Women in Tech Excellence: Shona Leavey

Insights | Life at Agilisys

Shona Leavey is Agilisys Guernsey’s Head of IT Services, leading a team of over 50 IT professionals responsible for business-as-usual IT services for the States of Guernsey. Shona is a finalist in this year’s Women in Tech Excellence Awards in the IT Leader of the Year and Hero of the Year categories. We spent some time with Shona to delve a little deeper into her role and why more people should consider a career in the tech sector.

What has been your most significant achievement in the IT industry this year?

If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, I would have insisted that I don’t work in the IT industry! I’ve always thought of myself as a ‘people person’ – not an ‘IT person’.

In fact, I spent the first 24 years of my career working as a civil servant for the States of Guernsey, before transferring into Agilisys Guernsey as Head of Projects in 2019. It was during the first lockdown in March 2020 that I temporarily stepped into the role of Head of IT Services – a role that became permanent in July 2020.

This has probably been my most significant personal achievement over the past 12 months – and it came with the realisation that there’s really no such thing as an ‘IT person’.

I’ve spent most of my career leading teams of IT professionals, both in the States and in Agilisys. And during that time, I’ve learnt that our services are dependent on teams of people with diverse skills, experiences, and capabilities. 

Some of my colleagues are technical experts with specialised knowledge and skillsets – but we also need good communicators, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, critical thinkers, learners, and team members. It’s exactly that blend of technology and skills that we need to achieve the positive outcomes we all want for our community.

That’s why we work with colleagues in HR and Learning and Development to ensure that our people have opportunities to grow not just their technical skillsets – but their soft skill learnings too. 

Recognising the importance of people, project, and change management capabilities for everyone, we’ve invested in opportunities to develop our team – and diversify their knowledge and expertise. To date, over 80% of our colleagues have already completed training programmes relevant to their roles and in support of their career progression.

Developing our people, enabling their personal and professional growth, and empowering our team to make a difference for the community – in my opinion these are some of our greatest achievements so far.

Can you tell us about a time where you have led your team to IT success?

Our team of over 50 IT professionals have worked for the States of Guernsey as civil servants for years – for some, even decades. So, joining a new organisation requires a significant mindset shift.

Embarking on a new relationship is fraught with new challenges and opportunities, and we knew that the start of our SMART Guernsey Partnership would involve navigating a new culture and a new way of working. But a few short weeks after moving into our new office in St Peter Port, the world changed – ushering in the first lockdown, travel bans, and a ‘new normal’.

We deliver IT for blue light services (Hospital, Police, Border Agency), Education, Central Government – and much more. So, as a team, we worked hard to change the way we did things and focused on the important. In the end, we rolled out what has been described as ‘two years of work in just two months’: setting up services to enable remote working for the States of Guernsey.

This enabled the States to continue providing essential public services to islanders as well as developing new solutions to address the pandemic. In the last 12 months we have developed solutions for Guernsey’s Track and Trace, Vaccinations, and Business Support – helping to enable the Bailiwick’s world-leading response to COVID-19.

But alongside all of this, our team have delivered everyday IT services and worked alongside colleagues in our IT Transformation team to bring in new, modern, and resilient technologies. Most significantly, this saw two members of our local team help to build two on-island data centres last year – laying the foundation for the transformed IT estate and delivering a saving of £1.4m back to the States. 

As the immediate COVID crisis recedes, I’m looking forward to becoming less reactive and firefighting, and being more strategic and proactive. 

Our team has spent years delivering IT services driven by the demands of an ageing legacy IT estate. But now, two years on and over halfway through IT Transformation, we are now more on the front foot and beginning to deliver modern services that we can all be proud of. 

All this might sound simple, but when working with people and culture it’s always a challenge. But I’m really proud to be a part of this new and exciting change, leading both my existing team and recruiting new talent. Seeing people being proud of the services they deliver, meeting people who are excited to join our team and make a difference – that has to be some of our great achievements as a team.

Why would others describe you as a ‘hero’?

I’ve always been someone who gets on with the job and certainly wouldn’t describe myself as any more of a hero than any of my colleagues, who work hard every day to enable the delivery of Guernsey’s public services.

However, when Guernsey went into a second lockdown in January 2021, I found myself having to dig really deep to discover my ‘inner hero’. 

Seven days before the second lockdown, my husband had an accident and broke his hip! I was suddenly faced with nursing my husband, home schooling our two boys, and doing the job I love – at probably one of the most crucial times for our client and my team. 

Both my sons became my heroes but in different ways. The eldest is similar to me, and he took on the challenge of home schooling via Teams without any worries or complaints. 

My youngest is autistic, so for him things were more challenging. His home environment is not sitting down and learning - that’s for school. So, I made home into school. He sat next to me with his laptop, some headphones (not connected!), a notepad and pen, copying what mummy was doing! He kept me smiling even when at times I wanted to cry.

Taking inspiration from my boys helped me to balance all my responsibilities – being there for my family as well making sure critical IT services continued to be provided to the States of Guernsey. 

It’s in my nature to “keep calm and carry on” – tackling every challenge head-on and finding humour, even during the tricky times, when I can. I honestly wouldn’t call myself a hero. I’m just doing my job and supporting my fantastic team so they can get on with their jobs.

What is your top tip for someone looking to start a career in IT?

Be yourself and be confident. There are so many roles in the IT industry that require a variety of skills – from communication, project management, stakeholder management through to technical and leadership roles. 

Every industry needs a diverse mix of people. That’s why creating a feeling of ‘belonging’ is so important in our team – nurturing a culture where everyone feels valued, empowered to be who they are, and inspired to achieve their potential. Diverse teams, united by the same ambition to make a difference – that’s the key to achieving better outcomes for our communities.

So, my top tip is – be yourself. Join us and help to make the future workplace an exciting, challenging, and rewarding place for everyone.

Shona Leavey

Shona’s background in public service delivery gives her a special insight into how technology can positively impact an organisation. When she’s not working her two young boys keep her busy with all sorts of activities from swimming, walks, and visiting the local museums.