Gartner and IT veteran Jenny Beresford has clinched the chief digital officer job at Laureate International Universities, a move that sees her moving back into the c-suite.
Prior to her role at Gartner as research director, CIO Advisory Group, Beresford was the director of digital and agile for Marketbrook Consulting, and formerly the CIO of Swinburne University of Technology.
She was also the former CIO of Pearson, and head of technology experience for the National Australia Bank. She’s also been a CIO50 judge for the past three years.
During her time at Gartner, Beresford provided research and advice on game changers at the intersection of business, societal, market and technology trends. Her specialty areas include digital business models, bimodal and agile delivery, cultural change, innovation and strategy.
In her new role, based in Melbourne, Beresford said she’ll make it her mission to use her “creativity and energy” at Laureate to “disrupt global education.” The role has a wide ranging remit across both digital strategy and product, and IT operations.
“[Laureate’s CEO] has the power and the platform and the courage to do that. And I have the imagination and the expertise,”she says.
Beresford told CIO she’s excited about the new role, which she starts June 11.
“Laureate is going to be truly exciting – my new boss, the CEO [Linda Brown] is ex-Swinburne and she approached me specifically to fill this new position. It’s almost been created just for me,” she says.
“I hope this CDO role – which also includes responsibility for IT (designed exactly as I would advise others to do it today, to bring IT and digital and product back together) – will bring together all the things I’ve experienced, learned, and imagined in my career – to make the world a better place.
“Optimistic, idealistic, and crazy brave to the end I’m afraid. As a female who started working in IT when there wasn’t such a thing and women weren’t expected to do anything with their lives and their brains except have babies and do housework and hope their husband brought home some of their pay packet for them – it’s been a wild ride.
“Now I am one of the first generation of women to have actually had senior corporate leadership roles, let alone been a woman in IT, and I feel like I’ve still got my best years ahead of me. No retirement plans at all. They’ll have to bury me before I stop. I’ve got too much left to do.”
Beresford says this newly created role deliberately combines traditional CDO and CIO accountabilities.
“It’s time in 2019 for a reconciliation between digital business and IT. These two mission critical technology-related functions in recent years have sometimes lost their way, lost their natural connection, to turn into yet more organisational silos inhibiting optimum innovation, velocity to market, and growth.
“Digital and IT need to work together in absolute harmony or risk dumbing down organisational IQ – innovation quotient.”
According to Beresford, Laureate Education is an international company that encourages learning without boundaries, its mission driven by belief in the power of education to change lives.
Their network includes collaboration with digital industry players like IBM and AWS. In Australia Laureate’s portfolio includes Torrens University and higher education businesses ranging from fashion to food, and nursing to business management.
“In the education sector, data and intelligence have always been the foundations of learning. Today the technology we’ve invented, as digital and IT engineers, continues to reveal previously unimagined possibilities to connect and empower learners and teachers, intellectuals and influencers, employers and talent.”
And that’s one of her goals in taking on this new role. She says digital enables educators to better understand people’s learning strengths and preferences, match their knowledge gaps with both esoteric and targeted content, and help provoke thought, debate, and new perspectives on old (and new) problems.
Asked about her major milestones while at Gartner, Beresford says Gartner taught her a great deal about the current digital business landscape – and she’s had an interesting ride with unique experiences.
“I feel like I’ve been through my second MBA – my ‘CDO finishing school’, but when I was presented with this opportunity to put my recent learning into practice at Laureate it was too tempting, I knew it was time for me to make my next move. But I’ll return to being a Gartner client, and so continue the fluid and symbiotic relationship of Gartner advisor to advisee.
“Because of the ubiquitous reach of Gartner in the IT industry, my role as a researcher and advisor in our CIO practice took me to places and people I would never have had an opportunity to experience in any other firm.
Key highlights for her include a personal demonstration by the technophile Russian Minister for Tax in Moscow of how they are applying AI and big data to reform their tax system and manage the economy.
Another highlight she says was catching an Uber-helicopter to the Sao Paolo Symposium last year. Other memorable times she says include meeting the movers and shakers of digital giants in China like Alibaba and Tencent, “or being told the design ‘secrets’ of WeChat by the product owner (the secret ? ‘It takes a lot of work to keep it simple !’)”
“My last CIO Forum with Gartner took me to South Africa, where over 30 per cent of CIOs are female, the highest proportion anywhere in the world compared to the global average of just 13 per cent – a country that has risen from the ashes of apartheid to explore new ways of bringing the strengths of diversity to their organisations.
“I also had unique access to so many established organisations bravely treading where no CEO has gone before, as they embark on holistic digital transformations applying new agile principles, unlearning old ways, experimenting to create digital-fit 21st century workplaces for their people and more exciting experiences for their customers.
“If I leave any legacy at Gartner I hope that my most useful contribution was to help some CIOs, CDOs and CEOs have the confidence and the effective tactics to be braver in their strategies and lift up their people by their leadership.”