Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Well it's that time of year again where I sign off for Christmas.  Yesterday was our Christmas party, lots of fun was had by all I hope, and although there maybe one or two headaches this morning, I hope everyone enjoyed it. Pictures available here.

Thanks to everyone who's read this blog over the last year, and to those who've commented and interacted, usually in a positive way!  Will be back after the holidays.

Hope you all have a great time, a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Miscellaneous meetings

Rather aptly given the number of incidents we've had recently, we had a Business Continuity Steering group this week. Lots of discussion about how we handle incidents, and the imminent review of our incident plan. Also a lot of discussion about recommendations which have come out of  the incident simulations we've done. The last one was a student shooting, in an exam hall - the simulation, not a real incident! Lots of recommendations about how we communicate, and how confusing the aftermath of anything is, with no-one really knowing what's happening.

Our Admin Team meeting had a report from the internal auditors about the past year's audits, and some of the findings and recommendations. One of the most interesting from my perspective was one on procurement which discovered that a significant proportion of IT spend in departments is not going where we would expect it to. We are starting to look at IT as a Shared Service which will bring procurement more together, so that should help.

I shared with the team our proposals for moving staff to Google apps, and also our project to introduce a managed staff printing service, which both went down well.

Also this week we had a visit form colleagues at another University which is always interesting - lots of opportunities for sharing ideas and information.  Finally  we had the last of our faculty strategic liaison meetings - with Science. A good turn out and a lively discussion about future plans and how we can work more together.

Spent quite a lot of time keeping an eye on the weather forecast as well - lots of ice, but not much snow thank goodness!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Question time

Oh, dear - another long gap. Must try harder!  No real excuse, apart from more snow, a student occupation, and then over the last few days a bad cold.

So, a summary of last week. The student occupation took some of my time as no matter what you think about the rights of what the students were protesting about - and there was a lot of sympathy with them, it was still an incident which had to be managed. There's health and safety issues to consider, the media to deal with, teaching has to continue, even if the students are occupying teaching space either by rearranging it to different rooms, or hoping the students will let it continue without disruption and in this case they did. Anyway, that's over now, the students came out on Thursday, and in the main traveled to London to protest at the fees vote.

On Thursday I traveled to another University where I'm doing a review of their IT services - as a critical friend. I had an interesting chat with students, and with the IT staff. Next week I'm going back to talk another group of their customers - the academic staff.

Friday was our departmental meeting, and we had an external speaker - the Deputy Director of HR to tell us about the work of the HR department - very interesting. I think few of us have any idea of the range of different things they deal with.

Then we had an experiment - a question and answer session with the Executive Team - me and the 3 Assistant Directors.  A bit like Question Time. Some questions had been submitted in advance, some asked on the day. Predictably some of the questions were about communication in the department, some about the current financial situation. A nice mix, and an experiment we think we'll do again.

Friday afternoon was our Service Strategy Board, introduced as part of our Service Management process, where we look at reports from all of our Service managers, progress of our projects, and new projects. A few requests for new projects this time, including one to change the way we handle course information, allowing departments to input more data themselves. this should help to ensure that data is in the system in a timely manner, to feed into services including timetabling and on line registration. SheffUni people can find out more about the Service Strategy Board here.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Funny day today! Went to bed with it snowing, and woke up to find it still snowing. I've lived in Sheffield City Centre for 15 years, and have never seen snow as deep. I reckon it was about 12inches. It was also very quiet. I'm used to noise - trams, buses, cars, people going past. So, as Business Continuity is a part of my remit,   some calling around various senior managers to decide what to do. Not going into all the decision making process and rationale, but it was agreed to cancel teaching and only ask staff to get in if they could safely walk. eMails had to be sent to all staff and students, and my first mistake was to do it from home, from my laptop, using my personal email account, with my phone number in the signature. Cue hundreds of replies and phone calls from students who thought I could answer questions about every single lecture, seminar, tutorial, practical class.....

Despite the University being quiet, those of us involved in managing the incident seemed to be busier than ever! Lots of phone calls to make, emails and web pages to sort out, snow to walk through to 4 incident meetings.  Trying to keep basic services going such as helpdesks, the switchboard, maintenance, and liaising with other senior managers about services and cover. Most people have no idea what it takes to run a University and keep it operating - even with restricted services. We kept many things open today, including the Information Commons, the Students' Union, Catering outlets, Libraries, telephone and IT support, estates support, security, portering and lots more. Lots of thanks due to many staff, some of whom had very long uncomfortable walks in to work and back.

Now we're keeping an eye on tomorrow. For folks at ShefUni, updates are here.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Local CIOs get together

This morning I had a meeting with South Yorkshire public sector CIOs - from local authorities, the NHS and Education (represented by the two Universities) - in a forum which has begun to meet regularly.

We talked about lots of areas of mutual interest. The first was around data and information sharing. A big issue for local authorities and other bodies who deal with the public. We (as members of the public), usually want joined up services, rather than having to provide our information multiple times. Not easy though, especially where multiple services are involved.

A Yorkshire and Humber Public Sector network is also under discussion. Currently most organisations procure their own network services from ISPs - at a considerable price. We forget how luckily we are with JANET. Hopefully they'll be able to build on the success and possibly the infrastructure we already have in place.

And of course we had the obligatory discussion of how we might make some savings. Lots of ideas - many of which we've already taken on board - better procurement, careful examination of software and maintenance contracts, virtualisation, self service, managed printing. As well as outsourcing of course. We're lucky in that we have suppliers offering to give us services for free - others aren't so lucky.

We've just announced our move to Google mail and other apps for staff, which will enable us to focus more of our efforts on supporting key University objective of teaching and research.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Wonder what this cable does....

Interesting day today. Was supposed to go to a meeting in Wolverhampton, but it got canceled because of bad weather (it's snowing!). So, thought I'd got a free day to write lots of reports. Unfortunately it didn't turn out like that. Morning got taken up with various things, and in the middle of the afternoon we had a fairly interesting "incident". Power went off to the computer centre (which houses our main data centre). No real panic at first as we have a generator, and it looked as though it had come on (a cloud of smoke was spotted). So, not ideal, but we thought we were running on generator power. Soon it became apparent that we weren't. Generator hadn't come on and we were running the whole data centre on the UPS (big batteries if you like simple explanations like me!), which have about 20 minutes life.

So, we quickly declared an incident and we gathered to decide what to. Get the power back on was an obvious priority - it quickly transpired that a contractor working in the plant room had done "something" to a cable, and it had all gone up in smoke. Didn't know why generator hadn't come in, but what we did know was that we needed our data centre manager, who was there but couldn't get into the plant room without colleagues from estates, and we need electricians. Time was running out. Lots of discussions about whether to turn things off so they failed cleanly, but decided we had no time. Managed to get some communications out to staff and students about the risk, and then we just waited for everything to fail!  We watched the UPS go down to 0% power, where it seemed to keep everything running for about 4 minutes. Then, as a message from the UPS told us it had failed, we got another message timed to the same second to say the power was back on. Phew. Quite literally we were a second away from everything failing, and yet no services had been lost.

An incident review later in the afternoon explained what had happened - lets just say it was complex and the generator hadn't failed but had responded correctly under the circumstances. But a lot of lessons learned. Don't want that to happen again!

Hello again

Hello blog - seem to have neglected you for a few days. Sorry. Been busy. Last week lots of personnel meetings which don't really make good blogging material. Also a visit to another University where I'm helping them with a review of their IT services. I enjoy doing this sort of work - it's good to find out what others are doing, and although I'm really there to advise them on what they're providing for their customers, its also a good way to make contacts and learn about different ways of doing things - we all learn from each other.

We've had a couple more strategic liaison meetings with Faculties as well - Social Sciences and Engineering. Followed the normal agenda, and talked through some of the changes we're planning, including the upgrade of the VLE and the move to Google apps for staff, as well as listening to their plans for developments over the next year. We also talked about plans for closer working relationships between faculty and departmental IT staff and CiCS, where we'll be looking for benefits in a number of areas, including procurement, efficiency, and career development.

We finished the week with a small thank you party for staff, to thank them for helping us all get through what has been one of the most fraught beginnings to an academic year most of us can remember. Wine, beer, nibbles and a free raffle with some excellent prizes started the weekend well.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Google story

I got collared at the end of the Google atmosphere conference to talk to them about why we'd gone Google for students. I thought it was an informal interview, but it's been turned into a video, and will appear on their web site. Not very flattering, but not bad for one take, when I had no idea what questions I was going to be asked!

Liaison and other stuff

Good couple of days walking in Ludlow last weekend, despite the mist and fog.  Back yesterday, and spent most of the day in meetings.

We're in the middle of our liaison meetings with the Faculties, and yesterday we met with the Faculty of Arts. As usual we shared information on our plans and new developments, and discussed with them what help they might need in delivering their objectives. Flexible learning is high on their agenda, so we'll be looking at how we can support them in that. Many of our developments concentrate on reducing complexity, not just in our techncial set up, but also in how users access and use our services.  Rolling out Google apps to staff in the New Year will help us with that as we can concentrate our efforts on some other areas.

We talked about two other big projects just starting including improving some complex business processes, where I hope we can use a technique such as LEAN to crack some of our more problematic areas, including the whole programme structures/approval/regulations process. The second project is IT as a Shared Service where we're looking at the relationship between central IT support and departmental IT support.

Then a Professional Service Directors meeting where we discuss University wide projects and issues, a key one at the moment being the pensions review. We also touched on Shared Services, particularly the government's belief that we could save a lot of money and become more efficient if we shared some back office systems. More on that later.

Finally a meeting to look at the structure and content of our Annual Report which will hopefully be out at the end of the year. based on our service areas, it will pull out how we've approached and delivered key objectives.

Then home to score many exceptional award cases - I'm on 3 panels this year, and have spent this afternoon in one panel, and will spend most of tomorrow in two more.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Miscellaneous meetings

Had a great holiday - but then came back to non stop meetings. Monday I spent all day either traveling to or in Bristol at HEFCE at a Steering Group look at possible developments in shared services. More later when I have something I can say.

Then on Tuesday I met our University Executive Board to talk to them about some developments in service delivery, particularly extending the roll out of Google apps to staff. We've had students on Google mail and calendar since last summer, and now we're progressing with moving staff as soon as possible after Christmas.

Today we had a detailed look at our finances, and a look forward to spending plans for the next few years. I also caught up for an hour with one of the student officers, always a pleasure, and an interesting discussion on the effects of the Browne Report on student expectations.

Lots of HR work coming up as the Exceptional Contribution Awards for staff are in and need scoring - I'm on panels for 3 faculties. And I'm away from the office for a couple of days. Back next week!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Christine's really cross again......

I might be on holiday, but am still in touch with what's going on in the world, thanks to free wifi in many cafes and bars, and as of today, some paid for access in the apartment. So, why I am I breaking blogging silence, on what is really a work blog? Well, it's because I'm really cross, that's why. Today Paul Chambers found out whether his appeal against his conviction for sending a "menacing electronic communication", or a tweet, had been successful. It wasn't. Thrown out on all counts. Too many people have written about it and much more eloquently than I can, but in summary:
Paul was fed up because flight to Belfast to see his girlfriend had been cancelled. Tweets to his 40 or so followers that he might blow the airport sky high. Duty manager at said airport (Robin Hood, how ironic can you get,..), found the tweet a few days later when he searched for the airport. Didn't think it was a credible threat, but passed it to his manager. He didn't think it was a threat either, but passed it to the police. They turned up at Paul's workplace and arrested him. After some hours of interviewing, they decided it wasn't a threat, but passed it to the CPS. The rest is history as they say. You can read the story here.

Today's judgement is outrageous, for so many reasons. Graham Linehan of Father Ted and IT Crowd fame, has suggested it's because people just don't get social media, and Twitter in particular. Heresy Corner disagrees. Martin Robbins has written a great piece in the Guardian about it.

Is it ironic that the judgement came on the day we remember those who died for our freedom, and one of our basic freedoms, that of speech, is being gradually eroded? I hope this case makes it to the High Court and the judgement is overturned. But that will cost a lot of money. You can donate to the cause here.

Don't know what else to say. Going back to enjoying my holiday, but will be supporting Paul when I get back.

Edit: if you want to state that you don't find the tweet menacing, you can sign a petition here.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How to save money, save time, save the planet, improve your sex life, lose 10lbs, get whiter teeth, and get to the three easy steps.

The final session at CISG by Angela Lamont. A self confessed geek, she used to be a systems analyst and has worked for a number of companies before becoming a technology writer and broadcaster. Motivational speakers can be a bit hit and miss, but she was very good. Funny, and very relevant to a room full of IT people. She stared with a wordle of her spam emails over the last weeks, and based on what the spammers were suggesting she wanted, she came up with the title.

She gave us 3 easy steps to use in our personal lied and at work each illustrated with amusing anecdotes, many from her life. I'm not going to repeat them here because that wouldn't do the talk justice, but they include cancelling the Tuesday meeting, analyzing the Tamara Drewe effect to improve your sex life, and losing weight by doing your shopping on line.

A good end to an enjoyable conference.

No more work blogging for a few days as I'm away at the moment. Some pictures etc on the other blog if your interested.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Things that were, things that are, and things that might yet come to pass

First session this morning was from Heidi, the CISG chair with the above title, which the LOTR fans amongst you will recognise as a Galadriel quote.
In 30 mins she had a look back 10 years, looked to see what had changed since, and then used her crystal ball to look forward 10 years. As usual with most of my conference posts, these are the key points I noted down during the talk.

What was the world like in 2000?
Peak of the dot com bubble
Concorde crashed
Sydney olympics
Fuel protests

What was the HE business model
We wooed or selected students
Admitted them
Taught them
Examined them
Graduated them

We had just survived the y2k bug. Lots of in house systems replaced. Big investments. Move away from in house development
Lots of technology, but lots of business processes still very manual, on paper
Web technology there, but not interactive. Mainly static content. Difficult to get pages on the web, somebody to do it for you.
IT seen as essential, but not transformative.
IT governance, did it exist?
Budgets for IT c4% of turnover.
Staff numbers higher then, or lower? Mixed view from audience, probably about the same.
Good name check for Brian Kelly who was on the pulse. Lots of things he was looking at now come to pass.

Top UCISA concerns in 2005 (earliest data we have):
Network security
Strategic approach to infrastructure
Systems reliance and availability
Anytime anywhere
Learning support

All technology based.

What's changed politically?
Tuition fees for most of UK, students more demanding
Expansion of sector. 400000 more students than 10 years ago
League tables, big impact on how institutions behave and manage
Shared services agenda.

What's changed technically?
Pervasive wireless
Home broadband
Cloud based services
Smart mobile devices
Frameworks for ween developments
Self service via web
More systems to support ( and staff numbers haven't gone up)

What's not changed?
Business model
Core admin systems.
Appreciation of where IT can /cannot add value. Type 42 manager has still not materialized. Still focusing on technology, not business processes .

Current stat politically:
Huge pressure on HE funding. Outcome of Browne still not clear.
Pressure to share services or come up with different cheaper models very high. Should be focussing on different models of delivery.

Current state, technical:
Use of cloud/hosting commodity services growing
Full outsourcing of services under investigation to a limit extent
Apps for student related content delivery growing
Web based delivery now the norm
Business process review now a standard feature
Top concerns 2009 now have business systems and process improvement in top 5.

What will the world of CIS look like in 2020?
There'll have been evolution not revolution
All CIS applications will be delivered from the cloud
More use of discreet services delivered from cloud eg for invoice processing, payroll
Development and support of applications will be from staff in clusters of like minded institutions
Students will all have iPad type devices.

A great talk, made all the more remarkable as it was delivered at 9am after a very late bar session after the conference dinner!

Timetabling as a change management project

One of the good things about attending conferences  is finding out how other colleagues have approached projects which are similar to ones we are involved in, often in different ways. Yesterday I attended a session on how UCL had approached their Common Timetabling project, which is very timely, as we have just completed a pilot in our own such project, and have encountered a number of problem. UCL had similar reasons for doing it - to facilitate interdisciplinary study, to provide better timetabling information to students, to use teaching spaces more efficiently and to make more efficient use of modules and resources.  Their timetabling is decentralised, with each department producing its own timetables, and they decided to leave it that way.  In order to facilitate common timetabling they decided to introduce a block structure, with mornings divided into different blocks and streams for lectures, and lab classes etc in blocks in the afternoons. There were some issues with this, and initial pilots weren't totally successful, and some departments refused to cooperate. However, what is important, is that UCL approached this as a massive change management process, with a long timescale of 3 years, a lot of work on risk management, and a lot of resource put into it. Change managers were recruited and a lot of effort was put into "readiness assessments", as well as using dedicated staff and temps for data hygiene. Sobering really, and has led me to consider our own project, and whether we need to allocate more resources to it. Think the answer might be yes!

Following on from this session was one from LSE about how they've implemented CampusM, the mobile app for students. I've given a similar talk so many times about we did it, it made a pleasant change to listen to someone else. They've done it in a very similar way to us, but with some different data and features. They've also branded it LSE Mobile.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Questions on Clouds

This morning we had a cloud email review panel. Over the last couple of years many institutions have moved to either google or microsoft to provide their email service for students and in some places staff as well. The panel answered questions from the floor on what have the issues been, how successful has it been, and what does it mean for other services that could be moved to the cloud.

So, a series of questions and comments and input from the audience. some notes taken at the time below, universities anonimised to preserve some semblance of confidentiality!

What are main product selection criteria?
University1. Microsoft or google both ok. Could have worked with either. students chose google, very much driven by them
University2. Chose MS 2 yrs ago on conditions around at the time eg where data was held and date profiling etc. But, conditions have changed now. Market is more mature.
University3 had little MS infrastructure so google best fit. Also driven by what students wanted. They wanted google.

What about service levels? How do you cope with changes eg with new products being released. No-one has seen this as a problem. Students don't care, they're used to services changing. Learn to let go a bit. We mustn't be barriers to adoption of new technologies. Get roadmap updates, become trusted testers, engage with suppliers.

What about contracts? Need an exit strategy if company goes bust or pulls the service. All about risk. Need to do a risk assessment, know what they are and how to manage and mitigate them.

Why give students email when they have it already? Pressure from registry for example to be able to send messages. Can't rely on students keeping their personal email address up to date. Also, if don't offer email could restrict access to other services offered by google eg google docs because you need an email address to use them.

What about Cloud email for staff?
UniversityA not moving to cloud email, but giving them access to full range of google services and option of having mail delivered.
UniversityB tendered and are going with third party supplier.
UniversityC Going with MS cloud for staff. Saving 350k on power alone. Only issue has been migration of calendar data.

What about compliance, IP issues etc?
Staff do need to be aware of consequences of their actions, but we need pragmatic solutions. Provide advice, eg through a Web 2.0 policy. Can't control.

Collaboration has been hugely improved by move to cloud email for students through use of google docs. Both unis reported thousands of students using docs on a daily basis where previously they had no collaborative tools.

Other apps on the horizon?
Research data. Petabytes of data now being produced by things like Large Hadron Collider, gene sequencing. Not just a storage issue. Needs metadata, duration etc. Some grants have condition that data has to be made available globally. Is cloud the answer?

Hot topics for FDs

The second session of CISG was also given by a senior mnager from the University of Sussex, this time the Finance Director, and he talked about  Funding IT in Turbulent Times.

First he set the scene with the current funding climate. The credit crunch; public sector cuts, (anything from 20% to 40%); the Browne review, (which had been completed before the election, but not released until after it). Fees were a hot topic yesterday as the £9,000 cap had just been announced.

Reactions to the Browne review had been mixed, with some Universities welcoming it (mainly the Russell Group), others not.  Prospective students and parents don't like increase in fees.

There's a widespread expectation that Browne will lead to a competitive market opening up. HEIs have competed on quality in the past but not cost. Up until today's announcement there'd been some speculation about whether there would be a free market, or a continuation of the current situation with everyone charging the same, but a bigger fee. Today's announcement of £9k cap will mean there will be competition.

Other aspects of current climate:
  • CSR affirms Browne will be implemented
  • Science budget remains same ie cut. Research funding for all HEIs will go down.
  • Innovation budget consolidated
  • Capital budgets halved
Then he told us what the hot topics were among finance directors at the moment. Summarised as follows:
  • Stability of sector as a whole. Lots of HEIs are in deficit.
  • Reliance on T grant which varies. Median is 35%. Even if fees make up difference will be very different situation with only 10% of income from public purse.
  • State of the nation.
  • Market position for home UG. Difficult to work out till numbers are deregulated as well as fees.
  • Continued uncertainty. How bad will it get. How long will it take. What will impact be on PGT and international students?O/S
  • Sector is going to become more polarized.
So, is it time for a Paradigm shift? He thinks so.
Traditional approach has been to rely on natural wastage, to reduce investment, and provide most services internally.
What we need to be looking at are  focused reductions, preservation/expansion of investment, use of third parties for specialist provision.

What might Finance Directors be asking UCISA  members over the coming months and years? As he's a Director of the Brighton fringe festival he used some good slides aof fringe acts to illustrate the following:
  • Balancing priorities
  • Juggling projects and tasks
  • Risk taking in a controlled environment
  • Coorindation
  • Agility
  • Harmony
  • Customer services with a smile
  • Grace under pressure
As budgets are reduced we will have to look at how we reduce the cost of delivery of our services.
A lot is about processes - we need to rationalise them.
IT depts will be asked hard questions about service delivery models - in-house vs shared, outsourced, cloud.
 Future focus will need to be on value. Will need to invest in student services - they will be demanding more services as fees go up.

A couple of interesting  questions then from the floor:
  •  If we don't know the cost of our services, how can we make decision on what to outsource etc? We need help from Finance depts to do this.
  • Are shared services in conflict with competition? HEFCE are assuming shared services will save money but they may not.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Four Ss

Opening session at the CISG conference in Brighton, and we're here for the four Ss apparently:
Sun, sand, sea and stimulating conversation.

The opening keynote was delivered by the VC of the University of Sussex and was entitled, Higher Education: Finding the future.
It was an excellent summary of the issues we are facing at the moment, so here are some of the key points.

Difficult times for all sectors in many countries of the world.
It is possible to grow through difficult economic times to your benefit by taking out cost, becoming more efficient, investing in growth, prioritising and planning.

Higher education is part of the solution, not the problem in the current difficult economic situation.

There have been major changes in HE in the last 50 yrs:
  • Expansion: participation has gone up from 5% to 45%. Should we be moving to system like Europe where anyone who is qualified and wants university education should be able to get it? Not everyone will want it, and we have to workout how to fund it. We are a knowledge based economy.
  • Wider participation, fairer access. Must keep this. Some recent changes such as the ability to deliver higher fees will limit our ability to deliver wider access.
  • Loss of binary divide but there's still diversity in the sector.
  • Fragile funding. Have been other funding crises in the past, in the early 80s and under Thatcher. What is certain is that the proportion of public funding will fall. At Sussex 40% of thie funding is from the public purse. Aim to reduce to 30%. LSE is already at 15%. Some post 1992 HEIs at 60%.
  • Growth in international students.
  • More competition. Will increase with proposed new funding approach. Real challenges for sector with increased polarity caused by students choosing where they can afford. There will be turbulence in system and an influence on student recruitment and therefore the size and shape of institutions
There has to be a recognition that HE contributes to the local, regional and national economy. Recent calculations show the Universities of Sussex and Brighton contribute £1bn per annum to local economy. We are contributors to enterprise and innovation and a feeder of the knowledge based economy.

Some challenges for HE:
  • What is the university of the future? What is it going to look like? We will have to be more flexible. More part students, and students whom want to continue at work whilst studying. Currently we are too rigid.
  • How will we adapt to new funding models including marketisation and privatisation. Will a private sector emerge? Globalization will continue and students will look at quality. Rankings are becoming increasingly important with decisions made on the basis of them.
  • There will be changes in student demand. We will need to teach what students want to learn, not what our lecturers want to teach. We will have to continue to improve the student experience and improve our students employability.
  • Producing high impact international competitive research will be a challenge. Funding is set to become more concentrated.
  • How will we maintain and where appropriate grow our estate when BIS has just had a massive cut in capital? HEIs will still have aspirations to grow.
  • Reducing energy consumption and hitting our carbon targets is expensive to achieve, even more so when there's no capital support to do it.
  • We will have to find efficiency gains. Do what we're doing now on less.

Student concerns are important - without them there is no University. They should be at the centre of everything we do.
They hate most of what is going on at the moment. They dislike the market, the removal of the fees cap, and what they see as waste and inefficiencies in the system.

An NUS study on student perceptions of eLearning has recently been reported to HEFCE. They support choice, with a mixture of eLearning and face to face, multi modal, blended learning.
The competence of academic staff in using ICT was questioned commented on and reported as generally not good enough.
42.9% of students wanted their lecturers to use more ICT
Interestingly one of the recommendations was that institutions should review use and need for a VLE.

Universities are going to have to change, and change can be tough, but it can be also be exciting.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Liaison, incident review and a Boosh encounter.

Another busy day of meetings yesterday. First thing an internal communications group, having a forward look at our corporate comms, then a strategic liaison meeting with the Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health. we have two strategic liaison meetings with each faculty every year, and as this one was at the beginning of the planning round, we share information about our respective developments. We covered a number of topics, including the VLE upgrade, particularly significant here because the Medical School uses a different VLE to the rest of the University and we need to make sure it is as integrated as possible. This faculty also has a number of non standard students - distance learners, part time, off campus, CPD - and we had a long discussion about the problems we seem to have dealing with their registration, computer account production etc. It involves a number of different departments and requires a thorough overhaul, including getting away from bits of paper being processed. Hopefully it will be one of our first LEAN projects.

Then a quick dash from the Medical School to an incident review meeting to look at the problems we experienced during Freshers Week with on line registration, computer account production, the main web server, uSpace - you name it, it seemed at one point as though everything that could go wrong, did. Not a good week, but some excellent team work and very hard work by many people to make sure everything got completed. We had a good look at what had happened and why, what things were connected and what coincidental, and what we can do to stop it happening again. We need to move as many processes as possible to being carried out by the students, before they arrive and we'll have to accelerate development of our applicant portal and registration rewrite. As well as a major review of the business processes of course.

Now I'm on the train on the way to Brighton to the CISG conference, and Noel Fielding is in my carriage. Brightened the journey up immensely. Wonder if I should ask him if he likes my cowboy boots....

Monday, 1 November 2010

Costing services and a joint awayday

So, last week was mainly promotions, with a bit of other stuff thrown in. A meeting with colleagues from Finance for example to look at different ways of budgeting - currently they are a mixture of historical allocations, expenditure forecasting and bidding for strategic developments. One option we might be considering in the future is zero based budgeting, or working out what services we want to offer and costing them to come up with a budget. One immediate thing we're going to do is act as a pilot department for costing services in a much more detailed way than we do now. If we don't know how much our services cost, then how can we make decisions on what services we might be able to offer in the future. Of course, cost is only one thing when considering services - value and impact are also important.

Then on Friday our executive team had an awayday with the Library's. A good day, and lots of issues of joint interest discussed.  In teaching and learning our biggest area of collaboration is of course the Information Commons. We have a new manager starting later this month, which we're all looking forward to, and working with him to develop the IC to play a full role in the new teaching and learning strategy. We're also planning a bid for "IC phase 3", to increase the number of study spaces. Exciting times!  Other common areas we talked about included research data storage, identity management, the Library's e-architecture and aligning our objectives to the University's new corporate plan.

A good day, and to round things off we saw a kingfisher!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Sorry for lack of blog posts - am in middle of promotion round, and this week has so far been spent either scoring cases, interviewing candidates, or in assessment panels. Very interesting role, and one I've done for many years, and a way to find out so much about what people do in the University.

Other people in the department have of course been busy, and I'm pleased to announce that our latest newsletter for staff is out with articles about Research Support, Telephony Developments, the Helpdesk, Governance and how we might approach the future funding reduction.

It's liked to from our staff news page, or you can download a pdf copy direct from here

Congrats to all concerned in its production including our own print service for the design.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Equality, Diversity and Executive Improvement

Equality and Diversity Board yesterday - a very interesting committee consisting of a cross section of University staff and students as well as lay members, which seeks to ensure that the University is not only meeting its legal obligations with respect to equality and diversity, but is actively promoting it and embedding it in everything we do.  We receive reports from different areas of the University, and discuss with the relevant heads how equality and diversity is promoted in their departments, look at examples of good practice and make suggestions for further action. I'm impressed with the amount of activity in this area - lots of good things going on, and I learn something new at nearly every meeting.  Yesterday was the turn of the Careers Service who produced an excellent report and are very active in all areas.  Many of their resources are available here, and we had a lively discussion about many employability issues.

We also had a presentation on the Equality Act 2010, which aims to harmonise, simplify, clarify and strengthen existing discrimination law. There are a number of changes coming into effect which will affect some of our policies and procedures, including the health questionnaire for job applicants which will now be completed post job offer. 

Then today it was the Human Resources Management Committee  - another enjoyable and useful session, although I did get another presentation on the Equality Act, but that's my fault for being on both committees!

The rest of yesterday and today was taken up with two half day sessions with the Executive Team looking at our priorities for improvement within the team and how we interact with the department. We looked at:
  • Planning
  • Prioritisation
  • Communication - both within and outside the department
  • Decision Making
  • Managerial Coherence
  • Improving Processes
  • Managing Complexity
  • Financial Planning

A very long action plan came out of it, which we are going to spend the next couple of months working on ready for a review of far we have got in January.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Funding cuts and our Vice-Chancellor speaks

Yesterday I was at a RUGIT meeting - the IT Directors of the Russell Group of Universities. One of the major topics of conversation was of course the Browne report on University financing and student fees in particular, and the forthcoming spending review. We talked about many things - what the effect of rising student fees might have on their expectations and what services they might expect to see - at a time when our budgets could be falling. We talked about the effect of falling budgets might have on us as IT Directors, what services we might be able to provide, and what we might have to stop. We also discussed how we might source services differently in order to put our resources onto supporting key Unsiverity objectives. I made the point that some are nervous at sourcing services from outside of the institution, as the control and the ability to deliver excellent is lost. I made the point that in my opinion not every service has to be excellent - sometimes good enough will have to be just that. Take email for example. I'm not saying that Google don't provide an excellent service because they do, but if their calendar for example doesn't quite have the same functionality as our existing one, does it really matter? Isn't it better to make decisions about what services the University needs to deliver its mission and focus on them?

So, we wait with trepidation this morning until we find out what the Chancellor has done to Higher Education. The only good thing seems to be that science funding might have been protected, but we shall see. Science is of course vital to us all, and to our economic recovery, but it is not the only subject that Universities excel in. On the train on the way home yesterday I read a post by my own Vice-Chancellor, a moving and passionate article supporting all University subjects and education, not just the "priority"ones. Well worth a read, and I wholeheartedly support his sentiments.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Warm jello, George Clooney and the end...

So, the conference is over now and I'm at home. Still slightly jet lagged after a 10 hour flight, although it was brightened up by a view of the flight deck, and a lovely conversation with the captain who patiently explained to me that just because the flight was bumpy, it didn't mean I was going to die!

Some sessions I haven't blogged in detail about include one about shared services in Europe, with many of the services from JISC being held up as examples of good practice, which of course they are.

And a talk by a CIO who used the recent disasters of the volcanic ash cloud and the oil spill to illustrate different aspects of leadership.  In both, leadership, integrity and clear communication were highly important.

Finally, a President of a large University who gave us her advice on what makes a good CIO in 4 main themes: strategic focus, managing change, teamwork, communication. I was so enthralled by her talk that I didn't take any notes, but you can watch it here.  Her description of managing IT as being like holding warm jelly and having it drip down your arms into your armpits was inspired.

As usual, it was a great conference with some excellent speakers, and a good crowd to network with. Over the years I've made many connections with colleagues from all of the world during these conferences.  This year was slightly different in that it was the first one I've not taken a laptop to, I managed for the week with just an iPad. The biggest advantage was not worrying abut battery life - normally by lunchtime I'd be sitting at the edge or at the back of the room looking for power sockets, or going back to my room to plug it in. It lasted everyday from the beginning of the 8am session to the end of the 6pm one, usually with about 40% battery left.  Somethings were a little harder, such as manipulating photos in my blog, but nothing was impossible.

 Was trying to think of a photo to finish with, and this one amused me - possibly the closest I'll ever get to him....

Plumber or Strategist?

One of the best point/counterpoint sessions was entitled CIO, Plumber or Strategist? It featurd two CIOs arguing from opposite sides of this spectrum.

Was it important to be a great strategist, to have credibility in your organisation by being a leader, delivering on the mission of the organisation, taking part in debates and shaping the future path. being part of the conversation with the executive management team.


Should you establish credibility by having everything work, becoming invisible. Finding out where the leaks were and filling them, ie plumbing. Strategy is OK, but without execution it's useless. Invoking the Shepard's prayer whenever necessary, named after Alan Shepard the astronaut who is alleged to have been caught on mike at the launch of Freedom 7 muttering "please Lord, don't let me f*** up".


If you have no strategy, can waste money and resources in a dynamic changing landscape. Have to know where you're going to make investments or you'll always be a day late and a dollar short. Operational effectiveness is not a strategy.


Operational effectiveness is what drives our ability to be excellent.

So, an interesting debate, and of course it was agreed at the end that both abilities are needed to be successful. You need to have have a strategy, influence, understand and deliver the core mission of the institution, and know where the leaks are and plug them.

Scream bodies and FabLabs

One of the plenary sessions was delivered by Neil Gershenfeld, head of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, what a great name for a department! I was a bit worried at the start, because he was talking about a new model for computer architecture, RALA, Reconfigurable Asynchronous Logic Automata. I suggest if you want to know more you read about it, because it was certainly beyond my understanding of physics and maths.

However, he quickly moved on to a class he began teaching at MIT called How to Make Almost Anything, which looks at how tools can be used for personal fabrication of things by people who have little experience. Some of the things the students make are clever, some funny, complex, simple. This is  great example by Kelly Dobson who made a scream body, with very little engineering, electrical or coding experience:

This course and the development of machines for easy fabrication, led to the development of FabLabs, fully kitted out workshops which aim to give communities the chance to manufacture almost anything and turn ideas into reality. Each one has about $50,000 of kit in them, and there were some great examples of what had been done in them around the world, including an 8year old girl in Ghana making a circuit board, and some people in Afghanistan building a wireless network out of junk (imaginatively called Fabfi).

His thesis is that we started with machines in labs, which has moved on to machines made in labs, developing into digital assembly, which we have in the FabLabs, but we are now seeing the beginning of self assembly, where machines will make themselves.

There's a FabLab in Manchester, (why not Sheffield), and Neil reckons we'll have a Star trek replicator within 20 years. Now there's a target!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Implementing LEAN

Interesting presentation from a University that had implemented LEAN.
I've posted about LEAN before, and some of you will know that I'm interested in using it in Sheffield to improve some of our processes.
LEAN is a form of process reengineering, and 80% of lean projects involve implementation of some technology. It also intersects with project management technologies.

LEAN focuses on processes, not people, and one of its goals is to eliminate outdated or inefficient practices. It leverages collective knowledge by getting all those involved in a process together to talk abut it.

Common roadblocks to lean are:
People afraid, of losing jobs, or of change
Lack of follow through.
Sabotage (it does happen!)
Sacred cows, or things we just can't change
Predetermined solutions, especially by senior management
Too many other pressures

The goal is to eliminate waste and this can come inn many forms, for example multiple forms asking for the same information, forms sitting in inboxes for a long-time, actual work time being minimal, customers waiting a long time, inaccurate information

Many detps want quick fix, ask IT to write or implement a system but don't review the processes. IT can be used to prioritise, this particular University will not start a project unless its been through the LEAN process. only do projects that have been through LEAN.

A key tool is value stream mapping, basically a diagram of the process with metrics, timelines etc. You can also use other tools to get information such as asking "why?" 5 times in different ways.

In this University they trained a number of facilitators then paired them up to work on 10 projects. First task was to identify goals. Different goals would have different ways of approaching the project eg reducing cost might be different to improving accuracy.

Value stream map of current process and desired should take two days only. Metrics need to be included timeline underneath and identify where a process is so complex that it needs its own map.

Identify sacred cows, and parking lot items - things that might touch the project but not driving main project, need to be parked and not used as distraction.

Then make a list of actions to get to desired state and allocate tasks. Then becomes like a project.

People have to be neutral. If people are heavily involved in process, have to be balanced by people who aren't.
Time, can be done in 2 days.

As you're doing LEAN document the process your working on. Chances are no one has done it before.

A LEAN initiative is a good way to embed things in the process like equality and diversity, data protection, carbon reduction.

Tailoring services to meet the needs of the current iGeneration of students

Examples of the current pace of change and why we need to be aware of changing expectations of our current students.
Time taken to reach 50 million users:
Radio, 35 years
Telephone 23 yrs
TV 20 yrs
www. 10 yrs
iPod 4 yrs
YouTube 1yr

MISO survey. Perceptions of students, faculty and staff of views of library and computing services. Been carried out since 2005 across different institutions.

Summary of results:

Most frequently used services:
Course management system
Wireless access

Most important:
Network speed
Network stability
Virus protection
Public computers
Course management system

Highest satisfaction:
Library borrowing
Library circulation
Library reference

(highest satisfaction was dominated by library services)

Only 4 items poor satisfaction:
Wireless availability
Network speed
Network reliability
Wireless reliability

What's becoming more important:
Wireless access
Digital image collections
Course management system
Quiet workspace in the library
Borrowing laptops

Becoming less important:
Library web site (because can get to resources without going through it?)
Helpdesk ( fewer problems or solving them themselves?)
Campus computing labs (because own more laptops?)
Residence phone service ( because all have mobiles)

increasing satisfaction:
Input into decisions
Status information about problems
Wireless availability

Decreasing satisfaction:
Network performance
Campus computing labs

Cross over.
Helpdesk going down in importance but computing website going up. About to cross. All about self service and students preferring to search for solutions rather than come to hands on, busy helpdesk. Want to be empowered rather than helped.

Campus computing labs going down in importance, computing in the library remaining high. Increasing gap. Value of library as key place for students. Much rather do computing in library than in commuter labs.

In summary, what students seem to be saying is Give me the tools, and let me get on with it.
But, infrastructure must be up to it. Always on. Fast.
Give them space, especially in libraries
Give them tools and services that they need in a easy to use way

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Scary escalators, flowers and a huge conference

As usual, everything about this conference is huge. The conference centre is huge, with some very scary escalators which span several floors. The exhibition is huge. I've probably spent 3 hours in it in total over the last couple of days and am not sure that I've even seen every stand, never mind visited and spoken to them. I have had a chat with some of our existing suppliers, and some with products that we might be interested in.

The conference itself is huge, there are 6,700 attendees, 2,500 participating on-line and about 1000 exhibitors. Makes the logistics of getting everyone in and out of sessions and fed and watered in the breaks interesting but it works incredibly well.

Some sessions aren't what you expect. Yesterday I was in one called Is the Internet making us stupid, which was another point/counterpoint session with a very evangelistic, technology enthusiastic professor facing a very conservative CIO, (which stands for Condemn Innovation Oppressively according to the professor). At one point the professor jumped off the stage and handed us all flowers while expressing his love for all of us. Very odd.

This morning EDUCAUSE presented Ira Fuchs with a Leadership Award for his work in supporting the development of open source software including Sakai, uPortal and Kuali through grants from the Mellon Foundation. It was a very popular choice.

Keeping customers in the loop in an IT meltdown

IT critical incident communication by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

April 2009 had just drafted their communications processes, when it had a good test as they lost their email and calendaring for 4 days.

IT alert systems project had asked customers in an IT incident, what do you need to know? When do you need to know and how do you want to be told. Discovered that campus wanted to know about an incident within 10 mins of it happening. And they wanted to know via university home page. Problematic because home page primarily marketing. So compromise, put small icon in bottom right of home page which links to IT status page. Small red triangle with exclamation mark.

First step was to define roles and responsibilities. Not staff, but roles. Developed a repeatable process that can be applied to every incident. Drafted documentation for all staff to see. Then trained techncial staff who can post to status page in when to do it, what to include, how to write. Then had sessions for all staff in IT department to help them understand internal processes in an incident. Had to be all staff because they represent the department, eg when they walk across campus people will ask them what's going on.

Helpdesk are key players. Collect information from customers. First point of contact. Assess information and determine if they have to escalate. Also are key points of contact during an incident.

Incident coordinator only exists is there's an incident. First point of escalation and can post to status web page. Can also contact supervisor on call and call in technical staff.

Incident communications coordinator. Deals with incident comms internally and is only person allowed to talk to technical staff. Also let's senior management know about incident and deals with comms to IT support people in depts.

IT strategic communications manager is brought in if incident is serious enough. Deals with comms to customers, eg FAQs, scripts for helpdesk, web pages, broadcast emails.

Lessons learned:

Process is critical for cordinated and consistent comms. That way everyone knows what their role is and steps aren't forgotten.

Be open to feedback

All staff have to understand their roles and understand the process ahead of time.

Have dedicated staff for strategic comms. Fees up operational people.

Managing campus expectations contributes to success. Be consistent. Then they know what to expect. Always be truthful. If it's a serious problem tell them, and if don't know fix time tell them. All you have is your integrity.

Update update update. No news is news. Update status web page regularly or they will think you've forgotten.

Upstreaming communications is vital. Tell the senior management as soon as possible. Tell external comms people in case media get hold of it.

Don't over communicate. Tailor the message to the audience. Local IT professionals need more technical info for example than campus in general. Senior management will want info on scope and impact.

Post event evaluation is critical for continued improvement.

After April 2009 4 day outage post evaluation showed that customers were not happy about the outage but were happy with comms. Used 10 different comms media including web page, twitter, voicemail on helpdesk phone and 67 different messages.

Use common sense to determine level of incident including assessing impact and numbers affected. Don't rely on strict definitions.

Mobile technology issues

Next session was a point/counterpoint session where two people give different views of a topic. This was on mobile technology and took the form of some scripted vignettes.

The first was a Professor asking for the internet to be turned off in lecture rooms because students were using it on their laptops and other mobile devices in his lectures. He is the expert, and students should give him their full attention. It amused me that he wanted a switch installed so he had a button adjacent to his screen that he could push to turn off the Internet. In the questions afterwards some universities had actually had this request from academic staff.

The counterpoint was that firstly they are only virtually doodling, looking at rss feeds is like reading the paper - just like he did as a student. Secondly, he should be changing his teaching methods to engage and challenge them. Let them use technology to research the topic before and during the class. This (hypothetical) Professor was obsessed with getting through the material they need to have for assessment.

Very entertaining debate, and I like the idea of a lead lined classroom with no Internet. Some places have students asking if it can be turned off because disturbing others. But students have always passed round notes, talked to each other etc.

Second vignette was a new president coming in with his iPhone and being told by the CIO that he had to use the standard issue Blackberry. Of course, he lives by it, can't live without it. CIO handles the situation by saying he's never used an iPhone, is sure all smart phones do same thing, and is sure he'll soon get used to the Blackberry. Or he could buy a personal iPhone and just carry two phones around. Needless to say, the President isn't at all happy....

Of course, this is the wrong way to handle this situation, standardisation used to be good. But now it's just inflicting pain on the president.

So, the vignette was re-enacted with the right way to do things. This is where things didn't go the way I thought they would. I expected the CIO to be all about supporting the users choice of device. Helping them, not saying no. But I was wrong. Apparently the right way was still to say no, but explain why. Tell the President what the risks of the iPhone would be, and help him cope with two devices. Bizarre!

This was all tied up with the law in some states which means that all official emails and texts have to be retained and released if asked eg by the press. Bit like our FoI but much worse. So, if you have personal texts or emails on a work phone they would have to be released. Really didn't understand all of this but it sounded to be madness. Not like our policy of recommending that people delete as many emails as possible!

Central vs distributed IT support

Next session was on centralised vs decentralised IT support from the University of Mitchigan. 58000 students. 3 campuses. 19 schools and colleges.

Very decentralized organisation. It's not an accident, it's a strategy. Decisions distributed out to deans etc. Budget distributed out to schools and colleges. Deans set strategy for their units. They have their own admissions staff, comms staff etc. IT also distributed. Each has own IT group reporting to academic leadership. Even professional services have own IT groups.
Some groups run very general stuff including networks, wireless, backups, email, calendar. They've gone so far down this route that they've lost many opportunities to get benefits from centralization. Eg wireless across campus run by different units and isn't interoperable. Same wheels being invented over and over again.

So, they've recognised that they need to change. Big funding challenge means they have to drive down costs. Set up an IT rationalisation project. Sponsored by provost and CFO and Accenture brought in to advise. The goals are to reduce IT operating costs without reducing quality, to have smarter sourcing policies, reduce redundancy, and have a sensible transparent cost model.

First stage was to assess the state of IT at UM. Looked like a nightmare to me! Loads of examples of different groups doing the same thing in different ways, lots of duplication.

Second stage was to define the different layers of services:
Public good. IT services can be used for all units, everyone pays whether they use it or not.
Toll services, most users can use
Community services, used by segment of common users
Unique, IT services used by one unit

At moment too much is unique. Working on defining public good. Interesting that they don't appear to be saying that you have to use them, but you have to pay for them. Eg engineering will probably carry on running their own network.

Too much of school IT staff time is spent running back end services, could be done better by someone else. Not providing value added. So, looking to move more to central. But service has to be as good as being provided.

Some schools and colleges engaging with process more than others. Most keen to keep a local face. Eg first and second line tech support. Keep strong ownership at faculty level.

In schools that have engaged, they have taken on more emerging needs, and help more, and have increased customer focus because central IT taking on back end stuff. Have also reduced staff in IT. Have decommissioned server room which has been given over to research.

But cannot continue with incremental pace of change. Budget demands and competitive demands too great. Now have to seriously rationalise

Some issues:
Without the right funding model progress will be limited. If school has to pay central IT for full cost of services, no incentive to change.

Local IT is great at personal communciation and engagement. Don't want to lose this good thing. Can drive costs down, but if personal engagement is lost, will be a bad thing.

Central IT has to get really good at sourcing. Don't try to run everything themselves. If everything moves to centre won't succeed, need to get rid of stuff eg commodity stuff. Pick the right things to run.

IT offerings have to meet reasonable quality expectations, true for central and unit offerings. Reasonable is the important word. Schools have given central IT their requirements, central IT design services, but then it's too expensive. When look close, the school often doesn't meet these standards. Like gardening, if pay someone, has to be perfect. If do it yourself, don't care as much.

IT has to be responsive and agile. Central IT very project focussed. Finish project then move on to next big thing. Need to get things out quickly and incrementally improve them.

Central IT needs to reach out to edge of organisation and talk to these rogues out there doing their own things. Same true for edge. They have to understand central IT. It will take both sides to make the relationship work.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Opening session at EDUCAUSE is a general session open to all delegates. You really get a feel for how big the conference is in these plenaries. And at this one we had the pleasure of "recognising" our own Peter Tinson as a member of the programme committee.

The session was delivered by Gary Hamel and was called Reinventing management in a networked world. It was about change, and how to get organisations to change. How to outrun change. How to build an organisation which is as nimble as change itself. Most change encounters organisational inertia. 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy) applies to organisations as well which tend to lose energy after a while.

Most important question we should ask is are we changing as fast as the world around us.

Cultural change is fast.Technology faster.
Knowledge even faster. 8% of what we know we learnt in last 5 years.
Exponential change is all around us. Some examples - World population, energy consumption, Internet addresses, gene sequencing.

The Web is a good example of disruptive change. This is what it does:

Dematerialises. Undermines the physical infrastructure. Eg IBooks, downloads of films replacing blockbuster. Zopa. Bank with no bankers. Will on line learning replace traditional? Need to cut the business loose from physical assets
Disintegrates. It splinters organisations, markets and products. So easy to combine, recombine, mashup. Not tied to distribution economics. Bundled model of TV will get pulled apart by things like apple TV. Will specialist providers of education emerge?
Disintermediates. It dislocated activities or renders them obsolete. Eg on line insurance, estate agents.
Democratises. It gives everyone the chance to create value. Makes it easy to discover like minds and collaborate .eg linux development, crowd sourcing.

Anything that can be delivered digitally, will be. If you don't do it, someone else will. If you don't harness the power of open innovation and peer production, someone else will.

Longevity is no guarantee of future survival. Look at newspapers. Universities hardly changed in a millennium.

In many areas there have been enormous changes, and expectations have changed. For example:
How you read a book
How you buy music
How you buy software

Will how we get an education be next?

If this revolution is going to happen, who's going to lead it? Revolution is often led by insurgents not incumbents. Gues which is which:

Barnes and Noble/Kindle

In a world of discontinuous change, people who live by the sword will be shot by those who don't.

Too often in organisations change is at the margins. Infrequent and convulsive. Takes a crisis to change.

Some challenges that have to be overcome:

Cognitive challenge. Get beyond denial. Don't live in the past. Organisations don't miss the future because it's unpredictable, but because its unpalatable. AT&T couldn't believe that data traffic would ever overtake voice traffic. Cycle of denial same in boardrooms as in bedrooms. Look at music industry and mp3.
Treat every belief as a hypothesis. Every business is successful until it's not. And the not can happen quickly.
Seek out the dissidents and critics and listen to them.
Spend time out on the bleeding edge. Look outside at where change is already happening. Look at other industries. Talk to young people.
Try to imagine the unimaginable

Strategic challenge. Think of evolution. If life ran on principles of some organisations we'd still be slime. Need to evolve. Experiment. Google gets it. Constant experimentation. Lots of small ideas to test. Crowdsource your strategy. Dont keep it to a few individuals at the top.
You need 100 ideas to get 100 experiments to get 10 projects to get 1 winner.

Political challenge. Realign talent and capital. There's a bank in Bangladesh making small loans mainly to women with hardly any paperwork. Easier for a woman in Bangladesh to get resources to innovate than in most of our organisations. Give employees virtual money to invest in ideas.

Existential challenge. Enlarge our sense of mission. The one laptop per child project when started everyone said it can't be done. Need to start with an aspiration. Apple have reinvented 4 industries: Computer, mobile phone, music, retail. Apple stores are apparently the most profitable stores in the world. Comes from an underlying passion to make a difference.

We need to take a personal risk and start to change our organisations.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


In Anaheim at the moment for the EDUCAUSE conference. Just about got over the jet lag, but still waking up too early. Everything round here is Disney, and not just Disney at the moment, but Halloween, and Disney! Spent one day over the weekend in the park doing the rides, but now the conference has started. I'll try and post about as many sessions as possible, but they'll probably be in note form.

This morning I went to a partnership forum, an invitation only event looking at issues facing EDUCAUSE. There was a mixture of attendees, including EDUCAUSE members, sister organisations(including us, UCISA) and corporations.

Began with an overview of EDUCAUSE achievements for this year. One of their main activities is producing content, and their publication, the EDUCAUSE Review has won 8 national and international awards. Of their services, the Core Data Service which is an annual survey of campus IT, is very useful. Results go into a database and you can use it to do comparisons. This has bee redesigned so you can download data into spreadsheets and it's easier now to compare data internationally.

As well as content and services, EDUCAUSE do a lot of conferences. They're moving towards online and blended formats so that time zone differences and location are not so much of an issue. Of course this is not something we have to worry about so much, still think it must be strange having different time zones in the same country. This conference is hybrid, with an on-line track with talks streamed, and participation through chat, Twitter, discussion forums. On line attendees have to be able to participate, so it's important that the on-line track is interactive.

Then we had a discussion about corporate engagement and the importance of the relationship with corporate partners and vendors. EDUCAUSE is apparently considered to be conservative in its relationships with other organisations, and are looking to improve. Interesting that many of the issues they are facing, and the measures they're taking are very similar to what's going on in the UK with UCISA. For example, the conference schedule has been adjusted so each day has 2 hours where no meetings or sessions overlap with the exhibition. Meeting suites for vendors have been provided in hall. Prize stations are a new idea (looking forward to them...), and they are introducing more sponsorship opportunities eg for online sessions, podcasts etc.
Then we had a round table discussion, and on our table we had two UK reps, 1 from Australia, 2 vendors and 3 US EDUCAUSE members. A good selection, and a lot of interest in some of the initiatives we've been taking such as the Selling IT to HE course we run.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 8 October 2010

Under the sea...

Spent most of Wednesday entertaining visitors from JANET, our network provider. A good opportunity to learn from each other. Them to find out  about our needs and how we work, and us to find out about how they deal with the increasing demands on them. On of the things we touched on was the absolute critical nature of our internet connection now - it isn't just to give us a connection to the outside world, but used to run critical services over. As we outsource more services, this dependence will only increase. We also looked at whether our current connection of 2 x 1Gig links is enough. Of course, 2 x 1Gig links doesn't make a 2Gig link.  You have to understand etherchannels to get that one. We think we need at least 1 x 10Gig link, especially to cope with the amount of research data we predict will need to be transported in the future. We also touched on the issues surrounding security and misuse of the network, especially the downloading of copyright material - on the increase at the moment as the new students discover the amount of bandwidth they've suddenly got, but soon clamped down on by our security team.

A good day, and a very useful set of discussions. I'm fascinated by simple things especially the  logisitics of something I haven't really thought about before. Like network links, and the fact that there really are big fat bundles of cables under the Atlantic Ocean which can get pulled up and broken by anchors, or nibbled at by fish.  Wonder how they fix them when they're at such a huge depth.

Yesterday we had a meeting about how we're going to drastically change the process of getting data into our student system on the structure of programmes   - what I remember as the "regulations". The very complex set of rules which governs what students have to do to get their chosen degree. This information drives so many other systems now including registration, the timetables and the VLE, and it is vital that it is entered in a timely way and that it is accurate. We're going to have to make things much simpler and shorten many timescales.

Today I've been preparing for my annual trip to EDUCAUSE which starts next week - the big HE IT conference. Really looking forward to it.  Will blog about as many sessions as I can,  but they may be in note form. This will be the first week long conference I've been to without a laptop, just the trusty iPad. Hope it works OK.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

User Group and a rogue unix command

It was our User Group this morning - always well attended and a chance to bring our customers up to date with developments and get some feedback. Began with a projects update:
  • MOLE2 (our new VLE ) is going well and live in 2 pilot departments, being rolled out to rest of University over next year or so.
  • Google - we've made the decision now in principle to implement Google apps for staff, moving mail at Christmas and calendar and other apps soon after
  • Upgrade to our student system - technical upgrade completed and gone well, look and feel upgrade now in progress.
  • New portal (to be based on Liferay) progressing well

Other things we talked about were recent incidents and performance problems, and the complexity of systems, processes, configuration and data which underlies everything we do. Trying to get a handle of not just the systems, but the business processes, to simplify them is our next big thing.

I then gave a version of my "Challenges Facing an IT Director" presentation, which I've blogged about before, leading into an explanation of our new governance process, based on service management. Illustrated beautifully by this simple diagram:

Finally we had a very good presentation on our upgraded  Content Management System which is about to go live. This is something we've been justifiably criticised for over the past couple of years as the version of the system we've been running is not brilliant, but the upgraded one is much better!

Then a discussion with our internal auditors about our next audit - on Freedom of Information - more on that as it happens!

At the end of this afternoon, a couple of things that make me love working in CiCS. Someone (who shall remain nameless unless outed in the comments), made a little mistake with a unix command and deleted something he shouldn't have. The command was " rm -R * " which might mean something to unix people :-).  Anyway, he was promptly visited by our Unix group leader who beat him over the head repeatedly with a plastic hammer and then pinned a P45 to his desk. Perhaps not a mistake he'll make again!

And the second thing was someone introducing me to Flipboard for the iPad. It's brilliant! So elegant, and such a different way to  look at social media.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Communication, communication..

It's nice to see all of the students back on campus - as usual we give all of  our new students a booklet and a disc containing useful information, antivirus software etc. This year we've produced a booklet for new staff giving a summary of the services we provide, and where they can get further information from.  A nice addition I think to our portfolio of leaflets I think. This one will be given as hard copy to new staff, but all staff will be able to access it as a pdf from our web pages.

 Lots of discussion over the past few days about communication - the University has a new Internal Communications Officer and I had a very interesting meeting with her discussing how we can work together to improve comms to staff and students. Better web pages, more targeted announcements and messages, and more personalisation through our portal all things we looked at. Then today we've been looking at how we can best pull together all of our different strategies and other documents into one coherent story to help our customers, and indeed our own staff, better understand what we do.

And finally, approved 4 email newsletters to go out in the next couple of days - for staff, new students, returning students and research students.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Benefits and wireless

Yesterday I spent some of the day at the University of Wolverhampton Telford campus. I've been invited to be a member of a Steering Group to produce a Guide on Programme Management, funded as part of the HEFCE Leadership and Management Fund. The intention is not to produce a guide telling people how to run projects, but to focus on how to chose projects as part of a programme to achieve University objectives, and to focus particularly on benefits delivery and realisation.  The project originated from a study on how HECFE capital money had been used and managed, and whether benefits had been actually realised, or even measured. Consequently the steering group is made up mainly of Estates Directors, but I am on to represent JISC and  the IT sector, and we are hoping to involve people from Finance, Planning, and Faculties.

The intention is to produce a toolkit which will be capable of being used in any institution, across all disciplines.  Yesterday we looked at the structure of the guide, and the sorts of things we expect to see in it. The link between strategy, programmes and projects, all of which should be benefits led is important. We should also give guidance on defining benefits, and how they might be measured, recognising that they are not always financial and may seem to be intangible. There'll also be case studies, as well as  vignettes and examples.

Looks like being an interesting project.

One of the thing I've forgotten to say, is that for the last few weeks I've not been carrying my laptop to meetings or conferences, instead slipping my iPad in my handbag. So far it's worked well - the battery life is great, and with the discovery of iAnnotate I can treat digital papers just like paper, scribbling on them, highlighting stuff etc.  The only downside was last week in London where my hotel room had internet access, but it was only wired, not wireless. Not much good for an iPad, but luckily there was a good 3G signal. The rise of wireless only devices has made us think about whether we should revise our policy of wired only access in the rooms of our halls of residences. There's wireless in the communal areas, but not much good for an iPodTouch, or iPad, or some netbooks. And, even with a laptop, you don't want to be tied to using it at a desk, but I like to sit in bed and watch iPlayer!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ups and downs...

Last Friday was we had the first business meeting of our new Service Strategy Board, having had a preliminary one a few weeks ago. We discussed the membership of our Service Advisory Groups, and received a report from our 7 service mangers about developments, service levels, issues and concerns in each area. We also looked at project reports from all of our project managers. A very busy meeting with a lot to discuss. Still some reiteration to do on our service catalogue, making sure we get things in the right place, and think about services, not systems. This is particularly important in the teaching and learning and research areas for example, where systems which are usually considered to be part of MIS, actually provide a service supporting teaching or research. It's important that we consider the services as a whole. After all, that's how they appear to students and staff.

As well as highlighting all of our achievements and developments over the summer, and there have been plenty, most blogged about, we also looked at where we can improve things, particularly in relation to incidents. I have to say, as I sit and type this I can't remember a worse start to the academic year for a long time, but maybe that's just my memory! Don't get me wrong, I have a great department and a great team of staff who work flat out to deliver the best service to the University that they can. When our email system failed a few weeks ago they pulled together, and fixed stuff. This week and last are our busiest period of the year as the new students arrive, and due to problems with some of our systems, I've got staff who today have worked their 16th day without a break, with most of them also working long hours. To make matters worse, we have a timetabling problem in some departments. Of course, all of these things cause problems for our customers, both staff and students. We don't like it, we don't do it on purpose, and we work really hard to put things right. We rely heavily on our staff, and on the spirit of teamwork and cooperation across departments. So, thanks everyone.

As my favourite physicist once said, things can only get better.....

Monday, 27 September 2010

Twitter Joke Trial

Some time ago I posted about Paul Chambers who'd posted a comment on Twitter which had ended up with him being arrested, questioned, charged, found guilty and fined. Since then he's been fired from two jobs because of it, but last Friday was his appeal hearing. Again, it received a lot of press, but a good summary of the events of the day are here, in the wonderful JackofKent blog. It really does make fascinating reading, and I am astounded at the decision to prosecute given that at every stage of the process it was determined to be no credible threat.  There have already been requests to the CPS under the Freedom of Information Act to release the costs incurred so far.  This case has sparked a lot of interest in the media, legal and social media communities. If this decision is not overturned it has enormous consequences. As Jack of Kent said "#TwitterJokeTrial is a fight for the soul of Twitter and the blogosphere. Either the CPS get to prosecute s.127 so casually, or they don't". One could also say it's a fight for common sense. The rise of social media has changed everything and the legal process needs to recognise this and get up to date.

I'm glad #TwitterJokeTrial was a trending topic on Friday and I wish Paul and his lawyers all the best for the appeal.

JANET stakeholder meeting - security

Still catching up with blog posts - it's been a  busy week!

Last Wednesday I was chairing  a JANET stakeholder meeting, and this time the topic was security. JANET is our network provider, and we were looking at what they can do to assist us with the issues we currently face. Of course, they do an excellent job already, especially through their CSIRT team.

One of the issues we touched on was the conflict between tight security, and people - make it too difficult, make things too locked down, and people will get round it. Security is typically bypassed, not penetrated. People want to access information, data, the internet on any device and in a platform agnostic world you don't want complicated security models.We all had anecdotes of people merely emailing data to their own personal email address so they could use it on their own laptop rather than the tightly locked down one they'd been issued with.

The development of shared service centres, especially if financial or personal data is involved, also gives its own security issues, and there was some discussion of how that might be handled on the JANET network.

One of the things those of us work in Universities often forget, is the different issues facing other education institutions on the network such as schools, who have to deal with child protection issues, web filtering, monitoring and reporting. Often smaller institutions don't have a dedicated security person, or skilled network and system administrators and we discussed how they could be helped.

CSIRT gave us an interesting and informative presentation on what they do and the sort of security problems they face, and the number of incidents they have to deal with - the greatest of which is malware.

So, a very productive meeting with lots of suggestions for future action.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Just wave a magic wand...

The final part of the conference were a number of  workshops where we had the choice of which ones to attend. The first one I chose was on Security and Privacy. Both of the two presenters had interesting characteristics. One had a great title, Head of Global Trust. The other was Google's Director of Security, who is also a magician. How cool is that.

So, the question everyone asks is is data safe in the cloud? But do we know if it's safe in the enterprise?
60% of corporate data resides unprotected on PCs and laptops
1 in 10 laptops are lost or stolen within the first 12 months of purchase
66% of USB drive users report losing at least one

With cloud, you don't need to download it, or keep it on local machines, it could be a new paradigm for security. But, there's a perception that it's not secure.

Passwords - most insecure part of any authentication. Another demo of the newly relased two step authentication vis mobile phone. I was quite impressed with how simple this was, but unsure how it would fit in with single sign on, integration with portals etc.

Then we saw a video of Google's data centres, but told not to blog about it.  Suffice to say that the security looked amazing, and somewhat better than ours!

Then we talked about where data is stored. Google is safe harbour verified, so data stored in the US is perfectly acceptable to EU states, a point that is often overlooked. Some discussion about why you would want data stored just is EU, and how difficult that would make travel and collaboration. Personally I think people should just get over it! No government has magic access to Google data.  Google publish  nice map of where they've received government removal requests from.

You can also see what Google has about you here. I've just checked and was impressed - it even told me my account had been accessed recently from France and asked me if I wanted to change my password.

My favourite line of the conference came from the head of global trust who said, look at Google, look at their security, and if you don't like it, get out!

The final workshop was on collaborating using Google Apps. A very professional demo by 2 guys who did a case study on organising a conference. They used docs, spreadsheets, sites, chat, video chat, Google calendar to create web pages, agendas, registration lists, collaborative documents, translated them in real time into Icelandic and Finnish, drew seating plans.  All in the cloud. I've not used Google apps much, but again, was impressed by what they demonstrated.

So that was it. A very interesting, useful and productive two days, and as usual, I've come back with lots of ideas.