Exclusive CIO Interview with Keith Woolley, the Chief Digital Information Officer at University of Bristol

Every digital leader reaches a point in their career when they desire a change. Keith Woolley, with a strong commercial background, joined the University of Bristol four years ago to explore the opportunity of working in higher education. Originally unsure about entering the sector, he was convinced by the chief operating officer at the time. Woolley soon discovered that working in academia presented a unique set of challenges.

One of the biggest differences Woolley found was the need for collaboration in decision-making. While he was used to mandating change in his previous CIO roles, the university environment required a partnership approach to find the best solutions for everyone involved. As a result, he had to emphasize his skills in stakeholder engagement and management, spending time co-creating and changing his narrative depending on the community he was addressing.

When Woolley joined Bristol, he started as the CIO but later became the chief digital information officer when the university restructured. This change came after the appointment of a new vice-chancellor, Evelyn Welch, who wanted to streamline operations and empower individuals. Woolley took on the responsibility of combining all digital areas with information, bridging the physical and digital aspects of the university.

The goal of this joined-up approach was to create high-quality user experiences for both academics and students, whether they were on campus or online. Woolley emphasized that the shift in his role was not focused solely on improving the online presence but on augmenting physical spaces and digital campuses to create a cohesive and engaging experience.

Throughout his time at Bristol, Woolley worked on developing a comprehensive digital strategy that enabled boundaryless education and research. The strategy emphasized providing equitable system and data access to users, regardless of their location. To achieve this, Woolley’s team implemented VMware’s Cloud Foundation (VCF), a multicloud infrastructure approach that delivered full-stack hyper-convergence to on-premise environments. The VCF platform was created in collaboration with academics to meet their specific requirements while also ensuring resource management and security.

Beyond the technical aspects, Woolley’s digital strategy also prioritized information security and risk management. His team worked closely with the executive team and senior staff members to address risks across the academic estate. This approach ensured a practical and organization-wide approach to IT.

Looking ahead, Woolley’s focus is on supporting the University of Bristol’s potential in artificial intelligence (AI). With the government investing in a supercomputer, Isambard-AI, Woolley aims to deliver the technology securely and create a national infrastructure for AI. His role can be likened to that of a managing director of an IT business, where he treats the university as his most important customer. He embraces the complexities of different verticals and aims to advance the university’s international engagements.

Ultimately, Woolley’s ambition is to deliver frictionless technology experiences that attract academics, researchers, and students to the university. He aims to simplify the technology strategy, work with high-quality partners, and remove complexity and duplication. In the long term, his goal is to provide equitable experiences to students worldwide, allowing them to access virtual and augmented reality regardless of their location.

Overall, Woolley’s efforts at the University of Bristol have centered around creating a seamless and integrated environment that supports collaboration and innovation in education and research.

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