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!


Nick Skelton said...

Should you flood the halls of residence with Wifi? Yes, definitely. The rise of iPads and other wifi-only devices shows that now is the time to do it.

At Bristol we started pilots with Wifi throughout smaller residences two years ago. It has proved very popular with the students! They appreciate the flexibility and mobility, being able to connect in the kitchens, and being able to connect more than one device at a time in the bedrooms.

This summer vacation we've rolled out 802.11n Wifi across the residences in a big way, and now have Wifi across 40% of our 5000 study bedrooms. It will take another 3 or 4 years to finish the job (it's a large capital investment!) but I'm convinced it is worth it. It's simply the way things are going and it's what the students want.

Lee Stott said...


Well an interesting question of should you flood the halls of residence with Wifi?

I think there is a number of issues/reason/questions/issues to consider before committing a huge investment and potential support nightmare upon our staff resources and as result impact our customer expectations.

The rise of iPads and other WiFi devices shows that now is the time of WiFi or consumerisation of devices. But to WiFi enable residences is very much dependant upon on the following key factors.

1. The size of your estate for example at Manchester were support over 15000 users

2. The type of estate for example at Manchester our residential estate is over 18 1/2 square miles ranging from traditional halls which were built a few hundred years ago to modern state of the art residence.

3. Your service strategy/purpose - In regards to our service the strategy has to be to enable learning at Manchester we have seen the bandwidth and speed requirements of our user base grow and grow and now offer every resident a 100mb connection into the campus via Hornet our Halls of Residences Network Service

4. Your Support Framework, commitment or formal SLA on what you are, or NOT providing to your customers.

Like Nick in Bristol we started a number of years ago with Wifi throughout our residences social, bars, libraries, computer clusters and dedicated social hybrid learning spaces. These implementations have proven very popular with the students and the community of the residences. However they have been established with purpose i.e. we have created areas where students play games,xbox, PS3, Wii etc, learn, collaborate and interact and most importantly communicate face to face!

The customers appreciate the flexibility and mobility, being able to connect and more importantly be supported and have guaranteed connectivity in these areas and equipment to enhance there social and learning experiences.

So at this time when the majority of iPad, iPhones, smart devices come bundled with 3G I have to state that I am simply not convinced it is worth the investments to create high volume WiFi mesh networks over the residences campus especially when you consider the size of some campus areas. However connectivity or being connected is simply the way were all going and expecting as a part of every day life. So I am sure that the majority of students at all UK institutions have various connections means already available to them prior to arrival on pre paid or pay monthly contract.

Therefore I feel the key to our strategies and budgets should be targeted at offering services suitable to requirements to meet strategy drivers in developing services within residences which support not only the technology requirements of students but there physical and social well being.

A good question therefore is how many of you are engaging with Teleco's to ensure your residential and academic campus has sufficient cell masts to provide 3G coverage to your communities?

Nick Skelton said...

3G versus Wifi: I thought about this one very carefully before investing capital in an extensive Wifi deployment. Will the mobile phone networks overtake our campus wireless networks within a few years and make them obsolete or unnecessary?

I don't think so: the mobile networks are struggling with the demands already on them, imposing harsher usage caps, and with varying speeds which range from the low end of broadband down to almost dialup. 3G is not a good experience today for demanding network users, and it is getting worse. It's not going to get better quickly. The once-hyped Wimax is dead. 4G/LTE is still years away In the UK. I reckon we have 5 to 10 years where Wifi has an easy edge.

Matthew Cook said...

Some interesting comments, by the end of this year all 5,500 study bedrooms at Loughborough will be wifi enabled apart from two halls which are being re-furbished. We made this step as a direct result of feedback from our annual student survey where the students mentioned exactly the same issues. We are going to monitor the percentage use of wired vs wireless in halls with a view to perhaps suspending 'investment' on the wired hall infrastructure migrating it to a longer 7-8 year life cycle where it may then get removed completely. Our move to a single/primary SSID 'eduroam' with full 802.1X configuration will certainly help make this scalable. Of course the main campus and none student areas is a different strategy at the moment.

We had an interesting discussion on this topic at UCISA-NG, some case studies will be available within the next few months before Christmas.