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.

Faster than a potato

Tuesday morning began with some more demos. This time Chrome - the browser and the OS. Browsers have to change to cope with speed and imagery of new web applications. Chrome has 80m users two years after launch and Google maintain has forced other browsers to get better. They showed a video of how fast it was. Personally I've never used it, what bit I've seen of it hasn't been enough to tempt me away from Firefox, but would be interested to know what others think.

Then a demo of chrome OS. Developed and designed only for the web. PCs are expensive, need patching, upgrading, have to store data, have licence costs etc. The demo had chrome running on a Dell laptop. It took 6 seconds from turning the power on to boot up (they're aiming for 5), so it's fast. Looks like a web browser, uses wifi, VPN, can have multiple desktops available. Video chat available from within browser. PDFs open instantly.  I was quite sceptical, but was quite impressed with it. Will have to see what it looks like when released and how it takes off.

The Father of the Internet

Vint Cerf has a great title at Google - Chief Internet Evangelist. But he has another good one as well - the Father of the Internet. He was responsible for many of the early internet developments, including TCP/IP, and it's always an honour to hear him speak.  He did a Q and A session for us on Monday, and spoke positively about cloud developments. Some points from the various answers he gave to questions:

The world of the cloud is more than reliability and scalability, it's about taking media that so far has been distinct (eg audio, video, text, mail) and delivering it in different ways. Now we can create complex digital objects using technologies such as mash ups. One of the problmes with any digital object is will we have the technology to read it in the future (the bit rot problem). Cloud may help with this.

Do we run the risk of creating propriatry clouds that can't talk to each other? Yes, but we mustn't. We have to find a way eg a networked virtual cloud. It's only as hard as inventing the internet, and that wasn't hard :-)

Storage is not a problem, it's cheap, it's getting stuff out ie finding it that will be the problem.  He suggested putting pizza ovens at the top of the racks in the Google data centre as a second line of business but hey were worried the cheese might drip into the servers.....

He had some comments on security,  particularly about the physical location of data which people get hung up about. If safe harbour is OK, then make all of the cloud safe harbour. To make cloud work we will have to redefine physical location.

As I said, an honour to hear him.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Up, up and away.....

Dr Bertrand Piccard balloonist, doctor, explorer, pioneer, first person to circumnavigate world in hot air balloon, about to do same thing in solar powered plane..... Brilliant man, inspirational talk. Hope notes below give some flavour of it.

Life is like the atmosphere. Lots of winds. Some good, some bad. Take us by surprise and push us towards the unknown. How much effort do we put into fighting against the unknown? Lots. In a balloon, exactly the opposite. No control. Carried by the wind, towards the unknown. Have to understand that the unknown is our only certainly. Atmosphere made out of different levels of wind. Have to change altitude to find different wind to take you in direction you want to go. Can do same in life.

How do we do it? If balloon wants to go higher, pilot has to drop ballast, things you don't need anymore. This is what we must do in life. Identify our ballast.
Take our real conviction on how things should be done and envision the exact opposite.
Don't be fixed in your ideas. Take a little from many different views. Can apply to politics, religion.
Try other behaviours and strategies, other ways to think etc.
In life we have advisors - friends, colleagues, family. Listen to them. Balloonists have weathermen. In the balloon, told to stay at a certain altitude which would mean slow speed. Piccard ignored weathermen and went higher, found wind speed that would take them faster. But, weathermen had spotted low pressure system to the side of them. Traveling fast would mean they would get in front of it, and be pulled backwards by it. Is it better to go fast in wrong direction or slow in right one.
Need a long term vision but can be scary, leaves time for fears and doubts.

Took off with 3.7 tons of liquid propane. Landed with 40 kgs. Promised himself that next time he flew round world would do it with no fuel at all. He's going round in solar powered plane. Pioneering spirit about throwing away lots of preconceived ideas, and thinking differently. We need to be more independent from fossil fuel energy. If he can do it in plane, can do it with anything.

Have to fly day and night. Plane needs to have 64m wingspan. Size of 747 but weight of a car. Quarter of its weight will be in batteries. Power use same as a small scooter.

Went to airplane and glider builders and was told it was impossible to build such a plane. Then went to a ship constructor. He had no idea it was impossible, so he built it.

Plane is called Solarimpulse, and has made test flights. First night flight had just one goal, to make next sunrise before batteries run out. At sunrise, had 6 hours of power left.
A huge team effort, and demonstration of how to get rid of common assumptions. Identify what all world believes and do it the other way round.

To make a difference to climate change, will need more people who understand they can do same in their daily life as they do in their airplane.

Try and watch some of the videos on the web site, especially the video of the first night flight.

Google and the Cloud

Next session focused on Google's cloud offering with some new features announced.

First a few more stats/points.
Consumer technology is racing ahead. It has continued to innovate when the enterprise slowed down.
Out of room of 300 attendees, 50%'of room have an iPad with them, and about 30% support them in enterprise.

Information is overwhelming. 294billion emails are sent every day. That's 50 emails for every person on planet. Wonder how many of them are spam?
There's 1.2zb digital information in the world. (What's a zigabyte?)
Every minute, 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube
Average office worker spends 13 hours a week dealing with email

Collaboration is key, and mobile work is common. IT is more complicated than ever. It's expensive. Unleashes more security vulnerabilities. There's a sense of inertia once there's a lot of capital and time invested in infrastructure which is difficult and slow to change .

Cloud provides way for us to provide some of these new services users want. It's flexible, lower cost. more secure. Allows speed. Integration, collaboration and particularly innovation. New functionality can be added with no upgrades on client or server side very quickly.

4 key aspects of google cloud:
Scale. Big data centres. Very big. Google earth picture showed new data centre being built with the size of a football pitch marked for scale. Hundreds of thousands of servers. Google has 3rd largest IP network in world. Completely custom stack at every level. Can add new capacity where needed.

There's Geographic redundancy with data centres in various countries.
Logical redundancy as servers will fail! Service will recognize failure and failover and heal.
Replication of data so it stays available to users.
Transparency over failures and status with status dashboard available.

Has to be open and flexible and integrate with other systems. Get rid of silos.
Developers can build apps on the google cloud using App engine, or can buy apps from google market place.
Take your data and run. Data exchange into and out of google cloud. Strong migration tools provided. In and out. No lock in

V important. Need to protect users and data. At the technology level, user data chopped up into small pieces, encoded and stored on different discs.
In terms of people and processes there are policies, tools and procedures in place. More on security later.

Biggest vulnerability is passwords. They can be weak, snooped, hacked, phished or cracked.
New feature just announced, two-stepu verification.
You need 2 pieces of information, something know (a password), and an object which gives you a token. In this case the object is the mobile phone. There are apps for android, blackberry and iPhone to deliver the token, or it can be delivered by SMS or voice. Available from today.
Demo looked good.

Then we had a demo of other features:

Google translate, intelligently recognizes language of emails, and translates instantaneously using the computing power of the cloud.

Google apps can now render attachments on server side eg big PowerPoint files and stream them to you.

Priority inbox. If can block bad mail, ie spam, can do things like looking at common people you mail, categories, subject lines and come up with suggestions of what is important.

Can bring in real time data sets into spreadsheets

And then a pre-announce ( Google speak for a feature not yet released but about to be)
Google docverse, which is basically integration between google apps and MS Office

They also pre-announced the ability to edit google docs on the iPad, iiPhone and any mobile device running android.

How IT changes the enterprise

Next speaker was Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics. His latest book, Macrowikinomics, isn't out yet but Google managed to get us a copy each.

His hypothesis was that we are at a turning point in history for the enterprise. Financial systems, Newspapers, Universities, Healthcare, energy providers, the music Industry. All are changing.

There are 4 drivers for change:
Web 2.0. Accessed through many inert objects now, not just computers. Other important features are broadband mobility, geospaciality, true multimedia, web services. The new web is a platform for computation with the internet becoming a giant computer. The old web was presentation only. The Web didn't used to be considered real IT but it is now. It is more cost effective and has better integration than many of our legacy. Many of us have systems old enough to vote and drink. God may have created the world in 6 days but he didn't have an installed base.

The net generation. There's a demographic change and the kids now coming into employment will be a driver for change. They are a generation which processes information differently.

The social revolution. HTML being eclipsed by XML. Now the we is being used for collaboration, not content. Allowing people to self organise into communities.

The economic revolution. The enterprise is changing. There are different ways to do things. Good example of guy who owned a gold mine. Couldn't find any gold. Published all his geological etc data on Internet and announced a competition with a prize of $500,000 to anyone who could tell him if he had any gold and if so where it was. He found $3.4b of gold, well worth the half a million prize money.

5 principles for innovation, wealth and sustainability:
Collaboration. Openness. Sharing. Independence. Integrity.

Work is changing. The old work best characterised by Dilbert.
The new is more people orientated.
A new operating platform for the enterprise needs:
Personal profiles
Social networking
Blogging and microblogging
Wikis and document co creation
Team project tools
Deliberation decision making
New generation knowledge management
IT integration and administration

The worst mistake people can make is thinking things will "get back to normal". Newspapers will never be the same. The music industry (whose third largest source of income is suing people who love its products), will never go back to how it was.
We are in the age of networked intelligence, beautifully illustrated by a video of a murmuration of starlings demonstrating a social organisation where there is collaborative leadership with each bird each taking responsibility.

Excellent, entertaining talk.

The Evolution of Work

I'm at the Google Atmosphere conference at the moment just outside Paris in a chateau. Sounds more glamorous than it is, the nearest I got to Paris is when I flew over it, and we're not actually staying in the chateau, but some purpose built conference rooms in the grounds. Still, the sun is shining and it's a lovely setting.

The conference has about 300 attendees, and are mainly CIOs from public and private sector from all over Europe. The topic of the conference is The Evolution of Work, and is mainly about cloud computing. There were many sessions and a lot of information, so the next few posts will mainly be in note form

So, the opening session started with some statistics.
Smart phone sales will overtake PC sales this year
Cloud computing is top of Gartner's list of strategic technologies for 2010
85% of new vendors will be focused on SAAS by 2012.
40% of iPhones sold are going into business, despite being a consumer device ( example of User driven computing)
Smartphone sales will overtake pc and laptop combined by 2012
57% of blackberry users want something else a their next device
2m iPads were sold in first 2 months ( the iPad has done more for cloud computing than anything else. Just imagine, a computer that doesn't run Microsoft office!). There were lots in the room.
120 new features have been added to existing google apps.
200 new applications in the google apps market place
200,000 android devices being activated everyday. Not coming at expense of other os. iPhone still growing.
3m business now running Google apps
30m active users of Google apps.

Then some information on cloud computing. There are 2 phases of cloud computing. Do the same things cheaper eg outsource your email to make cost savings. But most important phase should and will be about doing things you've not been able to do before.

Some features of cloud:
Massive storage, (cost of storage moving to practically zero)
Huge computer capacity
Real time interaction

New possibilties:
World mapping, millions of devices collecting data across the globe about everything
Real time translation. Now a feature of gmail and docs. Also available as an API
Voice to text. Eg voice search

Examples of applications of cloud
Last April, when the volcanic ash cloud disrupted European air travel, Google had several hundred people stranded. They used a google spreadsheet to collect information about where peoppe were and where they were trying to get to, and in 2 hours had detailed information about 270 people. A simple idea.

Motorola use google apps to manage their IT resources and projects.

Organisations are moving away from owned facilities. They're expensive to maintain and protect. They're inflexible and it's difficult make them fit into todays mobile lifestyle. Most of our infrastructure and systems were conceived in a world when the only computer you used was the one on your desk. They break easy, and it's easy to take information out of them eg on memory stick on put on other devices or lose.

With the cloud, your firewall can be much smaller, but your data can be in a more secure environment.
Security is the single area of concern holding people back form embracing cloud, but is being addressed (more later)

Apparently a CIO of a US University said a few years ago that those CIOs responsible for moving to Google would eventually be fired! As was pointed out, 40% of US Universities are currently running Google Apps, and no-one has been fired. Yet.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The future?

One of my most keenly anticipated talks at any Gartner conference is that from Nick Jones, their mobile and technology futures expert. A great speaker and very knowledgeable. That said, there's something I thought he got quite wrong in this talk, but we'll come to that later...

Some key points from his talk:
* Mobile is critical, don't ignore it.
* The next generation of workers will have different expectations and will work in different ways. They will demand more autonomy and more input in the choice of technology, expecting to be allowed to connect anything.
* Location independent work and more use of teams and collaborative tools will also increase.
* There will be less device centricity and the expectations of technology will be driven by the consumer space. We will have to accommodate it because they will use it anyway.

Interestingly this is what we are seeing in Universities now and have been for some time. We are dealing with a very mobile population, who already turn up with any device running any operating system, and will use any software that they can. But present at this conference were CIOs from all sectors, where they are not so liberal at the moment.

Nick also talked about connectivity which he termed the fallacy of the Cloud. Cloud computing will only really be useful when networks are free, fast, have unlimited bandwidth, have no latency and are everywhere. This is not the case at the moment, and although they are improving but they are nothing like the wired world yet. This will take time as nothing in the network space happens quickly. Again, this mirrored the Digital Britain discussion I had at the roundtable on Tuesday.

In terms of mobility, smart phones are apparently taking over the world. There are a number of operating systems, and some predictions you can make about them. Android is growing in market share, the iPhone is staying strong, Microsoft is low and may never get back into top 3, and Symbian has no presence in North America so may find it difficult to compete. With smart phones come App Stores, which can be used for business purposes and distribute apps, but there are some risks and education and care are needed.

As usual Nick gave a good overview of what technologies we might expect to see in the next 5 to 10 years, and these included Epaper signage, 3D displays, cleaning and delivery robots, indoor navigation, and more technologies using voice. Voice controlled search, emotion detection, voice controlled applications and voice over wifi.

So as users demand more choice of devices, we have to look at different support models. In brief they are:

Control orientated. We tell users what device they can have, we guarantee service levels, put in place metrics and security. This model is going to decrease over time.
Choice orientated. Users can have a bigger choice of devices, but smaller number of applications. Eg mobile email and web
Innovation oriented. Users have the autonomy to create new processes and deliverables on any device they choose
Hands off, or bring your own IT. Let users use what they want or their own personal devices.

All good stuff, and the different models of support are things that we're all looking at.

So, what did I disagree with? Well, Nick was rather scathing about tablets, and iPads in particular, offering the opinion that they would only ever serve a niche market, would never be used in an enterprise way, and wouldn't replace laptops because they didn't have the functionality of a laptop to handle spreadsheets for example, and had a "crippled" operating system. Well, I beg to differ, and this is no Mac vs PC argument. They may never become ubiquitous, but they will replace laptops for many people, mine already has. I can type and read documents, handle spreadsheets, annotate PDFs, get my email and calendar, access all of our web based enterprise systems, with one notable exception which hopefully is about to be fixed :-)

It fits in my handbag, so I don't have to lug a briefcase around, and the screen is big enough to do everything i want to, but the absolute killer for me for the mobile life I increasingly lead? The battery life. It can easily last 10 to 12 hours of heavy use. The last two conferences I've been to I haven't had to look for power sockets, or sit by the edge of the room, or stop taking notes by lunchtime because my battery's flat. Yes, there's some stuff that needs improving, but I wouldn't write them off and there's nothing crippled about the operating system.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Social Network Analysis

One of the themes to come out of many of the presentations and discussions was that successful collaboration projects recognise that 80% of the effort should be put into the people issues. The technology is only part of the story. One way of getting a perspective of what issues might exist is to do a social network analysis.  Look at current relationships and connections between people, identifying nodes and information flows. If you look at how work gets done you can identify influential people, groups who work together, and loners who don't communicate. It can then be interesting to compare with the organisational structure. In the above hypothetical example there's an individual easily identified who seems key, but would not be easily identifiable from the organisational chart. Without him, the "blue" team would be totally disconnected from the rest of the group. The Head of the Dept (red) is also fairly disconnected.

So, could doing such an analysis on our own departments/teams tell us anything we didn't know? Could we use it to better understand how we work, and where there might be issues?  The presentation included some examples of social network analyses of projects and their interaction with stakeholders, which did illustrate  how integrated the members of the network are, how well information is being shared across the network and how influential certain project participants are. It seemed to provide a more useful depiction than a project organisation structure diagram since it can identify critical relationships in projects.

Definitely food for thought.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Manchester City's web site

A great talk from Victoria Stansfield, Digital Delivery Manager, Manchester City Football Club about the development of the Manchester City web site. After the club had been taken over by new owners, a decision was taken that the site had to be radically reworked, with the ambition of being the best football web site in the world.  Four months later, they had their new site.

Developed using Sitecore, it's interactive, contains video, high res photos, real time updates and is integrated with many other systems such as online marketing and ticketing.  It took 357 developer days using scrum cycles, an agile rapid development technique. It copes with high traffic volume in peaks, and has been translated into arabic requiring right to left reading. On match days it takes in OTPA feeds to give people live stats, live commentary, photos.

I was very impressed with what they'd achieved with a relatively small number of developers (I think there were 3 in total), and the level of integration and functionality they'd achieved using Sitecore. My only criticism was that I was trying to look at it during the talk on my iPad, and it doesn't render properly on an iPad (or on Firefox on my mac) , and the video and Matchday Centre are in flash so they don't work.  We were told though that it is being rewritten into html5 and should therefore be compatible by Christmas.

As an indication of how important they see the interaction with fans, they've  appointed a permanent, full time social media executive, who manages the Facebook site, Twitter, forums etc. It did amuse me slightly that they can't have live twitter feeds, or open fan forums because the language the fans use can be less than tasteful, and they get sabotage posts from Man Utd fans!

Evolution in real time

Today I'm at the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit in London. The opening session was an interesting and amusing look on how things have evolved in this area. The first slide - a TripAdvisor web site announcing the 2010 dirtiest hotels as voted on by visitors to the site, showed how little control some businesses now have about the messages being put out about them. No-one know who'd voted, whether they'd really been to the hotel, whether they were competitors....

There's a complex ecosystem over which we have no control - but we can influence. Technology has made communities more powerful and enabled change to happen more rapidly.

There was a quick look back at some themes that were being discussed 15 years ago at similar Gartner events in 1995 including:

  • The desktop of the future (do we talk about desktops anymore?)
  • The future of end user computing (its not about computers anymore but devices)
  • The integrated personal assistant on your desktop (who remembers Microsoft's clippy  -  the most reviled piece of technology ever)
  • The paperless office (are we any nearer?)

Then a look forward to some developments we might see in the next 5 to 10 years:
  • No-one will be interested in or know about the device operating system (I would say for some users esp MacOS that's here already)
  • most new IT investments will be sourced as services from the Cloud
  • User experience will be key
  • Displays will be tactile, flexible, 3D, projected anywhere
Crowd sourcing  - using groups of individuals to solve problems - is already on the increase. This is based on the premise that its easier to solve a problem with a diverse group of non experts, than with a small group of experts.

Memory is getting cheaper - terabyte memory sticks are on their way - so it will be easier to record and store everything rather than be discriminatory, so good search and retrieval tools will be essential. We're seeing this already with photographs and films. I take loads of both, and can't be bothered most of the time to sort through them, I just store everything, and if necessary buy a bigger hard disc.

A good opening talk, setting the scene for the rest of the conference.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


The rest of the day at the IDBG CIO meeting was taken up with roundtable discussions and talking to suppliers. The roundtables are a good way of sharing information and exploring different issues, especially with colleagues who aren't in the HE sector.

The first was entitled Towards a Digital Britain, and really focused on what we thought the issues were in achieving a totally connected society.  I think we all agreed that one of the biggest barrier was connectivity.  We have much poorer 3G and wireless coverage than some other countries, even less well developed ones.  And even were there is good coverage, some people are still "not connected", probably because they don't want to be, or can't see the benefits or can't afford a PC. Some towns (close to Sheffield!), have less than 30% of people using the internet, and as things are geneally cheaper on the internet, and more services are moved there, this is going to disadvantage them.

The second roundtable was on cloud computing, and focused very much on local authorities, especially Westminster. This council has being 'infrastructure free' as a strategy, and aims to be so by 2014. It is outsourcing everything, including network provision, desktops and applications. I would argue this isn't really cloud computing, although the definitions of outhosting, outsourcing and cloud are becoming a bit blurred. As usual, they were interested in what Universities are doing, especially the move to things like Google.

The final roundtable I went to was about reputation and brand management, and the role of technology. We looked at how technology, especially social media, can enhance your reputation, and how if not used properly it can damage it.  I used the recent example of The Royal Opera House.  A blogger, Intermezzo, blogs about the ROH, gives information about performances, reviews, promotes shows etc and generally enhances their reputation. However, the ROH head of legal affairs decided they were using some copyrighted images illegally, and sent an extrodinary series of emails to them, including the threat to ban them from the ROH, and also including some fairly interesting grammar and spelling.  There's nothing the blogging/twitter community likes better than a cause like this, and suddenly the ROH was a trending topic on twitter  for all the wrong reasons, was appearing in the news and blogs, and was inundated with emails and poor  feedback.  In the end, the Head of Corporate Communications had to step in an apologise. I know, because I was one of the complainants, and received a very apologetic email.  Very poor handling of a situation by someone who clearly didn't understand social media. But I have to say, very well recovered once the comms people got hold of it.

As I'm staying in London tonight for a Gartner Summit tomorrow, I took the opportunity to see a show  - We Will Rock You.  Brilliant!

Data security

Today I'm at an IDBG (Institutional Business Development Group) meeting for Public Sector CIOs. It started last night with a presentation on partnerships, and then the first session this morning was from David Smith, the Deputy Information Commissioner.

There have always been losses of data, it used to be personal data discovered in black bin liners on refuse tips, but now the scale has changed with the use of data sticks, laptops etc. Recent high profile data breaches have led to tightening up on data security in the public sector, but there is still a lot that can be done.

The Information Commissioners Office powers have increased recently, and they can take enforcement actions and audit government organisations. Under their voluntary breach notification they receive about 30 to 40 notifications a month with the public sector predominating and the NHS top of the list. This doesn't necessarily mean more breaches, just might be more willing to report under a voluntary system.

Some key points:
  • Theft and loss of portable media is highly significant, but it was interesting to note that the ICO doesn't consider the loss of a properly encrypted form of media a data beach.
  • Retention and lack of weeding of data continues to be a problem, and we should work to minimize the amount of data stored where possible on the grounds that if you don't have it you can't lose it.
  • Many problems arise from a lack of proper risk assessment and a one size fits all approach with organisations treating all personal data in the same way.
  • The DP Act says appropriate security must be in place, not absolute security. More support for a risk based approach.
  • All systems/services should utilise Privacy by Design, ie design in privacy from beginning, don't try and fit it afterwards.
  • It's all about building public confidence. Take Google Sreet View, it turns out that they hardly collected any personal information, but they took a reputation hit because of perceptions.
  • If you have rules that are too strict, people will get round them. For example, some firms banned memory sticks, so users just emailed data to their personal email accounts.
  • As mobility and access to networked information increases, try to avoid anything being downloaded to devices.

After the talk I had an interesting chat with him about the implications of outsourcing things like email, and the simple answer to my question about whether safe harbour was adequate for data held outside the EU in the US was "yes".

Monday, 13 September 2010

No longer the gatekeepers....

A couple of months ago I found myself presenting at a number of confereces - the theme seemed to be the same at all of them - what challenges are we facing as a sector, and how they might they shape the future of IT departments. Last Friday I repeated the talk, this time to the department.  All staff were invited, although it was particularly relevant for the IT staff. Always interesting to see who turns up (or rather, who doesn't - I wonder if it's the same people who claim not to know what's going on and we don't communicate enough...).

I'm not going to repeat everything I said - anyone interested can watch it here. But my conclusions were that we have to become more flexible and agile -  the days of the two year project are gone, we need to be thinking of development time in months or weeks. We need to simplify things and help the University become more efficient, and look at different service delivery models. Outsourcing, out-hosting, shared services - all need to be carefully considered so that we can focus our resources on supporting the University's key business objectives of teaching and research. This might need us to make some hard decisions, and in some cases reduce service levels or stop doing things completely. No longer the gatekeepers of information, we need to facilitate, help and educate our users to get the best out of systems and services we provide as well as those provided by others.

And we must continue to innovate - some might ask if we can afford to in these times of financial constraint, but I would argue that we can't afford not to. We will die as IT departments if we don't - we can't afford just to keep the lights on, we have to find new ways of doing things. It's all about getting the balance right, and deciding where resources should go.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Suppliers to the University

Busy week this week - lots of HR stuff with promotion cases due in today, our SRDS (Staff Review and Development Scheme) Moderating Panel meeting this morning, and a meeting earlier about a scheme for 360 review of senior management staff.

Also this week it was our suppliers exhibition. Organised by our Procurement Department, it brings together many organisations who provide services to the University to have a stall, show off their products and meet staff and answer questions. As a major supplier of services to the University we like to make sure we're represented, and this year had 4 stands. The Print Service had examples of the different things they can print (its not just paper!) - mugs, pens, bags, posters, etc, and information about how to print in the most environmentally friendly way.

The Learning and Teaching Technologies section were there to answer questions about AV equipment, and the Computing Services stand had a "Green IT" theme, giving away green pencils made from recycled CD cases, and a quiz to test how much staff knew about environmental issues, with a bottle of champagne as the prize.  Questions such as how much does it cost the University if you leave your PC switched on overnight (c£70 per year)), and how much have we saved so far by virtualising our servers (c£400,000 over 5 years). Continuing our green theme, Transport Services were promoting our hybrid car, the Toyota Prius for those wishing to use it for University travel.

It's a great opportunity to talk to staff, and to find out what their thoughts and concerns are and get some feedback on our services.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Wireless expansion

Our Voice and Data team have very busy these past few weeks, migrating our existing wireless system to a new platform. This has entailed some very early starts to change the access points over without causing users inconvenience.

There's been a massive effort from the team to install new points and increase the coverage of the network as well as change the existing service.  We consulted with  Faculties to find out where they needed the coverage, and at the moment we have 378 wireless access points in active service and this number is going up  every day.

The rollout has seen the introduction of a new model of access point which has introduced cutting edge 802.11n (5ghz) access to the University network. 802.11n more than doubles current wireless throughput and provides a much more resilient signal through obstacles and walls. Most modern computers such as Macbooks and higher spec PC's come fitted with the required adapters.

We have recently seen a huge increase in load on our wireless network, particularly in areas such the Information Commons.  Many more devices are connecting to it - students have smart phones, iPod Touches, laptops -  and will often have more than one wireless enabled device with them. As we make more of our services available to mobile users, a pervasive, powerful, resilient wireless network is essential, and I'm glad to say that we are working hard to achieve that goal.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Buff dogging.....

Yesterday I was in Edinburgh for a UCISA Executive meeting. As part of our mission to extend our working relationships with other similar bodies, we invited the chair of the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG) to join us. We had lots of things to discuss, and when we compared notes very similar agendas.

We know the government and funding councils are encouraging shared services, and one of the things we wanted to explore was whether the Finance Directors believe that the use of common finance systems by groups of Universities are achievable. As IT directors,  we think the technical issues could be overcome, but the resistance has in the past come from the end users of such systems. Other items we talked about included difficulties of costing services, and how we can use our finance systems to best effect to do this, which might mean changes to the structure of accounts.  We all agreed that this was a prerequisite to looking at changes to models of service delivery, whether that involved shared services or outsourcing, as it would be difficult to demonstrate cost benefits when you don't know what the service is costing in the first place.

Funding of IT and in particular capital vs recurrent funding was an area we touched on, with an agreement that we do need to understand each other's language better. A joint workshop between finance and IT was suggested - a sort of IT for dummies for the finance people, and vice versa for us!

A very useful discussion with the potential for some joint projects, and some joint funding bids to produce best practice case studies.

On a lighter note, it amused me that BUFDG is apparently pronounced Buffdog, and I can't get the image of a small dog out of my head now. And then today I found this which amused me even more.

Getting back to normal

So, things getting almost back to normal now after extended email outage.  All users have a service, and for a small number we're recovering some mail from our backups. But we have sent them a list of what mail should have been delivered to them which they seem to have found useful.  As in all such incidents, communication is vital. In this case we were without one of our major tools - email!  All internal customers were pointed to our service status web page which we updated frequently, and the stats of the hits on it showed that people were using it - from 10 hits on Monday, to 39,000 on Wednesday!

We had a link on our home page to an information page for external users, and also kept in touch with key departmental contacts by phone. In general our customers have been very understanding, and the number of complaints relatively small.

Next step is the incident review where we look at what went wrong technically and how we can minimise the risk of it happening again, and the process of managing the incident and what lessons we can learn.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Interesting times

The Chinese allegedly use the phrase "May you live in interesting times" as a curse.  Well, for many of us today, it has been an interesting time. After yesterday's disc failure, and subsequent filesystem rebuild failure, the infrastructure team had spent most of the night cloning the discs and repairing errors to start the rebuild again - we were all fairly confident that we would be able to have email up and running again mid morning. By just after 10am we were delivering mail again, and waiting until we had delivered the backlog before releasing it to users.  The unix team office was a bit like mission control as we all gathered to make sure it was stable, when we suffered another disc failure. You could have heard a pin drop. And a few expletives. And we ran out of biscuits. Luckily we could get more biscuits.

What followed was several hours of analysis, creative thinking, problem solving, phoning our email administrator who was on holiday in France who dropped everything to help remotely. Unfortunately the pressure is on very few people - most of us can offer support etc but we really rely on those with the technical ability to solve these problems.  I was feeling very out of the loop, as I had to leave at lunchtime to catch a train to Edinburgh for a UCISA meeting. My phone battery was running out, the power sockets in the carriage weren't working, and there was virtually no 3G signal! But, thank goodness for twitter and that 3 of the team doing the fixing were using it, so I just about kept in touch.

Eventually, by moving the much of the mail on to our new central filestore were were able to get a mail service up by mid afternoon for over 80% of users, with the rest being recovered and will be live tomorrow morning.

A huge thanks to everyone  - the infrastructure team who worked almost throughout the night (and are still working as I type this), to the incident management team, the communications team, the web team, the switchboard who handled the external calls, and the helpdesk staff who had to deal with many, many calls - over 800 yesterday afternoon alone.

When I arrived at my hotel, I was told I was staying in a converted asylum. Seemed rather appropriate somehow!