“There’s been a big shift in higher education,” says Robert Irving, director of IT at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. “Students used to compete for a limited number of spaces in universities. Today, it’s the universities that compete to enroll the students. We’re competing for students in the same way commercial organizations compete for customers.”
In light of this, the University of Sharjah has put IT innovation at the forefront of its strategy, creating an immersive technology experience that will enrich the lives of students and employees.
Moving to the Cloud
It wasn’t always like this. When Irving joined the University less than two years ago, some of the IT systems hadn’t kept pace with the University’s growth. His team was equipped to put out fires, maintain the status quo and not much else. This left little room to keep up with an industry where student satisfaction is a key factor in determining competitiveness.
After taking stock of the key challenges, Irving set to work reorganizing how the University of Sharjah delivered IT services, from top to bottom. Moving to the cloud was an obvious first step. “Adopting the cloud allowed us to turn around the technology architecture of the university very quickly,” he says.
This made the college more agile and freed up resources to launch new services. It’s also opened the door for a seamless mobile experience, which is key to appealing to an audience of which 85 percent claim centralized mobile apps ease the transition to college.
Wearable technology also caught the attention of Irving. “We’re seeing high levels of adoption of wearable by students and staff. I’m interested in how we can harness their data-collecting functionality and integrate them into the learning environment and our administration systems. That way, we could prompt students for delivering assignments or let them know that they’re close to a learning resource that could be of use to them. Wearables could even help students understand when’s the best time for them to study, based on sleep habits, anxiety levels and so forth.”
Setting the Course for Change
Reflecting on his time at the University, Irving is proud that once the course for change had been set: “The team showed an amazing willingness to adapt and come on board with the new changes. This can be especially challenging when someone new comes in to lead a department. If you are a true champion for innovation, your team will follow you.”
His tip for other IT leaders: stakeholder management. “Have strong engagement with those who will be most affected. Help them understand the reasons for the change, and the opportunities it will bring. Then they will be ready to embrace what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Irving prioritized this relationship in his evaluation of the challenges that the university was facing, and it paid dividends. “I took the time to meet with staff, students, faculty and heard from them what was causing them difficulties in their day-to-day lives. And then we’ve worked through the process of prioritizing those tasks so we can then get on with the work to address those issues.”
Hear more from Robert Irving about the University of Sharjah’s digital transformation.