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University's response to a letter from the campus trades unions

25 Sep 2015

Following a letter received by the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Will Spinks, in his capacity as Head of the University's Administration, has replied to the campus trades unions on behalf of the University as follows:

I am writing in regard to the letter from the campus trades unions sent to members of the Board of Governors titled “Concerns about ITS Transformation” and dated 23rd September 2015.  As the letter has been circulated widely within the University and as IT Services is part of the Professional Support Services, I am responding in my capacity as Head of the University’s Administration in order to state the University’s position. I understand that the Chair of the Board of Governors has responded separately to acknowledge receipt.

The Board of Governors has endorsed the high ambitions for the University as set out in the Manchester 2020 Strategic Plan.  The University’s information systems and services play a significant role in realising these ambitions.  The last major investment in IT took place in the years immediately following the foundation of the University in 2004.  We will need major investment in IT (at least £50m) over the next three to five years in order to markedly improve the IT Services Directorate support for research; to enhance the student experience, and to improve all of our processes.  However, investment alone will not achieve these improvements.   Unless the current structure and capabilities of the IT Services Directorate are addressed, there is a risk that the University will not reap the benefits of such investment or meet its strategic goals.

Many sectors have adopted the shift to IT provision by third-party organisations and that shift has been further accelerated by the rapidly emerging availability of ‘cloud-based’ services.  While the HE sector in the UK has not yet experienced the scale of changes of other sectors, it is clear that no single organisation can meet these ever-changing demands entirely from within its own skill base.  The IT industry analysts, Gartner, therefore, have recommended in their Higher Education Sourcing Survey (22 April, 2015) that HE Chief Information Officers (CIOs) should develop their tactical sourcing strategies mindful of these changing industry dynamics.

The University undertook an analysis, supported by external consultants, on its current IT provision and on likely future challenges and a number of options were explored, including one option to fully outsource its IT service.  However, the lack of precedent for this within the HE sector, combined with other factors, led to the University’s decision not to fully outsource but instead move to a more flexible model of IT support to meet the needs of staff and students. Instead, a strategy to work in partnership with external vendors to supplement in-house skills and adopt modern technologies and delivery methods has been adopted. The adopted model will, however, involve reshaping the core IT team alongside investment in new capabilities. The move to this model will involve the loss of 68 existing IT staff roles and the creation of 21 new roles. It is hoped that the reduction in roles can be achieved through retraining, redeployment and a generous voluntary severance scheme. 

In your letter you have asked a series of questions about the detailed questions about the nature and content of the proposed IT strategy.  As you are aware, the University has consulted with the trades unions both about IT transformation generally and separately about the detail of the voluntary severance scheme. Under the IT Transformation consultation exercise, nine formal union meetings were scheduled in total.  Since then there have been five further meetings for the separate purpose of consultation on the voluntary severance scheme relating to the Future IT programme.  The University has communicated that we will move to a compulsory redundancy programme only if the target numbers are not reached through voluntary routes and this would then be the subject of a separate and additional consultation with the trades unions.  The University believes, therefore, that the issues you raise have been covered fully within these discussions. Notwithstanding this, as previously communicated, the University remains willing to engage in ongoing dialogue with you about the future of IT at the University.

Our Director of IT, Gerry Pennell OBE, has extensive experience in establishing and leading large IT organisations and has a strong association with the University of Manchester. He has had a highly successful career employing a variety of sourcing strategies in different situations in a variety of sectors.  However, it is important to note that decisions taken in respect of the University’s IT  sourcing strategy  are not attributable to a single individual but have been brought forward in a considered manner through the IT Transformation Advisory Board for recommendation by the University’s Senior Leadership Team, and under the oversight of the Change and IT Projects Subcommittee of PRC.  As there were staffing implications, these were referred to and considered by the Staffing Committee of the Board of Governors.

Your letter also makes some personal unsubstantiated comments about the Director of IT that are factually inaccurate and totally unhelpful to the University’s working environment. We will write to you separately to specifically address these points. 

While we fully understand that the trades unions and the University will fundamentally disagree from time to time on matters of substance, we have always sought to discuss any differences in a professional, respectful and collegiate manner. We would therefore ask that we continue to strive to maintain this professional standard in all of our dealings on what will, inevitably, be difficult issues. 

We look forward to hearing from you as to whether you would wish to recommence the discussions about IT Transformation and raise with us any remaining questions.