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DIARY 05 Tom MortimerPlugged in

In his current role as ICS Director at the University of Dundee, and recently appointed as Chair of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) in March, Tom Mortimer is well placed to comment on IT strategy

Tom Mortimer

I started my career in the private sector and spent most of my working life – about 23 years – rising through the ranks of BP

to head their IT admin system functions within their Explorations and Research arm. In the early ’90s, BP more or less outsourced their IT services, so rather than being outsourced myself, I left the organisation. That’s when I entered higher education and let’s just say my jaw dropped when I arrived! When I was at BP money was not an object and if you had a problem you could throw money at it until the issue disappeared. This is definitely not the case in higher education. Most of the problems you encounter are to do with funding and making sure you are pushing resources in the right way, but part of the challenge is figuring out how to achieve your aims with a limited amount of money.

BUSINESS-MODELLING When I came into the sector, I felt the IT functions were very technologically focused, whereas now they’re much more business related and IT departments are, in general, more comfortable working to institutional objectives than they were before. There is a greater professionalism now, with regards to planning and application, but I do think we need to understand what the business is about and how we fit into that more. This strategic side of computing is something I’ve always been interested in and I like to look at what people are doing around me and how this feeds into what I am doing. When you start to think like that, it begins to get very interesting. This is what attracted me to my role at UCISA as

the organisation is well placed to feed into debates, not just in higher education but across the country as a whole.We have a lot of knowledgeable people within UCISA and we seek to be an organisation that has a weight when we make a report. As IT directors we can get together and coordinate something that can be of value to both the sector and to government. UCISA excels in this area, and I hope we can do more reports and investigations in the future.

CLOUDED VISION There is a lot of pressure to reduce the amount of resource we put into running the business in favour of added value, and because of that there is the potential for a paradigm shift in the way that we manage and deliver IT services to institutions across the sector. A big part of this is a move towards cloud-based service solutions and JANET are already doing a lot of work in this area, becoming a brokerage of cloud-based and network based services. I think if we go down that route, the challenge is a huge change 5

management issue for IT directors, as the nature of what our staff does changes significantly. The skill sets involved in delivering these services are different to what we have at the moment, and it then becomes a mixture of technological knowledge and procurement strategy.

ARRANGING CHANGE Having been involved in a number of change management programmes both in the public and private sectors, I’ve learnt that you have to think through any changes thoroughly before you implement them. People have to understand the nature of the change – why it’s been done and what advantage there is to them as well as the organisation. A lot of the reorganisation I have been involved with in higher education has been about refocusing people. This takes a lot of care and attention, and how you communicate that to the people involved is crucial. From experience, I have found it is much more effective to engage those individuals from the beginning.

There is the potential for a paradigm shift in the way we manage IT services

BOOK CORNER I learnt pretty early on that you need different things to think about other than work. This is something that BP was very good at, as there was no pressure on you to work from home – you had a job and you did it but you were quite within your place to switch off. I think it’s important to do something that allows you to think differently, otherwise you suffer from it. I recently got an iPad and I'm using the Kindle App, so I am getting back into literature. I used to be a bit of a science-fiction fan and I've actually got back into reading some Arthur C Clarke books. I have a 40-minute commute so there is plenty of time to read or relax! ●

12/9/11 16:59:18

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