Good plenary session from Stuart Lee, Director Oxford University Computing Service on meeting the expectations of users with the limited resources at our disposal.
He began by looking who our users are - they've gone from being just staff and students, to including prospective students, alumni, parents, auditors, government agendas and in fact the rest of the world. He illustrated much of the talk with video clips (a great way to keep your audience awake in the early morning slot after the conference dinner...), and for this used a lovely clip of Rolf Harris and Basil Brush! An important question is can we we keep extending our services to meet these new users?
And how do we know what they want or expect? Surveys etc can be used but occasionally throw up unexpected results. A recent Oxford survey of what staff wanted to improve their teaching had "bigger desks in lecture theatres" as the top answer - nothing to do with technology, but something that had obviously been worrying them..
Stuart then took a look back at what technology had promised him when he was younger - he'd put together a wonderfully nostalgic set of film and TV clips demonstrating what the technology of the future would be - the Bionic Man, Dr Who, flying submarines in Marine Boy, cool new weapons from Star Wars, teleportation (Star Trek of course), jetpacks, James Bond type cars, telepathic communication, and my favourite - Thunderbirds!
Of course, much of that has never happened, but some things which were predicted are now possible. Stuart postulated that it's no longer possible to wow users with technology anymore - they're no longer amazed by what might be possible. The IT department are no longer the wizards who can wow the users with technology. I actually disagree with this - I think it is still possible to wow them - some of the consumer technology being developed still gets a gasp when I show people. It might be true though of technology in Universities...
So, we have more and more and users, with different expectation who are no longer impressed with anything, but feel they have the right to comment on everything. Something I did agree with totally is that sometimes we have to do a sanity check on whay users are asking for and emphasise that we are the professionals and experts in our field.
Some solutions - go for quick wins - find out that they want and give it to them. Oxford had produced a guide for academic staff on how to use IT to enhance the impact of their research which had been very popular.
Create sense of joint ownership - users must fell they have a say. They must however understand that IT is mission critical. It isn't a tax, or a drain on funding, or part of a faceless "centre". Get out and about - use their communication networks, don't set up your own, and let them know how much services cost. You can use budgets to manage expectations.
And most importantly - most of our users are at the University to learn, to teach, or to do research, not to test our IT systems.
A great talk, as always, from Stuart.