Sean Green’s career has moved from IT through marketing back to IT at his local university, where he is now in charge of IT.
Prior to joining the University of East Anglia (UEA) in what he describes as “a fairly well-developed CIO role”, Green traveled across industries and in a number of diverse roles, all of which started with a Master’s degree in IT from the University of Warwick.
after graduation, Green began his working life Graduated as a trainee at British Gas, where he trained in IT. Early in his career, he held several analyst programming roles in the IT industry, working with technologies such as SQL and Oracle.
But it wasn’t until he joined Churchill Insurance, which was a start-up at the time, as one of the company’s first 50 employees, that his career hit a major turning point.
He joined an insurance company in an IT role, but then moved into marketing within the company: “I know it sounds weird, but it was that kind of business – creative.” In this role, Green wrote and developed business cases for new insurance products.
Green said he began a “fulfilling” marketing career in the late 1990s before being offered another opportunity at insurance giant Aviva, which drew him back into IT. He became the company’s first Customer Marketing Manager and was involved in customer retention, cross-selling and building a marketing database of 15 million customers to provide insights. This led to Green working as a program manager on a data warehousing project at an insurance company, where he moved back into the IT department. He says, “By then I had come full circle.”
After leaving Aviva, Green became self-employed in project management roles for IT projects in the financial services industry, before entering the outsourcing industry as IT Manager at Pearson Government Solutions, where he worked on a managed contract with Southwark Council.
He says that his work at Southwark Council gave him “a taste of working in the public sector”, and he has remained in the sector, taking on contract roles with various councils in London and his home country of Norfolk.
But Green felt it was time to seek a permanent job again and found a job with The London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where he spent more than five years, before moving on to run a shared IT service for the City of London Corporation and the City of London Police.
He then lived in Norfolk and thus communicated and lived in London. When a job opened up at the University of East Anglia (UEA) closer to home, he turned his back. He says, “It is a very prestigious university that is very close to my heart as I live in Norwich and use its facilities, such as the sports park, as a client.”
He takes up the position at a time when the university, like many institutions in the region, is in financial difficulties. uea recently £30 million budget deficit revealed for 2023-2024Which is expected to grow to £45 million over three years. The university attributes this to the combined effect of Covid, tuition freeze, pressure on student numbers and rising costs.
The natural reaction would be that now is not a good time for anyone trying to get investment in IT. However, Green says that rather than cutting back on its IT investments, the university has looked to IT as a means to weather the current storm and emerge stronger. He says the university is set to “encourage creativity and use digital technology to solve problems”, adding that it’s what wakes him up in the morning.
demands of a small town
The CIO role at UEA includes leading all data, IT and information compliance functions. It’s been a little over a year since he started working at the university, which has around 17,000 students, 4,000 staff and a large property, all of which require IT support from a team of around 200 IT staff.
The UEA site is spread over 300 hectares and includes two data centres. “It’s like a small town, so you can imagine how many demands we get,” says Green. The campus includes cafes, a sports centre, student residences and an art gallery, all of which require IT.
Green says this is his most challenging job in IT because of the diversity of technology requirements: “You’re managing IT for a small town, managing a mixed community in terms of geography.”
His first year was very busy. During his time at the college, Green perfected his data and digital technology strategy while creating a business model for his department. He is also the program director of the university’s digital transformation, which is scheduled to be completed by July next year.
Green says the entire university is involved in the digital transformation project. “We are currently working on several areas of technical debt, replacement and renewal of infrastructure. We are also focusing on technology that can support our research community, students and staff,” he said, adding that around £20m would be spent on the program over the three years following its completion.
One project is to migrate the university’s student information system to a hosted cloud service. “Being a core system, it requires a lot of integration with other systems, including finance and academic departments,” says Green.
The system maintains data, including each student’s courses, attendance, individual needs, and payment information. “The student information system is an important platform for students ‘from cradle to grave’,” says Green.
The existing system, which has been in operation for 20 years, will be completely replaced in December this year after the completion of the 15-month project.
Green says scheduling is a challenge for large college IT projects: “When you do heavy loads on some of these large systems, you only have multiple windows if you can do it. One of our windows is around summer. We could have tried to finish it over the summer term, but there was too much risk involved.
Green said the other important community besides the students is the university’s 4,000 employees. To this end, the university is currently investing in the automation of personnel processes, including the rollout of Microsoft’s low-code robotics tools. power appsWhich allows developers and non-technical users to build custom applications for business needs.
,[UEA] It’s like a small town, so you can imagine the demands we get.”
Sean Green, University of East Anglia
“Some of our teaching and learning communities already have active and enthusiastic users of Power Apps, but we want to take that skill even further. In my experience, the technology isn’t the hardest part – it’s the culture and the skills and the buy-in and involvement of the employees.
To encourage employees to use the tool, Green’s team has established communities of excellence and encouraged “citizen developers”. The university is also organizing a hackathon in the autumn, in which groups will use available tools to solve problems, such as automating processes.
“We want to provide digital skills training to our employees and a hackathon is a good place to start, it’s exciting,” Green said.
Power Apps is not the only Microsoft tool the university will use in its transformation, as it has decided to become an integrated Microsoft Store that seeks to get the best from Microsoft tools.
The university is also using the core technology of Microsoft AI to launch its first IT assistant at its help desk. It’s a “game changer,” Green said. “When you contact the help desk, the first conversation is with a chatbot, which will feed back into all the knowledge bases we have on how to fix the problem. We hope to eventually combine this with automated tools to set things up, which is typically done by the second layer of the help desk.”
The AI chatbot will go live in the IT help desk at first, but Green plans to roll it out to other departmental help desks and then to the university website.
“Most of our students don’t want to make a phone call, they prefer to do it online right away. Everything happens on their smartphones, so this will be a game changer for our customers – the students,” he says.
He further said that he expects 50% of first contact calls to be handled by chatbots, with the IT helpdesk currently receiving around 1,000 calls per week.
Security and Cloud
As with organizations across all industries, security is a top priority – and for the UEA and other universities, it is a particularly challenging area.
“We have an open campus with multiple buildings and a lot to protect in terms of physical access points, which is a challenge. We need to strike a balance between access and security,” says Green.
He says he receives good support from the university’s leadership team: “We have completed the roll-out of multi-factor authentication for access to all systems.” It uses an authenticator app or dongle and is ready in less than 12 months. “It’s a huge change with many technical challenges.”
Another area of important planning is about what can be moved to the cloud. Around 80% of UEA’s IT is currently on-premises, but Green is making a business case for moving to the cloud, and is using its experience with organizations that have moved everything to the cloud.
“If you are doing business for the cloud, you need to deploy sensors to get three to four months of data and then you can work out a pricing model to see affordability and how you will configure in terms of different contracts,” he says.
Green’s plan doesn’t end there. Despite the challenges he faces, he makes time to pursue his studies in a subject close to his heart: sustainability. He is completing his post graduation in Strategic Sustainability Management from the University of Derby. “I am very passionate about how to bring sustainability and ideas to the IT world,” he says.
This study will also benefit his work at the university. “We currently have a £100 million campus development program to refresh buildings dating back to the 1960s. This is a great opportunity [introducing] Sustainability,” says Green.
It is also the right time to build a smart campus model – the university will soon launch an Internet of Things (IoT) pilot and integrate campus management systems, and is on the verge of transforming its network.
But perhaps the most rewarding part of Green’s job is managing IT for the university’s research departments, which also includes taking charge of high-performance computing. They have a dedicated team to support it and are about to invest £1 million in upgrading powerful computers.
“My vision of my role is that I am not only educating the next generation of thousands of people who will go on to do great things, but also contributing to world-changing research on things like climate change and biodiversity. Contributing to this really makes sense,” says Green.
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