In 2012, the Deakin University eSolutions team set out to revolutionise the way students and staff interact â not just with the University, but with each other.
Seeking an opportunity to create a landmark communication solution that would differentiate the University, eSolutions created âDeakin Anywhereâ â a University-wide collaboration platform that is used by students, faculty and staff to connect and collaborate effectively and intuitively.
Deakin Anywhere is an integrated set of communication, productivity and collaboration tools that allow staff, students and researchers to study and work wherever they choose or need to be. In an industry first, this portfolio has implemented Lync 2013, Microsoft 2013, SharePoint 2013 alongside cloud services including Office 365 and Yammer.
At the centre of the solution is Microsoft Lync which provides communication capabilities across all devices. Office 365 gives staff and student cloud storage for their work and study files. Complementing this is Microsoft SharePoint which enables staff and students to set up password-protected online collaboration sites where they can share information. Yammer provides a contained social media site allowing for informal collaboration with more accountability than public platforms. Completing the solution is Microsoft 2013 Student Advantage which gives students access to Office 365.
The breadth of this initiative provides end-to-end capability of data storage, access, sharing, communication and collaboration irrespective of user device, location or relationship with the organisation. A user is able to move between modes such as editing co-authored documents, instant messaging a colleague, video conferencing, screen sharing or participating in a social media conversation. The project was formally completed in March 2015.
The ultimate aim of the project was to realise the benefits in cloud capability of enhanced collaboration – removing organisational barriers, cohort barriers (staff and students) and external barriers (access for partners). The initiative had to make it easy for all students and staff to share ideas, research and programs, whether they were on campus, at home, overseas or working in an affiliated research institution or industry partner.
A further aim was to provide an integrated toolset to create a seamless user experience. The approach was to ensure that high level buy-in and uptake of the tools and capabilities was achieved. Today, 8,000 staff and 50,000 students have the ability to access data and communicate with each other and external stakeholders in ways not previously possible, including:
- ability to communicate by instant message, voice and video amongst staff, students and federated partners from any device in any location
- dynamic data collaboration as opposed to static file sharing by email
- mobile access to files (no need for complex VPN connections)
- online teaching
- student / staff collaboration – tutor groups, online drop in sessions with lectures
- teleworking enablement which is of great value considering the University is geographically spread with large nodes across Victoria
- social collaboration – opening up contacts and channels previously inaccessible.
An additional aim of the project was to provide staff and students with choices – choice of work and study location, choice of engagement mode, choice of device and choice of software. These choices make it simple for an individual to commence a project at their usual workspace on a desktop machine, continue working on their mobile tablet in transit between campuses, finish the project on their laptop in an airport lounge, whilst communicating seamlessly in real time with internal and external stakeholders.
Standard project management methods were applied in the projects approach. A business case was developed and approved, as well as a scope plan. The delivery remained flexible throughout the project's implementation due to the project's nature.
In the initial phase of the project, a readiness workshop was held with Microsoft Engineers from Singapore and the assessment identified Deakin as well-prepared for the implementation. Additional scripting and integration work between the on-premise and cloud platforms was completed to ensure sustainable on-going management of the systems.
To maintain a strong, people-centred focus, a conscientious investment in change management was made from the first business case through to post-implementation reinforcement. This involved formulating an internal change management team, which enabled a holistic view and the identification of all the project's needs in terms of training, communication, promotion, engagement and more.
In addition to the change management resources within the project team, a specialist change management consultancy, Change Managed, was also engaged to assist with design and delivery.
In the early stages of the project the change management team undertook an extensive awareness-raising program across the University. These 'Q&A Sessions' were available to all staff and business units in the University. Microsoft was the key technology partner for the project and the Microsoft Technology Strategist was also involved in the majority of the Q&A sessions.
Additionally, a Microsoft Partner with expertise in SharePoint was engaged to assist Deakin with SharePoint expertise in the areas of information architecture and development to ensure the implementation was completed in a sustainable manner.
Deakin engaged with a number of stakeholders prior, during and after the project's implementation. This involved liaising with and presenting to the various Deakin University faculties and divisions to help them understand the scope and functionality of the Deakin Anywhere tools. This was done over a six- to nine-month period with the assistance of Microsoft.
The three distinct stakeholder groups are academic staff, professional staff and student cohorts, each demanding a unique approach to communication and training and effectively multiplying the change management effort required.
External consultant Change Managed assisted Deakin University in the training and education of the new software across the various stakeholders. This was achieved through:
- training the top 150 leaders
- face to face training with over 600 staff
- multi-modal communications including traditional channels as well as social media
- pop-up stores in busy thoroughfares and at major events
- video communications and training artefacts
- student rovers providing peers training and support.
When pitching to executive stakeholders, the Deakin eSolutions team were hands on. They departed from traditional methods of pitching in favour of an approach that would truly engage. For example, two activities that supported the senior stakeholder pitch and gained executive sponsorship were those of direct engagement and future state experience. The program undertook an assessment of senior stakeholder pain-points and mapped the ways in which the Deakin Anywhere program addressed those concerns. This demonstrated the genuine intent of listening and understanding personal objectives and aligning them to project outcomes. Senior stakeholders were also provided the opportunity to experience the future state – 'what could be' – in an off-site sandbox environment. This neutral location helped to reduce unconscious bias, neutralise fear of the unknown and position the future state as aspirational.
Deakin has seen a number of promising and positive results come from the implementation of Deakin Anywhere:
Improved collaboration and productivity
- Benefits were quickly realised as early as the first quarter where 50,000 instant messages were sent each week. As a result of fewer emails and a quicker response time, an estimated 70,000 hours of efficiency was gained.
- The software also improved productivity as it enables staff and students to work wherever they are located. Whether travelling for work or studying at home, conversations can still take place between staff and students and documents can still be accessed and shared amongst a group of people.
The project has also improved research efficiency as collaboration is very easy and efficient whilst still maintaining a high level of quality.
- Deakin Anywhere has provided a rich engagement experience for students with other students and teaching environments and has meant an improved level of connectivity with partners and peers. This in turn has changed the classroom experience. No longer do students or staff have to travel to campus to participate in the traditional lecture environment – it can all be done online.
- Due to Deakin's partnership with Microsoft, the University has received global recognition as a best practice implementation case study. The project has also been a leader in the education sector.
- The project has seen an increase in revenue through improved student experience and therefore higher retention rate and the availability of additional places. There has also been an increase in the off-campus delivery model making it possible for global students to attend live classes, increasing revenue whilst substantially reducing costs associated with travel and time.
A number of case studies have been developed which showcase the project's success. See supplemental materials.
The original vision of Deakin Anywhere included additional phases and these phases will be introduced into Deakin University in the coming years.
The next phase of Deakin Anywhere involves Deakin Unplugged – an initiative that will see the removal of all desk telephones, replaced by telephony capability within the Lync application. This means that all professional staff, academic staff and postgraduate research students will be able to access telephony services from within their Office tools (Lync, Outlook and Office) on any device (PCs, laptops, Macs, iPads, Android tablets and mobile devices) and regardless of ownership (Deakin or BYOD) or location (on or off campus). Increasingly, staff are needing to work 'on the go', traveling and working from home or from a virtual office. Deakin Unplugged will use Skype for Business – a program utilised all over the world – to enable an effective and mobile form of communication. This project will be rolled out over the next 12 months.
Another phase, which is still in its operational stages, is Enterprise Search. Enterprise search is the practice of enabling information and content from a number of different sources to become searchable from any device. This would mean, once implemented, that staff and students – regardless of location, time or device – will be able to access any information, irrespective of where it is sourced. Deakin aims to launch this project within the next two years.