CIO Spotlight: Tom Brady, The University of Law

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? “From an IT perspective having committed staff with the relevant skillsets to deliver solutions that help the business perform to the highest level.”

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The University of Law

Name: Tom Brady

Company: The University of Law

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: June 2014

Location: Guildford, UK

Over 25 years’ experience working across the manufacturing and educational sectors Tom Brady is responsible for implementing the IT Strategy to digitally transform The University of Law into a modern, innovative student focused organisation. Delivering IT services to 11 UK-based campuses and 2 International locations. Implementation of an IT Application strategy to align and support the University’s business processes to improve overall student experience.

What was your first job?  My first role in IT was as a Computer Operator working for the Husqvarna Group on 24/7 shift rotas. This was in the old days of reel to reel backups, print rooms and data punch cards. I look back on this and find it incredible how we have progressed in terms of IT Technology.

Did you always want to work in IT? Not necessarily but the opportunity came along and IT has provided me with a challenging and equally rewarding career spanning many years. I can’t think of many careers which would involve so much change and excitement over a similar timeframe.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? City & Guilds in Business and Finance at technical college followed by night school studying Computer Studies while working for Electrolux. I have held several now lapsed technical certifications in Unix System Admin and Networking.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have been lucky enough to work for many recognised organisations such as Husqvarna, Thorn Lighting and Carl Zeiss to name a few. Starting my career on the bottom rung of the ladder and working up has given insight to all the challenges that IT Technology can put in your way. I’ve also been fortunate to live and work across Europe experiencing different cultures which has significantly broadened my horizons and appreciation of people and processes along the way.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? The student experience is at the heart of everything we do. Delivering and improving systems to enhance this experience is the driving force for IT. Simplified access to data and content thus creating a seamless journey will be behind all IT investment initiatives in the coming year. My role will be to ensure we are focusing our resources to deliver innovative solutions that reflect the value of IT within the business.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Develop flexible IT Systems to support the exponential growth we have experienced at ULaw. The diversification of the course portfolio has presented many challenges meaning our systems need to handle all combinations of course / module requirements. Further implementation of self-service focused functionality to deliver a seamless student journey.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of CIO cannot just focus on the IT and Technology element. Working closely with the business to support successful transformation will always have role and responsibility crossovers which in fact can be invaluable when trying to understand the challenges faced by the business.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? All of the above and more. This is the ongoing challenge faced by all CIOs I would argue. Digital transformation will be the pillar that supports business efficiency and growth. Student experience will always be at the heart of what we do but for that to be successful then revenue growth and operational efficiency will be underpinning factors.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The IT landscape within the education sector is traditionally a non-integrated environment with several different systems supporting core processes. At ULaw seamlessly integrating all these touchpoints and data flows via Digital solutions is and will continue to be critical to our success. Key performance indicators on system availability, performance and project delivery are measured frequently.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? From an IT perspective having committed staff with the relevant skillsets to deliver solutions that help the business perform to the highest level. Placing trust and giving your staff the confidence to push boundaries in their quest to deliver IT solutions that make use of the latest technologies is rewarding for both myself and my team and the overall beneficiary – the University.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? I’m optimistic that the success of dealing with the challenges of the pandemic will actually open more doors to the required skillsets to support traditional and emerging technologies. Location based roles will change and therefore the market is less restricted with the ability to work efficiently from a home office anywhere.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Two anecdotes I always look back on which have stuck with me:

My first manager once said to me ‘You’re only as good as your last backup’ which I found very amusing but there is a message about doing things efficiently hidden in there!

Another Director once advised me not to use the word ‘hope’ when providing key updates. In his words ‘Hope is not a very good management technique’.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff.  Yes, we do have succession plan and we support all our staff with training, opportunities and promotion wherever we can. In common with most businesses, holding on to our high-performing staff is always a challenge.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? You need to commit 100% to this career and don’t ever expect a 9-5 position. Always listen to you colleagues and customers and involve them in your solution lifecycles. Remember one person cannot be expected to know everything so never be afraid to ask for help – people will respect you for that.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Over a 25-year career I would like to think there have been many key achievements including managing through the millennium challenge, several ERP implementations. A major achievement was a full Infrastructure refresh at the University and integrating IT Cyber management processes. If I was asked to name one in particular, I would mention one of the first Hybrid Cloud rollouts while working for Zumtobel Lighting in Austria. With our partner we were able to build an on-premise E-Commerce platform which had the ability to burst to the Cloud for extra computing resources during peak performance.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I think I’ve carefully considered and taken the career opportunities that came my way and were right for me. But I don’t believe in looking back, I like to look to the future and the opportunities ahead. It is often said that there is no point in looking back as none of us are going that way – and I would agree with that.

What are you reading now? Just started reading the RPA Handbook by Tom Taulli.

Most people don't know that I… started my working life as a professional footballer playing in the old 4th Division. Needless to say Shearer & Beckham had nothing to worry about and I needed a real career if I wanted to progress.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my family (my wife might read this), walking the dog, follow most sports and gardening.

Ask me to do anything but… DIY – I have a history littered with disasters. My view is simple – leave it to the experts.