More reflections of UCISA23

23 June 2023 - More reflections of UCISA23

PlusOne Bursary Recipients Experiences of UCISA23

UCISA23 brought together a range of IT leaders from across HE. As part of UCISA’s ongoing commitment to supporting the development of colleagues, we supported 12 individuals to attend UCISA23 through our PlusOne Bursary Scheme.

This blog post is the next post in a series presenting the experiences of colleagues who received support through the PlusOne Bursary Scheme.


What were you looking forward to about UCISA23?

Matthew Verrier, Systems Manager, Cranfield University, “Having been to smaller UCISA events such as ISG and DIG in the past, and finding them extremely valuable, I was looking forward to attending the flagship event… I was particularly looking forward to catching up with some of my colleagues at other institutions, many of which I had not seen since before Covid times…. Casting your eye over the schedule it at first seemed to be full on. But on closer inspection, you had a nice mix of main auditorium sessions, mixed with some breakout sessions. The breaks in between sessions were long enough that it allowed for meaningful conversations with the exhibitors, making new relationships with some, or reinforcing existing ones. Again, allowing us to take new ideas and technologies back to our institutions to try and enhance the services we offer.”

Michael Gettings, Director (IT and Digital Services), Teesside University, “It wasn’t intended to be just a few days away from work. Based on feedback from previous Directors here at Teesside of how valuable the event is, I was looking forward to it being not just another conference, networking with senior colleagues from across the sector. Being something different, something particularly relevant to me in my new role as a Director for IT. Talking to those in a similar position to myself and those that had been there, done it and got the t-shirt, I saw this as the main objective of attending.”

Jennifer Brannan, Research Systems Manager, UNiversity of York, “It’s been a little while since I attended a conference on the scale of UCISA23 Leadership Conference; that coupled with it being my first IT-focused event, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I did have some hopes for themes which would be covered: inspiring leadership, driving innovation as part of strategic change projects, the challenge of communicating digital transformation and how we can keep IT teams skilled and motivated.” <


What were your first impressions?

Matthew, “The event did not disappoint, it was larger in scale, both from an attendance and exhibitor point of view. The Venue itself was well appointed sitting centrally from several hotels, suitably sized, and only a couple of hours away on the train for me. The Main auditorium where the majority of the talks took place was a good size, and not too hot or cold. The talks, presentations and audio were slick and of high quality. It’s good to see technology working as intended.”

Michael, “Good choice of hotel, right next door to a great venue in a nice location. Registration was straightforward and then into the supplier’s hall to grab a coffee after a long train journey... Lunch on the main days were of a good standard and plenty of choice, the sessions in the main hall were engaging and plenty of opportunity for breaks to stop you from getting brain fog from information overload. I attended one of the hosted breakfast sessions, the first time at such an event, and an early 8am start but it worked out well with a potential takeaway solution for a current issue we are facing. Day 2 closed with a session from Mateo Salvatto, which personally I found quite inspirational, so great choice of speaker. Evening events were well thought out and great fun, a chance to recharge the brain cells and network with your peers in an informal setting and have a few laughs along the way.”

Jennifer,” My hope to hear about the importance of continued staff development was met via sessions hosted by Janine Barraclough, who spoke about how IT Services at the University of Sheffield is creating a culture of coaching under the CIO leadership of Bella Abrahams, and Amanda Whicher, Director for UK&I Public Sector of Hays Technology, who talked about how we should be more open about what we can offer as an employer, especially to encourage more diversity in our workforce. ”


What were your top three key takeaways having attended?

  1. Matthew “The talks within the main auditorium, were useful in solidifying the challenges we face at Cranfield are sector wide, and not, as it sometimes seems, just applicable to us.”
    Michael, “Intense. There is a lot crammed into a few days, from first arrival at the venue to the final session and back to the train station for home. Be prepared to have your stamina tested as the days can be long, especially with the evening activities.”

    Jennifer, “We need to think about what we are offering our staff - what tangible benefits can we offer? Can we offer development pathways within teams? What do we already do and are we sharing this information both with existing staff and prospective employees?
    It was also great to attend some thought-provoking events discussing what’s needed to serve both students and staff in terms of the tech solutions we offer. Dave Wright, CIO of ServiceNow in partnership with Anthony Stephens AD for Digital Strategy at the University of Salford, posed an interesting question about the challenge that HEIs have to meet the needs of such a broad range of users within a University. Should we all be striving to implement software and technology solutions with a unified UI that is so intuitive, no formal training is needed? This theme was something echoed by Karen Stanton, Vice-Chancellor at Solent University.”
  2. Matthew, “The opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues and discuss different ways of doing things. Allows for good contacts and reference sites.”

    Michael, “Opportunity. Lots of chances to network with those across the sector, and suppliers too. Great opportunity to get ideas for solutions for current initiatives, learn about instances of best practice and new innovations in the wider sector that may be useful to implement in your own Organisation.”

    Jennifer, “we should be thinking about whether our tech solutions can really meet the needs of our broad range of users and look to solutions that don't require extensive training because of their intuitive interface.”
  3. Matthew, “The vendor exhibition was varied enough that there would be someone to talk to from many facets of an IT department. Whether that was learning technologies, Managed Service Partners, hardware, or backup vendors to name but a few.”

    Michael, “Breakout sessions. If you can get more than one attendee, do so. Covering different breakout sessions can be hugely beneficial.”

    Jennifer, “Another highlight was hearing about Tracey Jessop’s experience as Chief Digital and Information Officer at Parliament and how they actively responded to the reporting on the gender pay gap. A poll from her presentation showing that 70% of the audience didn’t know their organisations pay gap demonstrates that there is a *long* way to go here. The split of those presenting or taking part in panel discussions at the conference was about 30% women, 70% men, amongst attendees this % felt even smaller. I attended some fantastic sessions hosted by women. It would be great to see the work of groups such as UCISIA’s Women in Tech be built upon so there are even more female presenters and attendees next year. ”


What would be your top recommendation for someone attending UCISA23 for the first time?

Matthew, “The conversations we had helped ratify some of the decisions and technologies in use within Cranfield to achieve results against common problems. Being able to do this in the City of Liverpool, either over meet and greet receptions or after hours at one of the local bars or restaurants rather than over a prearranged teams meeting was an added bonus.I would also recommend that you try on your Gala event evening wear beforehand, it doesn’t get used very often in my house, so I was thankful it still fitted. The Black-tie event was a nice touch as it is not too often you get to dress up and enjoy a lovely meal. Also, bring an extra suitcase for all the vendor swag you may receive.”

Michael, “Make the most of the evening dinner, not just the food and wine, but the opportunity to network with a small group of people in a less formal setting. It is a great opportunity to speak to like-minded people, share ideas and get feedback for any thorny problems you may have ongoing, without the added pressure of expectations. There were no daft questions!”

Jennifer, “My final takeaway from the conference was the benefit of attending as a PlusOne. Attending alongside leaders from my own institution allowed me to see things from their perspective, consider the challenges they face, the UCISA networks they have built and how these networks have helped them to grow and develop personally and professionally. Thank you again to the York leadership team for this nomination and support, and again to UCISA for this opportunity. I really hope the scheme continues to grow and encourage the next generation of IT leaders through, as well as provide another great opportunity to increase diversity in the organisation.”