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CIO100 2017 #31-100: Grant Strang, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

  • Name Grant Strang
  • Title TumuHangarau (Executive Director Information Technology)
  • Company Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (TWoA)
  • Commenced Role August 2016
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Technology Function 49
  • Our approach is incremental, says Grant Strang, TumuHangarau (CIO) at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

    “It’s about bringing people with you. You could take our approach to enrolments for example, it’s a critical process for the wānanga so we have taken the approach of aligning people, processes and technology.

    “People; is job descriptions, skill sets and competencies and structure.

    “Processes; is what those people do to provide an outcome

    “Technology; is the enabler

    With enrolments there are two ways we are adding value. One is we are positively affecting our business processes, and our business decisions. Technology’s role in that is around alignment so we are trying to bring it back to people, processes and technology, he states.

    Enrolments is complex and challenging because people, processes and technology all touch data and they all move data somewhere. We have to be very precise about what changes we are making and when we make them. Within production we have to keep our enrolment processes working and keep the lights on and find capacity with often the same resources that are keeping the lights on to be involved in this project.

    “There isn’t one outcome. If we are successful our students will certainly know the difference if they’re coming back to the wānanga again they will certainly have a different experience to the one they had. Our kaimahi will notice the difference because it will be a lot easier to extract data and to use that data in an analytical way to ensure we give our students the best experience when they’re enrolling.”

    Enrolments is from the expression of interest through dialogue around courses and programmes through to an application that has been accepted. It’s not one thing you do online in one moment and it’s all over.

    On how they measure success, he says:

    “The first thing I’ve done is to ensure it’s led by our business. The process we’ve created is around ensuring it’s business led. The project is around our student experience therefore the executive in charge here is our Tumuratonga (executive director student services) To understand the opportunity we did an ILM (investment logic mapping).

    “What it’s saying is here’s the problem, here are the benefits, here’s the interventions and here are the changes. Those are the six areas of outcomes we put into our project. The approach we are taking is it has a nice digital front end and you can have a really good experience and then because of our business processes it can become fragmented and there can be delays while we look at the EOI and get back to the potential students. It then becomes paper based – so you have a digital front end that becomes paper-based. That blended approach has worked for us but what we have to do is become a little slicker and not lose the student as they make their enquiries through the expression of interest through to the final part of the process which is where their application has been accepted.

    “Blended is good. Digital and paper and kaiako (teachers) talking to you during interviews is good, we just have to be slicker at it to bring it all together.

    Our focus on technology is therefore about data integration and the way that our data moves across different bits of technology, he explains.

    “There are opportunities to create more open APIs and make it a lot less complex. The focus on tech is to ensure our systems are producing timely and accurate data that our kaimahi and tauira can access.

    “By reversing those two problems, having a consistent enrolment experience that leads to higher conversion rates. The complexities of our current business processes are visible to our students and we want to reverse that. They see the complexities and that frustrates them. So the people, processes and technology are not necessarily out of alignment but not in alignment. They’ll be saying “why can’t I pick my site online, why can’t I pick the time I study?” and so on and there’s reasons why we’re not doing that and they’re at the front end. What we’re saying is we want to make it less complex.

    “If we’re successful it will be a consistent experience with higher conversion rates and less complexity with the enrolment process.”

    On innovations, they have introduced over the past year, Grant says, “we’ve introduced an API connectivity approach, that packages all our underlying connectivity and services by making them more discoverable and reusable through exposed APIs.

    “We’ve introduced ITIL foundation principles to guide our service management strategy to manage our project pipeline.

    “We’ve introduced and had approved an IT strategy of two years 2016 -2018 and it has four areas of focus:

    · The first is our wānanga information is to be managed as a strategic asset

    · That our student services will be digital by default

    · Our IT investment and capability is shared

    · IT is centrally led and collaboratively developed

    In those four areas there are KPIs, programmes of work and resources assigned to support those four areas.

    We are reviewing all our IT systems, applications and infrastructure to align them with asset plans and we’ve reset relationships with our service partners and vendors in recognition that we can’t cover everything that we’re supporting.

    We’ve introduced an innovation hub at our Māngere campus, he states on what is unique about their innovations.

    This is available to our kaimahi (staff) and tauira (students) can access technology, applications and systems that they may not otherwise have access to. This includes AR, VR and 3D printing.

    “It’s like a sandpit where people can go and play. It means that as some of our projects mature we can align that maturity with what we’re offering in the innovation hub. Some of our vendors are supporting us by providing hardware and software.

    “We have been deploying Zoom technology into classrooms as opposed just for staff. Again, what we are trying to do that we want to align technology with people and business processes.

    “The one thing you do in IT is you have to make sure your systems are right,” he states.

    “If you pull your resources out of day to day support and try to do funky, innovative things you get into trouble. So it’s around maintaining BAU and getting behind the business which is saying ‘I want new stuff, I want more accurate data, I want etc.’

    “That’s the challenge. To provide solutions that align with people, processes and technology capability. Connecting people to effective and efficient process with technology that allows confident connection at the time and place of their choosing. I don't see too many of our kaimahi (people) walking around with a VOIP phone but I do see our people getting in front of each other and their students and doing great things - via a mobile data device. Innovation is often only recognised after many incremental steps. I'm not a fan of the term transformation.”

    He explains how he and his team balances the need to keep core operational systems running and create new, innovative products and services.

    “Keeping the IT lights on is not easy, it’s becoming increasingly challenging as resources become more expensive and scarce,” he says.

    “The challenge is creating capacity to try new things and to projects within budget (and often budgets are reducing through cost reductions).

    “What we are doing is creating a programme at work that takes account of the criticality of aligning people, processes and technology so we are not just doing projects that are perceived to be technology.

    “That means we are creating self-serve options around data for our collaboration tools eg,. Sharepoint and BIA (business intelligence analytics) so we are creating data kiosks so people can self serve and with the right training can ask the questions of the systems or applications that provide the data. Eg. How many students have enrolled in South Auckland in the last two years and in what? What was our conversion rates, why did student x withdraw etc” In the old days you would ask for a report from IT about that, but going forward aligning people, processes and technology we can create self serve kiosks with data and the experts in marketing, communications and enrolment can access that data.

    “We are making sure that’s a consistent approach we take that we have open APIs that allows these different systems to communicate.”

    As to keeping costs in check while maintaining operational excellence, he says:

    “It’s not easy! What we’ve created is service catalogues for IT. So everything we provide we are very clear about. We are aligning those service catalogues with our service partners through SLAs and where we have to we are renegotiating contracts to make sure what we do is backed up.”

    “If we can’t provide that service we are inviting our service partners to come in and help. That reduces single point dependencies and frees up costs. We are recognizing what we can deliver.”

    “Operational excellence is about the service catalogue from the front end of IT, if you don’t have a service catalogue you get in trouble because everyone will come in and say I want that and that and IT will say we don’t have any budget and we don’t have anyone who can support that phone if it breaks and the only computer you get is a box etc. It’s about understanding what the business is wanting and aligning that with our budgeting process and our capability to deliver that – that is how we get operational excellence.”

    When asked what percentage of his time and that of his staff is spent on research//innovation, compared to operational excellence, he says:

    “The model that I’ve brought in is 10 per cent of everyone’s time is their time to collaborate and visit colleagues at another organisation and there’s no restriction on that other than their team leader having visibility for health and safety reasons. We ask that they bring that information back to our organisation.

    “We are a Māori organisation, we love to share, collaborate and tell stories. Not everyone is probably using that 10 per cent yet but it is certainly there. In addition, we are providing training and development.”

    He describes some innovative initiatives where operational excellence was improved.

    “Deployment of Zoom and collaboration tools was underway when I arrived. It’s an example of how our staff now have access to a very sophisticated video conferencing tool that shares data and voice. We are now rolling that technology into classrooms where it makes sense so our students can choose to call in and view and teach an action through this tool,” he says.

    “Zoom is an online system with a nice Macbook type of screen and it’s very secure. It’s another collaboration tool. The productivity gain is that people are travelling less and this is a better way of sharing information online. It may not transform what we do but it certainly makes it easier for people, processes and technology.”

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