Enabling Institutional Agility at Flinders University

As colleges and universities begin a new school year, IT leaders are focused on expanding business continuity plans to support remote work and more distance learning offerings. Kerrie Campbell, CIO at Flinders University, shares why agility is key for assisting staff and students.

Ghadeer Redler August 31, 2020
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The higher education industry is undergoing massive disruption because of the global pandemic. This crisis has institutions facing enrollment uncertainty and is severely affecting multiple other revenue sources beyond tuition, including parking, dining, on-campus shops, and athletic events. Now more than ever, campus leaders need immediate insight into human resources, financial, and student information to enable swift decision-making based on real-time data.

I talked with Kerrie Campbell, chief information officer at Flinders University, about how her institution was able to ensure business continuity and adapt quickly to change when they had to close their campus. Flinders, located in Adelaide, Australia, had an enrollment of more than 20,000 Australian students and 5,000 international students in 2019. Campbell also gave some insight into what the future of higher education will look like in the years ahead. Read below to learn more.

How has the higher education industry changed due to recent events?

The higher education sector—not only in Australia, but all around the world—has been severely affected. We have seen losses across the sector that are significant due to the drop of international student numbers and border restrictions. The sector has had to move to new modes of delivery and the world has adjusted to new ways of working.

I think the pandemic has not only presented massive challenges to the higher education sector but has really had a severe effect on the Australian economy. The strength of the sector in the future will hinge on how we react now and, fortunately for Flinders, we are fortunate to be in a good position.

How was Flinders University able to pivot its operating model to ensure business continuity? What new processes and policies did it implement to accommodate remote work for students and faculty?

At Flinders University, we had gone through a restructure of our professional and academic areas, which has set Flinders up to be able to positively navigate through the coming years.

We also invested a large amount of time, resources, and capital into creating an agile culture not just in IT, but across the university over the last three years. This was crucial when we were confronted with this unprecedented disruption to our operations, as it meant that we possessed the agile mindset and had empowered our staff to be able to cope with the state of flux the pandemic created. We also had amazing staff that absolutely went above and beyond and were real superheroes during this time, as they were completely focused on student outcomes.

We fully support flexible work arrangements, so we already had policies in place that enabled remote work. We did have to make sure the entire workforce was ready to work from home, and that included running people through policies and processes, some of whom had never worked from home before, to ensure they had an understanding of what was needed. We then focused on ensuring connectivity, capacity, and physical hardware.

“We made the decision to implement even though we were in the crisis because the deployment of Workday was so transformational for Flinders.”

Kerrie Campbell Chief Information Officer Flinders University

You recently successfully underwent a virtual deployment with Workday Human Capital Management. How will Workday help support your “next normal”?

We actually deployed Workday during Covid-19, which was challenging at times, but the Workday, Ascender, and Flinders teams did an outstanding job.

We made the decision to implement even though we were in significant disruption because the deployment of Workday was so transformational for Flinders. Since we had to pivot quickly from face-to-face workforce training to fully online, it actually worked out well for us because it allowed us to create many more training artifacts than we were originally expecting to.

We also created a “self-help” (capability) so the service desk would receive very few calls about the deployment, even though it was a significant implementation of 93 new business processes.

How is Flinders University preparing for the upcoming school year? What will the future of higher education look like?

Like every other organisation, we are looking at how we can do things in a leaner, more agile way. We are expanding our online and collaborative capabilities, and ensuring that we have the highest possible quality available. I think we’re all relying on a vaccine for Covid-19, but we don’t know when that will happen, so I think we will need to learn to live with this.

From my personal perspective, I think we’ll see universities progressively re-open their campuses, but it is unlikely to go back to the way things were, at least in the near future. Borders, both international and local, are very likely to be restricted for some time to come due to the progression of the virus and ensuing waves that we will potentially face.

“I think universities will try to re-open their campuses in the future, but it will be challenging to go back to the way things were.”

Kerrie Campbell Chief Information Officer Flinders University

I think all universities will maintain an online presence and more students will join multiple universities to see which online course best suits them, and will drop the ones that don’t suit, so we will see attrition go all sorts of directions in the next few years as education becomes a buyer’s market. You will see revenue go down and costs go up, and some universities around the world will struggle to contend with that and find the new norms.

I think we will also see massive online competition, and we may see universities around the world go through financial crises and close their doors. It may be bleak in the short term, but there is a bright future if the sector can pivot. This is the disruption that the sector talked about, but it came way earlier than anyone thought. 

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