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CIO50 2020 #26-50 Jason Cowie, Curtin University

  • Name Jason Cowie
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Curtin University
  • Commenced role January 2019
  • Reporting Line Chief operating officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 200 staff, 5 direct reports
  • When he joined Curtin University last year, Jason Cowie was given two key objectives by the COO and vice chancellor: make IT a trusted partner, and drive the university's approach to digital transformation. 

    As chief information officer, he conducted a 100-day review across the organisation to shape its strategic direction.

    Cowie says the future of education is being shaped by digital experiences and services with technology functions needing to be a key partner and foundational element of university transformations.

    "However, a true digital experience is something that very few get right," he admits.

    Changing expectations of students who are seeking more immersive, compelling and relevant learning experiences means that digital will be a market differentiator for Curtin. To meet this demand, Cowie and the leadership team developed the DTS2000 initiative, based on three pillars.

    1. Design the future

    Curtin University is building a digital roadmap aimed at shifting into human-centred experiences across six functional areas that are integrated, immersive and interactive. Under the roadmap, the university would develop 24 initiatives across six core digial experience areas. A new data strategy revamps a universal approach to data to enable, drive and improve digital experiences.

    The team is also creating a new digital identity that will be at the heart of personalised experiences, data and platforms; and is revamping its approach to users, customers and digital experiences with technology that is aligned to the needs of students across all generations.

    "We explored all of these areas during the Digital Future Festival, a three phase intensive program to engage with and listen to the business. The 'insipration' phase - which began in October 2019 - leveraged a series of seven university-wide workshops. These workshops produced user stories that translated into a 'Digital Opportunities Report', which was endorsed in February 2020," he says.

    Meanwhile, Cowie and his team created a digital platform to ensure Curtin is technically-ready to deliver the new experiences. The platform is based on a legacy debt heatmap; industry leading research, and what Cowie describes as 'falling off a cliff' thinking.

    The outcomes of the above resulted in the conceptual and solution design of the Curtin Digital Platform which will be completed in 2021, he says.

    "The platform innovation is aimed at meeting the needs and expectations of our young student base; enabling experiences and changing higher education; revamping technology foundations; and controlling costs by using new technologies and automation," Cowie explains.

    He adds that the platform is unique because it increases IT throughput through code automation, allowing faster business innovation. And it integrates internet of things (IoT) connections, enabling data-driven decisions through universal, trusted, secured, timely and managed data.

    It will also help the university introduce new analytics capabilites using AI, decision modeling and machine learning technologies; integrate 'direct to data' and by events, rather than applications; leveraging new technologies like wearables, and empowering users to enable services without IT's involvement.

    Building trust is key 

    Cowie says that for a CIO to be able to collaborate at the highest levels and influence the organisation, the tech chief and their entire team must first be trusted. Shifting Curtin IT into a trusted patner was the number one focus of the improvement strategy.

    He completed a staff restructure in a 'right size, right skillset' team. More than 30 per cent of the tactical team was reduced and replaced with business engagement and innovation roles. The leadership team is now more diverse with 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men.

    Each month under a manager rotation program, one manager attends all leadership meetings as a participant to learn firsthand how the CIO and directors think, operate, and make decisions against the university's objectives. Cowie also launched new lean operating frameworks, a new engagement model, workload and performance dashboards and more.

    Cowie says these changes have increased morale and trust in the tech team with satisfaction ratings rising to more than 92 per cent - up from a low of 30 per cent.

    Byron Connolly

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