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University of Wollongong

How a modern university transformed with data

Fiona Rankin is the CIO of the University of Wollongong (UOW), and her mission is to build UOW’s reputation as a cutting-edge research institution and as a center of academic excellence. The sheer scale is impressive. With 32,000 students, eight domestic campuses, international campuses in Dubai and Hong Kong, and affiliate campuses in Singapore and Malaysia, UOW is an innovative leader in the smart campus trend.

Evolving the IT function and capabilities to meet rising expectations across such a large university begins and ends with data. That’s everything from campus sustainability to the quality of student learning and research success.

Fiona Rankin CIO of the University of Wollongong (UOW)

This data-driven approach is evident from the minute you enter the main Wollongong campus. Smart parking guides you to free spaces. Smart buildings open their windows, adjust cooling and heating, or drop blinds in response to sunlight, external temperatures, and airflows. Some buildings even know that you’re there.

“We use student counting systems to determine physical attendance in tutorials or lectures. Analyzing this data lets us optimize our use of building space,” Rankin explained.

Students also enjoy a high-tech experience through online classes and through a virtual desktop that lets them access academic software and experiences online. Students have the tools and the resources that they need to complete tasks wherever they are and at whatever time makes sense for them. It’s another great experience that sets this modern, youthful university apart.

A quick scroll through the faculty programs at UOW reveals that the institution lives and breathes research. Research ranges from the basic molecular level of how proteins work, right through to whole-scale population health intervention, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning.

The sheer volume of research generates petabytes of data on an ongoing basis, all of which has to be managed.

“As part of the overall transformational program, we needed a future-ready Data Fabric that would let us store and manage different kinds of data with different requirements,” said Rankin. “Data might need to be accessed from one of our other campuses in southwest Sydney, Dubai, or Hong Kong. It might be time-sensitive. It might be highly confidential. So, as well as access control, we need the ability to apply the right security standards and to select the type of storage that’s fit for purpose.”

The partnership with NetApp has been an important part of the university’s successful digital transformation. Said Rankin, “It allows me and my team basically to extend our capabilities, tapping into a whole international world of security expertise, cloud expertise, and keeping up to date with the trends.”

UOW deploys its data in a hybrid cloud environment, using public clouds such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure. A hybrid cloud approach enables researchers to tag their data with metadata, which determines policies as to where and how the data is managed and stored. This capability supports collaborative research across skillsets, faculties, and institutions.

For Fiona Rankin, the benefits have been considerable: “Analytical tools let us see how much data is being ingested, where that data is residing, and who’s writing that data. Most important, we’re now able to report back to the university what data that we have, from what institutions, and what that data actually comprises.”

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