Agents of Change: Simon Harrison, a CIO Disrupting Higher Education

Today’s businesses operate in a world where traditional, rigid structures are being replaced by fluid, rapidly changing models. Individuals who inspire new ways of thinking will power the businesses that succeed as they embrace this new dynamic environment.

Smart CIOs are stepping up to the challenge. They are the catalysts for change, harnessing the transformative power of technology to change the way a business operates. VMware’s Agents of Change initiative shines a spotlight on these important contributors.

According to Simon Harrison, CIO of Kingston University, the rules of business have changed. “Look at Netflix, Symphony or Airbnb, which have disrupted entire industries. If the sector in which you operate hasn’t yet had its ‘disruptive moment,’ it won’t be far off,” he predicts. “Successful CIOs are the first to spot the technological trends relevant to their organisation.”

While the UK higher education sector’s defining disruptive moment is yet to come, it is undoubtedly going through a period of great change. As tuition fees escalate rapidly, students increasingly expect a lucrative return on their investment. They are also demanding more mobility, remote learning options, and teaching methods that combine face-to-face and digital teaching.  

Hear from Harrison in the video below, then read on to learn more about how Kingston University responded to the changing needs of higher education students, and how the university successfully delivered the vision of an ‘always-on, always-available’ university without walls.

Students Demand Top-Grade IT

“By the time students reach higher education, technology is so deeply ingrained in almost every aspect of life that it becomes top in a student’s hierarchy of needs—second only to food and shelter,” explains Harrison.

Kingston University anticipated these changes, and Harrison developed a program that both responded to and capitalized upon them. Taking inspiration from the aforementioned digital disruptors, he set about transforming IT service delivery to the university’s 2,500 staff and 20,000 students and researchers. He wanted to apply private sector IT management disciplines, consolidate IT under one roof, and ultimately enable a rich, digital learning experience that would help attract and retain students both in the UK and abroad.  

Always-On, Always-Available Learning

Within two years, Harrison’s team rebuilt the technology and IT organisation from the ground up—a mammoth task that cost over £27 million. They have successfully delivered the vision of an ‘always-on, always-available’ university without walls that supports a very modern student experience and has an IT infrastructure built for the future.

When reflecting on transformational journeys like Kingston University’s, Harrison identifies two key phases: “At the beginning, it’s about building a consensus and getting everyone on board. When the strategy is agreed, it then becomes one of energy and drive to make sure the program gets delivered.” Harrison advises, “From your colleagues, you need to establish really strong trust. As you deliver change, its gets tough, and you need all of your colleagues to be behind you.”