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WashU technological integration announced as part of Here and Next initiative

and | Contributing Writer and Newsletter Editor

Washington University announced its intent to more effectively integrate modern technologies into its research and learning curriculum through the Digital Transformation initiative, Oct. 2.

The University is looking to facilitate research and learning for students by implementing tools that are accessible to everyone and providing students with important skills in a job market where technology is becoming increasingly vital.

These efforts will be overseen by the Digital Intelligence & Innovation (DI2) Accelerator and its implementation lead, the Associate Dean and Chief Data Scientist for the School of Medicine, Philip R.O. Payne. Digital Transformation is part of the Here and Next program, WashU’s 10-year strategic plan.

“For every one person that we asked [what is digital transformation?], we will get a different answer,” Payne said.

In a statement to Student Life, Provost Beverly Wendland wrote about the specific ways that the Digital Transformation effort will benefit students, faculty, and staff, including making it easier to access data, communicate findings from this data, and harness better computing technologies. 

“[Benefits] include ensuring that students have access to a consistent and best-in-class set of digital learning platforms, complementing experiential and hands-on learning that will occur in the classroom and small group settings,” said Wendland.

The Digital Transformation initiative has already begun to take hold in certain corners of the University, such as the School of Medicine.

“We’ve done everything from develop novel ways of using artificial intelligence to improve patient care pathways, to thinking about how we reduce burnout for our trainees, faculty, and staff in the clinical environment,” Payne said.

Now, the DI2 Accelerator is looking at cloud computing. Wendland wrote that the University is hoping to “[partner] with major cloud computing companies to ensure our community has full access to effectively unlimited computing infrastructure.” 

Payne echoed the importance of this aspect of the initiative.

“Computing should not be the limit to our ability to teach or engage in research innovation,” Payne said.

The DI2 Accelerator is additionally promoting its Digital Solutions Studio, which Payne describes as “an internal think tank that helps faculty and staff and students connect with data and software engineering expertise to accelerate their research projects.”

The University also plans to benefit the greater St. Louis community through Digital Transformation. The St. Louis Data Dashboard, built in collaboration with the Digital Solutions Studio, will allow easy access to data involving local elections, the environment, city and county demographics, and more.

The people behind the DI2 Accelerator initiative hope this transformation will take shape within the decade. 

Payne stated “the next three to five years will be absolutely critical” and that “[DI2 Accelerator’s] initial planning time horizon has been 10 years, but digital transformation is a continuous process.”

Payne and the DI2 Accelerator host weekly coffee hours in the Olin Library. 

“It’s so important for our students to tell us what their goals and objectives are for digital transformation and make sure we are meeting those needs,” Payne said.

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