Blog HEA Conference Keynote

Professor Roger James

A chemist by training and an IT Director by vocation Roger has over 20 years experience in applying IT to research led, information intensive industries including the Defence Industry, the Life Sciences and Academia. In his primary role he is the IT Director at The University of Westminster after similar roles in the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Public Sector.

Roger joined the University of Westminster in July 2007. He has led the design of a new professional skills organisation improving Project Management<, Service Management, Quality and Customer focus. Strategic changes include the outsourcing of student email and JISC funding for research into Web 2.0<.

In Pharmaceuticals Roger was active in developing advanced informatics systems for drug research, clinical trials, dossier production, competitive intelligence and innovation. Operational achievements included new systems for production, finance, sales and HR. Strategic accomplishments include outsourcing, portfolio management and enterprise architectures. Beyond IT Roger contribution was core to new company strategies in generics, genetics and research. He maintains a professional interest in healthcare by teaching an MBA programme in Strategic Life Science Management.

After taking Glaxo to the Internet< in 1992, the web in 1993 Roger then helped launch their Knowledge strategy in 1996. Roger has since worked extensively in Knowledge Management<; as an independent consultant, as an author and as an MBA tutor. His consulting client base includes AZ, ARM, BP, BT and Shell. He is co-founder of the Knowledge Anarchists a network of KM professionals whose latest project is ‘flash publishing’ – looking to produce a published book in a day. Recent consulting assignments include strategies in Open Innovation and Cloud Computing<.

Roger is visiting Professor in Computer Science< at Southampton University with interests in agent based computing and web science. After award winning work on Information Architectures his current enthusiasm is for Web 2.0 and the rise of consumer based technologies. Based on consulting work he has explored the ‘ advantage switch’ where blue chip organisations using proprietary technology are now working at a disadvantage to more agile not-for-profits using Open Source< and commodity systems. This has shaped a research portfolio exploring the use of Open Source in the not-for-profit sector and ‘directed serendipity’ looking to harness user contributions.

Roger is a Chartered Chemist, Chartered Engineer and Chartered Scientific and a Fellow of the BCS and OR Society. He holds a patent in Health Informatics and is a regular author and conference leader.

Roger holds board appointments with: London Metropolitan Network [LMN] providing network services to the London Institutions, BioTechAssets a company brokering the scientific and IP assets of distressed BioTechnology companies; Computiv a vehicle for freelance work in innovation, knowledge management and informatics. Behind the scenes Roger has developed company and technical strategies working on a number of advisory boards including Profiad, d3, Concept Labs, Google, The British Library and KVS. In 2009/10 he is elected member to UCISA after campaigning on a ticket of ‘dig for victory’ or self-sufficiency in a harsh economic climate.

Mind the Gap: design, technology & usability

In his 2007 Lovelace lecture for the British Computer Society< Sir Tim Berners-Lee< used a very simple model which linked cycles of technological change to cycles of social change which then generated profound world changes. The Web was thus described as both a technical and social creation, dependent on both technical protocols and social conventions.

The interplay between disciplines, technology and worlds develops as a function of social scale and technological maturity. Previous technologies have had a profound impact on society although it is argued that the huge size and complexity of the Web also introduces a new repertoire of large-scale emergent phenomena, both planned and unplanned.

We can learn from Neil Postman’s thinking: in any earlier era printing was the technology that became the basis of a monopoly of knowledge “ school was an invention of the printing press< and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word has”. With the dramatic breaking of this monopoly the challenge is to understand those elements of learning that endure and those driven to change by emerging technology. Clear signs are that as technology matures so markets are determined by unsophisticated users not experts, the market buzz moves from the specialist press to the popular press and the markets evolve from niche to commodity.

However our perspective is also distorted by the frantic rate of technological progress, many of the institutional conventions and technology norms in education are very recent changes. Indeed many of the technologies employed by the modern university introduce gaps in use, and gaps in interaction that did not exist before ‘ computerisation’. More than a digital divide of the haves and have nots, we are in danger of propagating an interaction divide where the seamless flow of conversation, interaction and learning is stymied by different generations and implementations of technology.

< < The presentation will explore how the development of technology seeks the design of environments, not of systems, as a common stage of maturity. A wider adoption of technology then builds a societal familiarity which delivers on Esther Dyson’s “ intuitiveness is familiarity”. It is an evolution that penalises anything beyond the basic requirements of use by fragmentation and exclusion. If Alan Kay is also correct in his assertion that “ the best way to predict the future is to create it” we technologists are challenged by a very different era of design, design in the style of Google: interactive, data intensive, all encompassing and social.