by Edward Qualtrough

New LSE CIO Laura Dawson on university challenges and British Council legacy

Nov 21, 2017

Laura Dawson is the new Director of Information Management and Technology at the London School of Economics, having left her role as CIO at the British Council in October.

The 2017 CIO 100 high-flyer started this week at the LSE, and told CIO UK at the start of the month that she was proud of her team, the organisation’s transformation initiatives, and the legacy she leaves behind at the British Council.

“One of the things people said was that we had made the technology team more accessible, more part of the rest of the organisation,” Dawson said. “Bringing IT out and being seen as a valued part of the British Council.”

Dawson, the opening speaker at the 2017 CIO Summit in London, had been appointed CIO at the British Council in October 2013 and was subsequently made part of the executive leadership team at the charity-status organisation, which seeks to promote cultural relations and mutual education between Britain and other countries.

“The management board was how things were decided in the British Council; being able to be part of that group influenced the direction of the organisation,” Dawson said. “Technology was not on the board previously so that was quite a big move.

“I had a very motivational boss at the time who opened doors for me. That was quite an important part of landing the role; somebody could open doors for you a little bit. You also have to push through them yourself, but it helps if you have got somebody who is brokering and sponsoring you. That was really good and that helped me get on to the management board and stay on it.”

British Council transformation

The former IS Director at Save the Children, who is a trustee of the Charity IT Leaders CIO network, described the British Council’s transformation programme as ‘The Engine Room’ which has helped deliver “a fairly hefty amount of savings” as well as changing how the organisation operates.

The last part of the initiative concerns the British Council’s sourcing strategy and retendering its contracts. Dawson said that she departed the organisation with “somebody really good leading it” and confident in the team she leaves behind.

Dawson described a senior leadership meeting during her succession planning, involving the Chief Executive, the COO, the CFO – as well as the directors of Business Change and of Partnerships, and of Innovation and Digital. Two of Dawson’s direct reports represented the CIO as part of the handover process.

“They went in and they absolutely nailed it,” Dawson said. “I heard nothing but good feedback from everybody about how well they had done. They knew their numbers, they knew what they were doing, they had a strategy, they were clear, they were consistent.

“It is a nice feeling to know they are set up for success and they are doing a good job. At the moment they are not looking to replace me which is also a testament to that group of people. Watch out for them, I think they are going to be pretty hot in the future.”

Dawson has now joined the LSE as Director of Information Management and Technology where she will be reporting to Dame Minouche Shafik, director at the university since September 2017.

University Challenge

Having worked in the vicinity of its Holborn and Aldwych base if not the industry, Dawson jokes how she knows the area very well and may – or may not – have been prone to sneaking into the library and canteen. She is now looking forward to joining one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

“I think the ability to have education is a big win for society,” she said. “I always want to learn, and it is a sector I have never worked in and there is something quite motivational as somebody who has never worked in that sector yet is attracted to it.

“There is also a sign that they want to change, they want to do different things, they want to take a risk and that is quite positive.”

The university is not without its challenges, however, and Dawson said that as a member of the Russell Group of establishments there are a number of frameworks that the LSE needs to work on. She is also excited about how a central London university can build a community in a way that campus institutions outside of London are able to do, and also how the LSE can better use its data – particularly for researchers.

Dawson was the chair of the CIO network Charity IT Leaders for five years from 2012 until last month, and will continue as a trustee for the network of CIOs and IT directors in the charity and non-profit sector.