services and information services into one place for academic staff to conduct their non-core activities, and a new Office 365 based staff intranet.
The portal represents a “unique structure across the higher education sector” Murray says, and boasts “increased visibility and transparency of service performance enabling major organisational transformation”.
A weekly dashboard showing response times and customer satisfaction has proven hugely popular among staff.
“Combining services in this manner prepares the way for our machine learning strategy which will be connected to the Portal to gather data and prepare for robotically enabled auto-resolution. This will reduce low-value activities and enrich support staff roles allowing greater time for strategically valuable work,” Murray says.
The intranet utilises Teams, Delve, Yammer and other tools in the Microsoft suite to “bring people out of their inboxes” to collaborate more closely.
It features a “single, repeatable toolbox” of customisable buttons that link to the entire range of corporate applications in one place, to which users can add their own links to sites, applications and pages.
It also serves up notifications from core applications, so users get alerts about leave or expenses applications they need to approve or Yammer updates to be reviewed.
As one user put it: “Finally you have given me a single, efficient place to spend my day focusing my attention on the important tasks rather than inbox clutter”.
Be the business
Murray follows the maxim put forward in Hunter Miller’s book, The CEO of Technology: “we need to not just be engaged with the business, we need to be the business”.
Meeting that aim has been helped by enhancing the capability and confidence of the 109 strong team. They have received “acting lessons to improve communications and uplift influencing skills” and take part in an annual ideation day to develop improvements based on new technologies and customer feedback.
“Knowing IT teams well, I have not wanted to use traditional personality tests to increase team leadership skills as they can carry negative threatening overtones for the sometimes-introverted technical staff. Instead I utilised Gallup’s Strengths Finder to uplift team morale and identify development opportunities,” Murray says.
The team also hosts TedX style emerging technology seminars called Copernicus Talks as well as a programme of events to increase female participation in the technology sector and IT Services.
A Champions of Change programme –a “horizontal slice of the organisation comprised of multi-disciplinary power users who engage widely for us and provide direct and honest advice on how we can improve” Murray explains – also helps IT Services be the business.
Now more than ever before, Murray says, “the team is highly regarded and thought to be strong and innovative across the university and beyond”.