David Matthewman is the Open University's first CIO. Joining in August 2010, he replaced the outgoing IT director, who was leaving to retire. Matthewman is sanguine about the change in title. For him it's about the reporting model and scope of the role that's important.
"I think it depends on the scale of the organisation," he says.
Before joining the OU, he was CTO for Directgov, but he maintains it was more of a CIO/IT director role, as even though it was a compact organisation in some ways, it dealt with 18 departments of state, meaning pretty well every department, with the exception of the MOD, was a customer of DirectGov.
At the OU, Matthewman reports the COO and has a dotted-line of reporting to the Vice Chancellor, the academic equivalent of the CEO. Matthewman sits on the operational board.
He says: "I have two roles to play. One is getting IT to the point where it's supporting the university well. It's good today, but there is more we are going to need to do as the market changes and the other role is playing an active part in the running of the university and shaping and advising."
Matthewman's IT career elegantly mirrors the vision behind the OU and its remit to bring higher education to people who would not automatically go down that route.
One of his earliest jobs was as an IT administrator back in the late 1980s at Trustee Savings Bank (TSB – now a part of Lloyds Bank), although he learned basic programming skills at home on a Commodore Vic20.
In those days basic IT infrastructure was simple, but not very stable and Matthewman was able to demonstrate a talent of keeping the banks IT up and running enough to be recruited into the IT team. Once on the team, he went through a series of on-the-job courses to keep him up to speed and develop his coding skills.
He says: "I'm a classic OU-type student. I left school at 16. My parents hadn't been to university. It was never in anyone's thinking and there was an imperative to earn a living. Through TSB I did some A-Levels and through BCS I got myself qualified a little later on in my career. That's a similar sort of journey to the ones many of our students go through."
In the early 1990s, TSB decided to move offices, but Matthewman didn't want to relocate, so he found a job at the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society (N&P), a mid-sized retail financial services organisation based in the East of England. In 1995, the company embarked on an ambitious project to introduce home banking.
Mattewman managed to get on the team, leading and designing the security application. The delivery channel was cable TV, Mattewman recalls — not the channel of choice, now that the internet is widely used by consumers, and N&P switched to internet banking as soon as this became apparent.
Even so, working up the security was a voyage of discovery for Matthewman, at a time when it was illegal to export 128bit encryption from the US.
He says: "You couldn't just ring a consultancy or a systems integrator to ask them to build you an internet banking system. We took a lot of influences from Scandinavia. We built some Diffie Hellman encryption algorythms in there from the university of Vienna, so we were designing pretty well from scratch. And we beat all of the big banks to market and had an internet bank long before all of them."
From there, Matthewman went on to set up a mortgage trading subsidiary, but after 17 years at the building society, it was time to move on and he went deeper into internet business at BGL Group.
One of that company's more well-known brands is Comparethemarket.com, although it also has white label partnerships with the likes of Auto trader Debenhams, HSBC, M&S and RAC.
As group IT director, he sat on the boards of a number of these subsidiaries, including comparethemarket and was even there when it started to create the highly successful comparethemeerkat campaign.
He recalls: "I was in the room when the words were first uttered. It was the nucleus of an idea that was productionised for TV after I left the company. It was just one of those brainstorming late evening sessions."
This was a good point to make a change and from there, Mattewman moved into the public sector, into DirectGov. It was a change from the familiar financial services sector, but also a change in scale.
It was a change in corporate culture too, he recalls: "Financial services is really good at knowing what it wants to achieve and driving towards that. There's a certain straightforwardness about it and the bottom line is the entire focus. The difference in government is there isn't that unifying bottom line. There's this basket of outcomes you are trying to achieve and actually these outcomes don't always support one another. There's a great deal of ambiguity about them."
Mattewman has a great deal of respect for the people he met there though, who have to cope with the complexities of delivering services within central government.
He says: "In terms of people, there are many in the public sector of very high calibre. It's an intellectual environment and there's a lot more debate than you would find in a commercial environment."
Now at the OU, Matthewman sees this commitment to service there too, where staff aren't motivated so much by bonuses, as they are in financial services, but by delivering the best possible service to the students.
It's a culture that resonates with his own approach to management, where the over-arching driver is understanding the value of the work his team does.
"That provides a North star for everything you are doing," he says. "If we are talking about a project, in OU terms, that would be what's that going to do in terms of making the student experience better? What's that going to do in terms of efficiency? What might it do in terms of new business development? That helps to guide pretty much every conversation we have with business partners. If we can place value on it, then we can all get behind it on delivering."