Silicon Don: CIMA's 71st President Has Worked at the Forefront of Educational Technology for More Than Two Decades. Camilla Berens Finds out Why IBM Turned to Computer Fanatic Roland Kaye When It Ran out of Ideas

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Professor Roland Kaye is ideally suited to the role of CIMA's presidency. His career has taken him into the worlds of both business and academia, and his experiences have left him with a solid appreciation of the needs of most of the institute's stakeholder groups.

Kaye's big passion is computers, and his fascination has helped to produce some landmark innovations. At the start of his career he astutely realised the enormous potential of information technology when computer research took off in the 1970s. At the time he was working as a commercial accountant for Ross Foods, one of the very few companies that was enlightened enough to have a computerised financial modelling system.

"I had been working on these huge paper spreadsheets with multiple columns everywhere," he recalls. "Suddenly I was given this device that did all the work for me, so I knew that it was the way ahead."

Kaye took this early inspiration one step further when he decided to become a lecturer in business studies. "I was staggered to find when I went into academia that they didn't use computers for accounting systems," he explains. "I decided then that something had to change."

Kaye fell into lecturing almost by accident. While at Ross Foods, he was asked to stand in for a colleague who taught part-time locally. Before he knew it, Kaye was being offered a full-time position as a lecturer in accounting and business studies at Grimsby College of Technology. Having spent a decade in utilities, food manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, he didn't find the decision to move into education easy.

"I certainly had some misgivings," he admits. "I knew it was important to stay up to date with changes in business, because there's a danger that you can lose this when you move into academia. For this reason I have made a conscious decision to keep my hand in through consultancy work."

Despite Kaye's initial uncertainty, the career change helped to combine his knowledge of computers and accounting with teaching, producing some radical results. "Computers became a complete fascination for almost 10 years," he recalls. "My main focus was on using computers for learning, and I wrote the first program for teaching cost accounting in around 1981."

This was no mean feat in the early days of computer development. "The systems then were incredibly slow and cumbersome," Kaye says. "Our first computer took up half a desk--and that was a small one."

In the mid-1980s, Kaye's research took him to the University of East Anglia, where he helped to develop the School of Computer Studies and Accounting. At the time, Kaye and his team were leading the country in the research and development of computerised accounting. "We probably had the first PC network in the country," he says. "It was donated by IBM because it didn't know how to make it work."

The team pooled its expertise to set up a teaching lab where students learnt how to work on-line. The news spread quickly, and Kaye devoted all his time to sharing the team's knowledge with other universities, first nationally and then further afield.

"It was an incredibly exciting time. We were seeing a whole new way of educating people opening up in front of us," he says.

Since the start of the 1990s Kaye has been operating in the ideal setting for his innovative work on distance learning: the Open University Business School (OUBS) in Milton Keynes. As Royal Insurance professor of information management, he could see the potential in computers for enhancing this approach to education and he went on to establish the university's centre for information and innovation.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he recalls with a smile. …