Senior IT management is about being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, believes Bill Parslow, head of ICT and e-government at
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In his role of translating Council strategy into IT terms and working out how systems and technology can best serve business goals, he finds that being an all-rounder who is equally comfortable with right and left brain activities is a definite bonus.
“I’m an arbiter and an in-between person whose role it is to understand both ICT and the business. So in this type of job, although you need a logical side to understand the technology, you also need to be a good communicator and grasp things quickly. It’s about having an ability to ask idiot questions no matter who you’re talking to and to have the enthusiasm to use it to best advantage,” Parslow explains.
But it also helps having had a colourful background and “being on my fifth or sixth career”. Parslow started his professional life as an industrial chemist in the 1970s before going to the
Finding that such a vocation was not for him, however, he moved on to pastures related, if not new. “I blagged my way into a job doing painting, decorating and plumbing training on a Youth Training Scheme, working with 16 to 17 year olds who had left school and had nothing to do. I didn’t know anything about all that beforehand so used to read up about it in the Readers Digest before I went to work. It was a great job,” Parslow says.
This eventually led to a five-year long career in social work dealing with youth offenders, but by 1989, Parslow was off again. “Rather than do a Masters in social work, I did a very crammed 13-month MSc in information systems. It was partly because a friend of mine was a lecturer at the Poly, but it was also partly a money thing - people were being poached from the course and were getting more than I was as manager of the whole youth offending team,” he explains.
The conversion course he took was aimed specifically at arts graduates, with the intention of creating a hybrid breed of people that could both understand technology and explain it in a non-threatening way to the lay-person. “It was desperately needed a that time and still is, probably,” says Parslow.
His first IT job in the corporate world of KPMG, however, was “a huge culture shock”. But the “change from being a scruff to a knowledge engineer and systems analyst in a pinstripe suit” was to last for only a couple of years before Parslow took voluntary redundancy when the office moved from
His next move was to spend five happy years heading up the IT department for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, but by 1997, change was in the air again.
After his wife and two of his sons were struck down with ME, it became clear that a radical lifestyle change was needed and this involved a move back to Brighton from
“When I moved to
And it is networking that he feels is key to any career advancement. “It’s very important. Too many people don’t go and talk to other people that are doing different things, but it’s really valuable to get yourself known and to try and get a sense of where you can add value. It’s about networking and communicating all the time,” Parslow explains.
And it is this theme of communication that has been a recurrent strand throughout all of the various careers he has undertaken, but is as valuable a skill now as it ever was.
“About 95 per cent of my job is people management and at this level, it’s about managing the managers that manage the managers. But it’s also about working with people and being able to listen in quite a humble way to your technical staff. You have to have confidence and trust that they’ll understand and plan and deliver technical projects that you couldn’t do yourself,” he says.
On the other hand, being able to talk to members of the business, whether that means other senior managers, lawyers, end users or support staff, is also crucial.
“It’s pretty important that you can be trusted not to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and that people feel confident you’ll put things to them in everyday language so they don’t feel taken for a ride. Integrity is one of the key attributes of any senior manager, but it’s also necessary to have a sense of humour in this job,” he concludes.