University of Newcastle CIO Anthony Molinia didn’t always envision a career in IT, but one in banking. Although, he did immerse himself in the world of customer service right from the get-go.
“My first job, like many young teenagers, was in the retail sector. My first step into professional life, however, was in customer services at an insurance company. It was a great induction into putting yourself in the position of the customer, which is really relevant to today’s drivers of IT.”
Asked how he ultimately ventured into a CIO role, Molinia said it’s an interesting tale - and one that saw him travel a number of roads. He first made the pilgrimage to the UK like many of his counterparts at the time.
“Like many young adults at the time, I embarked on a two-year trip to the UK on a working visa and while there I found myself in investment banking, initially starting out as a M&A system migration tester. I then moved into business analysis before going on to project management.
“On my intended journey back to Australia, I was detoured for four-and-a-half years by a role in Zurich, working for the CIO in IT financial and product control at Credit Suisse.”
Molinia went on to become the senior vice-president of IT financial and product control within Credit Suisse in Zurich, before venturing back to the UK and taking up a senior role at Credit Suisse in London.
“I eventually came back to Australia to achieve a better work-life balance,” he said, explaining he had started a family and wanted to plant roots here.
But back in Australia, he said it proved difficult to catapult a career in investment banking given the majority of his networking years were spent overseas.
“On my return I made a step into financial services in a business capacity within product development. Eventually, I transitioned back into IT in innovation projects within financial services, before moving into consulting.
“I found I had navigated my way into what was a good union of my skill sets – understanding the technical side of things while also being able to have a business conversation and understand the business benefits of what technology can bring to the table, at the executive level.
“This is ultimately what a CIO needs to be able to do and helped pave the way for my progression to the University.”
His jump from the financial services into the university sphere was a major stepchange, Molinia said.
“Completely changing sectors and being tasked to drive the digital strategy for the university was a great opportunity with a chance to make a real difference.”
In his current role at the university, Molinia said it’s exciting to be working in an environment that has an altruistic intent.
“Universities are developing the leaders of tomorrow and that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s an opportunity and a privilege to be able to contribute towards shaping people’s lives and supporting them to go on and do great things.”
Technology is a real change agent and creating countless opportunities, he said, explaining the university is on a digital transformation journey.
“Technology will be a key enabler for tomorrow’s university; it will be imperative to be at the bleeding edge. This is driven by student expectations and we are currently working to ensure we are ahead of this.
“In the higher education sector the pursuit of knowledge affords you the opportunity to explore emerging technologies to enhance student learning and their overall university experience, as well as enhance the solutions which support our researchers. That’s quite different to financial institutions which are driven by very different objectives and customer requirements.”
As such, he said his team has improved the collaboration capability at the university.
“We have introduced a more customer centric approach to IT through a B2B2C strategy. This places students at the centre, but recognises the imperative for close collaboration with our professional and academic colleagues in divisions, schools and faculties.
“We have worked to position ourselves as strategic partners and trusted advisors - not just a reactive service provider. And this is driving our approach to innovation and developing IT solutions.
Indeed, he said he’s on a mission to create a culture of innovation in support of an ‘anytime, anywhere, any device’ vision for the delivery of student learning.
And the innovations to date have come in all forms - from virtual and augmented reality delivering, experiential learning, to robotic process automation and artificial intelligence creating efficiencies behind the scenes. Examples of which include the automation of the University’s vital research grants process and the virtual reality applications aiding student learning in the fields of oral health (virtual anaesthesia) and midwifery (understanding changes to the female body pre- and post- birth) .
The university is also one of the first universities in Australia to adopt a cloud-first approach. Molinia is particularly proud of these ‘pilot’ innovations and the benefits the Cloud will bring to the University.
“Our investment in adopting a cloud-first approach will bring significant technology benefits to the University but also supports our commitment to sustainability.”
These immersive learning solutions, working with emerging technologies, and automation delivering significant efficiencies, are great achievements which Molinia says has helped to demonstrate some of the potential technology solutions can offer and a new way in which they can be delivered.
“We’ve had some great wins in a short period of time which has helped to create the pipeline in front of us. But this is all on the back of the digital strategy that was signed off in the early stages of my tenure - and the right investment over the long term to support the realisation of that strategy.”
Selling the vision
But it was a “hard sell” getting the strategy across the line, he admitted.
“In my view, the higher education sector was coming from a different starting point to other sectors. I was leveraging what I’d learned in investment banking and financial services when developing the digital strategy. The approach has been vindicated though through our pilot approach which has enabled us to demonstrate value and how we can be that strategic partner.”
The key, he said, is customer centricity; focusing on the student experience and the quality of the learning outputs. This breaks down the barriers and creates a “borderless” approach to engagement across the University as well as with the community and industry partners.
“We’re in that very fortunate space, we are not so big that we can’t be agile but we are big enough to have the capacity to trial some new and exciting learning solutions using immersive technology as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive a more enhanced student experience.”
Certainly, today’s CIO should no longer be just a technology specialist, but rather a business enabler, he advised.
“It’s important to be able to understand business drivers more proficiently than in the past. It’s that notion of moving from a reactive service provider to a strategic partner and innovation agitator to deliver meaningful business outcomes.
“While a CIO must ensure the organisation is supported day-to-day, I believe a CIO should also be looking to see what disruption is on the horizon, whether you respond to that disruption or, in fact, drive that disruption from within delivering new business models to maintain relevance and ward off any competitive threats in the marketplace.”
To Molinia, innovation is ‘change around the edge’, “That’s where you’re consistently doing things better, in different ways. Transformation is where you’re fundamentally changing your operating models and your delivery mechanisms in order to create an organisational shift to bring benefit to your students, researchers or the community.”
But perhaps his greatest sense of achievement comes from helping to shape the lives of people he’s worked with, he explained.
“My biggest achievements, really though, are always the people that I’ve mentored or the staff that I’ve been able to help develop throughout my career. It’s most satisfying when someone you’ve had under your wing for a period of time flourishes and goes on to achieve great things.
“I’ve had quite a few people come through in different roles over the years who have gone on to become directors and managing directors of organisations and are very well respected in their fields. That’s very satisfying to me.”