One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.
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Jennifer Burns is UBC’s Chief Information Officer and leads the strategic oversight of campus-wide Information Technology services that support over 70,000 users. An experienced leader within higher education, Jennifer joined the university in 2002 and held a number of roles within the Information Technology department before beginning her current role in 2015.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
JB: I believe in authentic leadership — leaders that have the courage to be themselves, to live by their values, and to stand by them. I think this allows you to make the best decisions and adds consistency as well as openness and transparency, and that’s really important to encourage.
What makes you laugh?
JB: One of the things that makes me laugh is my favourite sitcom of all time, Yes Minister, a British comedy from the 80s. It was a witty, intelligent comedy that I really liked. I also enjoy anything from Alexander McCall Smith, and because I’m in IT, I can’t forget to put Dilbert on the list.
Who inspires you, and why?
JB: I find my parents very inspirational. They grew up in England during the war, and they went through some really challenging times. Afterward, they had the courage to move to Canada, and as new immigrants they worked hard, had their own businesses, and employed a number of staff. My sisters and I learned the value and importance of work that contributes to society from our parents.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far at UBC?
JB: I think for me, it’s about the relationships that I’ve built, and continue to build. At the end of the day, it’s important that we ensure people at the university feel confident in IT to deliver the services they need to do their work. It’s about continually earning trust and delivering on promises.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
JB: I would say it’s a lot of meetings — planning, and working with our partners across the institution to look at the status of projects, to determine risks, and to look at opportunities. It’s a lot of dialogue and planning for the things that are going to move UBC forward.
How do you like to recharge?
JB: There’s a lot of energy in my role, so after work I enjoy the simple things. Spending time with my family, taking my dog for long walks, and riding horses — when I go to the barn, it’s very quiet and peaceful (and very low tech!).
For you, what makes UBC different?
JB: I think for me, it’s the role that UBC plays in society. When you think about the ways that UBC contributes, from health to engineering, to sustainability and the arts, it’s amazing. UBC is changing the world, and I get to be a small part of that.
What are some of the upcoming trends in IT, particularly at large institutions like UBC?
JB: One of the big focus areas is cybersecurity and the risks in that area, as universities are significant targets for cybercriminals. The Internet of Things and pervasive technology will continue to have an impact too. Virtual and augmented reality will be an interesting area as it relates to teaching and the student experience. In addition, there are a lot of changes that will be driven by advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence. We’re looking at how all of these areas will impact the experience of our faculty, staff and students, and where new skills will be required.
What do you value in your colleagues?
JB: I feel really fortunate — I think UBC has a lot of great people, and those I work with across the institution are incredibly dedicated, are very talented in their areas, and want to collaborate. People here really care about UBC and they want the university to be successful.
What would you like to be remembered for?
JB: I think of myself as a steward and I want to leave UBC and IT a little better off, whether it’s from the strategies that are put in place or the fact that people in IT feel supported. For me, it’s important that people feel valued.
What are the priorities for Information Technology at UBC moving forward?
JB: We have major systems programs coming up in the near future, including replacement of the Student Academic System and the Learning Management System. We’re also focused on privacy and information security, as well as aligning our work and priorities with UBC’s core mandate of teaching and learning, and research. And, of course, making sure our current operations are stable and secure.