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AUB’s digital transformation with the student at heart


AUB’s digital transformation with the student at heart Written by Dale Benton Produced by Craig Daniels

Through a five-year digital transformation plan, the American University of Beirut is redefining its entire IT infrastructure with the ultimate goal of enriching the lives of its students


he role of the CIO is evolving. IT has traditionally been viewed as operating almost as a separate entity when placed within the wider context of a business strategy. But over the course of the last decade, the lines between the two functions have begun to blur more and more, to the point in which it could be argued that IT is actually informing the business strategy entirely. This is most certainly the case for the American University of Beirut (AUB). Currently undergoing a five-year digital transformation, one that will significantly improve the IT functionality of the institution, AUB can call upon the leadership and guidance of Dr Yousif Asfour as CIO. Over the course of an extensive career, Asfour’s professional life has taken him from electrical engineering and developing hardware and software for large scale technology companies, right through to the role of CTO and CIO. It’s fair to say that Asfour has lived and breathed technology and this has provided him with a key understanding of how technology can support and drive wider strategic thinking.


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Education and healthcare can’t get by on bandages for IT anymore. Digital transformation is a must to continually deliver the quality services that are demanded, revolutionizing both student and patient experiences; and HPE is a technology partner with a record of success to help. HPE are partnering with AUB to accelerate digital transformation, modernize their IT infrastructure with the right mix of platforms for apps and data, leveraging digital technology advances and forward-looking best flexible IT practices. The AUBMC transformational EPIC Hospital Information System project is yet another milestone in this cooperation. HPE has delivered solutions to education and healthcare for decades, with the vision and expertise to create the right mix for AUB specific digital use cases. This combination of the right mix and the right experience will accelerate the right outcomes for AUB.

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“In many ways, I grew into IT from the bottom. In moving from hardware design to software development to business consulting, I think it gave me two things,” he says. “First, a deep appreciation for how technology is designed and built. It also helped me understand how technology can be used to improve business. So, one of my strengths, I feel, is being able to translate between the two worlds of technology and business.” AUB was founded with a clear mission, to provide excellence in education, to participate the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the people

of the Middle East and beyond. In order for the university to achieve this and to deliver on that vision, Asfour believes that technology will play a crucial role. “Our mission in IT is to partner directly with the academic and administrative units within AUB to help transform teaching, research, student life and patient care,” he says. “The way we do that is by creating a flexible ecosystem, by partnering with the faculty and the students and the administrators. IT has to be a leader and a service broker and a partner with all the stakeholders within AUB.” As a technologist, Asfour

“Our mission in IT is to partner directly with the academic and administrative units within AUB to help transform teaching, research, student life and patient care” Dr Yousif Asfour– CIO




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understands technology as well as anyone else in the institution, but in order to successfully integrate, develop and implement an IT and technologically led transformation, he concedes that there is huge significance in the early stages on communication. “Communication, and helping those who aren’t as technology minded as yourself, is critical,” he says. “I tell my staff on a daily basis that IT is not about technology, it’s actually about understanding what the faculty do, what the students need and then finding the solutions for them using technology.” Asfour describes the current transformation as a shift in conversation. Whereas at the moment, the conversation centres around what people need and how technology can support that need, Asfour wants it to be much more service user defined. “Tell me about the research you do and tell me how you run your lab,” he says. “Then the conversations become much more beneficial for

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both parties. We can understand to understand not how they can what the researchers are doing use technology in different ways, and then propose to them a way but how technology can be used that they could do it better, more to change the way they do things. effectively, through technology.” And that’s a large part of what With a transformation of the size we’ve been doing at AUB.” and scope that AUB is undertaking, AUB is currently in year three of its challenge is inescapable. One of the five-year transformational journey, most significant challenges that so to have come this far is a proof any digital transformation point that there has already must overcome is a been some considerable cultural one. After all, success along the way. AUB was founded Asfour actually believes The year that AUB in 1866 and over the this year, year three, was founded years, employees is one of the toughest past and present years as he feels that have developed a the first phase was spent particular culture and way “getting the wheels on the of working. To transform that, track”, and now is the time particularly with technological to really begin implementing. advancement, is no small feat. However, he can point to what he “There are challenges everywhere, believes is a sure sign of success. but the biggest challenge is the mind. “Only recently, I was at a strategic The technology is easy, says Asfour. retreat with the senior staff at AUB, “It starts with stakeholders. With and I got stopped probably four technology comes risk and a belief or five times by senior members as to why should you change a way of the organisation,” he says. of working that works and is proven. “They complimented me about “It’s about making people begin the team that we have, about how



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responsive they are, about how they understand their business, and how valuable they’ve been. “To me, that’s a huge success. That doesn’t happen typically in IT organisations, and given the history of what we went through here, that’s a nice bonus.” One other, more tangible, data-driven achievement has been the growth of the network bandwidth at AUB. Asfour has overseen an expansion that has more than tripled this connectivity,

providing students with some of the best networks in Lebanon. All of this was achieved against a rather challenging backdrop. “Normally, a university would upgrade its network, its systems and its infrastructure. All of this would happen one step at a time with considerable amounts of money behind it,” he says. “For us, we did all of that with limited budgets and within three years. That is a huge success.” To wind the clocks back to the


“It’s about making people begin to understand not how they can use technology in different ways, but how technology can be used to change the way they do things. And that’s a large part of what we’ve been doing at AUB” Dr Yousif Asfour – CIO

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FACTS AUB has around 800 instructional faculty and a student body of around 8,000 students. The University, which was granted institutional accreditation in June 2004 by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in the United States and reaffirmed in 2016. It has a 350-bed capacity medical center which holds Joint Commission International accreditation. Includes six faculties: Agricultural and Food Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Health Sciences, the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Medicine (which includes the Rafic Hariri School of Nursing), and the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. Offers more than 130 programs leading to the bachelor’s, master’s, MD, and PhD degrees.


very start of this journey, Asfour and AUB recognised it needed to reorganise the university’s IT team to make it more aligned with the digitisation strategy. This saw a new IT function develop, one made up of multiple sub teams. There is the service delivery team, the “face to face” operation that meets with the faculty, students and administrators. Asfour describes its main role as the “field support”, what people would typically think when it comes to IT. Then there is the IT management group, or the “mini CIOs”. This level sits with the different faculties and departments and communicates with the dean and with directors to understand their IT strategies and business strategies in order to define their technology alignment, and ensure it aligns with AUB’s wider global strategy. In the beginning, Asfour was heavily involved with the running of these teams and this new IT function, something he feels was crucial in developing trust.

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“I’d be in there playing a lot with the weeds, going up and down from the bottom level right up to the boardroom,” he says. “After a couple of years, we gained the trust of the organisation and now I can spend more time working on the leadership teams, focusing on strategic directions and building relationships with our deans, our executives, our board and our vendors.” When discussing technology, IT and digital transformation, it’s easy to forget that underneath all of this process and all of the

strategic realignment is one core driving force. The student. “The way I think about this and looking to utilise and implement technology is quite simple,” says Asfour. “We need to look at how we can directly impact not only the life, but the success of our students and how the faculties can use the technology in order to do this better and more effectively.” While this transformation has a set deadline, technology will continue to evolve. Innovation will continue to change the

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“We can understand what the researchers are doing and then propose to them a way that they could do it better, more effectively, through technology” Dr Yousif Asfour – CIO technology of today and of tomorrow and so in reality, it will be a journey that will only continue to define AUB far beyond that five-year plan. Asfour acknowledges this, with technology advancing further and further, so too does the student. “I think technology has become integrated into our fabric. It used to be that technology was an enabler. I think now technology is a bare necessity in order to survive,” he says. “The key, though, is not in the technology, but rather in how you use it. Our students now sleep and wake up with their phone in their hand. They’re connected 24/7. “I’m somewhat biased as a technologist, but I firmly believe that technology, if used right, is going to force us to change not just what we teach, but how exactly we teach it.”

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American University of Beirut P.O.Box 11-0236 / (Department) Riad El-Solh / Beirut 1107 2020 Lebanon Beirut Campus Telephone: +961-1-340460 / 350000

American University of Beirut brochure – 2018  
American University of Beirut brochure – 2018