Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Leadership Event

Last week I attended a UCISA Leadership Forum where we looked at the IT department and the CIO of the future. We started by looking at the challenges facing the sector and the changing higher education landscape. It is widely accepted that public sector cuts are on everyone's agenda - it won't particularly matter what colour government we wake up to on Friday. HE is up against schools, the NHS and the police for funding - it will be up to Universities to demonstrate the value of what we do.

Service departments like ourselves will have to look at a number of options:-
- what can we stop doing?
- what can be outsourced?
- what gives us a competitive advantage?
- where can we be more efficient?
- how can IT help the University to be more efficient?

The challenge will be to make changes without affecting the student experience, the quality of our services, and not stifling innovation. In terms of direction, the future requires much more collaboration - with industry and commerce, with overseas institutions and with each other - within the same institution and between them. Collaboration with each other could include shared services, shared procurement, and working together on open source solutions - Kuali was mentioned as an initiative that perhaps we could look at and learn from.

After this good bit of scene setting for the sector, we looked at specific challenges facing IT departments, and what the IT department of the future might look like. Some specific challenges suggested to us included the conflict of standardisation and innovation, (especially in the area of social media, where much innovation is going on outside of the IT department), interoperability, availability and security. It was put to us that the perception of the IT department for many years has been that it is slow, expensive, too focused on technology, late to deliver and unable to communicate with the business. How true is that still? And if so, how we can change it?

User expectations are high, and getting higher, driven by consumer electronics. Devices are proliferating, with different standards and operating systems. Web 2.0 and cloud computing are currently in favour - but for how long, and are the current business models sustainable? Should those of us who use the "free cloud services" be worried by the recent change in Ning?

Then on to a round table discussion of what we thought the IT department of the future would like. Things I picked out from the discussions (and agreed with - I didn't agree with everything....):
We will need to be more service orientated, and less focused on the technology, but we will still need skilled technologists to implement the services.
We will need to talk and engage in a language that the rest of the University can understand, and sell the benefits and value of our services.
We will need to be facilitators, not controllers, and much more flexible than we are now. Innovation will be crucial, but on a rapid scale - no more projects taking two years.
Risk will be important - as we move to multisourcing of services (a combination of in-house, shared, cloud and out-hosted), we will need to understand and manage the risks involved.
We will need to work very hard at being seen as part of the business - not as something separate - we contribute to income generation, to teaching and learning and to research.

All in all a good, thought provoking session with lots of good discussion with colleagues.

The day finished with a role playing exercise to practise our negotiating skills - I ended up as one of the role players trying to negotiate a contract with a cloud service provider. We didn't buy it, so I'm not sure how competent that made us!

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