The Department’s CIO talks about the project, his role and getting through a pandemic.
The South Australian Department for Education has implemented Micro Focus’ identity management solution to provide automated account creation and a unified access point via usernames and passwords. The solution will ensure users have seamless access to the internet with zero disruption to learning.
As part of the project, South Australian-owned integrator, Insync Solutions, will use Micro Focus’s identity management solution to allow students/parents flexibility changing requirements such as moving schools, working between schools, or working remotely, in real time.
EdPass uses Micro Focus technology to manage identity, access, and security. It will be used by more than 900 schools and preschools across the state, including 250,000 students and 30,000 staff members, said Scott Bayliss, CIO at the Department for Education South Australia.
“We signed a contract a couple of months ago, after identifying a couple of early adopter schools, and preschools,” he said. “We’re in the process of implementing the solution for eleven schools we recognised as early adopters.”
Bayliss said the Department want to get a “sense of the roll-out”, and make sure there’s minimum disruption during this phase. during the implementation phase to the initial schools,
“We’re also making sure we’re helping our teachers and students adapt to the new way of logging in and we’re helping with training and education,” he said. “We did a proof of concept in four schools across the State, as part of the evaluation and it was it was very successful.”
According Bayliss the EdPass project forms part of an overarching program of ICT foundation work that includes, SWiFT fibre to schools and preschools and SWiFT Network Technologies.
Bayliss said these projects will leverage EdPass functionality and will deliver on the Department for Education’s commitment to connect every government school in South Australia to fast reliable internet, regardless of location.
“We received some really pleasing feedback from school staff,” he said. “We’re aiming very high with what we are doing here, and we’ve got an accelerated roll-out — agreed to as part of the contract — with this initiative. We want to complete it in around 900 sites by the middle of next year.”
Bayliss said the team is aiming high, but still conscious of not being “irresponsible” with the way the implementation in case it adversely affects the students.
Digital capabilities to modernise
For the Department not even COVID-19 can hamper EdPass from being fully implemented and completed by 2021.
“It’s been a devastating period across the world. However, it has provided us with opportunity in technology,” said Bayliss. “Now during COVID we’ve got to make sure we’re giving our staff and our students the right capabilities in which they can thrive from.”
According to Bayliss about 1000 corporate staff work were able to work remotely within a couple of days of the pandemic lockdown in South Australia.
He said the drive to become a twenty-first century organisation, under a modernisation strategy, started over two years age. The Department has focused on providing staff with digital capabilities to help them to do their jobs better, wherever they wanted to do.
- Getting high speed internet connectivity solutions into every school across the state
- Providing staff with mobile devices
- Making critical business applications accessible from outside the school gate or outside the central office
- Providing tools to be accessible from corporate and school networks remotely
- Making sure staff have the business applications
- Video conferencing capabilities – used for online learning, or for staff to have a conversation with a colleague.
“We weren’t aiming to address technology modernisation for a pandemic, and we had no way of predicting it,” he said. “But as it’s turns out, the work that we’ve done and put in place over the last two years have helped with digital foundations. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t finished those things, but they’ve really helped us during the COVID period.”
However, during this time Bayliss has had a couple of initiatives put on hold because they wanted school staff to focus on caring for students. By and large, the Department operated like an essential service for schools, to ensure that technology stood up for them.
“We’ve been lucky enough that the pandemic hasn’t stopped EdPass, but we have had to stop the large scale roll-out of business applications to our school sector, which was supposed to commence at the start of term two of the school year,” he said. “At the time we couldn’t disrupt an already disrupted system, but we will resume the roll-out at the end of July.”
The roll-out of the apps will allow every school and preschool across the State to “leverage world class IT foundations”. These schools will be accessing apps via a cloud-based suite of products available from anywhere, with the child at the centre and their progress recorded. It will also help teachers increase classroom technology to help them engage parents their child’s school life.
According to Bayliss the thing that helped get the Department with the implementation of the technology, was the ability to get the “right people” working on “different issues” at the same time.
“It’s easy to huddle around a common single problem,” he said. “What we did was look at the common problems and get the right people to huddle around to resolve issues.”
For example, the Department was able to create digital online resource for its school communities, parents, kids, and teachers. The growing collection of resources can be used by kids, parents and teachers, if they’re at home and they’re looking to learn specific parts of the curriculum — depending on what year they were in.
“What we were able to do was bring a group of multi-disciplinary people together with the curriculum. This includes people with teaching practices; people within technology; and people in our communications team,” he said. “Frankly, this would have taken us months, if not a year. But during the pandemic it took a week. We worked a little bit differently because we were able to leave egos at the door and huddle around the common problem, knuckle down and get it done.”
Looking at things from a different angle
Doing things differently was the reason Bayliss got into technology in the first place.
He joined South Australian Department of Education two and a half years ago, after more than 15 year of working in ICT. During that time, he held the position of director of ICT at the Department of Treasury and the Finance; and was CIO at the Attorney-General’s Department.
“I’ve always been interested in how we can use technology to improve the way we do things,” he said. “I think over the last 10 years or so we’ve started to realise and crystallise this.”
For Bayliss it’s “incredibly important” to make sure the user experience is at the core of what the Department does.
“I think the technology industry has known that for some time and has even stated it for some time,” he said. “It’s about ingraining what our customers want from us in all facets from solution design; to user experience; and to training. It’s incredibly important and to be honest it’s something the banks; the insurance companies; the travel agents; the airlines; and those sorts of industries all have a massive jump on government when it comes to customers.”
Commercial consumerisation of digital technologies and the way customers interact with organisations is something that Bayliss said has changed dramatically over the last few years for the better.
“I think it’s vitally important that whether it’s putting a business case up for a new initiative; or just getting an initiative implemented; or a new technology implemented, the focus has be on what its going to mean for customers.
“What’s it going to mean for the business, as opposed to, we’re replacing something we’re needing to invest in technology to swap a legacy system,” he said.
Bayliss said CIOs have been having an “identity crisis” from the moment the “CIO term got phrased” and they’re still dealing with it.
Its vitally important for good CIOs to “embed themselves” in the strategy and leadership of an organisation and provide value.
“That value needs to be solving problems through use cases in different ways to get the attention of chief executives and chief finance officers to inject investment,” said Bayliss. “Otherwise you’re really the head of the technical division and there’s a risk of being seen as a cost centre, rather than an enabler.”
The IT industry was formed in the late 70s. In the early 80s IT projects started to happen, but they didn’t always go well, said Bayliss.
“Everyone’s got a battle story and I’ve seen initiatives get questioned and get held up to another level of justification,” he said. “We are a reasonably new profession, compared to the medical profession. We tend to take the advice we get from a medical professional or legal profession – although there might be a second opinion from time to time — but we take their advice. I think CIOs and heads MIT’s have still got a way to go to get that sort of equal trust and equal pay of the people around the c-suite table.”
According to Bayliss the only way CIOs will be successful is if they’re at the c-suite table and coming up with “initiatives and improvements” that are going to lead to “systems-wide improvement” to the “strategy and vision of the of the organisation”.
“I think we could be an important facilitator and enabler for parts of that,” he said. “[I’m] lucky in the sense that I work in an industry that has the advantage of being able to run proof of concepts and trials of technology.”
Bayliss said he doesn’t prescribe to the notion of doing things to learn the outcomes of a project that fails.
“I think if you continually do proof of concepts and trials that aren’t leading to full blown implementation, then your credibility can come into question,” he said. “Be careful with that. We’re in a in a unique area where we can demonstrate the value of a new initiative or a new technology to the strategy of the business. We do this by doing a proof of concept and by showing the c-level executives something tangible, as opposed to writing a business case.”
According to Bayliss he and other CIOs have “wrinkles, scars and grey hairs for reasons”, they’ve all worked on projects that have that have involved a 12 month development, on some technology behind the wall away from the customer.
“When you show it to the customer for the first time, you’re showing them precisely what they’re not after,” he said. “If you can do a user centred design involving the customer in the business, in all facets of, the initiative, I think you got a much greater chance of bringing them along for change.”
Passionate about the work
That’s why Bayliss is a big believer in working somewhere where you feel passionate about using technology for good.
“I’m more passionate about helping our kids to thrive and equipping our teachers with the tools and capabilities to be able to do that,” he said. “I can walk out of my office and be at our closest school and see what’s going on. I can talk to the teachers and talk to the kids and see the impact we’re having — good or bad — which allows us to address the issues.”
For Bayliss the difficulties for him comes with the scale of the system because the Department has 900 odd sites spiralling across the entire State. He must also deal with issues of inequity across all facets of schooling. From having to provide school staff in the State’s five remote regions with capabilities that will allow them to stay connected.
According to Bayliss if the staff don’t get quarterly professional development online or stay connected with their friends and families back home, then they’re not going to stay in the regional schools for too long.
“There’s so much that we can benefit from across the breadth of our system,” he said. “Whether that’s providing the right digital capabilities; staff retention; professional development; and student outcomes. It’s an extremely exciting time to be in education.”
The future for SA schools
According to Bayliss the Department has just rolled out high speed fibre cables to 98 per cent of schools across the State.
“That’s what we’ve invested in because the technology exists today, we know it’s reliable and once it’s in the ground in a school, it’s not going anywhere,” he said.
The Department has a strong focus on getting the right IT foundations for its schools, said Bayliss. This includes looking at enterprise platform business applications and technologies to improve what the Department does.
“I think we’re close to having the foundations, with the wires and plugs and that sort of stuff in place,” he said. “Now we’ve got to start tuning into what we need to leverage and springboard off of those platforms to help improve teacher practices and have better outcomes for students.”
Bayliss said what really drives himself and the Department is equity education for the students, regardless of postcode they go to school in.
“I’m talking about regional and remote I’m talking about socio-economic differences,” Bayliss said. “The kids in the far remote areas of state schools are as important as the kids that are going to school in the city. They deserve the same opportunities with the right digital capabilities that can be provided.”