CIO50 2020 #25 George Gorman, Janison Education Group
There are few things less pleasant than exams, but for George Gorman, chief technology officer with global assessment facilitators Janison, he and his team were seriously tested when COVID-19 meant students could no longer be supervised in physical spaces.
The company manages a large number of important, high volume digital and paper based assessments, including NAPLAN, ICAS, PISA and NSW DoE, in 100 countries.
But as pandemic lockdowns took hold, activity, and revenue generation were severely impacted.
In response, Gorman and his team set about redesigning the company’s core offerings around digital assessment and real-time data gathering.
Of particular note was the use of facial recognition, AI and machine learning algorithms to determine, for instance, whether exams were being sat by the right student.
This and other forms of cheating are rife across the education sector, with traditional means of addressing it no longer relevant if students aren't physically present for exams.
Gorman tells CIO Australia Janison’s Insights platform can now support hundreds of thousands of students all over the world sitting exams at the same time.
This is a major point of competitive advantage for Janison during COVID-19, as is the ability to enable examiners to monitor multiple students remotely from their own homes.
Code was written and deployed which locked down students’ browsers during exams, with AI monitoring their behaviour.
“We re-purposed and trained our 700 experienced invigilators [examiners] and markers who would have been unemployed because physical location tests were cancelled to be able to invigilate students and then mark their tests remotely,” Gorman says.
This was all the more challenging as a high proportion of examiners are retired and typically less technically-savvy.
Machine learning was also employed to ensure consistency and eliminate marking bias as previously untested systems and processes were rolled out.
VPN upgrades, deployment of cloud technologies as well as uptake of Microsoft Teams were accelerated to enable more than 200 staff in eight countries to work remotely.
The importance of technology within Janison is reflected in the fact Gorman wears two hats: leading IT as well as holding a respected position within the company’s executive.
“As an executive member I attend board meetings to present Janison’s technology roadmap, strategic direction and for updates and to answer queries,” he notes.
“Wearing my number 1 hat, my role at the board meetings is not to represent the technology team but the executive team, and so I support updates from my peers, mentor them on how to craft a compelling story that is understandable by the board.”
Gorman adds he also implemented a level of governance, process and procedure which has created a higher level of rigor and accountability within the whole company from how it does deals, to the management of delivery and maintenance.
He also makes sure that he and the tech team listen to the senior management and staff through the whole company about how the department is being perceived and what it could be doing differently.
“I attend regular cross department team meetings to hear the experience of the technology team from our peers in the company,” Gorman says.
“I have monthly lunch with the CTO sessions in our main office and special lunch with CTO sessions when I visit our other offices, which allows a group of staff in those offices in and outside of my technology team to sit and lunch with me and ask any questions they have.”
MS Teams Town Hall meetings, CTO emails, podcasts and other communications are a constant.
Befitting a global company in the education space, Janison has always boasted a culturally-diverse team across its many offices spanning Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Sydney.
However, this wasn’t reflected so much in the IT team Gorman inherited when he took the role.
“When restructuring my team and beginning to hire new resources to grow our team and my leadership, I implemented a number of initiatives to give equal opportunity and reduce bias in the recruitment process,” he tells.
These included creating a policy that candidates should be assessed by three interviewers, at least one of whom should be a woman, while all candidate CVs being put forward by HR for manager or lead roles should have at least one female included.
“This has resulted in a steady growth of diversity across the teams management and lead roles,” Gorman notes.
He has also played an important role in encouraging mentoring throughout the company, especially in allowing managers and leads to gain experience and mentoring from senior members.
Regular SKIP 121s are conducted with leads in Janison’s technology team to help prepare them for their next management role. Gorman has also implemented job progression plans to help elevate juniors to more specialist and / or lead roles on their way to becoming managers.
Members of the team who achieve above and beyond their quarterly goals are rewarded with Pluralsight and Linux Academy online training courses, further encouraging self-improvement.