ANU configures COVID-19 crisis management platform in three days

The Australian National University, based in Canberra, has Australia’s top university research ranking, teaches 25,000 students, and is highly federated with seven separate colleges.

Its traditional learning model has been mostly face-to-face apart from students’ access to recorded lectures. But as the Coronavirus epidemic has spread across the world, ANU has moved quickly to transform the way it operates, and like many universities it’s not just about learning online, but also working online with staff suddenly away from campus.

Since the start of the year it has loaded 860 of its courses online to allow students to study remotely.

Ensuring those students – and the university staff – remain safe is the primary focus of the University’s crisis management team. It is working to preserve business continuity where possible across teaching, learning, research and essential services as well as put in place strategies to ensure staff and student safety and wellbeing.

The Crisis Management Team was formed in January 2020 to respond to the impact of bushfires and smoke, then Canberra’s massive hailstorm and floods.

Now it has pivoted its attention to the University’s response to COVID-19. To support that effort it was able – over a period of just three days – to configure Microsoft Teams to support the crisis management activities by a wide cross-university team and external collaborators.

Teams has been configured with a general channel for the overarching crisis management effort, then nine separate crisis management work groups have been set up, each with their own private channel in Teams. One, for example, manages community wellbeing, while others address issues such as teaching and research continuity. The critical incident management team meanwhile provides governance and decision-making support.

For the COVID-19 crisis management effort at the University, 90 per cent of the people involved are ANU personnel – the remaining 10 per cent are external experts and consultants who are also able to use Teams.

Each of the nine groups is able to securely communicate and collaborate in their own team, and then share information more widely as required.

Besides Teams, the University’s Digital Collaboration Suite leverages OneNote to collect and store minutes from crisis meetings, SharePoint for file sharing and Excel to collate issues and risk management.

Teams also provides the University’s senior executives with a single location for all the information they need to understand how the University is responding to the crisis, which they can access from home, a critical requirement now that the campus is completely virtual.

As all ANU staff and students have Office 365 access, the Teams Chat channel is being used to broadcast important information to all stakeholders, such as alerts regarding building closures, while Teams is also being used to consolidate critical information that needs to be shared with students and the wider community.

Stakeholders across ANU acknowledge that the rapid utilisation of the Digital Collaboration Suite has provided an effective platform enabling timely and collaborative responses to emerging issues. For the University, it has provided a mechanism for cross-collaboration, breaking down silos, broad thinking, capability uplift, visibility and accountability and a solid foundation to now be working virtually. The broad engagement with the suite of tools has enabled the University to work, connect and deliver its services in a new way and capability within the University community continues to grow.

While Teams has been used initially to support the university-wide crisis management effort, the University’s individual schools are also exploring how they can use the platform to support their individual business-as-usual needs.


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