Wednesday, 31 March 2010

LHC and Digital Worlds

Yesterday was an exciting day if you're a scientist (or even if you're not), as the Large Hadron Collider successfully completed the first collisions of proton beams at speeds and energy far in excess of what's been achieved before. I don't pretend to understand it all , (I might have a science background but was never very good at Physics), but I appreciate the scale and the importance of what happened. It was exciting watching it happen, and another answer to people who still don't seem to get Web 2.0, especially Twitter. I followed the @cern feed and their rapid fire tweets had me on the edge of my chair:

The hashtag #cern had several hundred people commenting, and I ended up following some of the scientists who were actually there making it happen, as well as more famous commentators including Professor Brian Cox. Then there was the live web cast which I had open in the top corner of my screen so that I could continue working (on an audit report, so needed some light relief....). It was good to see so much input from British Scientists, and I hope that the investment in science is maintained through what could be difficult financial times. Investment in science will be key to our economic recovery.

I had another brush with science yesterday when we had a follow up meeting with our Professor of Digital Worlds, and how we might work together to take forward some of his projects. These include analysing the masses of data we hold on such things as purchasing, and student progression, and also looking at how we can take advantage of the Digital Region Project which is currently bringing high speed broadband to South Yorkshire. Will be good to have some involvement in research projects. We already do of course provide a lot of input into our High Performance Computing projects but this will be something different.

Other meetings over the past few days include more discussions on change management, and a look at progress on using our collaboration tool, uSpace to handle information on our institutional contacts overseas. Some good progress been made, and it's been a good use of an existing tool, and avoided us having to write or buy a new system.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Democracy and the Digital Economy Bill #debill

I've been following the progress of the Digital Economy Bill with interest . A couple of months ago I was one of the signatories of a letter to the Lords who were considering it at the time. A couple of weeks ago I was away, with little access to the internet, but was horrified by how it was being forced through and although couldn't blog, linked to someone who did it really well.

I remain horrified - the bill is bad enough, but the process of "wash-up" - when bills are not debated properly but rushed through as parliament is dissolved by a series of trade offs between the parties - is not something I've taken much notice of before. Harriet Harman has announced that the Digital Economy Bill will receive its second reading on 6 April, the day that parliament is expected to be dissolved - effectively pushing it into wash-up. This should not happen to this bill - it needs proper debate. It will affect all of us who provide internet services, and could seriously affect access to free wifi. Government is being lobbied by the rights holders, including the BPI, and seems not to be listening to the many thousands of people who are protesting.

I've written to my MP - letter reproduced below (thanks to Peter Tinson of UCISA for most of the drafting) - but have yet to receive a response. I await it with interest, but am not hopeful.

I am writing to you as one of your constituents, as Director of Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, and as Chair of UCISA (University and Colleges Information Systems Association). I am extremely concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, which has implications for all of us, especially those of us providing IT Services, has not been properly debated and will be rushed through as part of the "wash up" process.

I have been involved in lobbying over parts of the bill, and was one of the signatories to an open letter to members of the House of Lords regarding the provisions for copyright infringement and public access to the internet via institutions:

The issue was first raised in 2008 and resurfaced in the draft Digital Britain paper presented in 2009. In each case we have pointed out that the proposals as drafted were not clear about what was meant by the term Internet Service Provider and that any legislation would need to be set this out clearly in order to prevent universities and colleges from being inadvertently caught by the legislation. The responses also highlighted the fact that most, if not all, institutions enforce codes of conduct or regulations for computer and network use which explicitly link breach of copyright with disciplinary action. The UCISA Model regulations for the use of institutional IT facilities and systems, on which many institutional codes of conduct are based, also highlights breach of copyright as a forbidden activity.

It appeared from the final draft of the Digital Britain paper that the resulting legislation would clearly refer to commercial internet service providers, highlighting the commercial providers as being responsible for working with the rights providers to identify individual customers responsible for breaches of copyright. However, the Bill as presented to Parliament is so poorly worded that, not only will universities and colleges be encompassed by the legislation, individual institutions may be treated differently.

UCISA recognises the need to tackle online copyright infringement; as mentioned above our model regulations specifically highlight breach of copyright as a forbidden activity. Many institutions have used our model regulations as the basis for their own institutional codes of conduct which are considered part of student regulations or employees’ terms and conditions. Universities and colleges are quick to respond to any complaints by rights holders of breaches of copyright with content removed and disciplinary action invoked. It is a system that works well. The likelihood of institutions having different statuses means that rights holders will have to use different infringement reporting systems for each institutions, causing considerable disruption to the existing effective process. Further the Bill poses a risk to the availability of resources to the public through universities, colleges and other public bodies which forms a key part of the strategy outlined in the Digital Britain paper.

I am concerned that what is a poorly worded piece of legislation will be rushed through Parliament and pass into law without adequate debate. I am concerned that the sector will be burdened with additional costs in order to comply with the legislation which are unnecessary because an effective system already exists in higher and further education institutions to the benefit of those institutions and rights holders alike. I would encourage you to work to ensure that the Bill is properly debated in the House, or preferably deferred until after the election when greater consideration of its impact can be given and when a clearer piece of legislation may be drafted.

Collaboration and the Planning statement

Last week was mainly spent getting our planning statement together to feed into the University planning process. We have a template to complete listing our activities, achievements from last year, vision statement, objectives for next year. Also our plans for space, HR, environment impact, and service evaluation and value for money, and most importantly, how we might cope with a number of different financial scenarios.

We used our collaboration environment, uSpace, to write the document, preloading the template and allowing all of the section heads to contribute to the document and the discussion. Towards the end we only allowed people to comment, and the editing of the document was restricted to a couple of people. It worked well - we had lots of discussion, lots of contributions. The only problem was that at the end we had to cut and paste our lovely uSpace document into a boring old word doc to submit it. So, I'm starting a campaign to move us all into this century, stop emailing word docs around, and use the collaborative facilities we've implemented. Lots of take up of them across the rest of the University, especially for learning and teaching, but we need to get mainstream adoption in the professional services now, and what better way than to start at the top!

For those members of staff in the department, the final document can be seen here. Apologies to those of you reading this from outside, but I can't make it more widely available just yet.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Is it the medium or the message?

External Affairs Committee this morning, and an interesting discussion on how social media can be used to enhance the profile of the University externally. Some concerns obviously - someone mentioned being the parent at the teenagers' party. Should we be encroaching into students' social space? Also there are fears from staff who have little or no experience of even the most rudimentary aspects of social media - we have a long way to go to improve new media literacy.

We explored some of the pitfalls, and some of the traps that other institutions and organisations have fallen into. Anyone spot the #cashgordon fiasco earlier this week?

Some concerns from staff about "how do we control the message". Answer - we can't anymore. But we need to be proactive - people will search for information on us wherever they can find it and we need to build up a web presence outside of our standard web site. We also touched on whether we should monitor and respond to criticism on web sites. This is an interesting one and needs to be considered in the light of individual circumstances - there will certainly be some cases where you will make things worse. The ENMAN Shared Information Security Service has developed a reputation dashboard which monitors social media sites like Twitter and Youtube to see what people are saying about you. I find it difficult to explain why - but I don't like it. Seems to be based on a fear of social media rather than embracing it, and just smacks too much of big brother to me.

But - lots of positive views, and some good examples of how we're using social media already, and where we'll be using it more in the future. Mainly to complement what we already do rather than replace. And an important point for us all to bear in mind - content is still king.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Annual Report

Our Annual Report has just been published - written by our Customer Service and Communications team and designed and printed by our Print Service - it summarises our achievements of last year against our objectives. Number of hard copies reduced to save money and carbon, but still some available for those who want one - let us know and we'll get one to you.

It's available from our home page and as a download from here.

Happy to receive any comments from inside or outside the University.

Monday, 22 March 2010

It's a risky business

Back to work today after a week in the Lakes - great time, and we even got some fine weather and walking in. Got told about a great app for my iPhone called Runkeeper (not that I run!) which uses the GPS signal to track your walk, pace, altitude, photos etc and then posts it to a web site. Used it a few times last week, and apart from the day I didn't notice the battery on my iPhone had gone flat it worked well. If you're interested, there's an example below and you can click through for more details. I find it works best in fullscreen mode in hybrid view.

Anyway, back to work today and over 750 emails in my inbox, most of which I deleted without opening. Then onto a series of meetings, the first about managing risk. The University has a corporate risk register, and all departments have to maintain their own operational risk registers, which have to be updated every year. We work with risk all the time - it's embedded into everything we do. We compile a risk log as part of every project and we have a risk log at programme level. It's part of service management, especially change management, and all of our work on resilience is about managing risk. In addition, as part of Business Continuity and Incident planning we have a catalogue of physical risks and a business impact assessment for our services. What this means of course, is that what we do doesn't fit the template that the University has provided. Impact for example is difficult to define simply - the answer is often "it depends". On the time of year for example - losing the web service on a quiet Sunday in December for example has a very different impact to losing it in August on the day the A level results come out. So, we're reviewing all of our risks, adding new ones, expiring some, mitigating against the rest, and trying to pull them all into a format that fits the University template.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Digital Economy Bill, a blow for democracy?

I'm away at the moment so not really blogging, but had to say something about the way the Digital Economy Bill is being forced through. Luckily somone else has captured my sentiments so much more eloquently. So, read this post:

The Day Democracy Died

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, 12 March 2010

Energy and Carbon Management

One of the agenda items from the User Group that I didn't post about yesterday was our Print Management Team. This was established following our Environmental printing Review last year, and is made up of staff from CiCS, Estates (Environment team), Procurement and an academic department. Its main objective is to reduce the environmental impact of printing - to print less on more appropriate devices. They are promoting and sharing best practice, reviewing and rationalising the range of imaging equipment we have, and reducing the cost of print. this is a favourite hobby hose of mine, and print has a significant environmental impact - in 2007/08 the University printed 40m A4 sheets of paper of which only 34% was recycled, used 1,300 toner cartridges and produced 448.77 tonnes of CO2 from imaging.

The try and address this, the team are carrying out a series of print audits where they spend some time in departments carrying out a review of the departments printing needs and how they actually print, and producing a set of recommendations. This will result in an audit toolkit which will be on-line and anyone will be able to use it to look at issues such as total cost of ownership of different devices.

Today this was put into perspective as we had a departmental meeting, and had a presentation from the University Energy Manager on Carbon and Energy Management. One of the main Climate Change Act targets is for a national 34% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2020. HEFCE, our funding council, in its Strategy for Carbon Reduction in Higher Education aims to ensure that HE meets, and if possible exceeds, the government targets. There will be "funding incentives" to encourage us to meet the targets (fines if we don't??).

Like all HEIs we have an enormous utilities bill of many millions of pounds, and the bulk of our carbon emissions come from electricity. Apparently our carbon emission volume is equivalent to filling 520 Arts Towers!

So, how do we achieve the our carbon management objectives, and how do we reconcile business growth with carbon reduction? We need to embed a low carbon vision into all of our corporate strategies, management our space better and improve the efficiency of our building stock by investing in improved controls and equipment. We also need to work differently which will require significant behaviour and culture changes from all of us - staff, students, visitors and our suppliers. Some difficult decisions will be need to be taken.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Internet and the Archbishop

Spent most of this morning in our User Group meeting - well attended with about 50 people there - a cross section of different roles and form different areas of the University.

We usually use the time to bring people up to date with what we're doing, give presentation on new services etc. This time we started off with an update of some big projects which are just coming to their conclusion - Google mail/calendar for students implementation which went really well, the review of our VLE which is almost complete and we'll be making a decision on which way to go very shortly, and the review of the portal software where we've decided to go with an open source product called Liferay.

Then we had a really interesting presentation on the network, focusing on the answer to the question - "how fast's our internet connection?" Of course the answer to that is - it depends! Bottlenecks on your local PC as systems running in the background such as updates or virus scanning can slow things down. Then there's congestion - very similar to that we experience on the roads, with local connections (roads) have a slower speed limit but not much traffic, and then as more and more people get onto the main network (motorways) the allowed speed is faster, but there's so much traffic you often go slower. There's also the type of service you're trying to access, as we give priority to academic traffic over things like peer to peer networking. And finally there the external service availability - the web site you're trying to access might just have reached its maximum number of connections. So "why is the network slow?" is a difficult question to answer and could be down to many factors, some of them outside of our control. Of course, ours never is, thanks to our network team who do a stirling job.

We also brought everyone up to date with some of the changes we're making in the area of telephony - a simplification of our charging system and of the way we are billed and pay for our services from the telephony companies should make considerable savings. Moving to VOIP (voice over IP - or running the telephone system over the data network) has meant we have much better resilience so when the bulldozer digs though one of our cables (apparently the driver is called the archbishop because he never misses a service...), our systems should stay up. Our telecomms team (or double act depending on how you look at it) then very bravely gave a demo of some of the features that we will be able to implement - brave because it was live and involved several bits of technology! Phone numbers that follow you around campus from deskphone to mobile, softphones on your computer, unified communication tools so that you can have emails, voicemails etc in one inbox, and a voice activated system which will put you through to the right extension even when the switchboard is not staffed. All very clever. And well timed as we had a case study published in Computing today:

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Planning, problems and incidents

In the middle of our planning round at the moment so very busy. Checking financial forecasts for next year, and planning for different financial scenarios - it won't surprise anyone that none of them actually involve us getting more money than now..... Also articulating our key activities for UEB and trying to work out the costs of them and how we demonstrate value for money. Producing a service catalogue as part of our ITIL implementation (more later) has made this easier, but actually costing our services is a bit of a black art, but more work is being done. Key objectives for next year being worked on, as well as their critical success factors.

Yesterday we had a good meeting looking at progress on the different aspects of ITIL we're implementing - I've already posted about change management, and yesterday we were looking at progress on our service catalogue which is going well, and incident and problem management. In terms of incident management, we have to first define what an incident is, and we had been using a definition of any significant service failure whether planned or unplanned, but as planned should be covered by the change management processes, we're changing the definition to unplanned only. And then - what's an incident - any service failure reported to the helpdesk? If Dr X rings to say his printer's not working is that an incident? It's a service failure to him. So, if you define everything as an incident, you have to have a good method of determining the level of an incident. This is where you need to take account of SLAs, OLAs (operational level agreements), Impact assessments, the calendar of activities etc. Who decides on the level of an incident, and how much can be automated by our helpdesk software?

Of course, the purpose of incident managment is to restore normal service as soon as possible, and to minimise the adverse effect on business operations. Incidents have to be identified, logged, categorised, prioritised, diagnosed, resolved and closed. All of this is under the control of the helpdesk (note - not the actual fixing). The incident is then reviewed.

In summary:

Communicate -- Fix -- Communicate

We're also drawing up procedures for problem management, the purpose of which is to reduce recurring incidents and these follow a similar cycle of:
  • Detection
  • Logging
  • Review
  • Prioritisation
  • Investigation and diagnosis
  • Resolution
  • Review
I'm pleased with the way everything is going so far and look forward to the day these processes are embedded and we have no incidents or problems to manage...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Geek Woman

Well, the conference is now over - it's really been excellent this year, and I must congratulate all of the organising committee. Every session has been enjoyable and informative, and our two celebrity speakers have been particulary fun. Last night's after dinner speaker was Ruby Wax, and it made my night to have her call me a "Geek Woman" as myself and a colleague helped her with Twitter and dowloading apps onto her iPhone. She rewarded us by sending this out:

She gave a funny, but also moving, talk about herself, her career, and her experience of mental health issues and her work with MIND.

This morning we were very lucky to have James Cracknell OBE - world rowing champion, double Olympic gold medalist and more recently, adventurer. When I met him he apologised for his voice as his throat was bad because he's training for a series of marathons in the Sahara desert, and spent yesterday training by running in a heat chamber at 45degrees!

James gave a brilliant talk about his experiences in the Olympics and his more recent adventures. He talked about motivation, and how teams work best together - vital in his sport. As he put it - if you have a bad day, you can't win - the whole team loses. You can't afford bad days. His insights into the tactics and emotions of what it was like to be in an Olympic final were fascinating. He had some very funny anecdotes, such as the team coach (who's first language was not English) telling them that Matthew Pinsent was a good rower because "he was hung like a horse" when what he meant was he had lungs like a horse.

Then he spoke about his trip across the Atlantic, rowing with Ben Fogle - who'd never rowed before! Their boat flipped over, they ran out of water and food, and got tossed around in storms - but still finished.

Very inspirational - and such a nice, unassuming man. Great end to the conference.

Professionalising IT

The first session this morning was Ajay Burlingham-Bohr, from Anglia Ruskin University and Andrew Abboud, CIO of City University giving us their experiences of coming from outside of the sector into a University CIO role. Very interesting and informative talk, with some practical advice on how to improve services, and in particular how to manage new developments. Ajay had spent a lot of time getting to know what the issues were, having one to ones with all staff, finding out what the customers thought of the service and what they actually wanted. She also asked staff to complete "timesheets" for a month to find what they were actually doing, but recognised that this should probably be a last resort. SFIA was used to identify staff skills with online tools for self assessment. Processes were discussed and drawn on whiteboards, and this drew attention to to where things were overly complicated, or where sometimes no one knew how something worked - a big box called "stuff happens" - I'm sure we could all find processes like that.

Then processes should be reworked before any restrucutrung can take place - don't pave over the cow paths as Ajay put it. Work out where the new paths should go first.

She began four streams of work in parallel -

Putting out the fires - find out where the bad stuff is and fix it
Develop a strategy - start simple and iterate
Get essential projects started
Transform the IT function - processes and structure are the tip of iceberg here. Culture behaviour and knowledge are by far the biggest issues.

Andrew then picked up with some good advice about projects. First - know how many you've got. They originally thought they can 20, but after a discussion realised they had 64. far too many, and if you can't deliver on current commitments, how can you deliver on future ones? Take time to stop and think. Map projects on to a cost and benefit quadrant and decide which are the priority, focusing primarily on benefits.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer

Tim Marshall, CEO of JANET UK next up with a talk entitled "The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer".

He started with a short film - of something happening to people as they entered a lift - we never did find out what it was! The preise for his talk was that this year we have to going to think the impsible, as something is going to happen in to us in our lifts.

Tim's talk as always was very entertaining, and illustrated with stories form his tme as BBC tv Director and his work with Disney and the dot coms.

The context was the public sector debt - currently standing at £845billion - apparently this is enough to buy 48 million Ford Mondeos, 15,000 Wayne Rooneys or run 2,600 Universities of Leeds. We're facing 25% public sector cuts over next two years to reduce national debt, note this is the debt - not the deficit). In order to deal with level of cut, the country needs war time generals – those that understand how to manage under these constraints to see us through these times .

Tim's 5 principles to deal with the impossible are:
Know your business.
Know your numbers - be able to read financial statements. Understand NPVs and TCO.
Strive to be trusted - trust will be more and more important - don't have to agree, but trust and respect is important.
Empower the team - tell them what you want, not how to do it. Instead of 2 years experience, suddenly have 100 years.
See over the horizon

And finally - if you have to deal with the impossible, look at it from a different point of view - is there a different way of doing it? There often is.

From Build to Buy

Lynne Tucker from King's College talked about Doing IT Differently, and in particular moving from Build to Buy.

A number of drivers for change - low IT staff numbers with a lack of skills in new technologies. Very competitive jobs market in London. Large amount of legacy technology, no central directories etc. The data centre is also very high risk - by the Thames, below the flood level. Kings also wanted some very ambitious plans delivered quickly. So, they decided to leverage the power of JANET to source and locate things off site. They went for a multi-sourced partnered approach, out-hosting infrastructure where it was appropriate and concentrating on adding value in-house.

They bought an E-communications suite (Microsoft active directory, Exchange, Office communicator, Sharepoint). Bought from SCC and completely out-hosted and out-managed.

Secondly they bought a thin-client web-accessible virtualised desktop and filestore using Sun Global desktop. This is also completely out-hosted and out-managed.

More recently they've bought a bespoke admissions portal from Sapient and developed in India. This is hosted at KCL.

One of the biggest things they had to deal with was the increase in the size of the network, the connections to JANET, and calculations of bandwidth.

All of this required Kings to develop new approaches to tendering, supplier selection and contract negotiation. There's also an onerous commitment to deliver on your side of the bargaining - if you don't deliver what you say you will for a supplier, there's a cost involved.

Managing SLAs and managing vendor relationships and contracts take a lot of effort! Contact with vendors has to be carefully monitored and managed - no more casual chats between your sys admins and the vendors.

New approaches were also required to the enterprise architecture, network and infrastructure configuration and monitoring. New skills sets were needed. They no longer have control over fixes, change management and escalation. Rigorous processes have been put in place, and they have a change advisory board meeting once a week.

Interestingly - total cost of ownership not much different between in-house vs out-sourced. Lot of capital investment was needed. But other benefits include risk reduction, much more resilient services, 24/7 support, well defined incident and change management processes. There's also added value from dealing with third parties - they bring new things to the table including technical know-how.

Biggest benefit - not having to worry about the infrastructure - much more time spent on using systems rather than running them.

Hardball negotiating with vendors

Second day at UCISA management conference, and opening session from Stewart Buchanan from Gartner on how to negotiate, and in particular how and when to adopt hardball negotiating tactics with vendors.

Some background - budgeted spending is not what sinks organisations - it's the total cost of ownership including the unbudgeted costs. So, in order to make costs more sustainable, we may need to restructure them. We also need the right metrics in place in order to improve the value of vendor relationships - these should include process, value, risk, quality, timeliness and alignment.

So, what are the top negotiating techniques? The first is obvious - communicate. If you're not happy with a vendor - tell them. Everyone in the organisation needs to say the same thing - procurement, senior management, users - all need to be on same message and carefully managed. Careful and consistent communication is vital.

Secondly - try to differentiate the product. Don't just look at how much you pay for the product, start looking at other metrics such as the efficiency of the product. Shouldn't be buying IT by the kilo, or terabyte. Need to understand the value of the commodity, and then you can challenge it.

If you are in financial pain you may have to share that with vendors. Make them understand the pain - lay seige to vendor revenue - cancel expensive contracts, consolidate spending.

Reset the rules for RFPs (Request for proposal). Follow a process, adapt it and keep asking questions until you get the right answer. Importantly, pick winners, not the least worse losers.

Understand the exchange of information with the vendors and control the flow of information - sometimes vendors know more about the business than you. Need to eliminate their intelligence networks. Continuous vendor management. Everything your organisation says and does in a negotiation has value.

Keep options open for reducing budgets - review strategic decisions until vendors comply - keep going round the loop.

Play good cop bad cop, but don't always be bad cop - let someone else do it (eg procurement), . Often can contribute more when you sit back and watch.

Use services to compete with products - compare cost of buying a service eg SAAS/Cloud with cost of delivering services in house. Pull apart the pricing and tell the vendor what you need to pay.

Use time pressures - vendors do it all the time. Make them wait. But don't push too hard and lose the benefits you've already negotiated.

Final recommendations:

  • Understand that everything is negotiable, at a price.
  • Prepare negotiating positions, and plan what you can afford to concede. Never make decisions during a negotiation.
  • Maintain stakeholder and budget holder support by not compromising on the business case or requirements.
  • Keep a diary of the promises made during sales visits and negotiations. Use it to check contracts and manage vendors.
  • Walking away is the loser's option. Keep going around the process until you make it work for all parties.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Pushing aside the tears to get the job done.

Those of you with very good memories might recognise the title of this post - I've written about the second speaker before. In October 2008 I heard Larry Hincker from Virginia Tech University deliver this talk at EDUCAUSE, and was knocked out by it. It's about how he, as Head of University Relations, had to deal with the aftermath and crisis communications during the dreadful events of April 2007 when one student killed 32 students and shot more in just 9 minutes. We had no hesitation in asking him to came to UCISA to talk to us - there were lessons to be learned for all of us

In a powerful, moving and dignified talk Larry covered how the tragedy unfolded, and how the world's media descended on them. My last post covers most of the points so I'm not going to list them again - but there were many lessons for those of us who might be involved in any emergency or crisis - not necessarily as tragic or on such a scale. Where would be park 140 satellite trucks? How would we give access to the internet to every journalist who turned up? Could we increase the capacity of our web server to cope with a 15 fold increase in hits, in a matter of hours? Could we set up an information centre for our own staff and other agencies with PCs, telephones, TVs, wireless access, in hours? What are our notification systems like?

Larry's talk is on the EDUCAUSE web site, and will be on the UCISA one soon - I suggest you watch it - it could be a very profitable hour. It will also make you hope that you never have to deal with anything like this. Ever.

EDIT: The talk is now on the UCISA website here.

UCISA management conference - opening session

I'm at the UCISA Management Conference in Harrogate at the moment - my first full one as Chair. Conference started well with some interesting sessions. Th first one today was an introduction from the VC of Bradford University. He talked abut the outlook and pressures facing Universities, and what the shape of HEIs might be in a few years time.

In his opinion the HE system not in meltdown - we are facing challenges but are are in a strong position to meet them. The unit of resource is higher than ever before, and we've had an unprecedented decade of growth in capital funding and investment in infrastructure. We are heavily reliant on public funding -and that's why we will all be will be dramatically affected by the cuts announced in what he called Mandelson's Christmas Card. The financial environment will be challenging for several years.

Other issues we face are changing include student numbers - a few years ago we were worried about decreasing applications and the impact of demographic downtown. Now we have a cap on student numbers - different institutions will be effected differently. So, international, part time and postgrauate students are only areas where we can grow ourselves out of funding issues.

Another key driver over the next five years will be student demand and particularly a demand for quality, especially if the cap on fees is removed. There will be greater pressure from students with more more emphasis on surveys like NSS and customer experience.

One result of the pressure on public finances will be fewer higher education institutions - his advice was to appoint someone with mergers and acquisitions experience! This won't just be for financial reasons but will be strategic. These need not necessarily be between two publicly funded insititutions, as there will be a greater inroad from private sector.

HEIs will develop more distinctive identities - some focusing on more research, some focusing on more learning and teaching. There'll be a shift from a publically funded, centrally regulated campus-based HE system to a more distributed system with more input from private investment.

His conclusion was that there will be interesting times ahead but HE is still a fantastic place to work.

A good start to the conference. The exhibition is also excellent this year as always, and I'm trying to get round all of the suppliers to say hello. As usual there are some interesting freebies on offer, including a personalised caricature. Not very flattering is it?

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth?

Meeting today to look at the agendas for some important meetings coming up - CiCS User Group, and a departmental meeting. Two completely different audiences and we're going to try a bit of an experiment - using our voting software we're going to ask people to rank some possible new developments in terms of priority, and then compare the results. Will be interesting to see if our users have the same opinion as our department. Then we looked at how we might use the skills of our designers in the department to pull together a more coherent look and feel for all of our publications and information that we produce. Currently too many different styles in use by different sections of the department.

Then a meeting to discuss the arrangements for the Institutional Web Managers Workshop which is being held in Sheffield this summer - lots of AV/IT/web access things to talk about. Looking forward to it.

Finally, a pleasant end to the day with the opening of a new exhibition space in the University Library, and an exhibition called Humbug! about the legendary showman P T Barnum. A great newly commissioned statue of him by Anthony Bennett was the centrepiece, and some great banners by Mark Copeland - my favourite being of Jumbo, the world's apparently largest elephant. Very sad story about him, and he was bought by Barnum from London Zoo, and he didn't want to leave, and a campaign was launched to keep him there. Eventually Barnum won and he was removed in chains in a crate. Difficult decision for an elephant - Zoo or Circus?

The exhibition was curated by our own Professor Vanessa and is open to the public until May 27th - well worth a visit.