IT Pros Unplugged: Head of IT at a Premiership Football Club

When we think of our 'dream job', then it’s all about finding something we're good at, we get paid to do and of course we love doing. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Matthew Reynolds, Head of IT at Southampton Football Club, we asked him a few questions on what he does, as well as how he got there. As you’ll see from this interview, it’s not the only cool job Matthew has held.

So Matthew, what does Head of IT at Southampton Football Club mean?

Operationally, I am responsible for providing the availability & capacity of all IT services at the club, which accounts for about 30% of my role. I look at IT risk across the business as well as project manage the larger IT transformation projects. As a member of the Senior Management Team I spend the rest of my time focused on strategy, direction of the business and the IT roadmap.

Can you talk a little about you career progression to this role?

I’ve always had a love for computers and my first PC was an IBM PS/2.  I studied Computer Aided Engineering at university and when I graduated I joined an engineering company in Portsmouth.  As a CAE Systems Engineer, I was responsible of managing their CAD workstation estate.   This gave me the first real insight into how computing can be at the heart of an organisation.

I then found a role at a Formula 1 team called Arrows Grand Prix International. Arrows had a very small IT department and my main responsibility was CAD support. As there were only two of us, we ended up doing a bit of everything and I was regularly sent to Grand Prix and Test as IT support. Being thrown in the deep end, I had to learn about NT Servers, routing and networking very quickly.

Two years later on I joined Williams Grand Prix Engineering as an IT Support Specialist. My first major project was to move the company from NT4 to Windows Server 2000 with a new feature called Active Directory. The migration was very manual as there where limited tools to help you in those days.

During my time at Williams we were partnering very closely with HP. One of the technologies we worked on was wireless networking and how we could use it as a competitive advantage against the other teams. Working with HP I managed to develop a solution that sent all of the car data back to the garage from the grid, prior to the race. Traditionally if engineers wanted the data from the ‘install’ lap/s they would have to plug their laptops into the cars on the grid and view it locally. This new solution shared the data and allowed for more eyes back in the garage to view this information.  The partnership with HP had many other rewards including a technology refresh, giving us the latest innovations in compute power to work with and thus gave the team a performance advantage.

The next move was to an established manufacturer doing very well on the grid, they were called Renault F1 Team.  A young driver called Fernando Alonso was also showing a lot of promise.  Renault's mission was to win the world championship and there was a large focus on performance projects.  Budgets weren't so much of a concern providing your project remained feasible and I took the role of IT Trackside Project Leader, responsible for the mobile IT infrastructure that was sent worldwide.  

There was a huge modernisation programme to support the team with their vision. The data that a car generated had increased as well.  In the early 90's a full weekend's race data used to fit on a 1.44MB floppy disk and now in the late 00's we were generating 1GB to 2GB of data.  Interestingly the exponential growth of data continues and in 10's it peaked at 20GB of data per car.

My first project was to improve the trackside operations by updating their aged infrastructure.  This equated to the replacement of 30 servers, provisioning over 20TB of storage and configuring a new network as well as provisioning faster communication. This allowed for data to be transferred from Grand Prix to headquarters in real-time.

After nearly 7 years at Renault F1 Team and two world championships later, I had the opportunity to join Southampton Football Club. They were at the beginning of their journey, having just been promoted to the Championship.  In a similar way to the Renault F1 Team they had a vision for success and I could see that there was more to come.

I was tasked to rebuild the IT capability to support the business strategy for international growth. The business was seeing major disruptions due an unreliable IT infrastructure, there were regular email outages and a large percentage of time was spent being reactive. In the first 90 days I put together a 5 year plan to transform and modernise the 10 year old capability.

A time-lapse video of the network transformation at Southampton FC.

Year 1 was spent rebuilding the foundations. Email was moved to the cloud and a new network, storage and compute capability was born utilising the latest Microsoft Hyper V technology and HP converged infrastructure. Our desktop fleet was replaced, high speed links installed and Wi-Fi went live across all sites.

I am proud to say that the Saints now have a stable infrastructure to now build solutions upon. This year IPTV went live. Giving the club a central TV solution, providing real-time advertising and providing the fans a great experience across all of the stadium. IPTV will be extended to our new Stapolewood training facility to support player development.  We are also about to see a Unified Communication and Collaboration solution launched.  This will give the coaches and training staff instant communication tools such as the ability to carry out live scouting and video conferencing.  It will also provide access to medical records in a secure environment. 

What do you see as the biggest technology game changers over the last 10 years?

It has to be the rapid evolution of compute power and connectivity.  In the past we wanted to maximise the performance out of our systems and we spent a disproportionate time tuning for optimal capacity.  Now it is about how we apply the technology to provide a strategic advantage to the business.  It’s no longer about keeping the lights on but the strategic benefits IT can bring to the business.  Someone once said to me “IT is the business and the business is IT”, this sentiment reinforces the importance of information technology and the value it brings to any organisation.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given

Think big, be passionate and aim to be better in everything you do.  Life is a learning curve and sometimes things don't go as planned, but along your journey there will be chances.  You must take these opportunities when they arise and your hard work will be rewarded.

We’d like to thank Matthew for taking the time out to speak to us this month and for providing fantastic insight into his career journey.

Are you interested in furthering your career in IT? The TechNet team are running upcoming IT Career Evenings in London . Network with peers over some beer and pizza and get a better understanding of what a Career with Microsoft Technology looks like.