Name: Niranjan PrabhuTitle: Chief information officerCompany: Australian Catholic UniversityCommenced role: February 2016Reporting line: COOMember of the executive team: YesTechnology Function: 89+ staff, 6 direct reports
Born from a deep understanding of the evolving needs and challenges in education sector, Australian Catholic University CIO Niranjan Prabhu and his team have delivered several innovations to drive meaningful change for the organisation and its students.
With a believe that IT’s role is to bridge the gap between technology and business outcomes, Prabhu has introduced a bottom-up and top-down approach to innovation. The innovation and transformation team he created in 2021 has already delivered over 120 new ideas through the university’s Automation Centre of Excellence.
“Our automation pipeline from four faculties alone shows an anticipated ROI of $2.5 million savings over three years,” Prabhu tells CIO Australia.
Automation has been deployed across a range of tools and tasks including a timeline of academic activities, student reimbursement claim forms and managing student misconduct cases.
The Academic Timeline tool provides a holistic view of university-wide tasks and key academic activities throughout the year, and gives an accurate reflection of the capacity of academics.
“In doing so, it reduces the manual back-and-forth to negotiate availability,” says Prabhu, adding the project is expected to deliver annual cost saving of $90,000 to $120,000.
Automated processing of student reimbursement claim forms meanwhile helps protect personally identifiable information and automates reimbursement payments – saving manual effort and increasing student satisfaction by speeding up reimbursement payment.
Automation has also sped up the handling of student misconduct cases, such as the unauthorised use of ChatGPT, by making it easier for lecturers to submit a case for investigation.
“The savings based on reducing manual intervention is anticipated to be approximately $250,000 a year,” says Prabhu.
Virtual reality initiatives
In addition to the automation projects, Prabhu’s team has also introduced virtual reality initiatives including an innovation hub that provides immersive experiences for students.
The hub uses GigXR holographic healthcare training technology and Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headsets to provide students with opportunities to experience the real world from the convenience of the classroom.
This includes simulated hospital environments or emergency scenarios where students can interact with ‘real’ patients and examine virtual ‘working’ cardiovascular systems in detail, for example.
“Rural and remote students also benefit significantly from this technology, as it provides a more equitable learning experience by allowing them to study anywhere, anytime,” says Prabhu.
“This is also expected to decrease academic workload by 10 per cent per person per annum.”
To further address the challenges of remote learning and the need for flexible educational approaches, Prabhu also spearheaded initiatives to modernise ACU’s teaching and learning environments.
Implementing a “hyflex” (hybrid-flexible) and active learning environment enables students to participate simultaneously in face-to-face and online modes with enhanced communication and collaboration capabilities.
Technology has also been deployed to integrate synchronous and asynchronous learning methods – allowing students to access course materials, interact with instructors, and collaborate with peers both in-person and remotely.
“This flexible and interactive environment has empowered students to tailor their learning experiences and has become a cornerstone of ACU’s educational approach, providing a dynamic and inclusive platform that meets the diverse needs of our student body,” says Prabhu.
Agile and adaptable
Overall, the value delivered by these innovations is multi-fold, says Prabhu.
“The hyflex and active learning environment ensures our organisation remains agile and adaptable to the changing educational landscape, enabling us to provide quality education regardless of external circumstances,” he says.
“Students benefit from the flexibility to choose their preferred learning mode, fostering personalised and inclusive education.”
The seamless integration of face-to-face and online experiences enables greater collaboration and engagement, enriching the learning journey.
The initiatives implemented by Prabhu and his team were brought about in “deep partnership” with the wider business, and in line with a strong foundational framework.
“Anyone who works in technology knows that creating solutions that work technically is easy. Creating solutions that work for the people who will use them is much more challenging,” she Prabu. “The next horizon for innovation and transformation at ACU is to capitalise on this momentum.”
Louis van Wyk