In the V3 Hot Seat this week is David Southern, director of ICT at wildlife charity WWF-UK. Southern is a senior ICT professional and business leader with many years’ experience heading up IT teams in both the commercial and voluntary sectors. His career started in software development and progressed onto project management and team leadership.
As ICT director at WWF-UK, Southern is responsible for all aspects of ICT, including service delivery, infrastructure, application development, information management, compliance, ICT programme and project management, and support services. He recently completed a four-year project to build a new technologically innovative and sustainable headquarters at WWF-UK’s Living Planet Centre in Woking, Surrey. This involved a complete redesign of the ICT estate and implementation of solutions that underpin smart working initiatives.
Outside of his working life, Southern is passionate about photography, world music and the natural world.
Southern's Hot Seat follows those of the PDSA's head of IT and digital technology, Janusz Parylo, Barnardo's assistant director of information services Tom Rees and charity Conservation International's vice president of IT Scott Mills.
V3: What does a typical day involve?
Southern: I usually wake up before the alarm goes off at 7am. Most days I cycle to work along the River Wey from Godalming to Guildford. I always take my camera with me as the morning offers the best light and atmosphere for river photography.
One great aspect of my job is the variety from day to day. WWF has a global network with offices in more than 80 countries worldwide, so I can be working with colleagues from Canada, Africa or Malaysia on finding solutions to the challenges of delivering IT to the ‘coal face’ of conservation in remote places one day, and the next showing WWF’s partners around our new base, the Living Planet Centre.
Of course, there is the day-to-day running of the ICT department too. Our prime focus of every day is to deliver IT services and the continuing development of our systems. Although WWF-UK isn’t a huge organisation, its activities are quite diverse and I spend a fair amount of time co-ordinating the various facets of digital and application development and ensuring it all dovetails with our overall business and IT strategies.
What would be your dream job?
Wildlife photographer. This connects my passion for nature and the digital world. I admire people like Doug Allan and Frans Lanting, who devote many months to waiting for all the elements to come together to produce a truly memorable image.
Which mobile phone and tablet do you currently use?
I use an iPhone and iPad.
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee. His quiet, modest genius has changed our lives forever, which is an amazing achievement. Inventing the web has to be one of the major advancements of the 20th century and yet he has mostly shunned the limelight and kept his life private.
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
For me it is WiFi. WiFi has enabled us to use the spaces in which we live, travel and work in a different way. I feel more in control of my working life because I am connected, from more places and more of the time.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Delivering on the vision for ICT in WWF’s new headquarters. We moved into the Living Planet Centre in Woking in October last year, which was a big step for the organisation but the beauty of the new base is that staff are encouraged to hot desk, use the resources flexibly and move around the building. We called this ‘smart working’. There are breakout areas and workspaces outside the building, which all add to the demand on our technology.
To make this possible we changed our systems so staff work on laptops and are connected wirelessly everywhere, and we introduced collaboration tools including a software phone system and video conferencing.
Our first day in the building was nerve wracking, but everyone was connected to their corporate applications within one hour of moving into the building. There have obviously been a few minor hiccups and it has taken time to adapt the IT department's skill base to be able to support a completely new suite of technologies. However, technology has underpinned the new way of working in our headquarters and thankfully everyone seems to have readily adapted to this.
What was your first job?
I was an English teacher in Lima, Peru.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
It is constantly changing. There are always new and exciting developments coming through.
What will be the next big innovation of the coming years?
I think it will be smart apps that understand the intent of users.
What keeps you awake at night?
What was the last book you read and was it any good?
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer. It’s an excellent book. If you think your daily commute into Waterloo is tough, you should read this.
Who is your favourite musician?
Ali Farka Touré. I have an eclectic music collection but the guitar playing of Ali Farka Touré is really the baseline (no pun intended) for the blues. He spent the profits from his music building wells in the Malian desert so his people could grow their own crops. He was a thoroughly cool guy.
Where’s your favourite place for escape?
Out in the countryside with my camera and mountain bike.
E-readers or real books?
Real books – like an old friend I can drop in on them from time to time.
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Despite being a Merseysider, The Rolling Stones.
For me it's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Windows or Mac OS?
I'm a solid Mac OS user.
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