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The Strategic Developer: a new role for Higher Education?


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Presentation given at the Jisc Digital Festival, Birmingham, March 2014

Published in: Education, Business, Technology
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The Strategic Developer: a new role for Higher Education?

  1. 1. Paul Walk @paulwalk The Strategic Developer A new role for Higher Education?
  2. 2. I’ll be talking about: 1. How we (in HE & FE) view software-developers 2. Our growing appetite for outsourcing 3. Being in a position to really exploit SaaS 4. the value of the strategic developer 5. conclusion
  3. 3. 1. How we (in HE & FE) view software-developers
  4. 4. "I have never yet come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business.” Lord Sugar
  5. 5.
  6. 6. the role of ‘developer’ is not valued • very few developers make it into senior management in higher education and research • developers are not invited to contribute at a strategic level for fear of being seen to be ‘technology driven’ • developers come and go, often on very junior and short-term contracts - therefore not recognised and trusted • we have a rich & continuous source of talent from our student cohorts • this means that there is little investment in developers • consequently, we don’t get the best value from our developers (through no fault of their own!)
  7. 7. which leads us to: 2. Our growing appetite for outsourcing
  8. 8. “We don’t do IT development - it’s not our business - I’d outsource my granny if I could....”
  9. 9. This slide adapted from presentation by Paul Curran (
  10. 10. IT as commodity • what is sacrificed to achieve the convenience of treating IT as a commodity? • the capacity to offer differentiated services to your paying customers • the capacity to integrate systems unless it’s worth the while of the remote provider • remember, HE is a small market to some providers - they might not care all that much about solving your niche problems
  11. 11. What effect does treating IT as commodity (or outsourcing your granny) have on your ability to deliver an excellent student experience?
  12. 12. This slide adapted from presentation by Paul Curran (
  13. 13. 3. Being in a position to really exploit SaaS
  14. 14. the SaaS relationship • Software as a Service - where the software is delivered to your users across the network - very often accessed through a Web-browser • new features added by the vendor and rolled out to all customers • considerable economies are made possible, but: • local customisation opportunities are limited, and you are one of many customers (potentially many more than in a pre-SaaS world) • to offer more local integration and customisation potential, vendors increasingly offer machine-readable Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) • APIs change the picture....
  15. 15. APIs are interfaces for developers
  16. 16. the value of the local developer • should understand local conditions better than an external supplier • is more accessible - very important when adopting agile development • through (web) APIs, can tailor remote services to idiosyncratic local needs • can engage the technical people in an external supplier - not just the pre- sales people! • can engage with and exploit available open source developments
  17. 17. Procurement • procurement of any given SaaS needs to take into account the APIs offered by that SaaS service. • this needs to be considered in the context of technical understanding of the integration possibilities with other local or SaaS systems with which you have a business relationship • how do we engage in dialogue with vendors? • what capacity do we need internally to deal with this?
  18. 18. "Do we have the capabilities required to deliver value from IT?” Diana Oblinger
  19. 19. 4. the value of the strategic developer
  20. 20. simple SaaS relationship
  21. 21. it’s usually more complicated....
  22. 22. SaaS providers prefer this arrangement
  23. 23. closing the gap between understanding & capacity
  24. 24. the strategic developer • is experienced, both technically and in the ‘business’ of Higher Education • has good local (sometimes tacit) knowledge - such as the real business processes of the institution • has moved beyond ‘problem solving’ as the extent of their perspective • can align technical planning and interventions to strategic goals - has an institutional perspective • gives a technical-development dimension to strategic planning • offers leadership, beyond project-management and can identify new ICT- based opportunities to innovate and deliver a better student/staff experience
  25. 25. the case of the missing career-path
  26. 26. institutional memory and understanding
  27. 27. business has addressed this problem by creating the role of the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) what is the equivalent in our universities and colleges?
  28. 28. 5. conclusion
  29. 29. " thrive in the digital future, you need people who understand all facets of it integrated from the very beginning. Take a lead from the Victorians and ignore Lord Sugar: bring engineers into your company at all levels, including the top.” Eric Schmidt, CEO Google
  30. 30. Paul Walk @paulwalk thank you for listening!
  31. 31. how many software developers does it take to change a lightbulb? none.... that’s a hardware problem.