by Rodney Fletcher

CIO100 2017 #31-100: Alistair James Massey University

Mar 29, 2017
Education Industry

Massey University is midway through a major business transformation programme. It commenced in mid-2015 and is due for phased deployment from late-2017 onwards, says its CIO Alistair James.

At the core of this programme is the replacement of the in-house developed Student Management System with a ‘commercial off the shelf system’.

In addition to this, two new information systems are being implemented to support customer relationship management and curriculum management activity.

“This is a significant capital investment for the University and will result in transformational change in the University’s capability to manage its core business elements,” says James.

“Given the level of investment and the strategic nature of this programme, it has the sponsorship of the Vice Chancellor and is being led by the Assistant Vice Chancellor (Strategy, Finance, ICT and Commercial).”

The projects cover core student management functionality, curriculum management, customer relationship management and tight integration with the University’s business intelligence application RAPID, as well as a major business change component called ADAPT.

The Academic Design Authority Project Team (ADAPT) is a representational group to assist in the translation of the academic design of Massey’s qualifications and offerings, (qualifications, courses, teaching practice, assessments), into a format relevant to the system requirements needed to create a sustainable and functional SMS.

“This component is key to the overall success of the programme,” James says. “Although not led by the office of the CIO, IT staff have been seconded on to the programme and additional support work is being undertaken by the IT team in provision of advice, building the infrastructure platforms and development of supporting systems.”

He says the primary objectives of the programme are to deliver a suite of information systems that integrate with core University systems to support defined business processes, improve the student experience, support the strategic goals of the University and enable provision of better management and planning information.

During the past year, the ITS team has worked on implementing several other technology innovations, he says.

“Following on from the successful implementation of Microsoft’s Office 365 for students, a pilot is underway prior to rolling out the Office 365 environment for all University staff.”

The benefits expected include a significant increase in cloud-based storage for both email and data (50Gb and 1Tb respectively) per user, as well as a shift in workload from the University’s onsite data centre.

This is part of a broader initiative to investigate and understand the collaborative capability of the Office 365 solution and how to deploy it successfully to provide enhanced services, he says

“As with most deployments of new technology and solutions, there are operational and cultural impacts. IT has adopted a strong project management practice based on Prince2 and all major innovations are progressed through initiation of a formal project.”

This approach ensures that it is clear what the objectives are, what benefits will be realised and that the initiative is successfully managed through to completion, says James.

A ‘new initiatives’ process was also established, says James.

“The aim is to capture innovative ideas before they get lost and to direct them to the appropriate area of the IT department for implementation, or if they require additional funding into the pipeline for securing future investment.”

It is the same with the University’s application development pipeline, where the demand for service outstrips the ability to supply.

In this process, areas of the business requiring software development services were allocated resources in the annual cycle based on historical need and allocated windows of development time.

“As with most higher education organisations, funding remains tight and, as such, freeing up staff time to focus on research and innovation is a challenge,” says James.

Most areas of IT are focused on service delivery and operational efficiency, he says. However, staff are encouraged to identify innovative ideas and pursue them once prioritised and resourced.

James says initiatives undertaken in the past year included a significant investment in implementing ‘DevOps’, enabling quicker delivery of software and application changes while increasing stability and reliability of the applications layer.

An initiative that focused on operational excellence was the use of Microsoft’s Operations Management Suite, which provided greater insights into the operational environments, enhanced service delivery and led to faster responses to security threats.

“Considerable effort has been made in working with the academic research community to help them understand the potential of Microsoft’s Azure environment. This was done to support their research needs both from a high-performance computing perspective, as well as storing and sharing their research data,” he says.

“A major focus for the ITS team was the re-vitalisation of our approach to managing the delivery of IT services,” he says.

“This saw the implementation of a new service management toolset Axios Assyst and the re-engineering of all our business processes with a strong focus on incident, problem and change management.

This deployment is going to lead to better management information around the current use of scarce resources and enable the team to focus on resolution of underpinning problems, he states.

“As well, the provision of better self-service information will enable IT to shift resources from responding to ‘break/fix’ requests into being more proactive and investing in new initiatives and innovations.”

James says the IT function collaborates across the University at all levels. It is represented on all major project boards, as well as the University’s Capital Asset Management steering group. There are strong relationships in place between business systems owners and the ICT support teams although still improvements to be made.

ICT participates in the development of all business cases for new investment where there is a technology component.

ICT staff members are also invited to present in a wide range of cross-organisational forums, covering topics such as enterprise architecture, security as well as strategic issues.

“We regularly communicate with the organisation on both operational issues and new initiatives,” says James. “The form of this communication varies, but includes blogs, regular newsletters, seminars and presentations.”

Over the past year, James says there was a focus on improving the culture of the broader IT team.

The impetus for this was the 2015 staff survey, which identified some issues that were important to staff where the IT management were not meeting expectations.

“The university has a strong commitment to professional development and all IT staff are encouraged to participate in training opportunities, especially in soft skills provided by the People and Organisational Development team.”

As well, James says there are several managers that can step into the CIO role.

“This capability is enhanced through the work experiences of those managers, who are frequently asked to lead key strategic initiatives within the IT department.”

Rodney Fletcher