Learning in a digital world with Andy Sheats

  • Posted on May 1, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

This season of On the Move has challenged my thinking around resilience, flexibility and the skills we all need to be thinking about for the future. My first guest, Anna Leibel, CIO of UniSuper, tested my flexibility with some yoga as we talked about digital transformation, her portfolio career and the importance of always pushing for the next thing. My Avanade Australia colleagues reminded me of the importance of thinking big and being resilient while innovating. And, in my latest conversation, Andy Sheats, executive general manager of student experience at Open Universities Australia, talks about “staying human in a technology enabled world” as one of the key skills needed for the future. If you’re as intrigued as I was, let’s jump right in…

In his role, Andy is responsible for everything that shapes a student’s experience at Open Universities Australia, from attracting and enrolling students to helping them achieve their goal of taking a few classes or earning a degree. As an online marketplace that offers more than 160 degrees in 1,384 subjects from 12 top universities to more than 350,000 students, the organization prides itself on flexibility and offering a broad range of choices to learners of all types.  

As it continued to grow, Open Universities Australia knew they needed to modernize their IT platform of they were to continue to offer students the best possible experience.  The team also recognized that it had to modernize IT while running their organization. “We have 50,000 students every day hitting our platform,” Andy told me. “We can't just turn things off and walk away.”

“One of the big things we were looking for was to have more flexibility in our web platform,” Andy told me. “By moving away from our bespoke system, we were able to reduce the time it takes for a student to enroll or to get into in a degree from about five weeks to a week and a half.” 

Learning doesn’t stop with a degree
In the spirit of continuous learning, I asked Andy what tips he would offer others going through a technology-driven transformation. His top three recommendations:

- Be ready for a culture change as you move from an analog business into a digital one. 
- Start with a business strategy, knowing that your business and technology are completely co-mingled. Both must be part of the change. 
- Whatever you’re planning to do, cut the scope in half.

“People tend to overbuild and under deliver. So, I would just go live with what you need—not the bare minimum, but what you need. Scope it as tightly as you can and build out from there.”

Remaining human in an increasingly digital world
So how are innovation and technology affecting the skills they try to impart to students at Open Universities Australia? “One area of skills that can’t be overlooked is just how do we remain human,” he said. “In a sense, it’s about enhancing our humanity, because all of this technology really is built around providing a human experience and enabling human interaction.”

I couldn’t agree more. This digital era isn’t about human vs. machines, it’s about what humans and machines can do together. Drop a comment if you agree and be sure to watch the episode, below.

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