One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.
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Stephen Lamb joined UBC’s Office of the CIO in April 2017 as Deputy Chief Information Officer, a new role to help lead significant change across the information technology landscape of the university.
Prior to joining UBC, Stephen was Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where he was responsible for leading the delivery and advancement of IT services and data analytics in support of teaching and learning, applied research and business administration. During his career, he also served as the CIO for the Vancouver School Board, one of Canada’s largest and most diverse school systems, serving 56,000 students across 109 schools.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
SL: The ability to help people realize their full potential. Leadership to me is about building trust, and empowering people to be problem solvers and innovators.
What makes you laugh?
SL: I like sharp, quick-witted, stand-up comedy; the raw observational humour of comedians such as Billy Connelly, Robin Williams and Bill Hicks. Growing up in the west coast of Scotland, you come to realize that if you can’t find the humour in life, then everything is going to be that little bit more difficult.
Who inspires you, and why?
SL: I’m not sure I have one particular person in mind. I gain inspiration from the world around me; people who have overcome adversity, who have beaten the odds, who persevere. I’m always rooting for the underdog. If I had to pick a specific person, it would have to be Barack Obama for his vision, grace and humanity.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
SL: Always trust your gut. During my career, I have been in circumstances where my gut told me one thing but, due to other factors, I suppressed it and things didn’t turn out as well as they could. Even in the world of IT, with its hard data, analytics and defined protocols, trusting your gut is vitally important, particularly in situations where you are bringing new ideas to the table.
How do you like to recharge?
SL: When I get the time, I do like to read something other than a white paper or business case; so a good sci-fi novel or graphic novel is my escape. I may also be found on occasion in front of a large screen TV with a game controller in hand. My daughter and I recently celebrated our completion of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which was an awesome father/daughter moment.
What attracted you to UBC?
SL: To me, UBC exemplifies what we should expect from a world-class public education institution in modern society. I’ve served as an IT leader in education for most of my career, both in K-12 and higher education, and UBC represents the challenge and opportunity that I have been building towards for many years. The chance to work in such a diverse organization with such incredibly talented and driven people is an opportunity that I jumped at.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
SL: A general piece of advice — although not given to me personally — that I try and adhere to comes from Major Dick Winters (of Band of Brothers fame): “Hang tough! Never, ever give up regardless of the adversity. If you are a leader, a fellow who other fellows look to, you have to keep going.”
What do you value in your colleagues?
SL: Candor, a willingness to share and collaborate, and a sense of humour.
Who are your favorite writers?
SL: The late Iain M. Banks, a Scottish author best known for his science fiction, although he also wrote mainstream fiction. He was a humble, unassuming man with great wit and intellect who entertained me for years with his novels. He passed away from cancer in 2013 and I truly felt like I had lost a friend.
What are your main priorities as Deputy CIO?
SL: Much of what I’m focused on as Deputy CIO concerns the evolution and growth of how UBC IT governs, manages and delivers a broad range of IT services to support the UBC community.
As IT professionals, we are facing tremendously disruptive forces that directly impact our areas of expertise and even our careers. With the likes of cloud computing, machine learning, the Internet of things and big data analytics on the near horizon for UBC, we need to position ourselves to best serve the emerging needs of our community.
With that in mind, one of my first challenges is to create a Strategic Workforce plan for UBC IT and begin the process of recasting and retooling our teams to be ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Another area that I’m focused on is support of the IT @ UBC community; that strong cadre of IT professionals working in Faculties and service units alongside UBC IT. We all work in a very complex, stakeholder-driven environment; one in which I firmly believe accountability and transparency are keys to success. So, working with colleagues across Faculties and departments, I’m committed to help strengthen UBC’s federated IT model so we can collectively provide the best support for teaching and learning, research and administrative services, and hopefully, along the way, improve the student experience.
Simply put, this federated model delivers common IT services from a central source (UBC IT) while still affording individual units the flexibility and agility they need to support local department needs. The trick is ensuring that it’s a coordinated effort across UBC, and we’re all headed in the same direction.