Building blocks

VOICES | From the Top



The AUD1 billion building upgrade at the University of Technology goes far beyond bricks and mortar. The school is also adding cutting-edge digital features such as a robot retrieval system in a library and 360-degree visualization in an arena.

But it's not about throwing in some cool bells and whistles; it's about delivering strategic benefits.

“The university's strategic vision is to be a world-leading university of technology. This includes having state-of-the-art learning, research, social spaces and infrastructure,” says Christine Burns, who headed a law firm's IT department before becoming the university's CIO last May. “The building program is a key response to those long-term strategic plans.”

Along with overseeing a significant portfolio of technology projects for the new buildings, Ms. Burns also leads IT and audiovisual teams. Her focus is on the portfolio managed by the project management office, and the university's long-term data center strategy.

Like any CIO, I've seen projects that work well and those that don't. And I'm convinced that using a formal project management methodology improves results, particularly in large, complex organizations.

Describe the project management culture at the University of Technology.

The university has always had a strong project management focus, and we use traditional project management methods on all projects. We put a very strong emphasis on appropriate documentation to make sure executives have all the information needed to make decisions and evaluate risk. This way, they stay informed about project progress, and it ensures the project managers get the support they need when they need it.

What do you see as the biggest issues you face in your role?

My focus initially will be on the implications of the building program for the IT team. We're providing advice during planning on the technology going into these buildings and support throughout the building process. We're also devising a new support model for the highly digital campus that will result from this program.

What does the upgrade entail?

It involves a whole program of projects, including a refurbishment of the great hall with huge LED screens; a new building for the faculty of engineering and IT departments that will include an arena with a 360-degree visualization room to display large sets of data; and a building for the faculty of science that will include an underground library retrieval system operated by robots.

All of the new buildings will have a variety of collaboration spaces with interactive boards, touch-activated surfaces, wireless access points, shared monitoring displays and a lot of other exciting technology.

IT teams are often criticized for not communicating well with executives. How can your past experience in the private sector help bridge the gap?

Executives are busy people, and they need someone who speaks their language—who will provide them with the information they need to make decisions. For example, if they're choosing between two systems, they don't need to know technical details of what each one can do. They need to know how each one impacts the business. That's why it's helpful to have a CIO with a business background, because it's easier for me to understand how executives think. It's about focusing on what's important to the stakeholder, not to the IT team.

How do you see your role helping integrate the IT team into the overall organization?

I'll continue to work with the IT team to communicate our goals and projects to the rest of the organization, and to help other parts of the university understand why our methods are important to achieving better outcomes.

It's important for the IT team to be seen as the part of the organization that facilitates getting things done rather than acting as a roadblock. I want my team to be seen as the internal experts. Otherwise, people make technology decisions without understanding the implications of their choices. PM




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