Washington University in St. Louis is propelling itself into the digital era with the inauguration of its groundbreaking Digital Transformation initiative, a pivotal stride in the implementation of its “Here and Next” strategic plan. This initiative is designed to fortify the university’s position as a trailblazer in confronting and leveraging technological challenges both in the present and future.
Under the visionary strategic plan of “Here and Next,” Washington University has pledged to channel its resources into research, education, and patient care to establish WashU and the city of St. Louis as a global epicenter for innovative solutions to profound societal challenges. The most recent landmark in this journey is the launch of the Digital Transformation initiative, a venture that aims to revolutionize various facets of life at WashU.
Beverly Wendland, Provost, and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs emphasized the profound impact of digital technology on society, stating, “Digital technology is transforming our society in ways we’re just beginning to understand.” Wendland highlighted the initiative’s significance, expressing anticipation for the remarkable accomplishments it is poised to achieve.
Digital Transformation at WashU will permeate multiple dimensions of university life, enhancing research excellence, refining digital learning experiences for students, and optimizing operations across different schools and campuses. The initiative seeks to position the university as a vanguard in addressing pressing technological challenges and opportunities, such as the impact of big data on public health, countering disinformation, and fostering trustworthy artificial intelligence.
Leading the charge is Philip R.O. Payne, the Janet and Bernard Becker Professor at the School of Medicine and founding director of the Institute for Informatics, Data Science, and Biostatistics. Payne, enthusiastic about the potential for modern data, computing, and communication technologies, emphasized the collaborative nature of the initiative, aiming to unite faculty, staff, and learners across WashU to advance digital transformation across all missions.
At the heart of the Digital Transformation initiative is the Digital Intelligence & Innovation (DI2) Accelerator, serving as its institutional home. This accelerator centralizes digital efforts across the Danforth and Medical campuses, fostering digital activities through seed funding, special events, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Albert Lai, a professor of medicine and chief research information officer, plays a key role as the deputy faculty lead for Digital Transformation.
Lai articulated the comprehensive impact of the initiative, stating, “Together, we will improve student and employee experiences, adopt new approaches to teaching and learning, invest in new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, and change internal and external processes.” The societal benefits of digital transformation, including advances in research through new data science technologies, were underscored by Lai.
Within the DI2 Accelerator, the Digital Solutions Studio emerges as a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaboration, connecting individuals with digital resources to accelerate WashU research and expand computing capabilities. The studio empowers faculty and students to leverage data for societal good, exemplified by the successful launch of a groundbreaking St. Louis data visualization platform developed in partnership with Arts & Sciences.
Betsy Sinclair, a professor of political science, expressed the collaborative brilliance of the Digital Solutions Studio, stating, “The Digital Solutions Studio listens so intensely to our team’s description of research that they are able to dream the same dream of where your research could go — and then build the tech to make that happen.”
Strategic partnerships with key industry players are also on the horizon, as the initiative endeavors to bolster interdisciplinary digital transformation efforts. Through a robust digital community encompassing events, support for multidisciplinary projects, and targeted faculty recruitment, WashU aims to assert itself as a national and global leader in the digital transformation arena.
Philip R.O. Payne encapsulated the mission, stating, “This critical work will harness our unique resources and expertise to responsibly and ethically address complex problems and advance science, engineering, public health, creative practice and so much more.” The Digital Transformation initiative at WashU invites individuals to explore and engage with its endeavors through its dedicated website, offering a gateway to involvement in this groundbreaking initiative.