Inside Track | Making progress beneath the digital iceberg

Dan Simms, Chief Information Officer, looks back at IT progress during the past 12 months to enable our Digital Transformation strategy and previews the improvements to come.

Employee Survey | Fantastic opportunity to give us your honest thoughts. March 2023

As part of the broader ecosystem of professional services at Leeds, the IT Service – amongst other key services – underpins many aspects of University life.

While you will be familiar with some aspects of our work, such as the networks and software you use daily, that’s only one small aspect of what we do. Alongside solving more than 100,000 IT issues and requests during the past 12 months, we’ve also delivered significant positive change as part of our strategic programmes.

A big theme for this year has been modernisation and getting the basics right. We describe much of what we’ve delivered as being ‘beneath the tip of the digital iceberg’, as it’s not always immediately visible but is hugely important. Most of the progress has focused on updating our old systems (we call this addressing ‘technical debt’), improving our cyber security position and laying the foundations for future digital transformation. 

Here are a few examples of the changes we’ve been implementing:

  • We’ve been paying close attention to your feedback and improving our service with a new-look IT website and improved self-help guides, alongside introducing our new chatbot, Falco. This is just the beginning of how we’re improving our service, with the ability to chat to our customer service staff through Falco coming during this summer.
  • Our cyber security has been considerably boosted – our systems are now more secure than ever.
  • We’ve modernised many core systems, moving them out of our on-campus server rooms and into the ‘cloud’, improving security and reliability. Through this activity, we’ve also reduced our energy usage.
  • We’ve also started introducing a new telephone service via Microsoft Teams, so no matter where you’re working, you’ll be able to make and receive calls.
  • We’ve replaced/decommissioned thousands of unsupported Windows 7 computers, helping to keep us safe and secure.
  • We’ve hired a new Data Services team and have significantly expanded our Cyber Security team.

This is just the tip of the digital iceberg – beneath, many thousands of hours have been spent driving improvements.

This activity is laying the foundations to enable a better experience for student learning and research activity, and also improvements to the University’s processes, infrastructure and physical estate.

We’ve summarised our progress from the past 12 months in our IT Annual Review, so you can see the headway we’re making, even if it might not always be visible. We recognise and appreciate there’s still so much more we need to do. Delivery of the basics and providing excellent service is not only what you expect of us but what we expect of ourselves. We hope the annual review demonstrates we’re making progress and provides confidence about what we have planned next.

So, with all that in mind, what’s next?

We are changing

Our focus for the past year has been getting the basics right. Now we’re looking ahead to continue our change agenda. 

In the past, IT has been very focused on technology and infrastructure. Whilst this is important, it’s crucial we now modernise and target adding the most value we can at the University, with a focus on good-quality, fast-paced delivery.

Our vision for the future is to ‘empower colleagues and students to embrace University values, be successful in their endeavours and support the delivery of the University strategy through the effective adoption and use of digital technologies’.

As CIO, one of my main objectives is to drive the cultural change to deliver this. As part of this, I want to put people, learning and development and customer service at the forefront of everything we do. I want to create an environment within IT that attracts the best talent to us because they like the way we work and the mission we’re on. I want colleagues within IT Services to love their roles and enjoy working at the University. Dare I say it, I also want people to have fun at work, too. I firmly believe a healthy workplace is where people can have fun.

So, in the future, expect to talk to us less about wireless access points and more about how we can collaborate to improve the student experience or win that next research grant.

That change has already begun inside IT Services itself. 

We’re implementing a new IT Operating Model – a new way of organising ourselves and how we work – that aims to put staff and students at the heart of what we do and enable us to create a modernised IT service fit for a world-class institution. 

Moving forward, we want to increase engagement with the University community and share more transparency around our work. We want to give you a better look at what lies beneath the tip of the digital iceberg.

We aim to work closely with all our colleagues, including researchers, lecturers and others across the University – from Facilities to the Transformation Office, Digital Education Systems and far beyond. Our ambition is to drive positive changes that improve your experience at the University and enable you to deliver higher-value work, whatever role you’re in. We also want to spend more time with our students, helping them succeed with their studies and enjoy their time at Leeds.

However, I don't want to sugar-coat it; we know we have challenges and we know we have many improvements we still need to deliver. We will continue to deliver these improvements during the next year via the Digital Enablement (IT modernisation) and Be Safe (Cyber Security) programmes.

One of my colleagues outside of IT, who shall remain nameless, told me recently: “It feels like when a new pop band arrives on the scene and everyone says they were an overnight success. In reality, they’ve been working hard on this for several years.” We are working hard and will continue to work hard to reach that moment when people talk about our overnight success.

It won’t be quick or easy, and there will be challenges, mistakes and setbacks in the future – but together, we’ll work through them, learn from them and be stronger for it.

Finally, I want to thank the whole IT team for their hard work and dedication during the past few years, and everyone who has patiently supported us while we worked through the challenges. 

I look forward to updating you all again on our progress in the future.

Posted in: