Across the pond and over the desk: Introducing Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia Ltd

Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia
Two weeks in – still smiling!

Academic timetabling’s one of those curious professions: almost no one outside of it knows exactly what it is or what it entails – and that goes for other university staff, too. The flip side of this coin is that those in the profession get to know each other very well – particularly those in the Scientia family, facilitated by the Company’s range of excellent user events and virtual networking opportunities.

As the title of this post suggests, I’ve recently made the leap from Scientia client to employee, joining as Head of Product Management. With our Product and Development teams based in the UK, I’ve also relocated here from New Zealand. Having spent the past 16 years in a range of strategic roles at the University of Auckland, a long-term Scientia client, it’s fair to say I was a pretty well-known face on the Asia Pacific (APAC) scheduling scene. So whilst I’ve been to a few of Scientia’s European User Conferences and met some ‘local’ Timetablers, my name isn’t exactly synonymous with Scientia beyond APAC. That’s something I hope to quickly change, and I’ll be drawing heavily on my experiences as a client to shape how we do things – and not just from a product perspective.

As with most big career changes, the decision to jump wasn’t a single issue thing. Suffice it to say that I was ready for a new challenge just as Scientia was tooling up for the biggest change in its near-30-year history: the development of a brand new, Cloud-based scheduling solution. Let’s be honest: Cloud services are hardly innovative these days. Nonetheless, the benefits for our clients of moving to a Cloud-based, service delivery model are compelling:

  • Flexibility: the ability to scale up (or down) with ease, without further investment in hardware or space
  • Automatic software updates: the latest releases installed remotely by the expert service provider
  • A lower total cost of ownership: users save on hardware costs/upgrades and on-premise consultancy time
  • Reclaimed space: in some cases, entire rooms which were once full of server racks can be repurposed
  • Access from anywhere: with flexible working practices becoming more common, the ability to access business-critical data from anywhere is vital

What piqued my interest were the opportunities for the next generation of Syllabus Plus – whatever it’s ultimately called. Being part of this development and seeing how much work has already occurred is, frankly, thrilling. The new architecture and design approach will see the delivery of a range of innovative new solutions, with a huge capacity for rapid responsiveness to an ever-changing tertiary market.

But that is really the mechanics under the hood. What I am most looking forward to is being part of a team which will deliver a whole new level of functionality, visibility, interoperability and usability to its existing and future customers. This is where my experience lines up with Scientia’s vision: moving the traditionally ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the university. Everything from planning capital building programmes to academic delivery modelling can benefit from timetable data. Combined with powerful integration and reporting tools, our vision is for a complete planning and scheduling solution which goes way beyond putting students and staff in a room together. Now that’s exciting to me and is something I wanted to be a part of.

Moving from Scientia client to employee gives me the ability to see things from a customer perspective, and that’s how I intend to operate: as our customers’ champion and conduit; a channel to make their voice heard in the ongoing development of our current and future solutions. It’s an exciting time to be part of the Scientia family, and I’ll be sharing further thoughts as I get my feet well and truly under the desk.

About Darren

After graduating with an Art History and Politics Degree, Darren spent the following 10 years working in the corporate sector, primarily as an Account Manager with Apple Education, before entering the tertiary education sector.  Originally entering the Auckland College of Education prior to its amalgamation with the University of Auckland, he was involved in special projects, data analysis and strategic reporting before being seconded onto the Automated Timetabling Project in 2009 as Modelling Analysis to support the implementation of Scientia’s Syllabus Plus Enterprise solution.

Having been appointed the Manager of Timetabling Services in 2010, that service merged with the Examinations Office to form the Examinations and Timetabling Office, supporting both academic and exam scheduling.   A focus that Darren brought to the role was to move the ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the University, consulted with on future major capital works building programmes and academic delivery options.  During this time he continued studying, completing a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration on Information Systems.  He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree.

Darren joined Scientia as Head of Product Management in January 2017.