The Australian National University has taken just three days to configure a crisis management platform to inform staff and its 25,000 students during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Built on Microsoft Teams, the ANU’s new platform provides a dedicated channel for communicating the university’s crisis management efforts to its own personnel and external consultants helping the university get through the unprecedented event.
It was configured in three days by ANU’s Crisis Management Team, which was formed in January this year in response to the impacts of the summer’s devastating bushfires, smoke, damaging hailstorm and floods.
While the safety of students and staff is the primary focus of the team, the platform provides a central hub for business continuity across the teaching, research and services divisions.
Supporting the overarching crisis management effort is a general channel for all users, followed by nine separate work groups addressing more specific issues that were set up with their own private channels in Teams.
Some groups manage community wellbeing, whereas others tackle things like teaching and research continuity - all of which receive governance and decision-making support from the critical incident management team.
Each of the nine groups is able to securely communicate and collaborate in their own team, and then share information more widely as required.
It also gives ANU’s senior executives a single location for all information regarding the university’s response to the crisis that can be accessed from anywhere - an important aspect after the transition to a completely virtual campus.
Because all staff and students have Office 365 access, the chat channel is used to broadcast important information to all users like alerts for building closures.
Meanwhile, OneNote is used to collect and store minutes from crisis meetings, SharePoint is used for file sharing and Excel collates issues and risk management.
The rapid implementation of the platform follows an initially rocky switch to remote learning that resulted the student association calling for course fees for the semester to be reduced or refunded in light of the reduced quality of delivery.
Students were also wary about the university’s decision to replace in-person exams with online ones secured by the AI-backed Proctorio invigilation plugin for Chrome, citing privacy and security concerns among others.
More recently the university has scaled up its virtual campus offerings by adopting AUCloud’s virtual desktop infrastructure as a service to make more than 80 core applications available to 20,000 students during the crisis.