Monday, 30 June 2008


Early start this morning with a Senior Management Group meeting and Heads of Departments. Always a good networking event with all of the academic heads and professional service heads mixed up on round tables with plenty of coffee and pastries. A good opportunity to chat to people, get some business done and catch up on things.

First item on the agenda is the VC bringing us up to date with the process of transition to the new faculty structure. Most of the PVCs and their Directors of Faculty Operations are now in place, and all departments which were in more than one faculty before, are now only in one. Each faculty is also appointing a Director of Learning and Teaching and a Director of Research. The Senate Budget Committee is currently being put together and this will have an oversight of the whole budget process, bringing together all areas of the University for the first time. So for example, our budget will get looked at alongside that of academic departments. Hopefully this will lead to a more holistic planning process.

Other items discussed include a review of professorial salaries, and a look at next year's budget. As this is a public blog, I'd better not go into too much detail on either here. Needless to say, the former was a lively discussion!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

No need for acceptance speech...

Went to the RIBA awards on Friday night - I've already posted that the IC had won a Regional award, and on Friday the National awards were announced. Very posh dinner at the Park Lane Hilton, and Nelson Mandela was celebrating his birthday with a concert just across the road. Sadly we didn't win, but I did get to stay in a hotel with some very strange sculptures in the foyer, and I came away with a hangover if nothing else....

Thursday, 26 June 2008

You're fired...

Seem to have spent a lot of time in the IC this week. Had the privilege today of showing the CEO of Viglen - one of our main PC suppliers - round. Interesting to spend time discussing PC design, and some of the issues we have with security, cable management, USB slots etc. Really pleasing to see that they take these sort of concerns seriously and are coming up with innovative solutions and designs. Of course it was also fun to discuss his recent appearance on The Apprentice. I'm waiting for my signed photo of Sir Alan.....

This afternoon was another in the series of half days having a good look at how we in the professional services work together to provide support - today was the student experience. Similar format to the research session yesterday - PESTLE analysis, gap analysis, and a look at where we add value by working collaboratively. Lots more discussion about resources today, and the importance of investment in the learning and teaching infrastructure including library resources, IT, and teaching and learning spaces and facilities.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Let sleeping students lie...

Spent a lot of yesterday afternoon showing visitors round the IC, including one group from another University who are planning a similar development and who were interested in talking to us about the design and planning process and the operation of the building. The other group were from a local school who are planning a new building and who were more interested in the architecture and the internal design of spaces. A couple of weeks ago you couldn't move inside the building - several hundred people in overnight, and on some days up to 1500 in during the day - which given there are only 1300 seats is interesting! Now it is very quiet, and the staff there can get it ready for the next onslaught in September. I saw an interesting sight when I was wandering round the building - a young woman was sitting at a desk, working away at a PC, and at her feet under the desk, was a young man, stretched out on the floor fast asleep!

This morning I took part in a 4 hour workshop on the role of the Professional Services in supporting research. There were about 12 of us there, from a range of central services. We started with a PESTLE analysis of factors influencing the research agenda - some of the ones we came up with are (not all listed for commercially sensitive reasons!):
Political - a possible change of government, the Research Excellence Framework, funding streams shaping the research agenda
Economic - economic downturn, sustainability,
Social - staff retention, research informing public policy
Technical - increase in computing power, data storage and curation, physical infrastrutcre needs (ie buildings)
Legal - Intellectual Property and copyright, ethics, plagiarism
Environmental - public opinion, carbon footprint

Just a sample from a very wide ranging dicussion. Then we looked where the synergies between the different services were, and more importanly, could we identify gaps. From that, we drew up a prioritised action plan of things we needed to take forward. Finally, in view of the new Faculty structure in the University, we looked at those areas which distinguished the services provided centrally from those provided by departments/faculties - either because we could add value, provide economies of scale or ensure consistency across the institution.

All in all a valuable and useful morning - a good opportunity to take a critical look at what we do, and look for areas where we need to make improvements.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Sometimes on, sometimes connected

Spent the day in Oxford today - two UCISA meetings. Communications group, looking at the development of the web site and how we might use some web 2.0 and collaborative technologies on it. Then an officer's meeting to discuss a few issues relating to the group structure of the organisation.

It's always interesting spending a day out of the office and trying to stay connected. No wireless on the train, so used the USB modem, but there's practically no coverage between Birmingham and Oxford. My iPhone was quicker at getting emails. At least in Oxford Eduroam was working perfectly and my MacBook just connected to it without being told or asked to. Unlike last week where at a London University, a whole room full of IT Directors couldn't get it to work.

Oh for the always on, always connected world we keep being promised....

Seeing your services as others see them

It isn’t often you get the opportunity to try one of our services as a customer, but last week I was in the Drama Studio as a user. I’ve been working with The Company on and off for about 12 years, originally backstage doing props, moving scenery etc, but now I tend to just do front of house work. Last week they were in The Drama Studio for a week performing The Rover (an excellent production as always), and although I’ve worked there many times before, this was only the second time since the Drama Studio became part of CiCS. Interesting to see it from a different perspective – and to be working for people who, during a normal working day, work for me! It’s a great space, and the staff work incredibly hard, and very long hours. Someone has to be there every Saturday night when the group using the theatre is getting out after their final performance has finished, and on a Sunday to let the new group in and oversee them putting their set up. (Although I did discover on Saturday night that there is a lot of standing about and watching other people carry heavy stuff..) :-)

It's a great way of seeing your services as other people see them - and for poking your nose into as many things as possible.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

iTunesU and SHED

A couple of other things of interest discussed at the RUGIT meeting - one was iTunesU, and how many universities were signing up to it. Several already have, and the evidence is that putting some of your prestigious lectures up can be a powerful marketing tool. We're certainly looking at it, and will have to get iTunes working properly on our managed service this summer in order to launch it later this year. As well as public content you can put internal content up available on to you institution. Probably best for most of our stuff until we can be sure that our lecturers have cleared copyright on all of their slides.... Have a look at the Open University and UCL on iTunesU if you want to see how it can be used.

The other interesting development relates to the shared service discussions and a proposal to get some funding to look at the possibility of a shared data centre service , particularly for high end computing, but it could be extended to cover other enterprise wide services. Such a shared data centre is unlikely to be just in one location, but could be in a couple of major centres. Just an idea the the moment but I'll keep you posted. At the moment the project is going by the acronym of SHED - which I think stands for shared higher education data service - but I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Future of student computing

RUGIT meeting today in London. Unusually, we had quite a discussion about student computing. I say unusually, because RUGIT normally concentrates on those matters specific to research-intensive universities, ie research. It made a pleasant change to talk about students.

We talked about student computing rooms or PC clusters, and whether their time was up! Most of us have a student population where over 90% of them come to university with a PC, and more often than not, that is now a laptop rather than a desktop machine. Why are we therefore providing PC clusters - taking up space, staff time, software licences, hardware refreshes..... Why don't we just let the students get on with it and use their own laptops. Think of the space and money and staff time we would free up??

Well would we?

Our experience - and interestingly this was mirrored in many other Universities - was that our PC use is higher than ever. It doesn't matter how many additional PCs we put out, students want more, and they want them available for longer - 600 of ours are now available 24*7. So, why do they use our clusters rather than their own laptops?

Well, ours are faster because they're connected to the wired, rather than the wireless network. They also have around 300 software applications on that students can't afford to buy, and most of our campus licences won't let them use on their on machines. There's a reluctance to bring laptops onto campus - they might get stolen, or damaged, and there's never a power socket around when you need one.

Some places - including us - are looking at using thin client technology and virtualisation to deliver applications through a web browser so that students can in effect get the managed service on their own laptops. But, there are many issues to overcome to do this, some technical, but a lot relating to licencing. And is it not better to have students' work saved on our filestore which is secure and backed up, rather than their own hard drives?

So, will we still be providing student computing rooms/clusters in 5 or 10 years time?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Student Experience

Spent a lot of time today doing some preparation for some work we're doing on a strategic look at how the Professional Services support different areas of the University. Next week we're looking at the student experience - in a bid to get away from any silo mentality, we're getting together to look at how we can work together and with the new Faculties to improve the student experience and how we can add value.

Today we looked at the areas where we as a department contribute to the student experience - it's wide ranging and in many cases done in conjunction with other departments.

We provide (and in most cases write) the systems that handle the students from the minute they think they might want a prospectus and look at our web site, to finding the on-line prospectus, CRM to manage their interactions with the University, allocating their accommodation, registering and choosing their modules on line, scheduling exams, getting their exam results through the assessments system, allocating them to degree ceremonies and printing their degree certificates, collecting their careers information and then keeping them in touch with the university via an alumni directory.

We give them a computer account, filestore, and an email address, and give them access to everything though a portal including self service systems and access to electronic resources

We provide a managed desktop with over 200 pieces of software, printing and scanning facilities. and an on-line learning environment.

We support their own laptops and machines - whatever platform and operating system they have, and keep them free of viruses and spyware. We give advice and support on privacy and security.

We timetable teaching space, allocate rooms to lectures and provide AV and IT infrastructure in them. We provide and support learning spaces including the Information Commons and student computing rooms. The Drama Studio is a place where students can learn how to use a real theatre and put on productions. We manage the Octagon Centre - a place where concerts, music nights and other events are run.

We provide a network in the student residences, IPTV and a wireless network across campus.

We give advice and support on the use of new technologies and facilitate innovative teaching and communication methods.

Not a complete list - I could go on - let me know what I've missed! And some still say that CIT isn't strategic to the institution.....

Sharpen the Saw

We'll be having an Investors in People assessment in August for part of the department, so spent some time yesterday morning talking to the assessors about work we've been doing on a vision and our objectives for the year, as well as our management development plans.

Then it was my own SRDS interview with my line manager - a chance to sit down and reflect on progress throughout the year, and look forward to the next one. It's also the chance to look at what support I might need and training and development needs. The main thing I need is time - time to network more and to get on with all of the things I do outside of the University including UCISA work, which if you're not careful, tend to get pushed to the end of the priority list. I'm a big of a fan of Steven Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits is "Sharpen the Saw". He describes this by using the analogy of a woodcutter who is cutting wood. Gradually as the saw blunts he becomes less and less productive. The solution is to stop cutting for a while and sharpen the saw, but he doesn't because he's too busy cutting wood. Some people misunderstand this habit, and think it refers to getting away, maybe having a rest, but that's just putting the saw down - it will still be blunt. It has to be an activity - I do it by meeting someone from outside the department and talking through a few issues with them, or trying to think of a good speaker for a UCISA conference, or reading a good book, or writing this blog!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Office speak

This made me laugh, and cringe at the same time - I've even used one of them in my last post!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Don't mention the war...

Programme Board today - progress on all of our projects looked at and commented on, and as usual, the main issue was how we resource them all as well as continue to support existing services. A couple of new projects were approved. One was to look at scanning technology - initially we need to gather user requirements for a scanning solution across the University. We already know of specific areas where such a solution is needed – Livelink, SAP and Academic Departments where storage spaces is limited. We also need to draw up guidelines for the use of a scanning solution based in part on user requirements, and partly on best practice drawn from across the document management sector, both inside and outside HE. this part of the project is about to start, and then we aim to evaluate the leading scanning solutions and draw up a shortlist. However, this can only be done when we have available resources.

The second project we approved today is an evaluation of a 'Pay on the Day" parking permit scheme to replace the current situation where staff pay for a parking permit for unlimited use throughout the year. It's hoped that this scheme will incentivise people to leave their car at home occasionally if they only pay for actual usage of the car parks. Of course, in a University like ours, with many car parks, many of them small areas behind buildings, this will pose a number of challenges! There's a number of areas where we'll have to carry out some work - finding the most appropriate mechanism to charge people in controlled and uncontrolled, car parks, collecting the data collected from barriers, informing staff of what use they've made of the car parks, and charging them direct from the payroll. This proposal is still being discussed with the appropriate bodies in the University, but we need to start doing the evaluation work now.

$75 Laptop

Not that I'm a sucker for gadgets of course, but I like the look of this mock up for OLPC's (One Laptop per Child) latest design. It has two screens instead of a screen and a keyboard, and the second screen can be a touch screen keyboard. Or you can turn it round and it becomes an eBook, or two people can play a game on each screen. At a target price of $75 and power usage of about 4 watts, it's an ambitious project!

Thursday, 12 June 2008


Senate meeting yesterday afternoon - 2 major discussion items. First was the on-going process around restructuring. All of the Faculty Pro Vice Chancellors are now in place, and the new University Executive Board (UEB) will take over on 1 August. UEB consists of the Vice Chancellor, 5 Faculty PVCs, the 3 cross-cutting PVCs (Teaching and Learning, Research and Innovation, and External Affairs), the Registrar, Director of Finance, Director of HR and Academic Secretary. More professional service reps than before (still no IS rep though but I'll keep working on it...). We're promised that there will be much more transparency of decision making - no inner cabinets, just a collective responsibility, which is a good thing. There's still a lot of work in progress around the role of the Faculties, including their governance structures, but this seems to be progressing well. I'm in the process of meeting all of the PVCs - I've had 3 very positive discussions so far - about how we might work in partnership with them to provide the most efficient, cost effective service to them, and add value to the support they already receive from their departmental staff.

Second item on the Senate agenda was the capital programme, with details of new buildings on the cards, as well as significant refurbishments. The most significant refurbishment is the Arts Tower. It's over 40 years old, and a Grade II listed building, and in drastic need of a lot of money spending on it! I wonder how many of you realise that it's inspired by the Seagram Building in New York - which has twice as many floors. The building will be gradually emptied over the next few months, (with the exception of the Estates Department who have bravely agreed to move into it during the works), and then the outside cladding will be replaced as well as an internal refurb of some of the floors.

Another two major refurbishments are Western Bank Library, and University House (Student's Union) which will have a significant amount of work done on it to create a variety of new spaces.

I've mentioned the concept of Learning Hub before, but rather tha a new build, we are currently looking at trasforming the Edwardian wing of the old Jessop Hospital into teaching space, including self help space for students for the English Language Teaching Centre and Modern Languages Teaching Centre. They will have to get rid of the dead pigeons first though!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Document storage

Our Electronic Document Management project has been very slow to take off. We bought the software at least a couple of years ago and encountered all sorts of problems, including technical and support issues, as well as internal resource allocation. However, I'm pleased to say that it now seems to be taking off - we've restructured the project team with more resource allocated to it, and we've got three pilots about to start. A student eFile, web-based computer registration for staff, and programme specification approval and storage. These should test both the workflow and the document management parts of the system, and hopefully they will be up and running by September. Assuming the pilots are successful, we'll be looking to roll it out in targeted areas across the University - I say targeted as it has enormous potential, and we will have to be careful how we resource it. I'm keen to see all of our committee papers moved into it as soon as possible for example.

We will have to be very careful about guidelines and policies for storing documents - we already have a number of places staff and students can put stuff. We have personal filestore, shared filestore, the portal (MUSE), central filestore (the SAN), our own hard discs, and now a document management system. Even more places to lose stuff....

Monday, 9 June 2008

Happy Monday

Good day today, for a Monday. Took a huge box of chocolates into work (and I mean, huge!) from a colleague on sick leave - wonder how long they'll last. A nice lunch in the sun with a colleague from another department, a few pleasant meetings in the afternoon, then spent the evening in the garden sipping wine and following Steve Job's keynote to the WWDC announcing the new iPhone and MobileMe. Loads more things for me to play with - can't wait! Lots of new Enterprise applications - for once Apple seem to be targeting business. Lets hope they get their corporate contracts and tariffs sorted out then!

Exec Team meeting this afternoon where we discussed lots of topics - sometimes we have one or two major items to discuss, other weeks we go through lots of smaller items. Today was one of the latter. We talked about team awaydays, and how to link them in to our management development framework, making sure they have clear objectives and outcomes, as well as the fun and team building element.

As we move forward with implementing ITIL, we've arranged some training and awareness sessions for key staff which will happen towards the end of the summer.

Our self service portal for the helpdesk is almost ready to go live - this will allow users to log their own calls, track calls and jobs and access a knowledge base. The second stage will be the analyst portal where second line support staff will be able to deal with and close calls.

We're also thinking about a review of the way all our media is delivered, including podcasting, streaming media, IPTV, and lecture capture. The main aim of the project will be to ensure that fragmentation of service provision is hidden from the end-user.

Friday, 6 June 2008

A plug for another blog

As part of our Innovative Communications Project, we held a Wikis and Blogs workshop yesterday - Chris Attwell, the project manager blogs about it here.

The blog itself was set up to share good practice and innovative ideas in teaching and learning, and there are some interesting posts about Good Practice week, to which we contributed with sessions on Taming Technology.

Office 2007

Discussed putting Office 2007 on our managed desktop last night - and agreed to do it this summer. Currently we have Office 2003 on it, but new PCs and laptops come equipped with Office 2007 and have done for a while. So many members of the University, especially students, are using Office 2007 on their own machines and are surprised when they come to University and find Office 2003 on the managed desktop. The Microsoft treadmill is not something we particularly want to be on, but in this case, it's unavoidable - we're supposed to be an innovative department, and providing out of date software hardly supports that vision!

There will be communication and training issues, but nothing insurmountable. Now, I'm just about to update my mac to Office 2008 and see what differences there are!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


I love the new, extended version of the latest Get a Mac ad....

Wonder if it's really John Hodgman singing?

Unified Communications

Discussion on our collaboration improvement project this morning and how we take forward new collaborative functionality on our upgraded telephone switch. Obviously a long way to go as we've only just upgraded and things are still bedding down, but we will be starting to look at how we take advantage of it soon.

I'm very interested in Unified Communications (UC), especially when I think how many ways people have to communicate with me at the moment. You can email me (but I get hundreds of emails to 2 different email addresses and I'm not always in front of a computer or connected to the internet); you can phone me (but on what number - I have a home phone, a work phone and 2 mobile phones); if I don't answer you can leave me a voice mail (on one of my 4 different voice mail boxes); or text me (to one of my 2 mobile phones); or send me an instant message; or Twitter me; or send me a message via Facebook; or through Friends Reunited, MySpace, or Linkedin; you could videoconference me; or meet me in Second Life; or send me a message via the many Internet Forums I belong to. Or - you could be really radical - and send me a letter. Or even more radical - come and see me!

But - how do you know where I am, physically or virtually, and how do you know how I want to be contacted? And how do I manage all of these different communications, and how do we integrate them into business processes?

No single communication mode is going to replace all of the others - each has a useful function and is the right solution in different circumstances. Plus, will we be willing to give up any of them? But using so many devices and methods is so cumbersome, especially if each has it's own separate way of addressing users, of creating and managing contact lists and of establishing communications sessions. What I'd like is all of these things to work together somehow and be aware of each other, with one way of addressing users and a single contact list. The ideal would also to have some presence awareness, with a context of where I am and how I'd prefer to be communicated with.

Maybe in a few years...

Monday, 2 June 2008

Banned books

A former colleague sent me this link today and asked me if I'd seen it. I hadn't, but it worried me enough to do some reading up on it. I found lots of coverage, including this web site set up to promote the cause of the arrested member of the University of Nottingham's staff. It made interesting reading, especially the fact that so many of Nottingham's staff had signed a letter in support. Very scary. It makes you realise what an important decision it is to call in the police. Once you have done, you lose all control - it doesn't matter if you then say, "oh sorry, we made a mistake, this really was a legitimate research paper" - it is out of your hands. There is only one reason I would call the police in without giving it a second thought, and that's when indecent or abusive images of children are found. That really is the police's domain to investigate (and in fact we would be breaking the law if we did anything else).

There are so many things about this case that worry me. In work terms, I'm thinking about what guidelines we might need to deal with this sort of incident. I will be on the phone to the HR Director tomorrow.

From Edison to iPod

Friday saw my first meeting with one of the new Faculty PVCs - I'm trying to get round them all in the next couple of weeks to start a dialogue about how we can best support them in their new role, and make some suggestions about how we might handle IT support in the new structure. It was a very positive (and fun!) meeting, and I learnt a lot - especially about the history of music recording!

Today a few senior colleagues from the professional services talked how we might take forward some thematic discussions about 3 key strategic areas - the student experience, research performance and internationalisation. We'll be having some more in-depth discussions over the next month to look at synergies between the different departments and also identifying gaps and priorities for development.

It was appropriate perhaps just after we learnt about the IC winning the RIBA award that today was the Post Occupancy Evaluation of the project. I took part in a three and a half hour meeting where we went right back to the original drivers for the project, the business case, the brief, appointment of consultants etc. Given that we (CiCS and the Library) had the original idea in about 1998, and started the business case in 1999, we had to really test our memory to go back that far. The meeting had representatives of the architects, consultants, project managers, construction company as well as the user clients. It was basically a lessons learnt exercise (perhaps the main one being try and finish a building before you actually open it), and there were many which will be applied to future projects.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

IC gets RIBA award

I'm going to use a real local phrase now - I'm dead chuffed that the Information Commons has won a prestigious RIBA award. Only two were awarded in Yorkshire this year. Congratulations to all of the Design Team - the architects RMJM (especially Matt and Colin) and the University clients of CiCS, the Library and Estates. The building will now go forward for a national prize, the winners of which will be announced at an awards dinner in London at the end of this month. I will be shopping for my new posh frock shortly, and am wondering if we win will I get a chance to do my Gwyneth Paltrow impression and cry profusely whilst thanking everyone? I suspect not!

The building is a source of delight and pride to all of us who were involved in its conceptualisation and design - and what's more important, the students love it as well, which is after all who it was designed for. It was a true partnership between CiCS and the Library, and we're really pleased that the judging panel were so impressed with it. So, fingers crossed for the end of June, but we are up against some stiff competition, including St Pancreas Station and Terminal 5!

Edit: Press release just issued by the University