Thursday, 18 September 2014

Conferences, food tasting and project assurance

The last couple of days I've spent on conference organising business in preparation for the main UCISA conference in March 2015. So in a whistlestop tour of Edinburgh I've visited two hotels including checking out the different rooms, the conference centre including looking at entrances, exits, pedestrian routes and layouts, and the dinner venues. As well as getting a good speaker programme together, with keynotes, workshops, showcases and poster sessions, the 'environmental' factors are extremely important
You can have the best speakers around, but if the rooms are wrong, the food bad, or the coffee undrinkable, that's what people remember. We've had more complaints about the quality of the coffee than almost anything else! It's also important to make sure everyone is catered for, and in some recent conferences the quality of the vegetarian food has been particularly poor. A few years ago the lunch choice for vegetarians was fish and pasta....

So, in a very hard task, we now taste all of the menus in advance and choose what we're going to have. Can't remember how many canap├ęs, starters, mains and deserts I've tasted over the last couple of days. But I know I've put weight on! I've also met with an events company to theme one of the dinners which looks as though it's going to be exciting. It's all coming together now, with just a few more speakers to confirm, it should be a great event.

Today I've been at the UCISA Executive meeting, where most of the agenda was taken up discussing in detail the change in charitable status of UCISA, more of which here.

We also looked at the progress of the many UCISA groups who organise many events and produce some very high quality publications and toolkits. One of the latest is on Major Project Governance assessment, which you can find here.

It has been very well received and colleagues from Sheffield have contributed to it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 12 September 2014

Enterprise, Mobility and Digital literacy

Last night I was honoured to be invited to the Enterprise, Innovation and Impact awards in Firth Hall. The hall looked lovely as usual, and it's nice to see the window at the front of the hall which until recently was bricked up. The awards recognise the enterprising nature of many of our students, and the partnerships we have established with local businesses. There were some great projects, including The Bear Sock company promoting socks made from bamboo, the sales of which go to  support bear welfare, We Love Life, a community platform which helps people improve the way they manage diabetes and Panela, a company extracting raw cane sugar without using additives. An excellent evening, and so good to see what our students can do. Lots more info on the Enterprise web site.

Today we had the first meeting of our SAP Mobility project bard. We're about to start implementing a range of mobile apps which give access to functionality from our finance and HR systems - viewing payslips, booking and approving leave, approving purchase requests etc. All things people want to do on any device, and fitting with our mobile strategy. Using Agile techniques, we'll be rolling apps out as and when they're ready, and consulting about priorities.

Finally this afternoon I met with a JISC colleague to talk about another JISC project I'm involved in - Building Capability for Digital Leadership, Pedagogy and Efficiency.  This is about digital literacy skills for staff in all areas.All staff need these skills to get the most out of systems and services we provide, to make the best use of teaching technologies, and to improve efficiency in our processes.  We all agree this is a real need, but how we will address and solve it is another matter. Answers on the back of a postcard please!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Diamond

Today I was really lucky to have a site visit to one of our new buildings - The Diamond. Designed to provide space for engineering, lecture theatres, teaching space, and exciting Information Commons type space, it's really taking shape now.  The cladding's going on:

and it looks good from the inside as well - the whole building will be semi-transparent:

The lower ground floor where the lecture theatres will be is huge, and you can see the doors into the lecture theatres, and see up onto the ground floor with its bridges and jutting out platforms. Above that are the holes cut into the first floor moonscape where you see up into the huge atrium.

 Up on the first floor, the first pod is taking shape in the atrium:

This is what this pod will look like when finished:

A great visit - despite the fact that builders don't put stairs in at first. They seem to prefer ladders and scary steps. I was quite proud of myself for skipping up and down these.

Finally, my favourite picture from the day.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Keep calm, and go to the fairground....

Today it was our Business Continuity Operations Group where we looked at a number of things, including some new web pages to let people know what to do in case of an incident. We also signed off the Business Impact Assessment templates that are going to be rolled out across the University to help departments with their business continuity planning by getting them to think about what they actually do, and what the impact would be of them not being able to do it. We also looked at some very helpful case studies written very honestly by Universities which had suffered incidents rangin from earthquakes, to fires, to evacuating student residences because of potential flooding. Lots of learning points, especailly around disruprion to learning and teaching, and the importance of good crisis communications.

Tonight I went to the opening of Marvelosa, an exhibition in Library of original art inspired by The
National Fairground Archive which celebrates 20 years this year. There were wonderful works by Pete McKee: 

 and Anthony Bennett - this sculpture was my favourite.

Definitely worth a visit  - open to the general public until 8 January.

Monday, 8 September 2014


Today is the launch of TELFest - our technology enhanced learning festival organised by the CiCS Learning Technologies team. 21 sessions on offer throughout the week, and over 800 sign ups to the various sessions. There's sessions covering MOOCs, using the VLE, Mobile learning  and social media. I was chairing a panel session on the value and impact of learning technologies in Higher Education. Some lively debate and discussion on what technologies had made the biggest difference to teaching and learning, what sort of spaces we need to teach using new technologies, how we can help all staff get the skills they need to make the best use of them, and what the future might hold.

Then in the afternoon it was our Service Strategy Board where we looked at progress with our projects, some project gateways, and looked at some resource issues we have, especially around service transition, where are not always very good at operationalising new services. We also had an update on our introduction of agile project management, and you can read all about that here.

Friday, 5 September 2014

From Cradle to Grave

Yesterday I was at a JISC workshop looking at prioritising strands for one of the co-design projects, From Prospect to Alumnus, or From Cradle to Grave as it quickly became renamed.

Basically this project is looking at how we might provide a more joined up experience for students in their interactions with different bits of the university. Currently this tends to be disjointed, not coordinated and must be confusing for students. One of the things we looked at was the different "touch points" a student has with different parts of the University. These are many and varied, from initial enquires about open days and application, through registration, their academic department, tutors, the IT Helpdesk, libraries, accommodation helpdesks, to graduation, careers and alumni. Data is collected at many of these touch points, but it isn't collected in similar ways, and is often not shared across different agencies. We compared this with some good examples in the private sector.

We also looked at sharing of information across institutions, which will become more important as mobility between institutions increases. At the moment, most of us focus on retention.

We discussed the many cultural and process barriers to sharing information, which are often more important then the technical.

We agreed that the learner needed to be put at the heart of this journey, not the institution and not the systems.

We ended with a list of priorities for further development, including customer relationship management, vendor management, data structures and integration and employability. All of these will have action plans put against them which I'll share as soon as they are published. All very timely for our own student system review.

Today I've been meeting with senior executives from Computing magazine, discussing with them our current issues and what we would like to see them cover in future publications and events. A very mixed set of attendees from commercial private and not for profit sectors so a variety of views expressed!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


I have to admit it, I'm a bit of a gadget person. Ruby Wax once referred to me as The Geek Girl. The last gadget I got was a Fitbit which I wear all the time (except in the shower) to measure how many steps I take, how many miles I walk, and how many active minutes I have in a day. when I first got it it was quite scary how little exercise I got on some days. Now if I haven't reached my target when I get home, I go for a walk. Headphones in, music or audiobook on and off I go. Much to the amusement of my neighbours, given that I live in the city centre. Made a real difference to how much exercise I take.

But, I've been looking recently at whether sitting down for long periods of time, which I often do, is good for me. The simple answer is, it isn't! I often get pains in my neck and shoulders, and I know I hunch and tense my shoulders when sitting over a keyboard. So, a few days ago I got a Varidesk - allows me to stand up when I want to, and sit down when I don't. Interestingly, in the 3 days I've had it, I've barely sat down. Don't feel the need to, and feel so much more comfortable. And no shoulder ache. Also, my step count has gone up considerably, presumably because it's very difficult to stand still.

I can't write a post about gadgets without mentioning the latest addition to the department  today -
Google Glass. Given us all much amusement today,  and it was quite weird when one of the Assistant Directors appeared at my door looking like The Borg and said - "I can take a photo of you by slowly winking"....

And this is the picture -  my standing up desk, taken with Google Glass.

Value for Money

One of the things we've been doing over the last few days is writing our value for money report - part of a series of reports produced for the University to show how we're achieving value for money, pointing out areas where we could do it better, and looking at future strategies. We have some excellent examples from CiCS, especially around infrastructure, voice and data and printing.

We've expanded our local cloud server and storage infrastructure making use of aggregation, resource sharing, standardisation and thin provisioning. This means we only grow capacity when it is really needed. We make the best use of resources by sharing - we supply capacity that meets peak demand, but not all peaks are at the same time. It also means we can clone test systems from live data ensuring that upgrades have a good chance of success with minimal storage overhead. We can also snapshot systems prior to upgrades etc quickly reverting if things go wrong.  This usually answers my main question at our weekly CAB (Change Advisory Board) which is "what happens if it all goes horribly wrong?" Usual answer - we'll have taken a snapshot so we revert. I have to admit that the "we" in the above paragraph definitely doesn't include me - some much cleverer people than that do it all.
Last year we had 750 virtual servers in production and development, this year we have 1063.

The way in which the network is being designed and deployed is also relevant to VfM.  Wherever possible we install an appropriate amount of outlets that meets the users needs (not too many, not too few) and only patch those that are actually being used. This in turn means that we can install fewer switches than under the previous ‘standard’ model making savings on both capital and operational spend.
We’re also revisiting older deployments and retro-fitting the ‘only patch used ports’ model, enabling us to reduce the amount of kit needed in those properties (making operational savings there), with recovered kit then being deployed in other areas (making capital savings on those projects)
Continued roll-out of IP Telephony and underlying infrastructure provides better/easier access to voice services for users whilst reducing the amount of network equipment needed to provide it.

My final example, from many more listed in the report, is the My Sustainable Print Service which went live in April 2014; the service was made available to all Staff and PGT and the Students Union. Student print equipment was replaced in the Information Commons as part of this agreement improving quality and functionality. The recurrent annual saving for the university is £1.4M; 19 tonnes of carbon saved, reduced from 24T to 5T. A new fleet of approx 555 new multifunctional print, copy, scan devices has been installed on campus. The legacy fleet has been removed and so far totals 1500 devices which have gone to a Social Enterprise; toner cartridges have been removed and/or sold with an approx value to date of £5k.

As user expecttions increase and  IT becomes even more ubiquitous and critical, we will keep exploring ways of making our services more efficient and demonstrating value for money.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nothing worse than a wet morris dancer....

Back from my annual pilgrimage from Whitby Folk Week, and I know you all look forward to the gratuitous picture of Morris Dancers, but contain yourselves.....

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been helping  with the University's contribution to a civic event - The Sheffield Fayre.  Well, it's just happened, and I've spent the weekend there. Sunday was glorious, lovely sunny weather.  I only had one team to look after - The Sheffield Giants, who are magnificent.

I love this picture of the porters (who carry the Giants and dance with them), putting on their black large belts to help support them.

So, Monday dawned, on the day that I had 6 teams to juggle, and it rained. Rained, and rained. Threw away the programme, Tried to find dryish dance spots, and the show went on! Ably assisted by beer from the beer tent. So, here's a very wet, bedraggled morris team - actually the one I normally dance with.

So that's it. Your annual exposure to folky things. Normal CiCS service will shortly be resumed....

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Clearing and donuts

So just before I disappear off on another holiday, time to make sure everything is going alright with clearing and confirmation. Very important day as students find out what their A level results are and whether they've got a place in the University of their choice. We set up one of our IT rooms as mission control for the temps to answer the phones and keep track of on line applications. The giant plasma screens are useful to give our temps messages keep them up to date with progress. When I got down there early today it was eerily calm!

We provide technical support for the network, phones, PCs and desktop - here they are working hard :-)

And our colleagues from Epigenesys who wrote the system are there to help and trouble shoot as well.

Of course, the staff need sustenance, and I was asked not to bring donuts, but something healthy. So I took donuts, with some fruit. Apparently it all got eaten....

Great teamwork from everyone across a number of departments, so well done everyone.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Dancing in the Park

So, the end of my first week back after the holiday. It's been a long week :-)  Most of it spent catching up, and looking forward to the new academic year. Perhaps the most important job I've been doing is looking at our budget for next year and how that compares with our financial forecasts. Its fair to say it's not an exact match, and we are looking at how we might manage it in terms of current vacancies. We're identifying areas where we believe the staffing resources needs to be protected, where it could reduce (albeit with a drop in service levels), and where we need to invest. There may be tough decisions to be taken....

Also this week I've caught up with some of the new student sabbatical officers. Always a pleasure to meet them at the beginning of the new academic year, and I'm afraid it only seems like a few weeks since I was was welcoming the previous holders. I don't envy them having such a short period to learn how the University works, and make their own impact on it. It's vitally important that we work together to achieve as much as we can in their period of office. This week we've talked about the design and operation of The Diamond,  how we might encourage students to vote and how we might better analyse our student data to look at the attainment of different diversity groups.

It was really good this week to meet colleagues from another university and exchange information about our strategies, service management implementation etc. It's always time well spent finding out what anther institution is dong, even if they came here to find out what we're doing.

And finally, I did some scheduling for an event I'm helping with - The Sheffield Fayre. To celebrate 20 years of The National Fairground Archive, the University is sponsoring this event.  Given my connections, I'd been asked to get some local traditional dance teams to appear. Yesterday I had to work out the timings for 6 teams, across two stages, making sure everyone had enough time to move between spots, and didn't dance with the same team. A post-it note nightmare :-) Looks like a good event - and it's free. So, if you're not doing anything get to Norfolk Park on Sunday 24th or Monday 25th August.

Thursday, 7 August 2014


While I was off, we successfully moved our VLE (MOLE) to a hosted service.  I missed the fun and games, but by all accounts it went very well - so congrats to all of the team. The only noticeable difference to our users should be that content creation is faster - everything else should be just the same, despite the fact is is now not running here, but on servers in a different country. It was a very aggressive timescale we worked to to get everything migrated in plenty of time for the beginning of the academic year, and I'm really pleased it was so successful.

Technology Enhanced Learning is an important part of our strategy, and this year we are running a
week long TEL festival in September and I'm pleased to see that arrangements for this have really come on in the past few weeks.  TELFest-2014 is designed to give help, guidance and support to anyone develop their skills in this area, no matter how much experience they have. There's workshops, drop in sessions, panel discussions and much more - the agenda looks really interesting, and we hope it will be a well attended event.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Graduation Round Up complete with Google Glass

Sorry for interval to blogging - been on my hols to Turkey for a couple of weeks. A bit earlier than we normally go, and as such I missed Graduation Week for the first time in many years. Very disappointed as I always love it - its the culmination of the year, and always brings it back home to me what our jobs are all about.

As usual, we tried to make it as good a day as possible for our students and family and friends, and our creative media team did a great job again. As well as live streaming of the ceremonies, and recording them on USB sticks and DVDs ready soon after the ceremony, we had out famous handshake videos - those few seconds as the graduand walks across the stage that everyone is really interested in. My favourite one was of Alan - famous for replying to the whole list about not having any robes, and starting the hashtag #prayforalan. He got his robes, and graduated to a huge cheer:

 A great moment!

We also had the gigipixel photos available again thanks to our friend Ed from Business Tours UK which are taggable on Facebook.  A new development this year was The University of Sheffield Yearbook, a set of photos taken during the week of students, staff and family and friends, together with their stories - definitely worth a look, there's some lovely stories.

And finally, our Corporate Affairs department showed what you can do with Google Glass - fantastic film: