University of South Florida


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USF wins prestigious award for innovative excellence in response to COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, USF Information Technology rapidly deployed new solutions that aided in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and created applications within weeks that provided financial, academic and emotional support to students. It was a tremendous lift that kept students on track in their studies – all made possible by IT’s pre-COVID technical strategy.

Graphic says, "Gartner Eye on Innovation Award"

“Prior to the pandemic, we had recognized that the increased appetite for technology and speed to value meant that we needed to change how we created solutions at USF,” said Alice Wei, senior director for Digital Innovations. “We needed to be able to respond to business needs and show value much more quickly and iteratively. We developed a strategy that leveraged hyperautomation and composable architecture, which meant building pieces of technology like LEGO blocks that could be rapidly assembled and re-assembled to create new solutions as demands changed.”

Due to the success of this strategy, USF has been named a winner of the Gartner 2021 Eye on Innovation Award for Higher Education. USF was selected by Gartner and peers from higher education institutions across the world. It recognizes work done by USF for innovative excellence that drives best-in-class initiatives and inspires others.

Sidney Fernandez

Sidney Fernandes, vice president and chief information officer of USF Information Technology

“This was a true team effort, requiring coordinated contributions from nearly every member of IT. Our success relied on our use of the scaled agile framework (SAFe) and promotion of an agile culture that enables many teams to work together at great speed to deliver value without breaking a sweat,” said Sidney Fernandes, vice president and chief information officer. “Key components included strong partnerships between internal business partners and IT that created a shared sense of ownership in solutions, strategic partnerships with industry technology leaders including Appian Corp., Microsoft and Mulesoft, governance processes already in place that enabled us to focus resources, provide transparency and garner client buy-in on why and how the changes would impact the university community.”

New solutions included the creation of the Return to Campus/Campus Pass, which allowed the university to determine building occupancy, testing operations and other communications strategies. An average of 8,000 individuals submitted the daily symptom tracker each day – a previous requirement to visit campus.

“Data was available to us rapidly and in a user-friendly format which allowed us to plan, but also to react in near-real time to an evolving situation,” said Donna Petersen, dean of the College of Public Health and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force. “All of this allowed us to keep case numbers down and to continue providing academic programs in as safe a manner as possible.”

The rapid development of the CARES Act financial aid application also provided students with a seamless, easy-to-navigate on-line mechanism to submit documents and personal statements required for consideration to receive federal financial aid. Nearly 4,000 applications were approved during the early months of the pandemic. 

Additional automated technologies included HR hiring freeze exceptions, a pass/fail grading option application and a system that quickly enabled students to meet virtually with advisors.

“The college needed the application right away, but it also needed to be usable by large numbers of students,” said Moez Limayem, dean of the Muma College of Business. “I was so impressed because using this automation approach, our IT team more than exceeded our expectations. This was truly transformational.”

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