He calls it ‘Facebook for Researchers’, affectionately known as the eREc, and it involves the sharing of data via a comprehensive electronic solution that provides management of infinite research data. University of Tasmania CIO Jeff Murray says the goal of the university’s eResearch Ecosystem is to keep researchers “connected and discovered”.
Murray says eREc is a super computer of research brain power that builds knowledge through sharing, and links the brightest minds to find solutions to global challenges. It can store data of any scale: There are 7,100 processors serving 3.7 petabytes of storage and capacity can be increased at any time to meet needs.
And it’s one of the initiatives Murray is getting recognition for, ranking high on this year’s CIO50 list.
“Our researchers have worked long hours on solutions like reducing sudden infant death syndrome and in creating the world’s most effective massive open online course: Understanding Dementia,” he says.
“Our astronomers will also help guide SpaceX to Mars through measurements that increase the accuracy of the world’s GPS by an extra 1.2 metres to 30 centimetres of accuracy. The International Marine Observatory System (or IMOS) can move 30 terabytes in one night. They transport the fifth highest volume of Australian cloud super computations. We wanted to re-use the information that is slavish to collect, categorise, analyse, store and transport.”
So how does the university manage the data and the research data lifecycle? Simple, Murray says, explaining that the platform makes it easier for researchers to complete foundation tasks.
“She enables a focus on the pressing issues at hand, rather than the duties of an archivist. She ensures the automation of the workflow. As eREc grows, she will be programmed with artificial intelligence, selecting and choosing the most appropriate categories of metadata,” Murray says.
“Right now, data tags are useable when applying for a grant or ethics request and the tags carry through the research lifecycle and help with publication. eREc opens our data to the world as she connects external researchers with ours through their international identification number known as an ORCID.”
He says the future will be a very different place with artificially intelligent machines learning and flourishing from big data.
“eREc will grow up and thrive in a digital era. She will not steal jobs – she will make them more interesting and create new ones. She is a gateway to the immanent and an answer to the headaches here and now. eREc offers hope for a cure for dementia, she will help cool the oceans, and propel us to Mars.”
But it hasn’t been easy building a social interface on a sophisticated UNIX research environment. Murray admitted it required “careful planning and an agile development cycle”.
“It was no mean feat to put a Facebook-like front end on a sophisticated UNIX research environment. Our researchers wanted a welcoming and sociable place they could place the data and spend time browsing and finding all information relevant to their work.
“To build eREc we asked the hard questions of our researchers. We drilled down on statements like user-friendly, we used analogies to help understand the social needs, and user-personas helped us understand ‘a collector’, ‘an analyst’, ‘an uploader’, ‘a browser’ or ‘an archivist’. We listened. We collaborated with the research community. By researching our researchers, we understood their needs.”
Murray highlights some of the other notable milestones that have generated massive benefits at the university.
He says the team has continued its extensive re-generation of its enterprise systems, and completely transformed the staff and student experience with a total replacement and uplift of all systems.
“The final stages of our $100m investment in our information and process uplift were in place,” he says, explaining IT Services has leveraged the benefits of systems uplifts and technology innovation to reduce operating costs by $3 million in 2017.
“As one of Australia’s most geographically spread universities (with courses across 65 locations and three main campuses), efficiency of operations is key to our transformation. Additionally, we have maintained six per cent annual revenue growth for the last half decade.”
Some of the other IT projects include a CRM implementation, which concluded in under 12 weeks and reduced student attrition by 17 per cent; and a new strategic HR system, which enabled strategic people management and finished in 22 weeks from beginning to end.
Additionally, Murray says electronic recruitment and performance management – a fully cloud supported system – has improved staff and prospective staff engagement. An extensive program of cyber security enhancements, including application white-listing, has strengthened authentication processes and reduced account breaches by 75 per cent.
And comprehensive business intelligence dashboards provide over one thousand pages of reports each week, enabling key strategic decisions based on accurate core information.
Meanwhile, the university has also developed a single shared services portal to draw together all internal administrative processes into one place. HR, commercial (building) services, IT and finance will all service their information and forms in a single place on the Intranet, Murray explains.
“This shared services approach is paving the way for robotic artificial intelligence (AI) to be-deployed in 2018 to automate inquiry processes. Our strategy for the adoption of AI involves drawing all internal and external customer information together into one place – so we can apply machine learning to leverage the benefits more effectively,” he says.
Murray says one of his biggest lessons learned during his entire career as a CIO is that the profession is about “people, communications and influence”.
“The key lesson as a CIO is to take the ‘T’ out of IT. We need to stop focusing on the technology and the technical. CIOs should focus instead on needs and outcomes. When we do this, diversity will come and there is strength in diversity.
“My journey began in my thirties jumping from a leader of nine people to more than 200. In leadership, we develop as we progress. Later, taking a role in Scotland, I led a smaller more agile team and learnt of efficiency, and cost effectiveness. Now in Tasmania, I am reminded that you cannot save your way to success. So investing in people is the key to delivering information benefits. Initially in my career as a CIO starting two decades ago, I discovered quickly to set a direction, ensure there are resources for innovation and spend as much time engaging widely in as many ways possible.”
Murray also stresses the fact his role as CIO is greater than him and requires a team effort.
“My calling is to ensure my people flourish, achieve their desires, and dream futures. Developing my team of leaders and ensuring they are visible, known and recognised is my highest priority. For this to happen, they need to be part of a service that is strategic, responsive and engaged. When this happens, any member of the team can take the reins and move us forward.”