Being social with your customers

It was my last UCISA ACOG meeting this week and we met in sunny Crewe. I’ve still carried some actions to complete in my final weeks and seem to have agreed to speak at the 2015 conference (how did that happen!?!).

Alongside our meeting, there was the UCISA Support Servces Group Conference so at lunch I was able to catch up with a few sector colleagues to say goodbye.

I also met, by chance, Carolyn Blunt who has co-authored an interesting book on the use of social media in delivering effective customer care . I was cheeky and managed to get a copy of the book and am reading it currently but if you’re interested, here’s an interview with the authors.

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Evolutionary CIO

(I said I’d not post again, but I thought this was interesting, not least in the context of the Jisc/Educause CIO leadership work I’m still committed to).

Is the Chief Digital Officer, an emerging role, an evolution of the CIO role or a dead-end. Interesting view here from someone who was one.

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Goodbye, almost

This week has been one of mixed emotions. Although I wasn’t able to tell anyone at the time, I took up the offer of a new role outside HE and was therefore talking to the University at the start of the week about leaving dates, handover etc.

Today I was able to start telling people and the official announcement was made. I’ve spent a fair part of today responding to kind colleagues here and elsewhere in the sector who sent me messages of congratulations and offers of assistance in making the transition to the new role.

I’ve also spent a lot of time this week thinking about the 13 plus years I’ve been at SHU. It puts it into personal context when I recall that my children were 5 and 2 respectively when I arrived. My elder son started school for the first time a week or so before I started here and he’s just completed his 1st year exams at University this week, whilst my younger son has just finished his GCSE exams.

I’ve had some great experiences working here, some opportunities to travel, experience things, get involved in things and talk/listen to some amazing people. I’ve heard Vint Cerf talk about the internet, contributed to sector work on walk-in access to learning resources and, more recently, leadership. I’ve represented the University Alliance in discussions with Janet UK as they underwent their transition into their new structure under the revised JISC. I’ve spent time discussing the strategy of the University with major global IT companies, looking to form partnerships that add value to the student experience. There are some important and exciting projects underway for IS&T in the coming 12-18 months and although I won’t now be part of them, I look forward to hearing about them completing and being successful.

However, the most enjoyable thing I’ve done is work with some amazing people. So, I’ll miss many of my SHU colleagues and also the many generous people who I have talked to in HE and other CIO/IT Directors in other sectors. I’m hoping to keep in touch with many people and I won’t be far away in my new role either.

This is really then the last time I’ll update this blog but thank you to anyone who took the time to read my posts, I hope you found them interesting. I’ll still be on Twitter (suitably rebadged) and I hope to carry forward what I’ve learned about this blog by blogging about my new role too.

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And again

Another week that didn’t quite go as billed as well as being pretty fragmented. If it had a theme (and I’m not sure it did), it would be about the world beyond the University.

Am still trying to catch up after last week (and a week off) but pressing things claimed most of my attention. Other than that, I’ve an imminent deadline to provide a draft presentation I’m giving at an external event later in the month. When you agree to do these things you don’t necessarily know in advance how pressured your time will be so you agree in good faith and then sometimes it can be a struggle. Doesn’t help I’ve also agreed to write a guest blog piece on the Jisc/Educause leadership project first call, so perhaps there’s a lesson to me there not to volunteer or say yes so willingly!

Highlight of the week was quite by chance. I was at an event where a number of NHS staff were presenting, largely around transformation either in the NHS operation or in some medical aspect of NHS delivery, and I found it fascinating. I was particularly interested in a compelling presentation about innovations in the Glasgow Coma Scale, particularly in its use for patients under 12 years. Quite a privileged to hear about some of the work being done.

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After a week off it feels like running to stand still this week.

Last week was the first teleconference of the Jisc/Educause working group on leadership in IT and it was a really interesting discussion. It opened with a briefing on the project from the Jisc and Educause leads and then introductions from the group members. The discussion that followed talked through the kinds of skills we, as CIO’s in HE, felt were important now and for the future. We also discussed how the role is different from other similar level roles and also the extent to which the CIO needs to come from an IT background.

This week has been quite fragmented and several days were ‘hijacked’ in the sense that what I thought I’d be doing was overtaken by events and I ended up doing something different. It works like that sometimes but it can be pressured when the day job backs up behind me and I’m conscious of things not done that others are waiting on.

It didn’t help, in one sense, that there was a day-sized hole in the week taken up with a strategy meeting for an external organisation where I’m a Board member (on behalf of the University). The event was critical for that organisation and I had to be there but I could have done with an elasticated week I think!

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What does leadership look like

A question being explored by a joint activity between JISC and Educause, led by a working body of members from both constituencies. I offered to be involved and was really pleased to be accepted onto the group. Yesterday was the first chance to talk to Jisc colleagues about the project, outcomes and what I need to do.

I have a personal/professional interest in leadership not only from the perspective of continuing learning and improving my own practice as a leader but also in bringing on and developing leaders and future leaders here in SHU and elsewhere. I mentor a number of people formally and informally, largely around helping them develop their leadership qualities and skills, as well as helping them challenge their own perceptions of themselves as leaders.

I’m also interested in leadership in terms of people where their personal style might not immediately lend itself to mainstream perceptions of what a leader looks and behaves like. In IT, as a massive over generalisation I hope my colleagues will forgive me for, there are many people who would possibly be characterised as introverts yet much of the mainstream myth of leadership suggests that extroverts are more successful. So if that were true, where does that leave anyone thinking about leadership if they’re an introvert? There are writers on leadership that recognise the positive qualities introverts bring to leadership, for example Jim Collins writes here about the self-effacing leader and I’d recommend reading the whole of his article.

I think there are also different types of leaders; positional (ie where leadership is as a result of hierarchical position, such as the CIO), specialist or thought leadership (where leadership comes from specific expertise and unique knowledge or skill set) and, perhaps more controversially, the alternative leader. This latter type of leader could be highly charismatic and influential despite having none of the positional or expertise power associated with other leaders. They can be hugely useful if they are engaged, bought in and included in helping delivery but can be damaging or difficult where they aren’t aligned or where they actively challenge the direction being taken.

So the question of ‘what makes a good leader’ is interesting. Personally, I’d be concerned if we came up with a single set of characteristics that a leader ‘must’ have, as I think leadership is dependent on a range of factors, some of which are outside the immediate control of the individual.

Some are organisational and cultural (different leaders for different environments), some are circumstantial (different skills for different times perhaps) and some depend on the people you work with. Some depend on which of the leader types you are or want to be at a given point; I’ve certainly seen those with positional leadership play the alternative leader when it suits, for example. However, there are certainly some key characteristics that help prepare people to lead and help them be successful.

I’m hoping the discussions with colleagues on the group helps us identify what some of those characteristics are, as this will help those of us looking to support aspiring leaders or inexperienced leaders as well as helping people self-identify potential for leadership.

In the short-term however, I have a large pile of reading to do before the 1st group teleconference next week!

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Looking for the future

I was at an HE event for Samsung, a major international electronics and IT manufacturer yesterday. I was actually there to talk to them about potential broader collaboration given they are one of our suppliers. However, I had a very interesting conversation with one of their UK heads about the speed of innovation and adoption on a global scale.

He was telling me about the new functionality within one of their major product lines and that he’d seen much of this a decade before in another part of the world but that it had taken some time to migrate into a mainstream offering on a global scale. It made me think about our own internal conversations, as part of the Digital Strategy, about the need to move faster from horizon scanning to adoption in order to quicken the pace of innovation.

We also talked about the future of display technology and he showed me this short clip as an example of how that’s evolving.

What was interesting was his view that the greatest take-up so far appears to be in fashion. I recalled these two examples; one from 2012 when Burberry piloted virtual mirrors and more recently in Chanel where Karl Lagerfeld piloted a more cut down digital shopper experience.

So why fashion rather than some other sector?

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Are we there yet

So with the publication of the University Strategy, it’s time to turn to writing up the Digital Strategy.

As strategy watchers (are there such people?) will know, the Digital Strategy is a sub document of the University Strategy and therefore, despite all the work that’s gone into it already it isn’t possible to finish writing it until we’d a final and agreed version of the broader University Strategy. Now we have that, we can move forward.

Today we had a workshop to set out the principles for the strategy. The workshop was led by the DVC and therefore was a great opportunity for her to shape the thinking and to listen to the work already done. The event was informal and there were relevant people from across the University as well as my senior team.

It was a really positive discussion and I think we’ve made real progress on some important principles. These articulate, often for the first time, parameters and expectations for the strategy. As such, they’re important for setting the tone and future direction for the service as well as the strategy itself.

Someone joked on Twitter that we seem to have been discussing the strategy for ever and we should just get on with it. I have some sympathy (it feels like I’ve been discussing it my whole adult life!) but in reality it is such an important foundational document that it needs to be more than just a collection of fine sentiments. If that takes longer to get right than some might like then I can’t in all honesty apologise.

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And so to bed

…for this year’s Annual Operating Plan.

Three months in the making it is finally completed and apart from some last-minute editing all ready to send off to be collated into the wider University plan.

Unsurprisingly, the main future-facing part of the plan is the implementation of the digital strategy, underpinning the objectives of the University Strategy.

That will mean we review and reconsider our existing services and add, amend or replace some of these with the new requirements. All that needs to be done with stakeholders so that we ensure they are properly defined as business services (and not as technical ones) and that the performance metrics are the ones that matter.

All that’s to come of course. Am just pleased we’ve got to this point.

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Does the play world really matter

An interesting mini spat on Twitter this week when I retweeted a BBC News story about Nintendo refusing to allow same-sex relationships on one of their console games. They’ve now apologised (sort of) and relented (sort of) by saying future versions (not releases or updates of the current version) will rectify this, which is good.

There were some exchanges of views on Twitter suggesting that these were games for under 12s and therefore such relationships had no place in those games. Made me wonder whether people realise that people over 12 play such games too. Also, not sure that being 12 precludes someone from wanting to see online and gaming environments that better match their reality. You might be under 12 but already be aware you’re gay, or you might have older gay siblings or indeed gay parents.

The other slightly more supportive comment was about whether it really matters anyway and there are plenty more important issues in the real world to get irked by in terms of gay rights. And that’s an interesting point. There’s certainly plenty of areas of the real world where LGBT rights need support and clearly a computer game is amongst the least of the possible injustices being meted out to LGBT people at this present time.

However, I would argue that representation of LGBT people is limited, both in terms of reach and in terms of its reliance on tired old tropes, and that in itself presents an unfairness and issue. If the only gay characters you see in the mainstream are over-drawn caricatures then might this skew your perception of what it is to be gay? Or, similarly, a woman, a disabled person, a black person, etc etc.

For me, growing up, the interesting characters in books tended to be male. The people who did exciting and adventurous things on TV and in films were male. The girls cooked, waited, helped, cried/screamed at anything a bit scary, looked impressed by their male counterparts. Is that what it is to be a girl then?

So I do think it is an important issue, not the most important, but still worthwhile calling it out.


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