How the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology went from a dinosaur to a digital leader in higher education

Digital transformation isn’t easy, and attempting the feat as a large public sector organization is like playing a video game on extreme difficulty mode.

Yet despite the many risks and challenges involved, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has spent the last several years incorporating digital technologies into its campus and is now a leader in the higher education space – not to mention a finalist in the Large Public Sector Transformation category in parent ITWC’s 2018 Digital Transformation Awards.

The polytechnic and applied sciences post-secondary school is the largest apprenticeship trainer in Alberta, and one of the largest in the country. It has dedicated millions of dollars to incorporating innovative tech into its ever-expanding main campus, including large video walls for lecture theatres, digital signage displays, room booking panels, Epson Brightlink projectors in classrooms, and AMX control systems across the board, which allows for the remote control of a wide variety of digital equipment.

It has also opened three new fully digitized buildings in recent years, as well as a new medical simulation wing that will soon boast a 360-degree simulation theatre with projection mapping, stage lighting, and sound.

“As recently as 10 years ago, [NAIT] was a fledgling higher educational institution with fairly conservative ideas of digital tools in their learning spaces, primarily consisting of small projectors in their larger classrooms,” the organization tells “From an outside perspective, NAIT has taken a huge financial risk in adopting so much leading-edge technology, but it appears to be paying off with world-class learning facilities and increased student enrollment. NAIT is now a leader in higher-education digital technology, with many other institutions requesting walking tours of their spaces to see how they too can bring digital technology into the fold.”

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Under the leadership of manager Kyle Rodrigues, the school’s audio visual (AV) services department went from just two people to quadruple the size in order to handle all the new technology. It also merged with the campus IT Services (ITS) department, which has helped immensely from a budget standpoint. Rodrigues’ clear digital strategy was key in transforming the school, according to NAIT.

“[Rodrigues & his NAIT ITS AV services team] are held accountable to their NAIT core values. In association with Facilities Capital Projects, Information Technology Services, and the Board of Governors, they require a clear vision with well-documented business cases in order to move ahead with any of these strategies. The NAIT AV services team has done an exemplary job of bringing digital technology cost-benefit to their stakeholders, which is paying off in a short time judging by the quality of learning and increased enrollment found at NAIT,” it says.

The school has more than tripled its digital technology budget, both in the realms of operational and capital expenses, as part of this digitization – a sign that it’s not only taking the challenge seriously, but going all in and finding measurable success. The school has seen an increase in enrollment to fill the new availability of high quality learning spaces.

It has also increased its internal budget thanks to new revenue streams under the AV services umbrella.

The tech itself is implemented and serviced by AVI-SPL Canada, one of the world’s largest AV tech solution providers. Headquartered in Toronto, AVI-SPL also has an office location in Edmonton and Calgary.

Prior to NAIT’s digital transformation journey, an ongoing service level agreement between the school and AVI-SPL “would have been unheard of…as the need simply didn’t exist,” NAIT’s application emphasizes.

But digital transformation isn’t only about incorporating tech – it also involves a culture change, and NAIT ticks that box as well. The organization says its AV services team shares a close bond in a passionate yet professional environment, which has been a factor in its success.

“The occasional Nerf gun can be found at individual desks, as can a fair amount of well-constructed Lego models. But at the end of the day, this is a group of incredibly intelligent and caring people who work extra hours, come in on their day off and often have a close relationship to their internal clients, all because of the culture fostered within the group, and benevolently allowed by NAIT,” the application concludes.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacs
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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