David Telford, Assistant Director of Information Services, Edinburgh Napier University, recounts CISG14 Annual Conference and Exhibition

The annual UCISA CISG Conference returned to The Midland, Manchester this year. This majestic hotel with its imposing red brick façade instantly provoked a feeling of déjà vu on my arrival. It was three years ago at CISG12 where Luke Taylor became Chair of the Group and I was nominated Vice Chair. I little understood the journey I was about to embark on and how the CISG Conference, the responsibility of the Vice Chair, would feature so significantly in our calendar. Luke Taylor’s contribution to UCISA and CISG has been considerable and his stewardship of the Group has been undertaken with smart leadership, integrity and care. Luke’s welcome at this year’s Conference set out the three conference themes – Glancing back while looking forward, Shaping the future? and Just do it! as our call for action. Luke highlighted the activities of the CISG Committee and its contribution to the sector and set the Conference up for what was to be an enthralling three days.

Our opening Keynote was presented by Professor Andrea Nolan OBE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Edinburgh Napier University. Andrea discussed ‘Strategy at the heart of institutional reform’. Andrea’s engaging presentation created quite a stir and what followed was an interesting Q and A on the role of leadership, strategy and clarity of vision for an organisation and what IT or Information Services can contribute. It’s safe to say Andrea’s contribution created quite a stir and was discussed in subsequent presentations and long into the night at the now legendary bar networking sessions.

Following Andrea were Simon Walker, University of Greenwich and James Smith, Birkbeck University of London. Simon took us on a journey of reflection on teaching practice and the role of technology and discussed how we might partner to embrace the future. James treated us to an amusing and sometimes terrifying look at Birkbeck’s journey through a minefield of funding changes and a challenging competitive environment and their IT team’s efforts to adjust and adapt while bringing improvements to service and their systems. This was a great opening afternoon to the Conference that set us all up well for day two.

In preparing this year’s Conference, the CISG Conference Committee, knowing full well the ramifications, took the brave decision from the word go to frankly, mess with our heads. Rachel Armstrong, an applied scientist and Ted Fellow, took our thinking into the realm of rethinking numbering systems, evolutionary computing and the thinking around innovation, which forced us all to consider how we might challenge our own often well-established practices. Next up was Iain Liddell, Assistant Director, Brunel University, who presented on the ‘Organisational origami’ that took place at his institution. Iain provided interesting thoughts on the impact of change and added his considerable experience to how we might continue to cope with it going forward.

Day two continued with our now established Crowdsourcing sessions. Our colleagues from Jisc brilliantly facilitated these sessions and reviewed topics that had been previously selected by delegate vote.

The afternoon continued with Andy Youell from HEDIIP discussing their work on a new information landscape and a session from Drew Cook, Director of ICT at the University of Lincoln on Enterprise Architecture and why it’s needed. The excellent sessions from our exhibitors and Business showcase presentations meant that day two was a remarkable mix of the theoretical, pragmatic thinking and the sharing of experience on a quite astonishing level.

The Conference benefits from an excellent dinner at the end of day two and networking long into the night. The turnout for Friday morning was, however, excellent, and, as it turns out, well rewarded. The opening session featured James Munson and Andy Gillet from UCAS giving us a great insight into their move to the Cloud and all that could be learnt from such an ambitious programme. Bill McGloin, Computacenter gave our Primary sponsors’ view of a future software defined strategy, all of which helped the Conference consider the opportunities the future holds.

As if we had not already been treated to a heady mix of presentations, discussions and networking opportunities, the Conference closed on a high with Andrew McMillan, Engaging Service, who provided one of the most insightful presentations on the culture of customer service from his 28 years’ experience with John Lewis and examples from his work with Virgin Atlantic.

Finally, Richard Noble OBE of Thrust 2 fame, brought the house down with his stories of the trials and tribulations of forever trying to break land speed records. His latest record attempt is built around an inspiring education project designed to excite kids to take up a career in STEM areas by showcasing these subjects in exciting and wonderful ways. His insights into project teams, risk and meeting challenges head on truly inspired the Conference and social media feeds were alight with discussions late into that evening.

Most of the presentations can be found on the UCISA website and are well worth a view. Can’t wait for the CISG15 Conference which returns to the Fairmont St Andrews on 11–13 November 2015!

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