Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Where the magic happens, and other stories

Had a meeting this week with some of the University's newly appointed  legal advisors to explain to them what we do, and explore where they might be able to help us. Obvious areas are Freedom of Information and Data Protection where we occasionally have to get legal advice, but also other areas such as information security, data export and copyright infringement. Good chance for us to explore some of the issues, and also talk about risk management in relation to legal issues.

We've also hosted a visit to the IC from colleagues from another University. Four years on it's still looking good and still impresses. I still love showing people round it. And it's still evolving. A creative media suite is about to open where staff and students can create and edit audio and video, make podcasts, record teaching materials etc. All set up in a user friendly way with presets for the camera angles etc. We're also setting up a skills suite where staff can drop in and consult experts in various digital media technologies for help and advice. I love the strap line on the door - "where the magic happens".  Let's hope it does :-)

Also had several meetings over the last couple of days about various capital projects, and how they might incorporate learning and teaching space. Some major refurbishments, and some new builds, and we need to make sure we gt the right sort of space in the right areas. Lots of exciting developments and the potential for some very innovative spaces.

Today has been spent mainly talking to suppliers. The first showing us a document management solution for creating efiles - single views of data collected from  variety of sources, especially scanned-in documents.

The second one of our long standing suppliers where we have a new account manager - but someone who used to be our account manger a few years ago for another product. So, some catching up and building relationships - always important to do.

Now I'm off for a long Easter weekend, so no blogging for a few days.  There's plenty of other good blogs to read - some of my favourites are in my side bar, but there's lots more. 

Friday, 15 April 2011

The importance of well designed underwear, and the rest of the conference

One of the sessions at the AMHEC conference was about communicating, especially in times of change. The basic principles of be open and honest, understand and know your audience, and make your point clearly were all illustrated, and also some good examples of how not to do it. Tell your audience what's in it for them, pick the right channel and medium, have a purpose to what you're saying, understand the message and get the right sentiment across sound like common sense, but some people get it disastrously wrong.

Everyone remembers the sacking of soldiers last Christmas by email - a clear case of choosing the wrong channel. My favourite was the UBS dress policy. UBS are a big swiss bank, who decided to update some policies, and in doing so came up with a 44 page dress code which contained such classics as:

"Underwear is among the most intimate parts of our clothing."
"Your underwear must not be visible through your clothes, or stand out."
"Your figure should not suffer from the way you wear your underwear.

The code quickly went viral, and had to be withdrawn and rewritten - a clear case of not understanding your audience!

Lots of good advice, including the importance of motivating staff and providing good leadership. Share everything, even what you don't know, stay connected and visible, and think of yourself as a marketeer in times of change.

Another session was on next generation learning environments, and focused on the importance of well designed spaces. The presenter was from Woods Bagot, and they'd done some nice work in Australia - the University of South Australia, and the University of Melbourne. Some innovative work, with many of the principles we used when designing the IC - a variety of learning environments, including those to support active learning and peer to peer learning. Lots of good stuff about the importance of healthy spaces - fresh air, ability to control temperature and light, and windows to maintain contact with the outside world. Of the three different sorts of space - learning-centred, student-centred and informal, the latter is growing in importance, and will soon overtake the other two in terms of student choice. It's the reason if you don't provide it, students will go the nearest Starbucks to sit in a relaxing, wifi enabled atmosphere!

The next session was by yours truly, and as I was speaking to a mainly non IT audience, concentrated on some of the challenges we face around user expectations, mobility, support and the place of social media in communication. I also concentrated on the need for IT departments to work in partnership with other departments, and for them to understand our challenges and work with us.  Seemed to go down well - but suppose only the audience can comment on that.

An enjoyable conference, and nice to be with a mixture of different professionals.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Admission review and litigious students

Spent yesterday afternoon at the first meeting of the UCAS admissions review steering group. UCAS, (which used to be UCCA, as it was when I went to university), is 50 years old. What's interesting, is the basic processes have barely changed in those years, yes it's gone from paper to online, but if you look at an admissions handbook from the sixties the same terms are there. Conditional offer, insurance offers etc. And yet the world has changed, and is continuing to change. In the sixties most applicants were male, 18, doing A levels, and intending to do a 3 year full time course. Now we have a much more diverse population, in terms of age, gender, education, type of study, social class, everything. This review is going to have a really in-depth look at the process and the service offered by UCAS, with the aim of coming up with a system offering a better experience to students and HEIs. One area which is ripe for review is the number of transactions which take place, many of them not leading to a place, so they are valueless.

Yesterday was the first meeting, but I'm looking forward to getting involved in the review. Whatever happens, there will be IT and system implications which we'll have to deal with.

After the meeting I had to travel to Chester for the Annual Conference of AMHEC, the Association of Managers in Higher Education where I'd been invited to speak. Unfortunately I'd missed the first day because of the review, but got there for the evening. It's an interesting association because it is made up of managers from different disciplines, HR, Finance, Estates seeming to be the main ones, but it's open to all. It's also 50 years old, so well established. It grew out of smaller, specialist colleges, but I understand anyone can join.

First session this morning was delivered by Eversheds, and was on Delivering to Promise. It covered the legal issues of making promises to students, and then not being able to deliver on them.
In the new fees world, student expectations and how we manage them are important. Can we say "you'll enjoy the course" for example? What if they don't? What if we specify contact hours, and don't deliver? What if they don't get a degree?

The student/ institution relationship is contractual, and there are many interesting legal issues and pitfalls. The contract is formed early on in the relationship, when the student accepts an offer of a place. Students are consumers and they can use consumer law. So, what we say is important. The contract can be oral as well as written, so what an academic says to a potential student on an open day could potentially be seen as part of a contract.
A contract has to be fair and reasonable, and can exclude some sort of liability and included the ability to change things.

Things to consider:
Set our the student's obligations clearly
Review all marketing material, information could be on web sites, in a prospectus, in open day literature. Check the information is accurate and promises are deliverable.
Consider ancillary contracts, eg with accommodation.
Consider disclaimers to exclude certain things
Make sure all the documents are consistent.

Some thought provoking stuff, all in the context of students becoming more likely to complain as higher fees are introduced. Will be interesting to see if that happens.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Business Continuity and Service Strategy

Yesterday had back to back meetings from 9 to 5, with a sandwich grabbed at my desk at lunchtime. Explains my very grubby keyboard and sticky iPad screen!

Started off with the Business Continuity Operations group which I chair, and we had a full agenda. Incidents that we've had over the past few months have generated a number of actions which are being worked through, as well as the various simulated exercises. Today we discussed the priorities for clearing snow across the campus. Pretty difficult to concentrate on that when the sun is shining! We're doing a lot of work on communications, for example looking at how we use SMS messaging to communicate between the Incident Management Team and with the wider body of staff and students. There's also a lot of debate about emergency contact details - how they're collected, stored, accessed and kept up to date. Pretty simple you might think, but it always seems to be an issue. So we're carrying out a process review to determine what we need to change. Lots of stuff going on looking at reciprocal arrangements with other bodies including the local hospitals, work on how we monitor alarms for fire, intruders, sensitive equipment and processes, and liasion with local emergency planning teams. My favourite part of the agenda is where we share details of incidents and near misses - which can be many and varied!

A big piece of work is the review of our Incident Plan, which is very thorough and is coming up with some major changes. As someone who's been an incident manager in the past although I'm not on the group, I do get a briefing on progress. Today looking at the different roles we've identified - from Duty Manager, to Incident Manager and Gold Liaison Officer. I've always wanted to be part of something called Gold Command.....  This is going to be one of those documents that you hope we never need, but we will, especially if the last year is anything to go by, and there'll be a big training exercise to be undertaken, as it's important that everyone understands exactly what there role is. During an incident you rarely have time to consult the manual!

The afternoon was taken up with our Service Strategy Board which is proving very useful for airing issues around projects and service changes, and for catching up on what's going on across the department. Today we discussed whether our DEV and QA systems should be subject to the same level of control that our production services are (in service management terms, change management etc), how we handle changes to our managed service, how we handle password resets and whether we should take part in World IPv6 day. I suggested we should declare it a bank holiday and have a street party, but that wasn't what was meant....

Some decisions taken about our Google implementation including which apps will be turned on and  looking at giving students accounts for life. We catch up on progress on all projects - some going well, and some slower than I would like, but there are risks to be managed which might be mitigated by delaying implementation if it means more testing can be done.

A very positive final item was our Innovations Space - a space in our collaboration system where people can discuss and suggest innovative projects, and those that look promising  are given the go ahead for some investigative work. Lots of lively discussion happening in the space, and two proposals given the go ahead today  for some work to see if they're feasible.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Lift to the Cloud

Last Friday I was in London at the HEFCE offices in Centrepoint for a Cloud Advisory Committee meeting. Not sure how I've managed it, but this was the first time I'd been to the HEFCE offices, and the first time I'd encountered a lift with no floor buttons inside. You get a visitor card, pre-programmed with the floor you're visiting, scan it through a reader, are told which lift to go to, get in it, and it takes you to your floor. Heaven knows what happens if you get in the wrong lift. Weird.

Anyway, the meeting. Probably more important than the lift. It was mainly concerned with progress on a suite of projects funded as part of the University Modernisation Fund. £12.5m has been allocated to the Shared Services and Cloud programme and it's being managed by the JISC, and overseen by the Advisory Committee. There's two strands - Shared IT Infrastructure and Shared Services for Administration. Good description of what both strands consist of is here, and in summary:

Shared IT Infrastructure
  • A broker service to help procure shared virtual server and data centre capacity
  • A core virtual server infrastructure (cloud)
  • Data Management Tools
  • HE Research data management applications to be deployed as SAAS (software as a service)
Shared Services for Administration
  • A specialist team to support HEIs in procuring and implementing admin applications
  • An Enterprise Service Bus (not sure what stops it will call at...) in the cloud linking particularly to student record systems
  • A shared Research Management and Administrative Application (RMAS)
  • A service to support electronic resource management
  • A service for the secure distribution of electronic documents
Progress reports received and discussed for all projects, and a communications plan received. Audiences for the comms plan is important - all of these projects will need senior level buy-in from VC, PVC and COO level, but as it was pointed out, will need support and promotion by us IT dept to make them actually work.

Exciting developments. Will keep you updated as news comes out.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

To blog and tweet, or not to blog and tweet......

Quietish blogging time at the moment - lots of time being spent doing stuff I can't write about, including some HR work and marking funding submissions.

I have had time though to take part in a few other interesting meetings this week. We've produced an updated Data Quality Policy for our corporate data which will hopefully be approved fairly soon.  In terms of quality we're looking at relevance, correctness, completeness and timeliness of the data in our systems, and we've put together a series of  aims and objectives, as well as examples of good practice supporting the quality of data. It will be published and available soon.

Changes to our change management system are about to be introduced, which will see a more active approach to approving changes instead of the more passive  "if we don't object you can do it" system we have at the moment. The CAB (change advisory board) will move from virtual to physical, at least for a trial period.

I've also had some discussions with other senior members of the department about communication, especially feeding back both during and after conferences, seminars, and other events.  I'm obviously a great believer in doing that using social media - the whole reason I set this blog up was to answer the question from my department, "what do you do?"  I felt it was particularly important to feedback on conference sessions, link to to relevant information and presentations,  say what I thought was interesting or relevant etc. With the advert of twitter and hashtags, you can now feedback during the conference itself, allowing people to keep up with events who aren't there, share important information, links etc.  I've followed a number of conferences recently from the hashtag. Some have many people tweeting, some much fewer. The most recent was the AHUA (Association of Heads of University Administration aka Registrars) Conference, thanks to the lone tweeting Registrar from Nottingham University, Paul Greatrix. Fascinating to see the things they were discussing, although I understood he got the mickey taken out of him by the rest, but as he said, leadership is hard!

So, there's been some discussion here about why the other members of the Exec, and indeed the rest of the section heads, don't do it, and whether they should. I have my own  view, obviously, and there have been others expressed, but if you have a view, then put it in the comments. Would be interested to know.