Now step forward …

My colleagues Graham and Chris have posted blog posts on the UCISA Directors Forum event that took place last Week in Manchester. I’ve been a bit busy recently so my posting is just a tad delayed. I thought I’d just throw a few thoughts, ideas and some quotes from Adrian Gilpin‘s presentation, in addition to those already presented by Chris and Graham – it’s interesting how we all have different quotes. Make of them what you will. To those of us who were present, I think we all learnt something and will be that much more strengthened in our leadership than we were before.

Step forward rather than step back when challenged. Here the message is one that instead of being accepting and stepping back when confronted (or even rebutted) – take the step forward and challenge. This may be the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for. Resources will only follow those that step forward and challenge, not those who step back and accept.

Language is a barrier to communication. Here the message is one that we should all heed carefully. We all know about jargon and acronyms and how they can cause switch-off in the listener, but actually the message is more than that – we’re charged with being responsible for ensuring the listener receives the message in language they can understand.

The leader needs to change hugely will and belief, otherwise all you’ll get is compliance. The message here is one that will and belief relating to emotional intelligence are forces for change, if others believe they will follow. Compliance will not lead to transformational change.

“I have been stringing and re-stringing my instrument but the song I came to sing remains unsung” (Rabindranath Tagore). This quote is about restlessness and I find it quite emotive and troubling. So many possible interpretations.

Be the change you want to see. Heard this before, but it’s worth repeating – lesson for all who aspire to leadership.

The leader as a pathfinder – inviting others to leave their comfort zone. Speaks for itself – you don’t become a leader by just doing the daily drudge.

“I want … ” makes an audience lose the power to live. Never thought of it that way, but it’s so true – links back to the compliance thread. Yet so many “inspirational speakers” are actually ranting and are full of their own self-importance. That’s not the message here.

The leader captures the head – story-telling, the heart – energy (emotional intelligence) and the gut – drive. It’s a whole body experience, it’s been said that an academic believes their body is the vehicle to carry their brain around – ’nuff said. Story-telling is soemthing we all should engage in, as that leads to vision, purpose and direction. Our energy comes from feelings (belief) rather than anything else. However it’s drive that gets things done and that often only comes from instinct.

Then a few one-liners

We’re all leaders … the blockers are all around us.

This is my truth, what is yours?

I’m not interested in your truth, I’m interested in the consequences of your truth

The leader doesn’t change the “truth” but changes the way they “feel” about their truth.

Work through these and you get to the “Star Wars moment” – do you believe in the force, or the force of belief.

Beyond the IT Service

Pleased to able to use this blog to present the thoughts of a colleague, Stuart Brown from Oxford Brookes University, who’s been working with other UCISA Director colleagues on our Leadership agenda. We’ve just held our second Directors’ Forum and it was intended that we distributed this paper for comment at the meeting but we were so busy being challenged that the time never materialised. So with Stuart’s full permission here are his personal thoughts – comments are welcomed.


This paper attempts to summarise the distinctive features of a new relationship between the information systems and technology operation (IT) and its host organisation. Industry commentators suggest that this change in the position and role of IT is significant across all industry sectors and worldwide. But here our focus is UK Higher Education, which we suppose to be subject to the same trend.

The impetus for this document has been the UCISA Directors’ Forum, which has exposed some of this new thinking within the sector. The Directors’ Forum is primarily concerned with the implications of these changes for senior IT management. But it has also recognised that many, possibly all IT staff in Higher Education will probably be impacted. To explore this further, initial discussions have been held with the UCISA Staff Development Group (SDG). One conclusion has been that all staff need to understand their place in the big picture. And if the big picture is changing, we need to know what it looks like if staff are to re-orientate themselves successfully.

This document may be regarded as a sketch of the big picture. In its present form it is doubtless incomplete and may be inaccurate. But it is a starting point. Its is intended that it should be refined and developed with reference to the Directors’ Forum so as to become a guide for future activities, including those of the SDG.

Game Change: How is the Role of IT Changing?
IT is moving from a service provider role to that of a full partner in the development and delivery of university strategy .

This does not mean that service delivery is unimportant – quite the opposite. IT must have a demonstrable record of good quality service delivery to attract the trust and confidence that underpin greater influence.

Rather than act as a supplier for sponsors drawn from other parts of the organisation, IT must pro-actively sponsor change including changes that impact other parts of the organisation. This may be seen as a change from a “what do you want IT to do?” to a “you must do this” approach.

This role is risky and requires leadership of high quality. Rapid technology change and poor understanding of IT by non-IT management compound the challenge.

The extent and pace of these changes varies from one organisation to another, even within the same sector. Only time will tell if this is a general historic shift or localised effect confined to certain organisations.

Relationship with Senior Management

1) Procedural
IT needs to operate IT strategy and governance processes that not only allow it to exert its own influence, but draw together all parts of the organisation in a strategic partnership. These processes must interlock with wider corporate strategy (strategic alignment). The objective is to utilise IT to the greatest effect for the benefit of the organisation. These processes require the active participation of senior management.

2) Structural
Senior IT roles must participate fully and influentially in the strategic processes of the organisation. This is often seen as a requirement that the IT Director must report directly to the Chief Executive as well as being a member of the Board of Directors. This is both problematic and contraversial as IT does not have this political position in many organisations, including many in Higher Education.

Capabilities Required by IT
In order to fulfil this role as a proactive business change agent, a number of capabilities become important. Some of these are somewhat removed from the capabilities which may be traditionally valued in IT. The extent to which these newly prominent capabilities displace as opposed to supplement established skills and expertise is a moot point.

Influencing and Communication

IT tends to cultivate a detailed and technical perspective, which is not appreciated by other professions and disciplines. It is important that IT is able to present itself in a way which accords with the perspective of the rest of the organisation.

Professional Service Delivery
As mentioned above, the delivery of well regarded services is essential and this requires high quality professional management (ref. ITIL).

Business Engagement: IT must exploit and develop its understanding and influence on the organisation through disciplines such as Business Systems Analysis and Business Process Review.

Sourcing and Procurement
IT systems and services may be delivered through an increasingly diverse range of options, many of which are essentially outsourced. Expertise in procuring and managing these solutions is increasingly important and may operate at a number of levels from a single system or part of a system right up to the delivery of an entire IT service.

Project Management
As the sourcing of solutions becomes more diverse, the role of IT increasingly needs to embrace the overall management of projects involving out-sourced suppliers. In some cases, the internal IT organisation may have relatively little traditional technical input.