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CIO interview: Stephen Booth, CIO, Coventry University



CIO interview: Stephen Booth, CIO, Coventry University

Stephen Booth, CIO at Coventry University, is dedicated to using digital transformation to help improve student experiences. He is so committed, in fact, that has he spent more than 20 years delivering technology-led change at the fast-growing higher education institution.

“I wanted to work somewhere that was about a social good,” he says. “For me, education is really meaningful – that’s why I’m there. Every day I walk in and I see my customers, who are the students, and I see that we’re doing something good that helps them.”

A techie by background and passion, Booth joined Coventry in 1999 as a programmer. He has fulfilled a range of roles, including database administration, leading an enterprise middleware team and then running a wider infrastructure team, before becoming assistant director of infrastructure, CTO and – since August last year – director of the IT department.

“That’s the other reason I’ve stayed so long,” says Booth. “I’ve been able to have quite a varied career here. I’ve been able to go across the spectrum and end up in a leadership position. So, I’ve been able to move with the university as it has changed.”

While Booth has stayed loyal to the institution, the university has undergone significant growth. “Ten years ago, we had something like 12,000 students in Coventry,” he says. “We’ve now got 40,000 students in Coventry, but if you include our online students and other campuses, you’re getting close to 80,000.”

Coventry runs campuses in Scarborough, London and Poland, and also has offices around the world. “It has changed enormously,” says Booth. “And so that change, combined with delivering the core mission, is what keeps everything fresh.”

Taking on new responsibilities

Booth’s promotion to CIO coincided with another shift at the university. Last August, the IT and estates department became a commercial subsidiary. As part of Coventry University Enterprises Limited, Booth’s team provides service back into the group – but also has the opportunity to potentially offer services outside the enterprise firewall.

Moves in that direction have already been made. In February, Booth’s organisation acquired the virtual-learning platform Aula.

“Now I have my own software-engineering company and I have four customers, a couple of which are other higher education institutions,” he says. “That all means commercial aspects are part of my remit.”

Booth says the integration between the IT and estates departments is crucial to the university’s long-term plans. The intention is to build a combined infrastructure services capability.

“You get quite a lot of power and a synergy when you start blending the physical and the virtual and understanding what you can do,” he says.

The aim of this work, says Booth, is to create a fresh approach within a new combined organisation. The people who work for it recognise that they are providing a service back into the broader Coventry group and the wide range of locations and people they serve.

“It just creates a different mindset and purpose for the organisation that still fits with the overall mission but allows you to not be seen as just a part of the university,” he says.

“You get quite a lot of power and a synergy when you start blending the physical and the virtual and understanding what you can do”

Stephen Booth, Coventry University

The shift towards commerciality follows a challenging period for the IT department. Like other academic institutions, Coventry had to manage a shift to online learning when the coronavirus pandemic led to social-distancing measures in early 2020. The good news, says Booth, is that the university’s systems and services were ready.

“As it happened, in terms of digital capability, we were reasonably well prepared,” he says. “We had already got an established online presence – we’re number one in the world in terms of massive open online courses at the moment. So, we’d got a good base infrastructure, but what we obviously had to do was scale that up quickly.”

The university was already enacting a cloud-first strategy, which allowed Booth’s team to “turn on the taps” to meet demand. However, he also recognises – like so many other CIOs – that the business was exposed like never before to the big benefits of digital transformation during the pandemic. This recognition has led to fresh demands on IT.

“You’ve gone from digital maybe being ‘a thing’ in certain parts of the organisation to suddenly everything being online,” he says. “And post-Covid, you come back to something that’s not what you had before but a blended-learning environment instead. And if you think about a blended environment, that starts to transform everything you know.”

Fresh questions – such as “are our rooms fit for purpose?” – have suddenly become prescient. In fact, Booth takes lectures himself, as much as anything to understand the day-to-day challenges that academic colleagues have to deal with. It can be an eye-opening experience in the age of hybrid learning, as other CIOs have also told Computer Weekly.

“You suddenly start to see that you’ve got two audiences – one that’s online and one that’s in the room – so how do you engage them both?” says Booth. “That reality has fundamentally altered the way in which we approach teaching and IT provision.”

Delivering constant change

Booth says his team’s continuing efforts to deliver the technology the business needs have been accompanied by a cultural change programme. He says it was important that the whole approach to IT provision altered, with a focus on the purpose of the work that technology professionals fulfil and a recognition of how the team would work differently.

“One of the tangible things we’ve done is to accelerate the move to an agile delivery model,” he says. “We were classic waterfall before – we were ‘here’s a project, write your business case, do your tender, see you in 18 months’ time’. We’ve now pivoted that approach to an agile delivery model, which is at different levels of maturity.”

The end result of this shift is that the IT team delivers change into the business every two weeks, rather than months later. And when you start to deliver technical functionality regularly, says Booth, you start to drive up the pace of business transformation.

“You deliver on that promise of agility, which is really what we need,” he says. “I often say to my colleagues that our number one metric is speed. The business takes availability for granted now – everyone uses cloud platforms and they’re rock solid.

“So, our differentiator now has to be speed – how quickly can we go from someone asking for something to meaningful delivery, and that has forced a complete transformation. Since August last year, we have begun to really see that sense of agility take root. It’s starting to change things and give predictable delivery to the business.”

Creating an integration platform

A crucial support to Coventry’s digital transformation effort has been MuleSoft’s integration platform. The university is reliant on a range of legacy technologies, including a longstanding student records system. Booth is keen to move away from older technology and is using MuleSoft technology to support his agile business transformation.

“We knew we wanted this integration capability, but what we didn’t know was which system was the best fit for us,” he says. “So, we narrowed it down from 10 to three vendors to do an intensive evaluation. And having done that proof-of-concept work, it allowed us to take the tender to market.

“The reason we chose MuleSoft was because, for us, it was the most complete solution. There’s more of a fully formed house with MuleSoft, whereby you don’t need quite so many people and you’re faster. So, the total cost of ownership – while it’s more expensive in terms of the tin – is much higher in terms of long-term benefits.”

Booth says having a tight grip on integration helps him shift the delivery of technology from large-scale systems to student-focused services. As business requirements change, his IT team can add new elements – and if issues occur in terms of technology provision, they can deal with those too.

“It lets you cut up that monolith a piece at a time,” he says. “So, rather than taking an approach that says, ‘give me money and here’s a new system five years down the track’, I can bring value back into the business sooner. We can start on one project, we can design the service and we can put it in. If we’ve got it wrong, we can change it quickly.

“The technology increases robustness because you’re putting this wrapper around IT, so that if something fails in the back end, the customer doesn’t have to experience that because you can fix it and replay it. So, it all goes towards agility and flexibility and the ability to respond at a decent pace to what the business wants us to do.”

Engaging with students

The digital technology that Booth is building is all part of a long-term plan to deliver an increasingly engaged student experience at Coventry. A high level of engagement allows the university to ensure it is delivering the best possible learning outcomes.

“Our mission statement is ‘creating better futures’,” he says. “We’re trying to give everyone who comes here a better life chance. That’s what we’re trying to do. And to engage students, you need to have systems that give you a sense of belonging.”

As part of this objective, the university has created student success coaches. These coaches take the engagement data that the IT team collects and work with students to improve their experiences and their chances of getting the best possible degrees.

“They are there to take that engagement pointer from the data and turn that into a human interaction,” says Booth. “It’s really about providing continuous engagement and a continual feedback loop, with the students able to see their own journeys and feel like they belong to a community of learners.”

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5 reasons you should buy a cheap phone over an expensive one



5 reasons you should buy a cheap phone over an expensive one
Moto G22 face down on top of a wall

The Moto G22 on a wall.
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re looking for a new phone, a key consideration is always budget – you want to buy the best phone you can afford. But maybe, even if you’ve got the money for a premium device, you should still opt for a cheap phone.

“Wait,” you’re probably thinking, “are you asking me to spend less than I’m able on my new phone?”  Yes, I am – you’re absolutely right.

You see, despite budget phones being weaker than premium ones in quite a few ways (obviously), there are a few departments in which they actually beat top-end models.

So we’re going to run through some different areas in which cheap phones actually trump their pricier rivals. 

1. It costs less money

Okay, we’ve got to start with the really, really obvious point. A cheap phone is – you guessed it – cheaper than an expensive one.

If you spend less on your phone, you’ve got more to spend on the best power banks, phone cases, charging cables, and so on. Plus, you’ve got extra for non-smartphone things. Y’know: bills, food, transport, and so on.

Smartphones operate on the rule of diminishing returns: a $400 smartphone is not twice as good as a $200 one, and a $1,200 phone isn’t twice as good as a $600 version or four times better in any way than a $300 one.

So if you want the best bang for your buck, a budget mobile will get you there.

Moto G9 Power

The Moto G9 Power has a massive battery. (Image credit: Future)

2. Much better battery life

Phones don’t have great battery life sometimes: when you factor in features like 5G, high refresh rates, top-end processors, and so on, a giant battery can get worn down incredibly quickly.

But you know what cheap phones don’t have? That’s right – any of those features. If a phone is 4G-only, has a low-res screen, and only runs with a middling chipset, it uses the battery at a much slower rate. All of the longest-lasting smartphones are budget ones.

That’s doubly the case when you consider that cheap phone makers like to use huge batteries in their phones – plenty have 5,000mAh power packs. Motorola has even used 6,000mAh ones in some phones, and certain Chinese rugged phone brands have gone even higher.

If you want a long-lasting phone, you’ve got to opt for a cheap handset with fewer features. It also makes such devices reliable for more extended periods.

3. Hardier designs

Glass has become one of the most commonly-used materials for smartphones – it adds to a premium-feeling build and looks good from all angles. 

But you know what glass isn’t? Durable. It can easily smash from an impact like a drop. It’s also slippery, making glass phones harder to hold. Because of this, mid-range and premium phones are more susceptible to damage, even if brands slap silly marketing terms on them like ‘Gorilla Glass Victus’ or ‘Ceramic Shield’.

Cheap phone makers generally stay away from glass. This is mainly because of cost, but it’s beneficial for affordable phone fans because plastic is hardier.

A plastic phone is much more likely to survive a drop or hard knock, letting you avoid the experience of having to get your device repaired as often (or ever, hopefully).

Realme 9 Pro Plus

The Realme 9 Pro Plus has a cool-looking, yet plastic, rear. (Image credit: Future)

4. Cooler chipsets

Cheap phones often have cooler chipsets. No, we don’t mean ‘sunglasses and Tommy Bahama shirt cool’ – we mean temperature-wise.

Premium phones get top-end chipsets, which provide loads of processing power for tasks like games. An annoying side-effect of loads of power, though, is that these chips can get incredibly hot if you use them for long periods.

Counter-intuitively, this means that mid-range chips can be better for gaming if you like playing for extended amounts of time, and don’t need the most top-end graphics available to you.

As you can imagine, budget phones often have weaker internals, so they generally don’t have overheating issues, and are fine for gaming. Plus, in this day and age, you rarely find phones that are slow, even in the lower-cost market.

5. A bigger range of fingerprint scanners

There’s a trend in the premium phone market towards in-screen fingerprint scanners, where the sensor for unlocking your phone is embedded under the display.

This is a fine way of unlocking your device for some, but if you prefer a back- or side-mounted scanner, you’re mostly out of luck at the top end of the market.

That’s not the case for cheap phones, though: you’ll find those digit sensors all over the place in the lower end of the market. Some phones have them in-screen, others have them on one or both sides of the phone, while plenty have the scanner on the back.

So if you like tapping the rear of your phone to unlock it, or caressing the side of the device, instead of just tapping the screen, budget devices are, in fact, the best phones for you.

Tom Bedford

Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.

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We’re in love with this leaked Xbox Elite Series 2 controller design



We’re in love with this leaked Xbox Elite Series 2 controller design
An Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 in white

(Image credit: Nicholas Lugo)

The Xbox Elite Series 2 wireless controller looks like it’s getting a brand new color variant with a White Edition.

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 has so far only been available in its default black color scheme. But a short clip shared on Twitter (opens in new tab) by leaker Rebs Gaming shows off a new white edition in the flesh.

The clip starts by showing the premium Xbox Series X|S controller’s box. Next, we’re given a look at the controller itself, which wears a clean white-on-black coat.

All the usual Elite Controller bells and whistles are accounted for. That includes the carry case, swappable analog sticks and customizable back paddle buttons. It looks like the genuine article, though we’ve heard nothing from Microsoft to confirm if or when the pad will actually be released.

A sign of pads to come?

Leak: I think this is our first footage of the Xbox Elite Series 2 White Edition controller. A leaked image of the controller was shown by @IdleSloth84 back in March. Source: https://t.co/WfMCEk3FQv#Xbox #XboxOne #XboxSeriesX pic.twitter.com/t97qbaNPCuAugust 8, 2022

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Okay, sure, the White Edition isn’t exactly the most daring design Microsoft could’ve chosen for its Elite pad. But it’s nonetheless eye-catching. I think that keeping certain parts of the controller black – like the sticks and grips – is a smart aesthetic choice. They contrast really nicely with the white center.

The Elite Series 2 is an excellent controller. But it’s lacking the one thing that the regular Xbox Wireless Controller has in abundance: color options. We’ve seen countless bold designs for the standard Xbox controller, including an eye-popping special edition for Forza Horizon 5 and a stunning hot pink design. But the Elite hasn’t really had the same treatment yet.

I hope that this new White Edition not only comes to market, but that it’s also a gateway for more ambitious designs for Xbox’s top pad. Seriously, a purple Elite pad would be an instant buy for me, and probably for many others, too.

Rhys Wood

Rhys is Hardware Writer for TechRadar Gaming, and while relatively fresh to the role, he’s been writing in a professional capacity for years. A Media, Writing and Production graduate, Rhys has prior experience creating written content for app developers, IT firms, toy sellers and the main TechRadar site. His true passions, though, lie in video games, TV, audio and home entertainment. When Rhys isn’t on the clock, you’ll usually find him logged into Final Fantasy 14, Halo Infinite or Sea of Thieves.

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Street Fighter 6 is bringing the ‘80s (and feet) back



Street Fighter 6 is bringing the ‘80s (and feet) back

Here come some new challengers. At the end of EVO 2022’s Street Fighter V tournament, Capcom revealed two more characters coming to the roster of Street Fighter 6: Juri, the “I can fix her” returning fighter, and newcomer Kimberly, an ‘80s-obsessed teen.

Kimberly, the spunky new ninja, and Juri, the sadistic thrill-seeker, join #StreetFighter6 when it arrives in 2023! Spray cans, a portable cassette player, and motorcyles have never looked more fresh. ️ pic.twitter.com/Lnw87p27aP

— Street Fighter (@StreetFighter) August 8, 2022

Student of Guy and successor to the bushinryu tradition, Kimberly is spunky and colorful with an affinity for spray painting her enemies midmatch. Though Kimberly is a teenager and Street Fighter 6 seems to be set in the current day, she’s enamored with all things ‘80s, carrying around a cassette player that some younger players probably won’t even recognize.

It’s like Capcom is aware that, in addition to its younger audience, there’s a certain subset of older Street Fighter players rising from their creaking knees and aching back looking at the ‘80s with fondness. In that way, Kimberly is a send-up, a reminder of simpler times. In other ways, she’s a very rude reminder that those happy days are so far behind us now that current teenagers are adopting the aesthetic because it’s quaintly “retro.” Thanks, Capcom, for reminding me I’m old.

Accompanying Kimberly in the character reveal is Juri, a character first introduced in Street Fighter IV. Juri arrives in flashy style with an homage to the Akira slide that’s been having a moment lately, as it was also used to awesome effect in Jordan Peele’s Nope. Juri seems a bit edgier than Kimberly, stomping all over her enemies in bare feet emphasized in ways that would make Bob Odenkirk click “like.” It’s always neat when companies seemingly embrace the thirst players have for its characters.

We’ll get the chance to see more of Juri and Kimberly’s stories when Street Fighter 6 launches on Xbox, PC, and PlayStation in 2023.

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