Uni of Manchester IT director resigns after chopping 68 people

Former Co-op Bank man leaves on his own terms – unlike many of his staff

The University of Manchester's director of IT, Gerry Pennell, has resigned after three years in the role – with no explanation as to why.

Former employees say that 56-year-old Pennell leaves the British uni with a severely understaffed IT services department: 68 jobs were axed in 2015, with the last of those having finally departed last Friday, The Register was informed.

A brief resignation announcement was made on the university's StaffNet today.

Private Eye noted a "fascinating read" published by UoM researchers last year titled What a Waste: Outsourcing and how it goes wrong, which hit the shelves at the same time as Pennell's department warned 219 IT-related staff that their jobs were at risk.

Pennell had initially sought to consolidate UoM's segmented services before a U-turn, when he turned to outsourcing the university's IT infrastructure – mainly after assessments from consultants at KPMG, a favourite from his days outsourcing IT at the Co-operative Bank.

His work at the Co-op Bank was highlighted in the report (PDF, 158 pages) by Sir Christopher Kelly into exactly how the bank accrued a £1.5bn capital shortfall.

Kelly noted that Pennell - who was CIO between 2003 to 2008 - had been "the driving force behind the decision to replatform" the Co-op Bank's IT infrastructure, a programme that ran from 2007 to 2012.

The report stated:

"A number of individuals made attempts to improve things at different stages, including a major re-organisation in mid-2011. But it is difficult to avoid concluding that in many respects the programme was set up and implemented in a way which was almost bound to lead to failure."

It added the project did not receive "stable executive sponsorship nor consistent day-to-day programme leadership", and there was "similar" churn in the layer of management below the top brass.

Once Pennell exited the Co-Op in 2008 the company "lacked the capability necessary to implement such a complex and high risk programme", the report concluded.

Back at UoM, interim IT director Adrian Ridpath will start his handover period with Pennell on 15 February. His predecessor leaves the UoM on 31 March.

Pennell was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2013 New Year Honours list, following his role as CIO of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

One former UoM staffer told The Register of an incident in which Pennell had stumbled across his employees' regular pub, Sandbar, on Manchester's Grosvenor Street, during an informal night out. They recalled Pennell pointing to a grotty bird-skeleton bit of decor (second picture down) and declaring to a managerial colleague that it was "just like IT services".

A UoM spokesman said: "Gerry Pennell has resigned from his position as director of IT with effect from 31 March 2016 and will be leaving the University of Manchester. As a consequence, an interim director of IT has been recruited and Adrian Ridpath will join the university on 15 February. The process of recruitment to the permanent director of IT position will begin immediately."

The spokesman added that the university is "not aware" of any cuts to the IT transformation budget. ®

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