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Aston University

An Interim Director of IT appointed through online recruitment specialists Executives Online has enabled Aston University to become the first educational institution in the UK with a live fully-converged digital network.

Aston University turned to Executives Online when the £4m ground-breaking project had been left high and dry at a critical time after its newly appointed permanent Director was unable to take up the position to manage the installation of the new network.

Aston IP is a revolutionary system which needed a director with specialist capabilities to implement it. The system is capable of running data, telephony, and video systems over the same cabling and integrated technology structures which gives great competitive advantage to Aston University by providing customers, students, and academic and support staff with a secure, resilient, high-capacity platform on which every conceivable system can be run from e-learning to latest telephony facilities.

It was a huge undertaking which required re-cabling the entire campus and migrating hundreds of PCs and networks. After four years of planning, Professor Fred Hewitt, the Pro-Vice Chancellor responsible for ICT strategy, decided to recruit a Director of the ICT infrastructure development and support group (ICT-IDSG) to head up the major project. It took six months to find the right person for such a specialist senior role. The position was offered and accepted but the candidate withdrew for personal reasons, leaving Fred Hewitt and his team with a multi-million pound project that was ready to roll except for the fact that there was no director to take charge of it.

"We had two options," explains Professor Hewitt. "Either go back over the list of original candidates or wait a few months to let the dust settle and re-advertise. Both options meant a long delay on the project which we couldn’t afford."

The interim route is an ideal way of quickly tapping into specific skills and experience as well as bringing a fresh perspective

This is the classic scenario for interim recruitment and Professor Hewitt decided Aston should take this route to get the project established and underway. The University contacted Executives Online.

"Executives Online took a very structured approach to the selection process," says Professor Hewitt. "Together with our personnel manager they drew up a list of potential candidates to present to me. Four candidates were interviewed after which a final shortlist was compiled. At the final stage two candidates went through to meet the Vice Chancellor."

Professor Hewitt was impressed with the speed with which Executives Online found a good range of high calibre candidates for his team to choose from. "We needed someone quickly, but it had to be someone with exceptional skills who could also operate in the particular unstructured university environment," says Professor Hewitt.

Aston had its Director of ICT-IDSG within four weeks. The panel chose to appoint Ian H – an IT troubleshooter with nearly 30 years experience – who they felt had the right attitude and presence. Ian has been an interim since 1999, finds Executives Online very supportive and enjoys the way interim management allows him to focus on getting things done.

At Aston he managed and implemented the project which he brought in ahead of time and on budget and indeed the interim solution proved so beneficial to Aston that, although Ian’s original contract was for six months, he was retained for eighteen to see the project through its crucial stages and hand over to the new, permanent Director of ICT, Fahri Zihni.

"Interim managers can avoid the usual distractions and remain very task- orientated, which was vital for this project," comments Professor Hewitt. "The interim route is an ideal way of quickly tapping into specific skills and experience as well as bringing a fresh perspective.'

Now, the new network is such a success that Aston has become a showcase for new technology demonstrations. There has been much interest form a number of universities including Plymouth and Cambridge and Aston is to host a national seminar to demonstrate the new e-learning capabilities.