CIO spotlight: Lynn Broadbent

"Some people want more money and a faster car, but what I love is a challenge. I need to be challenged and I can't really sit still, but that's probably one of the reasons that I've got to the top," says Lynn Broadbent, group technology director at document management provider EDM.

"Some people want more money and a faster car, but what I love is a challenge. I need to be challenged and I can't really sit still, but that's probably one of the reasons that I've got to the top," says Lynn Broadbent, group technology director at document management provider EDM.

Broadbent started working at EDM as part of a new management team about 15 months ago. The aim was to transform the organisation by expanding out of its traditional focus on selling scanning capabilities to providing document and workflow management systems and services.

In this context, Broadbent is responsible "effectively for anything in relation to technology in the company", including both in-house IT and customer-related products and services. As a result, "a fair chunk of the job is about supporting sales people when they're talking to potential new customers", which entails joint visits to customer sites and acting in a consultancy role to come up with solutions to individual customer's business problems.

"My biggest buzz is seeing how technology can be used to transform business and ensure that it's being used in the most appropriate way," she explains. "For real transformation, you have to truly understand and manage the business requirements and benefits, and I find that very rewarding."

So how did she come by such a big role? Broadbent says it was through a combination of hard work, networking and grabbing hold of opportunities as they were offered to her. But her entry into the world of IT was rather more of a chance affair.

"I was doing A levels at sixth-form college and had intended to do geography, but after a few months I found that it wasn't for me. The only other option was IT, so I said that I'd give it a go, although I didn't really know what it was about."

Broadbent was lucky enough to have an "outstanding" teacher, who had moved into the profession after working in industry, and she went on to do a degree in maths and computer science at Lancaster University. While her initial aim on graduating was to teach, she decided that, like her former tutor, she needed real-world experience first.

So she applied for and obtained a trainee position at Barclays Bank in 1984 and was assigned to the IBM mainframe infrastructure team, which entailed "lots of assembler programming and fixing of problems".

By 1987 she had become a team leader, but had also reached a crossroads in her career. "I took stock of my life and asked myself 'would I be happy doing this job for the next 20 years and if not, what was I going to do about it?' I've had two or three moments in my life like that where I've said 'what's next?' and at this time, it effectively led me to take on an attachment in HR."

When one of the senior HR managers mentioned there was an opportunity for an IT staff member to take up a nine-month placement to research what factors make people good at their jobs, she applied - and got the job. The move resulted in her co-chairing Barclays Opportunity 2000 Action Group, which explored barriers to women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the workplace.

But after that taste of pastures new, Broadbent found it difficult to settle back into her old role. So when she was approached by a female colleague looking for someone to help her manage the development team in Barclays' document printing department, she jumped at the chance. The two had worked together previously and kept in touch.

But within a few years, it was all change again when Broadbent became part of the management buy-out team that created Edotech. The key challenge for her here was that, although the new company took the original development team with it, it had until that point relied on Barclays' back-end IT systems.

"I had under 12 months to create a complete IT infrastructure for a team of 200 staff," she says. "It was extremely hard work for me and the core members of the team, but very few IT people get a true opportunity to do that as they usually have legacy systems to deal with, so it was a great experience."

As if this wasn't enough, when this particular mission was complete, she did a part-time MBA at Cranfield School of Management, sponsored by her employers as a reward for the effort she'd put in to get the company where it was.

"I recognised that there were some skills and capabilities that could do with being more shaped," she explains. "It's not just about knowing the right things, but also being able to talk in the right terms, so it opened my eyes and gave me a boost in terms of additional business knowledge."

When Edotech was sold four years later in 2004, she had plenty of time to relax after agreeing a deal "to stay out of the industry for two years". In the meantime she undertook consultancy work, but also become involved in fundraising to sponsor the education of 120 children in an orphanage in Kenya before joining EDM towards the end of 2006 along with Sam Ferguson, the former chief executive of Edotech.

So with all of this experience under her belt, what advice would Broadbent offer to aspirant CIOs? "Take time to think about where your life is heading. Life's too short but, for most people, work is a significant part of it, so you need to do things consciously rather than subconsciously and make choices that are right for you."

She also recommends taking on activities that are beyond the confines of the current role. "Being considered an expert can be flattering, but it can also be self-limiting," she explains. "You have to almost position yourself out of a job by sitting back and thinking what you really want and how you might be able to get there."

Finally, she advocates being proactive and networking as much as possible. "I suspect my career was a bit of a slow starter as I worked on the basis that if you deliver what's needed, you'll be recognised. But I suddenly realised that you can do a good job and no-one necessarily notices, so that's where networking comes in. Identifying and aligning yourself with key players is very important."

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This was last published in January 2008

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