“Innovation is core to AUT as the university for the changing world. This comes not only from the centre but from our academics and students,” says Liz Gosling.
“My approach is to ensure that ICT is not an end in itself, but a powerful way to contribute towards the organisation’s strategy,” says Gosling who stepped up to the inaugural CIO role at AUT over two years ago. Before this, she was group director, ICT services for eight-and-a-half years at the university.
In AUT’s ICT department, there are clear responsibilities between these areas with two directors focused on operational excellence, she explains. “A separate team works in the development and, innovation space and 40 of our 150 staff are focused in this area.”
She says most of the innovation programmes they are working on are tasked with providing cost or time/resource savings.
By providing automation of processes and collaboration tools, for instance, we aim to provide people with efficiency and flexibility in their roles, including the ability to work and address issues remotely, says Gosling.
The costs are managed through sound budgeting processing and AUT has a clear understanding of the costs of running the operation, she states.
“We constantly keep an eye on market to ensure we are sourcing in the right way.”
Innovative learning spaces
“The way in which we approach ICT, innovation and working with our stakeholders is a truly integrated approach to our work, with both processes and opportunities designed to ensure we listen and collaborate to bring useful innovation to life,” says Gosling.
She cites some of the projects they are working on across the university using emergency and disruptive technologies.
One of these is the development of the ETD Precinct, a purpose built facility for Engineering, Technology and Design. Gosling says this building is one of AUT’s most innovative projects.
“The development of this new learning space has seen ICT working with the designers and builders to ensure that elements of the building can be part of an enriched learning experience for our students,” she says.
This includes enhanced wifi to enable geolocation of students via devices. This is not only useful for emergency management and health and safety but also enables data capture to be used as a teaching tool in a classroom environment and for planning of future buildings.
Another innovation rolled out this year is the Student App and Digital Workspace developed by Datacom and the internal ICT team.
This app provides a personalised experience for all students that is relevant to their journey at AUT and includes everything, from orientation information, class and exam timetables to library services, interactive maps through to emergency messaging.
Gosling says a unique element of the Student Digital Workspace are the interactive digital campus maps.
While Google maps will provide directions to a place, it does not navigate floors within a building, accessibility, access to facilities and the details of our campus, explains Gosling. “We have used the buildings’ CAD drawings to provide a level of detail that is not usually available and that will make a notable difference for our students.”
ICT Services also holds an annual Digital Day where university staff, students and technology partners are invited to look at priorities and opportunities.
We also host a series of lunches and symposiums that are either linked to specific projects (the ART project for instance has seen a series of lunches with researchers to ensure we develop and continue to deploy a system that delivers what they need) or to themes and topics, says Gosling.
The feedback from students was directly responsible for the Student Digital Workspace project, with students being key collaborators in its development.
“All projects are business projects, which enable development of relationships,” she says. “Our success with staff is measured by the usage of products and services, and by user feedback.”
“Students’ experience of our technology and innovation is essential and our university experience survey asks students about their satisfaction with infrastructure,” she says.
The feedback is reviewed and suggestions are used for planning. Examples such as the Student app enable us to demonstrate to students that their specific feedback is being listened to.
Another good example is student feedback about the importance of good wifi coverage which resulted in extensive (and sometimes challenging work) to ensure wifi is available across 95 per cent of our campuses, says Gosling.
Meanwhile, the collaboration between ICT and the Strategy and Planning team has seen the development of an award winning artificial intelligence concept we are planning to roll out to AUT, says Gosling.
NINA is a digital assistant prototype and has been recognised at Microsoft’s Tertiary ICT Excellence Awards where it received the Award for Technology Innovation and the Supreme Award.
NINA uses cognitive technologies to understand and interact with users and will help provide a single place for students and staff to find answers and perform tasks across a range of university systems as varied as renewing a library book, ordering lunch or enrolling in a course.
She says another New Zealand university first is AUT’s Adaptive Research Technologies (ART) project.
ART is transforming our research capability through a custom-built research data management solution, she says.
“ART is helping transform the university’s business processes in a crucial area – AUT’s profile as research institution is growing and a cost effective solution offering a research-friendly end to end experience was needed.”
Research data is key to a university so there was a requirement to keep data in-house and in New Zealand, particularly with medical research projects and their associated privacy obligations, she says.
“We developed a gold standard platform on which research data can be planned, captured, managed, analysed share in secure manner. Running off the Microsoft platform, ART offers the ability to run surveys, assessments, text, field capture on mobile, recruitment for research, tracking of process (g.g. ethics).
“It also provides useful tools such as randomisation, sensory data capture (e.g. counting shellfish) along with reporting and analytics enhanced by high performance computing,” says Gosling.
Gosling reports around 20 active research projects operating in New Zealand and abroad are now using ART.
The areas they cover are vast, and include heart rate monitoring, outcomes after trauma, mobile technology in health care, living well toolkit and problem gambling interventions.
Team-building as well as ensuring staff are equipped with the skills for a modern ICT workplace are integrated into their programmes.
Gosling says the division has provided a template for a graduate programme that is now being rolled out across the university.
The programme involves employing two or three AUT graduates who work in four different areas of ICT over 12 months. The graduates are assigned a mentor who meets with them every two weeks, and helps them transition to the workforce and clarify their next career steps.
ICT Services also has a secondment programme, where people can move to a different team to further develop their skills for six or 12 months.
Gosling says a female service desk staff member, for instance, has moved to the networks team and some service delivery team members have moved to infrastructure.
AUT runs programmes specifically for new managers, and for aspiring women leaders and these have provided targeted development opportunities for the ICT workforce.
“Developing soft skills is an area that we have focused on in the last few years, with programmes on presentation and communication skills, customer service and several staff undertaking the MBA programme at AUT.
Gosling is actively involved in ICT community programmes, both locally and internationally.
She has been with the CAUDIT Leadership Institute in Australia for a number of years, both as a faculty member and as director, and have put between two and four people through leadership development programmes each year.