Salford University CIO puts chemistry before tech

University of Salford tech chief Derek Drury says the IT team is what really counts...

...where else cloud technology could play a role. "I think cloud's great but I think it's like everything else in the computing world: it's what fits your business. It isn't 'one size fits all' and everybody should do it, and everybody should do it completely," he added.

However, Drury said it's unlikely the university will use cloud computing to support business–critical systems such as finance.

"There's bits of [cloud computing] where I'm a great advocate of it if it fits the business. If it fits the business model and there's distinct advantages, then great; if it's just today's buzzword, well, let's not play that game," he said.

Turning to tablet PCs, Drury said there hasn't been a huge demand for the devices so far but there is clearly demand for applications for mobile devices, including Apple and Android devices.

"Again, it's an expectation that some of this stuff will be available on my phone, or my iPad or whatever device I've got. So that's the stuff that we've got to keep up with – it's about having that sort of flexibility in the mobile technology because I think that's where everybody's head is at the moment."

Students will become more demanding of technology

With tuition fee increases and funding cuts, new students are likely to become more demanding of technology Photo: University of Salford

Drury has development teams working on mobile applications such as campus maps and timetabling. Some departments are also interested in using the Apple iPhone as a means to collect data for research.

"There's a lot going on in that space and it's something we need to keep our eye on," Drury said.

The tech challenges of a changing higher education sector

Drury said one of the big challenges in the higher education sector is making sure institutions are able to keep pace with technology developments and that people are going to use new technology that's brought in.

"We've spent close to £10m on putting this stuff in and I think the biggest puzzle for me is making sure that we get good value and we get people using it properly and making sure that investment drives through to a customer satisfaction and a customer advantage for the university," Drury said.

"It's not about if I plug that into there will it explode or will it run - it's about making sure that we can drive the benefits of the investment and I think that's the real hard question that, as a university, we're now grappling with," he added.

However, Drury doesn't envisage the cuts in university funding - due to come in 2012 - will provide too much of a challenge from an IT perspective.

"Providing the books balance, then I don't see that that's going to lead to huge cuts in IT. And to be honest, if organisations have looked at this, then they'll realise that IT is actually where they need to be putting their investment to drive out efficiencies and make sure they've got an advantage for their customers."

However, he added that the rise in tuition fees could present other challenges as it will make students more discerning and demanding about the services they can access at university. "If anybody is lagging behind in IT now would be a good time to start making those investments," Drury said.

The rising costs of going to university is also likely to see people studying remotely to avoid paying accommodation fees or studying part-time to take advantage of the more favourable student loan options.

"I think that will drive a different learning approach so we've got to be prepared for this and we've got to have the stuff in place to drive that through when the demand comes on," Drury said.