OHIO embraces collaboration tools, automation as part of digital transformation initiative
Ohio University announced in 2019 that digital transformation would be one of its strategic initiatives over the next several years. The initiative includes efforts to increase effectiveness and efficiency through the adoption of new collaboration and automation tools.
The global COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that effort, as many Ohio University employees transitioned to remote office work and online teaching. Demand rose for digital tools and services.
“The pace at which our community has adopted technology to support new ways of working and connecting with each other is truly inspiring,” noted Chris Ament, the university’s chief information officer.
Ament forecasts that employees will continue to embrace and make effective use of collaboration and automation tools regardless of whether they are working or teaching remotely or in-person over the long term. The Office of Information Technology (OIT) has been working diligently over the last year to offer robust tools and services to support this digital transformation.
Microsoft Teams has served as a key virtual collaboration tool since the pandemic began. Tracy Kitts, IT service owner for collaboration tools, has been focused on helping faculty and staff learn how to use the product for teaching, meetings, sharing files, and one-on-one communication through chats or calls. The number of Teams activities has skyrocketed in 2020.
“We have gone from fewer than 25 Teams meetings a day in 2019 to over 1,000 per day in 2020,” Kitts said of the first several months of use during the pandemic. “During the first three weeks of the semester we had 5,000+ Teams meetings on most weekdays and over 45,000 private chats.”
Kitts worked closely with Ohio University faculty members to transition classes and meetings to an online setting. He describes their quick learning curve on Teams as “amazing” and notes that faculty have not only adapted to the tool, but are actively learning how to use it to their benefit.
“One of my goals is to increase Teams use on campus – I’d say that has been successful,” he said.
Having such a large user base for Teams is an advantage, as OIT can get frequent and dynamic feedback on how the University can continue to adapt and make best use of this and other collaboration tools moving forward, Kitts noted.
In addition to offering collaboration tools, OIT has been working steadily over the last year to help University offices digitize and automate more of their business procedures. Melissa Weaver, OIT service owner for digital workflow, noted that between January and June, OIT helped 23 entities on campus digitize traditional paper processes.
For example, OIT worked with the Center for International Studies and the Graduate College on digitizing certain student forms for processes related to graduation, admissions, and reinstatements. The digital strategies are helping units save time and resources and improve efficiency and accuracy, Weaver said.
“There is opportunity for every office across the institution to benefit and find value from our service,” Weaver said about the possibilities of digitization and automation.
Over the next year, OIT will enhance its collaboration and automation services. The collaboration tools team is exploring how to extend Microsoft Teams to include external collaborators and guest users, such as researchers and high school students, Kitts said. The team is also looking at integrating Teams further with Blackboard, offering more digital toolboxes for campus users, and providing more digital storage options.
The new Digital Workflow Advisory Community is seeking faculty, staff, and student members who are interested in providing feedback to OIT about future automation initiatives at the University. Weaver is also looking to expand digitization partnerships on campus and is focused on making digitization processes consistent across offices.
The Collaboration Tools Advisory Community also is open to faculty, staff, and students interested in discussing and providing input to OIT about unified communications, video/audio conferencing, file sharing and instant messaging.
For more information about Ohio University’s Strategic Initiatives, visit https://www.ohio.edu/president/ohio-strategic-framework/strategic-initiatives.