by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #18: Liz Gosling, Auckland University of Technology

Mar 28, 2018
CareersDigital TransformationEducation Industry

Liz Gosling believes it is essential to be a “visible leader”.

The CIO at Auckland University of Technology records her monthly video updates, holds regular all-staff meetings and mentors staff.

We review career development every year at AUT and in our division use this as a chance to identify young talented people and prepare them for leadership with training prior to them taking on management roles,” she says.

“We embrace cultural diversity – at any given time at least a dozen nationalities are represented in our team of 140, providing the benefits of a wide range of perspectives, ways of thinking and of delivering services.”

In the context of the IT sector, she serves as the deputy chair of TUANZ and supports FLINT (Future Leaders in Technology). She currently mentors a young female immigrant IT specialist.

This focus on visibility also applies to the ICT Services team.

ICT Services run regular Technology Showcases on all three campuses of AUT, enabling students and staff to find out what is new, what’s being deployed or investigated, and how to the get the most out of our current ICT offer.

“We publish a monthly ICT newsletter online and ensure articles about the work and our services appear frequently on our organisation-wide communications platforms,” she says.

Every year, ICT Services hosts a Digital Day aimed at updating AUT stakeholders on key technology initiatives. They hear from thought-provoking keynote speakers, connect with AUT’s technology partners to understand how they can assist with current and future challenges, and work collaboratively with all areas of the university to shape ongoing ICT strategy and direction.

She says the team has gained valuable insights from previous Digital Days that have resulted in key initiatives. The Student Digital Workspace (SDW) was developed following some very pointed feedback from students at the 2016 event. This led to the development of AUT’s online portal for accessing information and services.

SDW was delivered last year, a joint project between students, Student Services and Administration, Brand and Marketing Services and ICT Services.

“We had plenty of feedback from students that they find university systems rather difficult to navigate, in order to find either information or a service that they needed, “ she says on the business driver for the project. “We incorrectly assumed they had some knowledge of the university’s organisational structures.”

The SDW provides an accessible one-stop shop, responsive platform aimed at making students’ lives easier and contribute to the student experience at AUT.

She says SDW brings together all of the important applications and software needed to be well informed and successful and has become a daily tool for our students.

“Using design thinking, we began with the needs of students and co-designed the platform, with some valuable learnings along the way. A good example was the importance students placed on real-time information about our shuttle buses between campuses, which was included on the front page of the final product.”

Using the Microsoft Office 365 platform ensured this Agile project was quick to deploy and cost effective, she says.

SDW was developed and deployed over the summer holiday period and delivered on time and on-budget. It is now being used by up to 30,000 students.

The project received the Microsoft Innovation and Excellence Trophy at the Tertiary ICT Conference, an event that investigated the impact digital innovation and change is having on the New Zealand higher education sector.

Gosling says when working on the SDW and other projects, the ICT team faces structural challenges around the silos typical for larger organisations.

“We also had to acknowledge and address the issue that our old processes and tools were not customer friendly, and assumed students knew the structure of our organisation, which is often not the case.”

She says to address some of these challenges, they co-located the project team together, used ‘scrum’ processes including visual (non-tech), and colour coded progress report boards. Daily standup meetings provided a way to discuss progress and ensure buy in and accountability. AUT has been an early adopter of Agile, and we used previous experience with this approach to understand opportunities and challenges, she says.

Smart building as a learning and research tool

Another standout project her team was deeply involved with is the new Engineering, Design and Technology building.

The building personifies the Internet of Things through a design that ensures the building itself is an 18,000m² teaching and research tool, she says.

“This is being achieved thanks to a large scale collaboration between the developers, Estates teams and ICT Services, and other experts from across AUT and beyond.”

Large parts of the building’s structure and services have been left exposed to enable students to view the inner workings of the building. This provides them with a practical example of the building design, function and operating systems.

The building’s electrical consumption will be monitored through a wireless sensor system with data being transmitted through a state-of-the-art communications bridge back to the Project Studio control centre.

An interactive Power of Ethernet (POE) style lighting system will feature in the Project Studio complete with monitoring, data collections and opportunities for students to engage in lighting design and systems.

In several of the building’s teaching spaces innovative technology is being used to enhance usability and the teaching experience.

An interactive classroom designed for collaborative learning will provide 7 ‘learning pods’ complete with a wall screen for small groups of students to work on. These pod screens also interact with the classroom’s main screen where lecturers can view progress or choose to project key information to the individual pods.

In two larger learning labs, PCs that retract into the furniture are able to convert the spaces to traditional lecture environments.

“AUT is always looking for opportunities to develop our position of being New Zealand’s only University of Technology,” she says.

“Designing an entire building with the philosophy of harnessing technology to create a real-time, living learning tool is unique in this country and a way to demonstrate our commitment and provide a point of difference in the increasingly important STEM space.”

She says this approach also offers opportunities for advanced levels of collaboration with business and industry.

“It is another point of difference AUT works hard to maintain.”

Gosling is part of AUT’s Strategic Leadership Team and presents regularly to the university’s Council (Board). She says areas of focus in these discussions were around cybersecurity issues. Thus, during Cyber Security Month, the ICT team spearheaded a series of events and communication programmes to raise awareness on the issue. The team sent simulated phishing emails to groups of staff with links to training pages when individuals followed the fake links. She says the annual emergency simulation exercise (called Exercise Pukeko) also focused on cyber-security risk linked to the operation of key university buildings.

“This enabled us to test our processes, uncover some areas needing review and improvement, and help the team from across the university to understand the sorts of risks cybersecurity poses and think beyond email scams and viruses,” she says.

She has also worked closely with Universities New Zealand (the industry body) on a sector-wide conference about cybersecurity in the area of facilities management.

“This is one of the ways our universities can collaborate and learn and attempt to stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated and complex threats in this area.”

Gosling says trying to work across the business needs and deliver business value and weigh up the competing needs is a challenge of leadership in all areas.

The key example for AUT is delivery of systems to help recruit students and grow the university, versus technology to ensure our current students have the best possible learning experience, says Gosling.

IT Governance is an ongoing challenge for many in our sector, she adds.

“I’ve learned in the recent past from a project that went off the rails due to information not being shared with project manager and project sponsors.

“From this and other challenging projects I’ve come to learn that even with good governance and processes, misplaced trust and individual performance can result in substandard delivery.”

She says this is one of the drivers for moving AUT towards a more Agile methodology.

“I believe is one of the best approaches to ensure maximum transparency and accountability. Rather than multiple layers of reporting, finding ways to make problems and challenges visible really quickly allows us to adapt and course-correct.”