I got up at 06:15 yesterday morning, and braved the surprise frost and freezing fog, in order to go to a conference on Newcastle University’s Benefit-led IT endeavours. Strangely, the weather was much better an hour later in Newcastle. The event was arranged by Newcastle University IT services and Lead and Transform. It was of specific interest to me as I’m fascinated in organisations putting great tools and techniques into practice, specifically tools that can greatly enhanced the agility and IS capability of organisations. This is also the focus of my MBA research project.
I’ve never been to Newcastle University, I’ve obviously got round Durham a bit and Teesside, but never Newcastle. I can only profess to seeing about 20-minutes of it as I tried to find the Beehive Research Centre. It’s an interesting amalgamation of 70′s style buildings and old brick buildings, the interesting ones looked like old industrial buildings that had been turned into ‘offices’. It made for an interesting mosaic. It obviously spreads out quite considerably and I only got to see a microcosm of it. The Beehive was a bit disappointing, going by the name I was expecting some new, swanky, oddly shaped building…it turned out to be quite mundane. My imagination demands cool sounding names should be matched with cool architecture!
An Excellent Conference
I probably got slightly different things out of the conference, due to already being quite familiar with the work on which benefits management and the portfolio approach is based and not working in the higher education sector.
The best bit was some of the lessons learned in terms of just engaging people with practice in order to counteract ‘initiative fatigue’. The techniques and tools aren’t about heavy-weight methodologies (a mistake many people make, doing their best effort to turn them into one), and it’s about interaction with people. It was interesting how Newcastle had learned not to focus on a ‘Benefits-led’ initiative, but to just engage people with the tools in some of the already existing structures and meetings. I thought that was interesting. I liked that post-proscriptive methodology approach and a focus on just enough governance.
One of the biggest things I took away from it was the facilitation techniques in the workshops Newcastle ran on their projects. I enjoy facilitating workshops, the current ‘Opportunity through Social Networking’ segments on the LEO Programme being a case in point, as well as numerous ones conducted in a ‘business analysis’ capacity over the years. Still, I liked the interesting approaches used to map out stakeholders and work with stakeholders, including kids toys of all things, to facilitate a deep understanding. It exemplified a great focus on creativity, co-creation and innovation through interaction. It was also a perfect example of how traditional methodologies can reduce interaction rather than enhance it.
It was also great hearing the stories and approaches taken by the different institutions and the cultural and financial pressures they are under. I can’t go into specifics as, quite rightly, that was the basis on which they were introduced and discussed, but it was fascinating. Specifically the institution that had adopted a lot of the approaches and tools I’ve found my experience and research interest has drawn me to (more on that later). That’s the strength and purpose of these events, of course, and it worked very well. When people interact and freely give in this way it’s always enlightening. It was a great forum for mutual learning.
I found myself watching how the conference was delivered, quite deliberately. It was very well done. The use of slides was minimal, or maybe it wasn’t, and it just seemed to be so. The interlacing of the various presenters was seamless and kept the dynamics changing which kept things fresh and new. I also liked how the discussion was managed, always making sure things were brought back on track when we got sidetracked. Some useful observations to take away.
The surprise of the day was the possibilities for the research project I’m currently doing the preliminary work for: choosing topics, refining research questions, research design, early literature review, etc. It’s a circular process, which has its frustrations.
The is probably another post in itself, but as I’ve been mining my experience and matching that with related theory the project has gone from Business Transformation, narrowed down to IS Capability and then ‘narrowed down’ to IT Governance. Specifically, how IT Governance is an umbrella for all the tools and techniques (such as Benefits Management, Portfolio Management, etc, posts to come) and the linking mechanisms between business strategy and IS.
The surprise of the day, was one of the delegates had based their whole IT Governance and processes on Peter Weill’s work. This is the exact same work I’ve begun to focus on as the basis for framing my research project. That is a potential win on a grand scale, serendipity on a level I couldn’t even begin to contemplate when I set off this morning. It opens up possibilities for case studies with different institutions at different phases of adoption with respect to enhancing IS capability and governance. All of this is also being undertaken during a time of significant change for the sector, giving it an excellence context. Early stages, but it’s worth investigating.
The Next Generation
Two of the attendees weren’t working for a higher education institution, but were students of Durham University. One was an undergraduate doing a business related degree the other was a postgraduate doing an MA. I found talking with them fascinating, because we could compare the various Durham courses and delivery machanisms from different perspectives. It was interesting to note they have some of the same problems as the Global MBA students, and that the ‘quality factor’ (on undergraduate courses) of some of your cohort still causes problems just like it did when I did my undergraduate degree! Some things never change.
What I will say is: they were some seriously impressive ambassadors for Durham, and for their generation. The undergraduate was president of the Consulting Society, which I think he set up, on the board of a charity and I believe he also did a regular intern position with a blue chip consultancy! The MA student had done some interesting research on North East mining towns and had studied for a year in California. Great stuff. Put it this way, they made me think I was a slacker during my undergraduate studies and I was far from that.
The sign of an excellent seminar, conference, workshop or whatever we are calling these things? You’re knackered when the cool down hits. Fell asleep on the train, always a good sign. On a more serious note, it was a great event on a ‘consumption of knowledge’ basis and an excellent example of ideas in the air. Lots of different ways of describing things. Interesting facilitation techniques. Different perspectives. It may also prove to be one of the most significant influences on the research project depending how things evolve moving forward.
Not only did the day provide all that, while walking to the train station I passed a model store and learned that they are selling Big Track again, what more could a man want? A bit of eighties nostalgia to round off the afternoon. The day was finished off blogging in Hartlepool Library while waiting for Louise to finish working late.