La Trobe University June 2020

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Building a university city of the future L A TROBE UNIVERSITY IN ASSOCIATION WITH DIGITAL REPORT 2020


Expanding tech architecture alongside physical infrastructure 03

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We speak to Peter Powell, Chief Information Officer at La Trobe University, about plans to expand digital capabilities over the next few years in a bid to build a “university city of the future”


hen it was first established in 1967, 552 students attended La Trobe University. Now, it has over 30,000 students from

more than 100 countries and boasts a network of 04

campuses across Northwest Victoria, in Australia. The La Trobe, in the top 1% of universities globally, mission statement, then and now, is to advance “knowledge and learning to shape the future of our students and communities.” Currently it’s enhancing that by developing a “University City of the Future”, growing its physical and digital infrastructures to support the needs of contemporary students and create more than 20,000 jobs over the next decade. Peter Powell, the Chief Information Officer at La Trobe, joined its team over two years ago. He brought with him 18 years’ experience in the healthcare sector. During his time at private healthcare company Bupa, Powell watched the business grow from having no presence in Oceania to its ANZ group accounting for almost


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“ We can invest a significant amount of money into the tech, but it also important that people understand their responsibility to maintain a secure environment” 06

— Peter Powell, Chief Information Officer La Trobe University

half of the global company’s revenue. “That helped me see how a business could scale and flourish in quite a challenging environment.” Powell says. His experience comes into play as La Trobe sets its sights on major growth over the next few years. Its Melbourne campus occupies 267 hectares, making it the largest metropolitan campus in Australia but, according to Powell, only around 20% of the land is built on. “Our long-term view is creating a University City of the Future,” Powell explains, “We want to build a number of precincts that would bring together students, partners, start-up’s, the community, and research capabilities.” It is currently in the final stages of completing its Sports Precinct, which has already attracted major and local sporting clubs, looking ahead building a Research and Innovation Precinct, to encourage start-ups and partners that collaborate with the University and support local business in the North of Melbourne. “As we build it out, we want to create an environment that is interconnected, secure and sustainable.” Powell

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07 explains. “That’s the business ambi-

they are interested in learning.” La

tion. What we’re working on now is

Trobe runs multiple student forums

figuring out what that means for our

across its campuses, getting its feed-

digital environment.”

back directly from the students.

The focus of La Trobe’s digi-

Scalability is an important feature

tal transformation is on student

in La Trobe’s growth. “Building a

engagement, satisfaction, and sup-

city on our campus is about bal-

port, considering everything from

ancing between building physical

immersive teaching environments to

infrastructure and investing in digital

graduate and career development

infrastructure.” Powell says “to get

support. “Students learn in differ-

both we have to effectively manage

ent ways. It could be face-to-face, it

the resources we have. There are a

could be remote / on-line, or even

lot of parallel activities going on.” It is

blended,” Powell says, “We want

here where the expertise of partners

students to be able to select the way

comes into play for La Trobe. “We w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u



use partners to help us predict what’s

integrate cutting edge tech such

coming over the horizon,” explains

as AI, machine learning, or autono-

Powell. “With the rate of change of

mous bots to drive interaction. “Our

technology these days, you can only

technology partners don’t just sup-

predict so far in advance, but as we

port us on providing services, but

build out the physical infrastructure,

actually engage with the academic

we need to place a few bets on the

side of things,” he continues. Long-

technology that enables innovation.”

standing partner Optus sponsored

Alongside partner Versor, La Trobe

the Cybersecurity Chair for the

has done work around a modern-

University, enabling research within

day data platform, ingesting large

La Trobe’s undergraduate and post-

quantities of data to demonstrate

graduate cybersecurity programmes.

how predictive models need to be

Blending academic and tech

used and how the University can best

resources allows La Trobe to engage

with possibilities like piloting 5G across the campus and implementing an Internet of Things (IoT) mentality. Whilst focusing on today’s issue, La Trobe is keeping an eye on the future: experimenting with emerging technologies to drive efficiency and improve the student experience. “Using RPA, a small team has transformed the processes within Student Administration,” states Powell. “RPA is now viewed as a strategic process improvement capability across the University.” Also, over the course of 18 months, the University has built a strong relationship with IBM. “Our Bachelor of Arts Course has over 50 majors; students know they want to study Arts but are unsure of which major may best suit their needs,” he continues. “A Netflix-inspired experience (Bachelor of Arts Explorer - revealed at IBM’s Think 2020) has been developed to help student choice using the IBM Cloud and AI Stack.” The necessity for digital reinven-


Peter Powell

Title: Chief Information Officer Company: La Trobe University Industry: Education Location: Melbourne Australia Peter Powell has over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, having held various executive roles across sectors such as transforming technology and business processes, enabling commercial outcomes and business growth. As Executive Director and Chief Information Officer at La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia, Peter is well placed to propel the University’s solutions to global problems, driving forward customer focused strategies, operational efficiencies and technology transformation.

tion at the University has been emphasised by the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the initial considerations w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u


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“ We are building an IS operating model that supports the university into the future that is responsive, efficient and effective”

campus. “Then followed the interesting stuff,” adds Powell. “VPN could only handle 500 concurrent users, so a new solution was built and tested in four days with existing equipment. Microsoft Teams was rolled out for collaboration, over 2,000 staff were

— Peter Powell, Chief Information Officer La Trobe University

trained virtually and a brand-new

of accommodating students that

services were developed, enabling

could not travel, made complicated

5,000 staff to work from home. This

still further by social distancing rules,

was, and still is, transformation at a

La Trobe made the early decision to

pace which has created new capabili-

move to online teaching, with only

ties for go-to market strategies.”

essential staff remaining on campus.

virtual desktop solution was implemented for Campus Lab capabilities. Finally, hardware was deployed and

To support customers during the

“A significant technology challenge

COVID-19 pandemic, IBM took the

to deliver in one week,” states Powell.

step of providing 90 days of compli-

“Under normal circumstances, we

mentary access to Watson Assistant

have 25,000 students taught face-

for Citizens - AI software which can

to-face and around 5,000 staff

understand and respond to common

attending one of the Universities’ five

questions about COVID-19 on its

campuses every day. It never ceases

own. La Trobe was the first Australian

to surprise me how well individuals

organisation to leverage this offer.. “As

and teams really come together when

lockdowns spread across Australia,

you have a fixed timeline.” Five days

La Trobe University worked with

after the announcement, all students

IBM Garage to launch a chatbot to

were receiving tuition online and

answer frequently asked questions

only 100 essential staff were left on

about the virus’ symptoms, state and w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u


Unlock the value of your data with

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13 federal restrictions and the status of the University,” Powell explains. “The chatbot is available on our website for all staff, faculty and students to learn about the latest information on COVID19 and the specific implications for the La Trobe student community.” As a university, La Trobe has unique access to a constant well

“ Our technology partners don’t just support us on providing services, but actually engage with the academic side of things” — Peter Powell, Chief Information Officer La Trobe University

of fresh ideas, which it develops by supporting multiple start-up organisations and increasing the number of internships it offers. “We’re trying to create an environment where entrepreneurship grows from within and w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u



is encouraged across all campuses,” Powell says. Part of ensuring the growth can continue uncompromised is embedding strong cybersecurity values. La Trobe uses the NIST framework to define its standards, adhering to a mentality of detect, protect, respond and recover. “With things like IoT, the number of devices out there increases your attack surface area,” Powell says. “We can invest a significant amount of money into the tech, but it is also important that people understand their responsibility to maintain a secure environment”. La Trobe runs cybersecurity campaigns and awareness training to keep the people who use its tech up to date on the latest safety measures. Powell’s team also works closely with Optus to shape the cyber security blueprint for the University today and for the future. Research is an integral part of all leading universities and it is certainly a key tenant of La Trobe’s planned 235-hectare City of the Future development. Partnering with IBM Bluewolf and Salesforce, the University is building a research w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u



administration platform. “Research is dynamic,” Powell explains. “The way in which funding grants and regulatory requirements can change; we required a solution that helped researchers and research administrators handle these changes quickly and efficiently.” Phase I


Year founded

$534mn Revenue in US dollars

of the solution went live during La Trobe’s difficult ‘lockdown’ period, demonstrating the ultimate importance of the project, and Phase II has already commenced. Powell 16

emphasises his confidence that the

2,500 Number of employees

University is developing an innovative and successful solution which C O M PA N Y FACT S

• When it was first established in 1967, 552 students attended La Trobe University. Now, it has over 35,000 students from more than 100 countries • Its campus occupies 267 hectares, making it the largest metropolitan campus in Australia

will help Research Management scale efficiently and can be used as an accelerator within the Higher Education sector. “One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time on as a leadership team has been changing our operating model,” Powell states, “When I arrived an external review had recently been completed that recommended an organisational change. Engagement was based more on who you know, not where you need to go to get


appropriate service.” Powell’s team

model that supports the university

has worked hard on establishing

into the future that is responsive, effi-

a consistent engagement model

cient and effective.” Powell explains.

across the University’s seven cam-

There are exciting times ahead at

puses, focusing on a consultative

La Trobe improving on our global

proactive approach as they identi-

rankings across a number of metrics,

fied areas where technology could

improving on student satisfaction

support business. A great example

and developing a digitally connected,

of this new approach has seen the

secure sustainable University City of

success of its robotic process auto-

the Future.

mation experiment being rolled out across other areas of the university. “We are building an IS operating w w w.l a t ro be . ed u . a u



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