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ANU configures COVID-19 crisis management platform in three days

The Australian National University, based in Canberra, has more than 25,000 students, an international research reputation, and is highly federated with seven separate colleges.  

Its traditional learning model has been mostly facetoface apart from students’ access to recorded lectures. But as the Coronavirus epidemic has spread across the world, the ANU has moved quickly to transform the way it operates. 

Since the start of the year it has loaded 860 of its courses online to allow students to work from home. And for about 5,000 ANU students “home” is actually on campus. 

Ensuring those students – and the university staff – remain safe is the primary focus of the ANU’s 140-strong 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 is a relatively new entity for the ANU; it 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 ANU’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 effort. 

Teams has been configured with a general tab 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 examplemanages community wellbeing, while others address issues such as teaching and research continuity. The critical incident management team meanwhile provides governance and decisionmaking 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 communicate and collaborate in their own team, and then share information more widely as required. 

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

Teams also provides ANU’s senior executives with a fingertips location for all the information they need to understand how the University is responding to the crisis, which they can access from campus or home. 

As all ANU staff and students have Office 365 access, the Teams Chat channel is being used to broadcast important information 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.   

ANU has also created a One Note portal that the crisis management teams use to create a central risk and issues repository, and it’s also being used to run daily scrums as the technology team continues to refine the solution. 

According to Lakshmi West, director of the ANU’s Service Improvement Group;

“Without the Digital Collaboration Suite, we would not have coped or have worked the way we have to provide timely response to issues.  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.” 

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