by Julian Goldsmith

CIO Profile: Greenwich Uni’s Alan Broadaway on public sector politics

Mar 28, 2011
CareersGovernmentIT Leadership

See also: CIO Profile: Greenwich University’s Alan Broadaway on student demands CIO Profile: Greenwich University’s Alan Broadaway on campus infrastructure

Before he left the University of Greenwich in December 2010, head of ICT Alan Broadaway was tasked with streamlining the college’s computing and upgrading to a a unified comms network. With so many initiatives on the go, Broadaway was dealing with a lot of suppliers at once.

He takes a practical approach to suppliers and recognises that it’s a two-way street. The university’s procurement is done as a collective­ with other colleges to get economies of scale, so Broad­away had to base his purchasing decisions on what the majority want. On top of all this, he had to get permission from English Heri­tage, the owner of the Greenwich Naval College campus as well, so all in all, once a deal was made, there wasn’t much leeway.

Tough decisions This doesn’t mean to say Broadaway is a soft touch. The public sector is a political­ arena and you need stiff resolve to push your own agenda through.

There was an element of hostility to new ideas when Broadaway arrived at Greenwich. He was prepared to listen to all viewpoints but as department head it was his ­decision that had to carry sway.

“When I came in I was met with a reaction of: ‘We don’t do it like that here’ from some people. Now some people have left. It’s not a case of I’m the big person who knows it all. There is a reason for your ­decisions and some people still disagree with you when you don’t wish them to. That’s business,” he admits.

Most of the time, however, Broad­away made the effort to build a team with differ­ent types of people who had different approaches and attitudes. He’s very service-driven and put all his staff through ITIL training. He also encourages innovation.

“It’s a case of working with them and involving them, giving them as much responsibility as I can and guiding them. A lot of people didn’t have experience of the wider commercial world so I’m trying to encourage them to go to as many places, talk to as many people as they can and mix with other universities.”

The IT team numbers around 55 people,­ and turnover is six per cent, a figure Broadaway considers healthy enough to get an influx of new ideas without impacting on productivity.

Pioneering spirit Broadaway’s career started in an engineering apprenticeship after studying electrical engineering. It swiftly channelled into computer design at a time when such things were very much a hands-on affair.

He recalls designing his first computer at the age of 23 to control knitting machines for a company in Leicester. In the mid-1970s, he moved on to implementing computer-based systems into North Sea oilrigs, and then on to control systems for the Central Electricity Generating Board.

In the 1980s he was at Rolls-Royce just as microprocessors were being employed in industry. He says he has very traditional attitudes about the value of hard work and kept his knowledge current by going back to college if he discovered an area where he was weak.

This quest for knowledge led to a switch to academia. He became a senior lecturer in microelectronics at Nene College, now the University of Northampton.

Here he moved back into operations as IT director, until the ebb and flow of university administration led him to consider contracting.

This work took him as far afield as Hong Kong, but his crowning glory was being invited to do a series of lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“For anyone in electrical engineering, that’s got to be the pinnacle,” he says.

The varied career has taught him that the keys to success is to enjoy what you do, keep intellectually challenged, involve your team in your journey as much as you can and be firm but fair. Above all, have the drive to see the job through.

“I was inspired to get into electronics by President Kennedy’s speech in 1962, when he promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade,” he says.

“I’m a practical person in terms of let’s get on and do it rather than say you can’t do it. Never give up.”