Digital transformation | Building our digital foundations

Ian Connerton is leading a programme to modernise our IT Services and transform our core technology so that we can build an engaging and secure digital experience for staff and students.

Ian Connerton
IT Programme Director, Digital Enablement and Be Safe

I’m fairly confident all of us, at one point in our career, has been frustrated when an IT system has run into a problem. 

Technology is essential to any business. The University’s sprawling digital estate has developed over many decades, creating a gradual build-up of an eclectic collection of devices and bespoke tools. It can be difficult to transfer data between systems, outdated hardware may fail and knowledge of how to keep older systems working can be lost. 

Our IT Services team get all those different types of technology to work together, ensuring the right data flows through them, protecting them from cyber threats, acting as problem fixers and, ultimately, helping us to get the most out of the technology we have.

Then there’s the impact on users – staff and students alike – when problems arise.

From carrying out world-changing research to sending an email, our technology – and, by extension, IT Services – underpins virtually everything the University does. Our digital foundations, if you will. In the case of Leeds, it’s a bit like trying to repair and strengthen the foundations of the Parkinson Building while we’re still using it but, unlike a building, the challenges caused by problematic digital foundations are not always quite as visible.

Now, imagine what we could achieve as a community if our technology simply… worked better. 

As a result, when we launched the University strategy and Digital Transformation strategy, it was the right time to lay out the blueprint for a stronger, more modern and more secure digital foundation. 

This is where two linked programmes of work – Digital Enablement and Be Safe, or DEBS for short – come in. 

Transform, increase efficiency and be future-ready

The Digital Enablement programme focusses on the technology behind the University’s operation, and will deliver improvements such as: 

  • ensuring our enormous PC estate is up to modern standard; 
  • 24/7 support for business-critical systems, such as Minerva, SAP and Banner; 
  • investing in automation and user self-service, so you can get queries answered quickly; and
  • introducing a new Data Service to improve data quality and management across the University. 

The second programme – Be Safe – is our dedicated cyber security programme. Like all organisations, we must continually invest in cyber security to remain protected and minimise risk. 

As part of Be Safe, we will be:

  • expanding the Information and Cyber Security Service by establishing an operations centre dedicated to reducing the likelihood and severity of security incidents and cyber-attacks; 
  • redesigning our network security; 
  • embedding cyber resilience capabilities, including disaster recovery; and 
  • updating the way we manage digital identities and account privileges.

I’ve been at Leeds six months, and there are already plenty of examples of the progress the programmes have made, for example:

  • delivering privilege access management to more than 10,000 devices, meaning researchers and groups of staff can update software themselves without needing to contact IT;
  • launching Microsoft Teams Voice to 4,000 colleagues to replace our traditional telephone handsets, meaning you can take or receive calls wherever you’re working; 
  • launching Falco, our IT chatbot, to help staff and students resolve queries around the clock;
  • agreeing our Data Strategy and recruiting a new team to implement it;
  • updating 20,000 laptops with the latest Microsoft software and replacing a further 4,000 laptops and PCs; 
  • creating 8,000 high-speed internet network access point in our halls of residence; and
  • launching our security operations centre and recruiting a dedicated team.

Of course, much more work is happening behind the scenes to allow us to create a stronger digital foundation – one that ensures everyone has the right technology, data and technical expertise supporting them as we work towards our shared goals.

The next step

I’ve been leading the DEBS programme at Leeds since August 2022, having led similar work at other universities. My role as Programme Director is to ensure the DEBS projects are set up in the right way, guide their progress, help remove any blockers and, most importantly, that we focus on delivering value to staff and students throughout. 

I’ve been in programme delivery and transformational change for more than 20 years, and one of the things that really attracted me to Leeds is the clarity of our strategic vision. The institution also recognises that change can be hard, and we all need to work together as a community to achieve it.  

It’s easy to get carried away with the possibilities and not engage people in the right way to reach our goals. For me, change programmes on this scale are 50% about the technology and 50% about people, so we must consider how the change will impact others, how we define and make it, and how we can bring people with us, rather than feeling like the change is being done to them. 

I’m optimistic about what comes next, but also pragmatic. The DEBS programme will ensure the University has the technology and expertise to realise its ambitions, but we must recognise that this programme is only part of a raft of changes currently underway at Leeds. 

This is why it’s important that my role is also part of the Transformation Office team. I can work with colleagues across the University to see what else is happening, prioritise what’s important and consider how to help colleagues navigate it all without overloading them. 

To that end, please look out for future updates and opportunities to engage with what we’re doing with DEBS through the Transformation Office hub

We’ll also be updating you via the IT website, newsletters and staff events later this year. 

We all have a role to play in supporting Leeds’ vision for a digital future and I hope you’ll be as excited as I am about the journey ahead. 

Ian Connerton
IT Programme Director, Digital Enablement and Be Safe
Transformation Office/IT Services

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