Friday, 25 July 2008

A summer in Mallorca

Last degree ceremony attended, vacation message about to be set, voice mail message changed, and I'm off for two weeks! Hopefully by this time tomorrow I'll be doing a dead fish impression by a pool in Mallorca. Just got to pack, make sure there's enough cat and fish food for the sons who are left behind in the house to keep the animals from starving, and sort out some books to read.

I won't be blogging while I'm away - I might send the odd tweet to twitter, and might even do an occasional facebook post.

So - see you in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

More Hype

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies had just been published, and this morning I've been looking at the Higher Education one, which is also just out.

Some interesting observations. Areas just reaching maturity and mainstream adoption (the plateau of productivity) include CRM for enrollment management, RFID for library management, and web services for administrative functions. Open source e-learning systems is also there, with Gartner predicting 2 to 5 years for this to reach maninstream adoption. at the moment OSS e-learning systems represent just under 20% of the market, but this is growing with the adoption of systems such as Moodle and Sakai.

Things currently wallowing in the Trough of Disollusionment include Grid Computing, E-portfolios and open source portals. The latter refers directly to uPortal, commenting that relying on an OSS framework reduces the initial acquisiton cost, but the trade off is less than leading edge functionality and reliance on internal staff and peer organisations for support and development. Some things in the trough are flagged as becoming obsolete before maturity and mainstream adoption is reached, and this includes podcasting learning content, as it's noted that podcasts are being quietly incorporated into other technologies including social software and other broadcasting tools.

Sitting on top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations, about to hurtle downwards, are Virtual Worlds, ITIL (just as we're about to implement it) Identity and Access Management, and Mashup's in HE. One day maybe I'll understand what a mash up is - I understand it's nothing to do with making tea.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


An earlier post asked why some people don't use our systems as much as we'd like them to, and I got a helpful comment about some of the issues to do with our electronic calendar, and I thought it was worth responding to some of the points raised.

We can currently sync over air between Windows Mobile devices like the Ipaq, and Palm devices like the 680, 700 etc. This is done using the Synthesis sync client and works OK for most people. It's not particularly well advertised so I can understand if people don't know it exists (perhaps we should advertise it better!).

We're also looking at synching with a wide range of other devices including Windows Mobile, Palm, Nokia and Blackberry using syncML which will be after we've upgraded the current version of the calendar at the end of this summer.

I've also blogged before about our project to look at implementing Zimbra, which does most if not all of the things on the wishlist including ical and rss feeds, although we'd probably publish from MOLE (the on line learning environment) to this calendar rather than the other way round but we'll need to consider this. It also integrates with outlook, sunbird and iCal compliant calendar software.

BUT there are plenty of issues to consider before we go down this route, but our proof of concept is just finishing, and hopefully we'll be moving onto a pilot service soon.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Degree Ceremonies

It's degree ceremony week this week - 9 ceremonies over 5 days. I try and attend at least one a day, sometimes more. It's a great time of year and should remind us of why we're all here. Lots of pleased (and surprised) parents and friends looking really proud, and very relieved graduates. The University pushes the boat out on the concourse with a Pimms and Champagne bar, a jazz band, and lots of stalls, and the Octagon Centre is dressed up for the occasion as well - even the toilets have flowers in. It's chance to put on a gown and hat and process gracefully through the hall onto the stage, being careful not to trip over the gown, lose your hat (oops sorry, mortar board) and not get the sleeves of your gown caught on the handrails of the steps - and I have done all 3 over the years. Big softie that I am, I still get the occasional tear in my eye when the Chancellor asks all the graduates to stand up, face their parents and friends and applaud them for supporting them through the years.

Congratulations to all of them.

Sunday, 20 July 2008


Another great BBQ on Friday- thanks to everyone who helped. People who put the tents up, shopped, carried chairs and tables, made salads, cooked and cleared up afterwards. Special thanks as always to Maggie, without whom it just wouldn't happen.

Pictures are here , and I think I've fixed the issue of them not viewing properly in Firefox 3, but let me know if anyone has problems.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Gone phishing

We seem to be suffering from a spate of phishing attacks at the moment, where users are asked by emails to send their user names and passwords to verify their account or stop their account being closed. Discussed it at the Executive meeting yesterday, and considered a number of actions. We already block them as soon as we see them, but sometimes many hundreds have been delivered before then. We also check to see if anyone has replied - usually several people have, some actually sending their details, some apparently sending abuse to the sender. Not that a real sender exists of course. If users do reply, not only can they have problems with access to their account, but more often the account is used to create another spam attack. This happened to us recently where an account was compromised.

Lots more physical things we can do, such as using an appliance to filter them out, but we need users to be aware, and not divulge their details, so good publicity on how to spot and deal with phishing and password policy is essential. we've been very usccessful in filtering out spam - I'm not sure whether our users realise it but 80% of mail sent to us is never delivered because we recognise it as spam and reject it, but these are much harder to deal with as they change and evolve.

Departmental BBQ today, and guess what - it's raining! Just like it did last year. Never mind - we've got plenty of beer and food. Photos will appear here Monday as usual.

EDIT - Apparently photos in iWeb (like my web pages above) won't display in Firefox 3, so you'll only be able to see them if you're using a different browser, Firefox 2, Safari and IE all seem to work OK. Hmph - this isn't how the web is supposed to work!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Emerging Technology Hype

Spent yesterday afternoon in the Estates Strategy Group - the last time it will meet as the new committee structure comes in from 1 August - I seem to spend a lot of time at the moment in the last ever meeting of some committee or other. I'd love to count up how many I've served on over the last 25 years. One of them even came back to haunt me yesterday, when I was asked a question about the management of the Octagon Centre, and I was reminded that many years ago when it was first opened (in 1988 I think), I served on its first management committee. Not a lot to report from the meeting - lots of discussion about the recladding the Arts Tower and the decanting of everybody out of it, and various other moves round campus of different departments.

Spent some of yesterday afternoon looking at some of the new Gartner Hype Cycles which have just come out. I've mentioned them before - they're a graphical way of looking at the maturity of a technology. Most things start with a technology trigger of some sort (eg the release of a new system), then everyone things how wonderful it will be and hypes it up and it reaches the peak of inflated expectations. Then we all start to use it and it doesn't work as we expected it to, it's got bugs, it doesn't solve our problems , and we quickly grow bored and frustrated with it as it hurtles towards the trough of disillusionment. Then gradually it picks, up, bugs get fixed, we see a way it can be used and it is adopted and goes up the slope of enlightenment and reaches the plateau of productivity. That's the theory anyway.

The latest one to be released is the emerging technologies one - I always find this one quite exciting to see what's on the radar, and where some of our existing technologies are. In this latest one, technologies and trends at or approaching the Hype Cycle peak include green IT, cloud computing and social networking platforms. Corporate use of virtual worlds and Web 2.0 are slipping into the Trough of Disillusionment, while SOA (Service Orientated Architecture) begins its ascent of the Slope of Enlightenment.

New technologies appearing on it for the first time include context delivery architecture - something that is being discussed at all the big IT conferences - and erasable paper printing systems, or a way of printing on treated paper which then has the capacity to erase the information from the paper, allowing it to be reused more quickly and more often. Apparently Toshiba already have a paper that can be used up to 500 times. Although it's on the cycle, it's not predicted to reach maturity for another 10 years, so maybe our Print Service don't have to be looking at it just yet.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Why application developers think their CIO is clueless

So, some application developers think their CIO is clueless, according to a recent article in CIO magazine. But don't fear - help is on hand as apparently there are 9 behaviour traits CIOs can adopt or change to earn the love and respect (well, maybe respect) of their developer colleagues. Go to the article if you want to see them all, but my favourites are:

The CIO is a technical dinosaur.
Unless you are running for president of the United States, experience does matter

The CIO thinks changes can happen overnight.
Sorry to have to break this to you: You are not a wizard and your magic wand doesn't work.

The CIO collaborates to death.
Whether it is the character flaw of being indecisive or some middle-school notion of democracy, you are in charge. Collaboration is critical, but you also need to make the right decision at the right time. Collaborate like Captain Kirk. "Spock?" "Bones?" He gets opinions from his experts but there is never any question about who will make the final decision. And, if you never watched Star Trek then you shouldn't even be a CIO.

Well, I watched all of the first series of Star Trek (do I mean the first series? The ones with Captain Kirk in. Got lost after that), so I'm OK on that front. Not sure about all of the others though, especially some I haven't quoted...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Shaun the Alpaca

Just realised I've gone 4 days without blogging - almost a record I would think. Been away for long weekend, camping just outside Chatsworth. Nice campsite, in grounds of a pub selling good beer and food, decent weather, good walking and a BBQ and game of scrabble in pub thrown in for good measure. Fantastic wild flowers out in the fields and hedgerows at the moment, and even saw some interesting wildlife in the shape of some recently shorn alpacas, which just looked ridiculous!

Came back yesterday afternoon to Programme Board, and another look at the progress of all of our projects. Most going well, but usual issues of not enough resources. Not many new ones on the horizon yet but we are going to look at how we host and deliver media. We're rolling out Office 2007 this summer, and at the same time we're looking at some specific actions to help with documents in an open document format. Incidentally, we're looking for people to talk to us about their experience of this format - any volunteers, let me know.

Spent most of today going through the papers for an HR meeting, then chairing it this afternoon.

Also spent a bit of time looking at some software for blogs and wikis that we're evaluating as part of our Innovative Communications project.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Awards and Audit

Spent more time in the IC yesterday showing another panel of judges around from RIBA - this time for the White Rose Award, or the best building in Yorkshire. They seemed impressed - hope they recommend us for it. Fingers crossed again. It was interesting walking round the building with the architect who designed it, and with a team of architects. I'm used to showing people around who are interested in how it works, but yesterday they were interested in completely different things. They also spotted things that I'd never seen before, like a mirror in the ceiling on the entrance floor, and the architect explained some things that had been puzzling me for a while, like why there are two sets of lights in one area. Simple explanation - it's a mistake!

Later yesterday afternoon we had a feedback session with an auditor from HEFCE who'd been auditing our HESES return. This is a complex report we send off every year with details of our student numbers, what courses they are doing etc. It's this report that determines what funding we get, so it's vital that we get it right. The auditor has been here for a week making sure that our data was correct, and we're not claiming mor money than we should! The return involves mainly 3 departments - Student Services, Corporate Planning Office and us. A lot of hard work was put in all week making sure the audit went well, and I'm pleased to say we got a reasonably clean bill of health - one or two things found, but nothing we weren't expecting. Well done everyone.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

No lightweights

Exciting delivery from Viglen this morning - my signed photo of Sir Alan Sugar!

Was sort of hoping it would say "You're fired", but this will do.

Who uses our systems and why?

UCI (University Collaboration Improvement) Programme Board meeting this morning. One of the things we were looking at are some usage stats for our services. We've now got detailed figures for myCalendar, MUSE(our portal) and myChat. We have figures for staff and students, and broken down by department. We're about to make them available to all via the collaboration web pages. Interesting differences - some departmens make a lot of use of all of our services, some don't. Our task now is to find out why. Why do some academic departments have 86% of their staff using myCalendar, and some 0%? Is it because they're using something else like Outlook - they could be, but there would be no group or scheduling functionality - or do they not know about it, or can they not see what benefits there would be, or is it perceived to be too much hassle to set it up? Or, do people just not want an electronic calendar? We need to find out the answers to these questions, and we can only do that by talking to those depts who do use the collaborative systems, and those who don't.

Some new projects now feeding into the programme, including student timetabling, the replacement desktop and the student learning community.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Executive meeting

Exec Meeting yesterday afternoon - lots of things to discuss, one of which was all the action points we agreed last week. We'll be moving to a new form of meeting schedule starting on 1 August. We will continue to meet each week, but each month one meeting will be a Programme Board where we look at the progress of our projects, consider new proposals and closure reports. Each month we will also have a formal meeting where we consider specific items in detail. This might be our Technology Strategy, or our Teaching and Learning Support Strategy. Agendas and minutes of these meetings will be made available to the department. The remaining meetings each month will be more informal meetings where we catch up on a number of issues and keep each other informed of things happening in the sections. We will continue to produce a monthly digest of these meetings which will be made available to everyone through MUSE. Anyone in the department can suggest matters to the Exec that they think should be discussed. We also want to improve the information flows to and from our meetings, and are open to sugesstions as to how this could be done.

Currently we cover a huge range of issues - from the very strategic to matters of detail that we've been asked for a steer on. Yesterday these included our move to Office 2007 over the summer, the thorny issue of whether staff should wear uniforms and if so what colour (I've gone for yellow....), a proposed upgrade to our webmail client, and how students and staff from one of our overseas partners should access our on-line resources. Hence the need to try and separate them out into different sorts of meetings so that the strategic issues get sufficient discussion time. We also want to improve people's awareness of what decisions we want them to take, what decisions need to be referred to the Exec, and which just need a sign off so that we're aware of them. More discussion will be happening on this topic in individual teams soon.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Great Expectations

In London Friday morning for a UCISA conference organising meeting - programme now coming together and we agreed on the motivational speaker for the final slot, to send everyone on their way fired up and ready to go!

One good thing about travelling (the bad thing being the carbon footprint, but I go by train wherever I can), is the amount of work I can get done on a 2 and a half hour train journey - no emails or phone calls to interrupt me. On the way back on Friday I read a recent JISC report called Great Expectations of ICT - you can download the report from the link. This follows on from a study undertaken in June 2007 looking at students expectations of IT - this one interviewed first year students to see if their expectations had been met. I would suggest that anyone who is involved in the use of IT with students reads it - it is particularly relevant to our projects on innovative communications and the student learning community. There's some interesting findings, some of which I've picked out:
  • The proportion of students whose expectations were exceeded in terms of amount of ICT used on their course is notably higher for Russell Group universities. Is that because their expectations were lower in the first place, or are we providing more than other universities?
  • Students are comfortable with using ICT in many areas - VLEs, course administration, self service tools. However, other's they find harder, for example the use of social networking tools for learning - although they are using these tools regulalry, they cannot see how this can help learning. Where social networking emerges from among the students, it is more successful than social networking systems put in place by the teacher (which can feel overly formal and “fake”). Other forms of new technologies such as wikis they are much less comfortable with - many not knowing what one is, despite being very familiar with Wikipedia.
  • 80% are satisfied with the level of internet access provided by their university, and interestingly, most accept the need for restrictions on downloads. The most satisfied group again are those at Russell Group universities.
  • Students are less satisfied with the level of support they get in order to best use ICT - they still go to their friends first when they have IT problems.
It's a long report, but essential reading for those of us involved in providing ICT to students, with some good conclusions about exceeding, rather than just meeting, student expectations.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


Final day of our strategic get together and time out today. Session on leadership, and how leadership differs from management. Also looked at different sorts of leadership and different leadership styles. We finished with drawing up an action plan of things we're going to do as as soon as we get back. It's been an extremely valuable time - we've learnt a lot, about ourselves and about each other. It's very important to understand our personal styles and preferences, and those of the people we work with. It's only by doing that, that we can learn how to work together and get the best out of our team.

We're planning to cascade this sort of work down the department, and we started earlier this week with the first session of our management development framework. Eventually this will touch everyone in the department.

Of course, we couldn't get away without another team exercise - this one required teamwork, coordination and communication. I think it was called bigfoot, and on the above contraption, we had to negotiate an small obstacle course! I think we did pretty well....

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Egg Catapult

Interesting morning looking at our test results, and particularly where there were big differences between us. It was very much a test looking our own perceptions of ourselves, and there were some surprises in how we perceive ourselves compared to how others see us. We then spent a lot of time looking at decision making, how we make decisions, how we communicate them, what decisions we're happy to delegate and not have any involvement in. Everything is of course linked to communication and we spent some time on how we improve that within the department. We also looked at managing meetings, and how to make them more effective, whether we need to have as many, whether we need to attend more or less. Lots of very interesting and thought provoking stuff.

In between the discussions, we go outside for a couple of team exercises. Always great fun, but very telling in how we operate together and the differences between us. One of them today involved building a catapult out of some wood, plastic tubing, string, tape and bungee rope, and then firing a fresh egg from it at least 10 metres so someone could catch it. Instead of building a 5 minute catapult, we spent a lot of time building and designing a complex piece of equipment which closely resembled a canon balanced on a wooden horse! We just about managed to catapult the egg the required distance, and Kath had bravely volunteered to catch it, but didn't need to as it hit the ground just in front of her. If nothing else, I think we would all agree that I would never make an engineer!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Time out

With my Assistant Directors at the moment having some strategic time out looking at how far we've come in the last year, and where we need to get to. Spent today looking back over things that have gone well, and things that haven't. Tomorrow we're looking at the results of some psychometric tests we've been doing, looking at our relative strengths and weaknesses and how we can work together and complement each other. Also did some interesting team building exercises, including being guided over an obstacle including an inclined plank and a horizontal ladder, whilst blindfolded, wearing a mask, and with no-one else allowed to touch you. It made for some great photos, which I'm sure will find their way into a caption competition in the departmental newsletter!

It was while we were away at a similar time last year that Sheffield flooded, and we were oblivious to it. Hope we don't have anything as traumatic happening in our absence this time!