Higher Education fosters a culture of collaboration which is unique across all industry sectors. Each and every time I hear a delegate sharing a ‘warts and all’ story with fifty other institutions in the room, I’m reminded of an diametrically opposite experience some twenty years ago.

Two mobile phone companies were looking to merge. Forty people split across two conference rooms. Labelled ‘red‘ and ‘blue‘ teams. Self conscious engineers from both firms carefully mingled while sporting the appropriate badge. A pastiche of the cold war where the spies of both sides felt a kindred spirit ripped apart by dogma and ideology. That day I shuttled between rooms watching the lawyers get rich while the dream of collaboration died from a thousand cuts.

That’s stuff lives with you. And yet here I am – a bloke who sells data stuff for a living – riffing with my friends of many years while sorting timings with my co-presenter. ‘Marian‘ I say – ‘we’ve got 60 minutes and your stuff is what they want to hear – I’m just the warm up act, the performing monkey, the bloke everyone knows but they’re not quite sure why. So I’m going to do this at 120 beats a minute and I promise I won’t over-run.’

I’m pretty much the only person with an ego in the room and I’m subsuming that. Content is four slides, time is twenty minutes. These are not difficult metrics but they have do have a hard stop. I do my thing which is 90% passion and 10% best practice. I don’t want any one in the room to buy anything, I just want them to believe. I know this stuff works and I know how difficult it is to get people to understand why It’s important.

If I can change one mind, give someone an edge, make it come to life for a university, that’s pretty much what I do when it makes any kind of sense. I’ve always hated asking people for money, because this is what I’d do every day for free.

I’m done at 21 minutes. I’ve spoken too quickly but I’ve avoided any use of the F word so I’m taking that as a win. Marian is way more professional. She’s talking the walk of Data Governance and I can’t help but be a little enthused by seeing the stuff we did together. Far more important is the audience writing it down and wondering if this might be something their institution could get on board with.

This is what I love about HE. There’s many things I don’t. The endless talk before action, the almost comedic lack of change governance, the deference to sacred cows, the culture of always having time to do things twice but never having time to do thing right. For all of that though there is this.

The refusal to allow marketisation to stifle collaboration. The belly laugh black humour. The total lack of hegemony. The desire to make things better, the deep knowledge of how that might be done, the history and the stories. The stoicism to ignore the latest reorganisation. The belief in what is right to keep popping heads above the parapet.

These are my people. In 2014, the HEDIIP programme – Andy Youell, Jennie Cochran, Paul Baron and I- turned up with a bunch of paper forms and a hope we might have an approach to assessing sector data maturity, What we got back made the analysis some eighteen months later something I’ll be endlessly proud of. Just the best thing the sector does- takes a difficult problem, working out the pragmatic solution and then getting behind it with no agenda.

Trust me this doesn’t happen in international digital communications, . Sure HE isn’t perfect, I kind of love it for its imperfections, so at SROC I couldn’t have been happier to hug old friends, and make a whole load of new ones. I’m proud to be associated with this group- they are the human face of student records, the hidden factory that makes the magic happen, and a whole bunch of people who I’m extremely happy to count as my friends.

The future feels pretty scary right now. I’m not clever enough to predict where we might end up. I’m just bloody glad I’m facing it with my tribe.

Thanks SROC19, you were blooming awesome!