Day in the life of a Director of IT Systems and Strategy
Published: 22 May 2017 By Richard Doughty
Graham Eland (49) has worked in further education IT since leaving school, joining Barnsley College as a trainee programmer and now leading a 30-strong IT team catering for 30,000 students plus staff across four campuses at Leeds City College
How did you get into IT and what qualifications have you gained?
I used my first home computer at 16 and computing has been part of my everyday life ever since. I left school in 1984 and got a job in IT programming job at Barnsley College.
I studied for four years on day release and evenings to gain BTec and HNC qualifications in both business and computing. I then completed a one-year, part-time postgrad management qualification at Sheffield Hallam University, which helped in my application to become Barnsley’s head of IT Systems and then IT manager at Thomas Danby College, leading on to my current role.
While at Leeds City, I’ve taken a Prince 2 project management course and several IT Infrastructure Library courses on service level management, service desk and incident management.
What’s unique about working in FE?
There are so many benefits: it’s an exciting, innovative environment to work in, there’s generous annual leave, opportunities for personal training and development, flexible work and life balance, and the overarching satisfaction of working with staff and students.
What’s a typical day look like?
I first catch up with my team to check all IT systems are working as expected. I then work through the day’s agenda which includes planning for upcoming meetings, projects and training sessions plus check through numerous emails, often from marketing companies.
How about some specific tasks you did last week?
I updated our students at meetings run via the Students Union on questions they’d asked at a previous meeting. With colleagues I reviewed progress on testing a new internet filtering product called Smoothwall.
I and a colleague discussed future Google educational products such as the Jamboard (a ‘collaborative learning’ whiteboard) and Universe (a type of intranet) with our Google partner, reviewed the new Chromebook models and considered how many we’d potentially like to buy this summer.
I visited our Printworks campus with our AV supplier to review the future location of our new LED video wall (large TV) measuring 4m x 2.3m. I met SHARP executives from Japan with our AV supplier and showed them our new 70” and 80” interactive TVs due to be installed this summer - I understand we’re the first UK college to buy the 80” technology. I reviewed IT designs, data centres, network connectivity and wifi requirements for our new Quarry Hill campus, due to open in January 2019.
I took part in a seminar in Leeds on further licensing requirements of Microsoft software and with colleagues discussed data protection and information security – another part of my role.
What other direct contact do you have with students?
We invite feedback from our students who have produced some excellent suggestions. One was to let students with physical disabilities log on to their computers automatically by using facial recognition software and their computer’s built-in camera - Xbox uses similar technology.
What’s one of your biggest challenges?
Continually protecting our data and systems from cyber threats. We’re always reviewing our capacity to increase our infrastructure. The estimated 11,000 connections on our college network each day include computers (Apple iMacs, laptops, desktops, chromebooks, iPads) plus students’ own devices, often up to four per person that all connect to Wifi. All students expect to get a rapid and secure internet connection.
What do you most like about your job?
Working with my team to provide IT support and services for our students and staff to help pass their courses and exams. I really enjoy the troubleshooting and teamworking in finding solutions to the variety of requests we receive.
What’s your busiest time of year?
Mid-July to end of August when we can implement and upgrade the college IT systems while classrooms are unoccupied before the new term in September.
What personal qualities do you need?
The ability to problem-solve is crucial; so is decision-making and financial and project management qualities. Being well organised and a team player is important – teamwork is quite crucial when solving problems – and being adaptable to change.
What role does customer service play?
It’s very important and one of our key attributes and qualities!
How do you handle the pace of technology?
We relish the challenge - some overseas students learning English (ESOL) are now using technology to translate and working with voice recognition software.
We also got a boost about three years ago when we successfully bid for £75,000 of funds from the Association of Colleges to explore the benefits of a cloud computing model. This has led to full student access to Google Apps for Education software that includes Google Drive, Online Classrooms, Hangout Conferencing and other Google services. All our students can now log into their online classroom and work on any device ‘any time, any place’.
Any IT developments you’re especially proud of?
Yes, several colleges merged in 2009 and we had to integrate all individual IT networks into one. It was very challenging and took six months.
We were also the first FE College in the country to receive an external quality kitemark for our IT services from the National Computing Centre; we have achieved this for three years in succession. Now we are expanding our services to schools, providing a managed service to three Leeds academies and hoping to extend further.
What would you miss most if you left your job?
The problem-solving element and working with an excellent team.
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