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Wired for Change

Duncan Malthouse-Hobbs became Head of IT at Trinity in October 2015. He describes his department’s remit and skills, and the challenges ahead for IT services at Cambridge colleges.

Soon after your arrival at Trinity, the ‘Computer Department’ became the ‘IT Department.’ Can you explain why you changed the name?

It’s about portraying the role of the department in the right way. Yes, of course we look after computers, but that is only a part of what goes into making an information technology environment successful. We look after a wired and wireless network which serves over 1500 users, manage projects to introduce new systems and services and provide ad-hoc application builds to assist with managing other departments’ business processes.

Can you outline the range of skills and experience of your seven-strong department?

Duncan Malthouse-Hobbs
Duncan Malthouse-Hobbs

My team is made up of four small sub-teams: IT Service Desk, Infrastructure Operations, Development and Web Content Management. The Service Desk has the widest remit; they are responsible for all staff desktop technology, looking after students and fellows, ensuring people can get onto the network, software support, phone system support and much more besides. Infrastructure Operations is responsible for ensuring that all the things you can’t see work! Servers, storage and the large wired and wireless data networks that span the entire campus. The developers look after our databases, build bespoke applications and websites to improve business processes. Our Web Content Manager is responsible for helping departments manage their online information.

What particular skills and experience do you bring to the job?

My IT background is in IT infrastructure but I’ve been working in IT management for around seven years. I’ve worked in various sectors which have all presented different challenges. Collectively this experience has helped in dealing with the wide variety of personalities and business processes at Trinity. I’ve also completed a number of large IT projects in the education sector and what I learnt from that has already proved very valuable.

Can you describe an average day for the Head of IT at Trinity?

My working day usually begins around 8.30am. I like to get in as early as possible to deal with any critical situations that may have presented themselves overnight, and after that I quickly catch up with the team. The rest of my day is usually made up of project work, meetings with colleagues in College and in the University or with technology partners. Keeping up with current trends is essential in IT, so if possible I like to spend a small part of each day reading technology websites and blogs. The systems we have running at Trinity are as stable as we can make them, but we’re always ready to respond to a crisis! Oh, and then there is email…

You have previous experience of working in higher education. How does Trinity compare?

Before joining Trinity I spent 10 years working at The Royal Academy of Music in London, a time I will always look back on with great fondness. At the Academy I was given the opportunity to develop my career at a very fast pace, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The decade I spent in London allowed me to learn a huge amount about higher education and the expectations placed on students in world leading conservatoires and universities. The structure and make-up of the two institutions is similar in many ways, but the scale of the job at Trinity is much, much larger and that’s why I am relishing the role.

What top three issues is your department working on?

Right now my team is focused on the development of our online systems (the website and our SharePoint portal). We’re also working on extending the wireless network into Great Court and re-developing some of our older database systems. Later on this year we’ll be tackling the issue of IT business continuity.

What are the biggest challenges for IT departments at Cambridge colleges in the coming years?

  1. Security: IT security is already a huge global issue. Organisations are hacked for many different reasons and Cambridge is no different. Strong defences and good user education are essential.
  2. Budget and change: in older institutions there is often a resistance to change and the need for more or new technology is questioned. IT managers must be able to produce sound business cases based on risk avoidance, and demonstrate clear business benefits in their proposals.
  3. User experience: Fellows, students and staff expect to be able to connect to and consume IT services on whatever device they choose. This means that systems need to be designed to provide a consistent, secure experience across all platforms.
  4. Commercial approach: education IT is becoming more like enterprise IT all the time. IT staff need to be aware of all the tools and systems available to them, both within the Cambridge community and commercially, and to be capable and confident in selecting correctly. IT users are familiar with web-based tools and hardware from companies with almost endless budgets (for example, Apple, Amazon and Facebook) and there is an expectation that all of their IT will perform in such an easy and straightforward manner.

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