Often great ideas get lost in isolation. Therefore, the TUT digiCommons, a new, state of the art venue on the fourth floor, Building 21, Pretoria Campus, is a much needed initiative to look at fresh, and, above all, collaborative ways of innovation within the University.
Dr Dhaya Naidoo, Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Technology & Chief Information Officer (CIO)
For months before the lockdown started, visitors to the fourth floor were probably wondering what’s up with all the hustle and bustle in its west wing.
Dr Dhaya Naidoo, Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Technology & Chief Information Officer (CIO), is the brainchild behind the welcoming new space for staff to experiment and try new ways of doing things.
He explains that the venue, informed by the concept of Design Thinking, particularly aims at leveraging the best digital business processes and technology to underpin the strategic pillar of making TUT a digitally advanced University. But, he stresses, that people are at the core of such interventions.
Design Thinking is an iterative process that seeks to understand and respond to user needs and experiences, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and quickly prototype, test and scale solutions. It is a way of thinking and working, as well as a collection of hands-on methods.
“The facility has been designed to be a safe space for staff members to experiment, sometimes fail, but especially to find success,” says Dr Naidoo, who is among the frontrunners of the University’s digital transformation.
The name digiCommons simultaneously refers to the use of digital technology in the venue (digi), and Commons – an area belonging to, and impacting on the whole TUT community.
The open-plan venue features state of the art equipment, among others an impressive, touch wall-to-wall video screen for collaborative design and discussion, able to project presentations from a touch screen embedded in a conference table using the on-board computer; multi devices, such as computers and handheld devices, coupled with fast-paced connectivity options; cameras; top security and more. The venue is equipped with interactive technology to also host online discussions and use the collaborative touch boards during these discussions and planning sessions.
All surfaces are designed to work on, therefore it is not odd to find notes and impromptu ideas written on adjacent glass walls, table surfaces and even cupboards, as they come forth. There are also two additional, more informal working areas, with different seating arrangements, which can be used according to the needs of users, and a charming kitchenette and coffee station.
Some new business opportunities have already been identified over a good cup of coffee and mapped on the kitchen surfaces.
Dr Naidoo adds that one of the first projects to be tackled in the venue is a Service Model Canvas whereby staff of different environments will be encouraged to bounce off ideas to create new, more effective business processes, including automating TUT services. The Service Model Canvas is a chart providing an overview of the service in terms of value proposition, infrastructure, types of customers and financial model – all defined on a single page.
It helps to understand what activities are needed to build and deliver a service, and identify potential trade-offs.
He stresses that it was a collaborative project and that Teaching and Learning with Technology, the Faculty of Arts & Design, Buildings and Estates, Campus Protection Services, and Information and Communication Technology Services were vital partners to get it off the ground.
The second phase of the project will include a veranda on the fifth floor being covered and renovated into an entertainment and outside working space.