Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Patriot Act applies to cloud data in EU, shock horror.....

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about why concerns about privacy and security shouldn't be any more of a factor when looking at Google as a cloud provider than any other. One of the criticisms often leveled at them (and those of us who've put our services with them) is that they will not guarantee that our data is held in the EU, but that it is in the US as well. In that post, I said that the Patriot Act was a red herring. It  applies just as much to data held in the EU by US companies, but it's been quite difficult to convince people of this. I hope that this admission by Microsoft (which is about time - it's been well known for ages) that the Patriot Act applies to data held by them in the EU goes some way to getting it accepted!

Standardisation vs Diversity

As we sit and wait (and wait....) for the White Paper on Higher Education, I thought I'd write this to pass the time, and stop me reading the hilarious #HEWhitePaper tweets. Suspect I'm not going to be quite as amused by the real thing.....

This morning I briefed our University Executive Board on the work of the UUK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Force which I'm a member of. Gave them some context to the setting up of the group - the changing economic context, the pressure on finances, broader public sector developments (eg work of the Efficiency Reform group under Ian Watmore), increasing competition within tighter resouce contratints, and last but certainly not least, the belief in BIS that the University sector is really, and I mean really, inefficient.

So, the group has focused on effectiveness, quality and efficiency, and looked at evidence from a number of sources.  Evidence from the private and public sectors is that simplification and standardisation of processes is the most important starting point to achieving efficiency savings. The other important factor is understanding the cost of services - you need to know this to decide where to focus your activities and to know how much you're likely to save.  Then of course there is the level of  - and this is a word used in discssions within the group - mandation. This is a real word, but actually means to memorise a seech, not to mandate, which is the context in which it has been used. Anyway, that aside, its not a popular concept in Universities, but successful efficiency initiatives in all sectors tend to be characerised by defined and clear authority to make decisions, take responsibility for outcomes, and actually instigate - and make compulsory - change when required.

The group has also identified a lot of good practice in the sector - we just don't tell anyone about it.

So, the report will be out in a few weeks, and then we'll be looking at how and which bits we implement.  We've already got a lot of things underway or planned including business process review and improvements using LEAN, IT as a Shared Service and investment in cloud computing.

Interesting reception to my presentation by UEB. I think it's fair to say not all were convinced by the standardisation argument, suggesting that we are a diverse body and shouldn't be subject to it. Of course, I can't argue with us being diverse - we are, but I can argue, and will, that we need to standardise those processes that don't add value if we're going to have any hope of investing in those which do, which of course may be diverse. I can see no good reason why one department processes an invoice differently to another, but I can see why teaching, learning and research needs to be different.

I think there are some interesting discussions to come.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cloud Services for Education and Research - partners announced

HEFCE and JISC have today issued a press release giving more details of the UMF funding  which was announced last February.  It lists the partners involved, including some of the University projects which will be funded under the programme. I'm on the Steering Group, and it's been interesting watching this develop, and I'm pleased that we've got this far. Full text of the release is as follows:

Since announcing a £12.5 million fund in February that aims to help universities and colleges deliver better value for money by working together more effectively, HEFCE and JISC are now able to confirm the projects and partners appointed to deliver the two parts of this work: a national cloud infrastructure and supporting services.

JANET (UK) will deliver the national brokerage to aid procurement of cloud services between higher education institutions and commercial suppliers and Eduserv will provide a pilot cloud infrastructure for higher education institutions. Other partners include De Montfort, Exeter, Edinburgh, Kent, Liverpool John Moores, Oxford, Leicester, Southampton and Sunderland universities (see  below).

So that colleges and universities can gain the most benefit from this new cloud-based infrastructure, four new services will be developed to drive its adoption:

• A new specialist team set up by JISC Advance to provide support for procuring and implementing administrative systems and services.
•  A shared service to help universities manage the administration of their research operations, from research proposal through to project completion.
• A service to support the secure distribution of graduation documents and transcripts for the benefit of students and prospective employers.
• A service to support libraries in the administration of their electronic resources, which will include the management of their licensing and subscription of electronic journals.

David Sweeney, HEFCE Director – Research, Innovation and Skills, explains the value this suite of work will have once complete, "In the current economic climate all education organisations are looking for further ways to work together, share resources and reduce costs. This programme of work will provide data management and storage services, plus a suite of tools to help universities and colleges, researchers and administrators work more effectively across the research management lifecycle. This will reduce duplication and increase the efficiency of administrative and research processes."

David Utting JISC Director Service Relationships commented, "Cloud-based services have the potential to bring enormous efficiencies and benefits to higher education institutions and we look forward to working with them to realise these. But we acknowledge that it is vital to demonstrate to users the security and robustness of working in an education and research cloud.
"There have been a number of high-profile issues with data being stored in public clouds, which is why we are working with JANET (UK) to deliver a private higher education cloud to ensure universities can trust that their information and data will be secure."

For further information visit here.

1. This £12.5 million is part of the University Modernisation Fund. For further information see ‘Shared services in cloud computing to be funded by HEFCE’

2. Who is involved?
The University of Exeter will lead the Research Management and Administration System (RMAS) work between the universities of Exeter, Kent, and Sunderland to procure, develop and implement a cloud-based research management and administration system based on a need identified by earlier feasibility studies funded by HEFCE.

De Montfort University is developing an enterprise service bus (ESB) solution to demonstrate interoperability between local and cloud systems for shared administrative applications, starting with RMAS.

JISC Collections will manage the electronic resource management support service which builds on work by JISC and the Society of College National and University Libraries (SCONUL).

The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) at University of Edinburgh will develop data management tools and training capability. This will support the production and implementation of data management plans for universities and their researchers to preserve data for sharing, re-use and citation.

A consortium led by Liverpool John Moores University will develop the secure document service. (NB - we're part of this consortium)

Four projects will produce software applications which can be delivered as a service from the cloud. They will support researchers with their work and data management. These are:

• Leicester University is providing support for joint NHS and university research teams working with tissue samples and anonymised patient data.
• The University of Oxford is providing a database to a wide range of researchers in the arts, humanities and other disciplines. Oxford will also provide an integrated set of tools to manage data within Life Sciences and other similar research projects. This will make it easier to submit data for longer-term storage in an appropriate standards compliant data repository.
• The University of Southampton is providing electronic lab data management and collaborations tools.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Meetings, meetings....

Today I was in back to back meetings for almost 7 hours - tiring, but all of the meetings were good, so it could have been worse! First off was Service Strategy Board - we look at a monthly report from every Service Manager, including reports from our Service Advisory Groups which have just started meeting. So far we've had meetings of the Teaching and Learning Group, and Research and Innovation. We also look at progress of all of our projects, and discuss proposals for new ones. Main items of discussion today included how we take forward our mobile strategy, and particularly how we continue to develop our mobile app, CampusM. It's important that we do to stay ahead of the game, and we're looking at adding functionality to it.  We also talked about desktop video conferencing and the different packages people are using, and whether we should standardise on one centrally supported one.  New projects approved included implementing a text messaging service for students and staff for incidents, and implementing HEAR  -  the Higher Education Achievement Report.   I'm pleased that we're part of a consortium led by Liverpool John Moores University to have been awarded funding under the HEFCE/JISC Cloud and Services for Education programme to develop the secure document service for the HEAR project.  We also looking at how we were approaching Business Process Review, and I'm hoping that we will soon be implementing LEAN, and the tow pilot processes we will be looking at are Programme Regulations Maintenance and Computer Account Registration.

Next up was the Section heads meeting - the Exec join them for every other meeting - and on the agenda today was a discussion on Investors in People. We already have the standard, and we're being reassessed later this year, so need to make sure that all of the good practice is still embedded.  We also talked about the scenario planning the Exec did on our last awayday. In a nutshell, we looked at trends and drivers that will shape the Higher Education Sector, the university and the department over the next 5 to 7 years. Then we imagined what the future might look like if you push these to extremes and produced a number of different "worlds". The most important bit is then looking at how we might have to change to deal with these scenarios. Its a strategic planning tool to produce flexible, long term plans. JISC have produced a good toolkit for it here.  It's something we'll be taking forward over the summer with the senior managers in the department.

This was quickly followed by a Business Continuity Meeting where we were looking at plans and policies for incidents which involved possible occupation of University buildings. Final meeting was Senate, where a new Learning and Teaching Strategy was approved. Lots of innovative ideas, and plans for some changes in the way the University teaches.

There was also a very good presentation at Senate of some of the highlights of the year, which I'll try and summarise tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

iPod magic

I like clever things, and as I haven't had time to blog today, nor done anything worth blogging about - too much reading and commenting on reports, catching up on stuff, I'll share this with you.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Innovative IT at the Open Day

Last Saturday was a University Open Day, and we’re always looking at innovative ways to engage with prospective students and get them to interact with our services. This time we made a mobile web page, which we had running on iPads and displayed on a plasma screen, and an Asus tablet for students to handle.  We had bookmarks to Google Mail, and our portal and virtual learning environment so we could show them how good our online experience is! The interaction with the Asus tablet and iPad really helped to get our services across to the visitors.

We also had qr coded business cards that linked to the University Facebook page and our open day page - allowing them to leave feedback or ask a question they had forgotten.

The plasma screens in the Information Commons were also utilised, with a welcome playlist for the visitors using a variety of  material  including the video capture shots of the IC being constructed.

All in all a good day, and I’m told it was great to be able to put technology in people's hands and actually show it - rather than just dryly talking around the subject.

Thanks to everyone who helped at the day, and especially Pete who did most of the technical work.

Friday, 17 June 2011

EUNIS round up

Interesting presentation yesterday from Campus IT, called from Zero to Live in 4 weeks.

They developed a postgraduate application system for the Dublin Institute of Technology, with a very tight time frame for implementation of less than 6 weeks.
The process consisted of a downloadable form which was printed, filled in, posted with attachments. No validation, lots of missing information. Long slow process, and during it applicants were lost. 5 staff working on it. Needed quicker system, more user friendly and tailored, collecting better data.

The IT department had no spare resources, and coupled with the tight deadline, so went for hosted system which is in the Amazon cloud. The system was developed quickly, and a prototype produced in weeks which was tested on academics, who had to apply for own course, then deal with application, and reject it. This produced a list of change requests. Because the system is configurable by business users, not developers, the 5 staff in admissions office made changes in a few days.

System ready in 4 weeks. End users continuously improving it, changing questions, messages, workflows etc. Put onto web in 6 hours, on every course screen. Not integrated with student system, but could be future development.

Good example of rapid development and deployment, and interesting that it's hosted in a public cloud.

This morning we heard from John Dyer from Terena on how national research networks can serve the community. Terena is 25 years old, and is the association of research networks of Europe. Some interesting facts about networks including our own JANET which when it was formed in 1983 it had a 9.6kbps backbone! Now it's 100 Gbps, which is a millionfold increase. Good presentation on issues facing networks, including federated access, cloud, and security and privacy issues. Also the data deluge, the massive amounts of data being produced by research projects.

Final presentation from the conference was William Florance from Google Apps, on Consumerisation, Commoditisation,Cloud and the limits of the new normal. The Cloud is not a passing trend, it's here to stay. It matters to education, and there are risks, but they are addressable.

Lots of trends linked to cloud including consumerisation, bring your own technology, commoditisation. Email now heavily commoditised.
Why does cloud matter? If you don't embrace it, you'll miss the opportunity to innovate. Don't know what the future is, but there are clues. Students are in a totally digital world, don't know the analogue one.

Interesting hypothesis that in the end the amount of information we ingest will inevitable move to zero, (think thesis report, memo, email, twitter.....).
But, the capacity for the average user to access the information they they desire is limitless, the limit of depth goes to infinity.
Information wants to be free. The limit of price, at least in education, goes to zero. Think MIT course materials on line, and the Khan Academy.(60million lessons watched around the world, you tube videos, and an environment built on google apps).

Don't waste valuable resources on things that are commoditised.

The limit of privacy will be one of most difficult to solve. The risks of cloud computing are fundamentally no different than the risks with any other industry commoditisation. You need to Trust, but verify, look for clearly articulated privacy policies and a history and pattern of security.

Good final presentation and end to the conference. Slightly surreal this morning, as I was in a pub at 8am, before the sessions started, watching a guitarist break the world record for continuous playing. We've been watching him most evenings, and some early mornings. He played for 114 hours non stop, and when he reached the record everyone was sprayed with champagne, so I came into the conference sessions slightly damp and smelling of alcohol! And I had resisted the temptation to have a pint of Guinness for breakfast and stuck to coffee. Will probably write something and share some photos and videos on other blog.

Edit:  Here they are.

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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Five Factors and IT Downtime

Yesterday afternoon's plenary session had Tim Marshall, CEO of JANET talking about his five factors for achieving the impossible! Briefly they are: Know your Business
Know your Numbers
Strive to be Trusted
Empower the Team
Look over the Horizon

And you can read more about them here.

Entertaining talk as always, and it led very nicely into the next one, which was me talking about challenges facing IT Directors. I covered the consumerisation of IT, mobility, user expectations, data, infrastructure and carbon footprint, amongst others. All of the talks will eventually be on line as podcasts, so I'll link to them when available. I'd particularly recommend you watch Tim's.

One of the pieces of work that UCISA has recently completed looked at the cost of IT Downtime, and Peter Tinson presented on it this morning. It was carried out for two reasons. First, there was a lot of money being spent in Universities on making business systems resilient, but without really understanding the costs and benefits. Also, some Universities were taking out insurance against disaster at certain times of year, for example the middle of August. But, the cost of damages they were insuring against was unknown. The aim of the project was to produce formulae to calculate the business cost of IT downtime for given scenarios. The project surveyed institutions, and found that 75% had experienced some failure, ( and the other 25% were probably lying), and 40% had Lost a service for more than a day. The main reason was power failure, by a long way. The second was systems or programming error, human error. Risks that were identified included power, shortage of skilled staff, inadequate infrastructure, and security or DoS attacks.

The project held focus groups with staff from all areas of the Universities in the study, and looked at different scenarios and impacts, including loss of income, increased costs, liabilities etc. There's also intangible costs such as reputational damage.

Peter has some experience of dealing with this, as he was IT Director at City University when they had a fire which destroyed part of a building. The headline in the newspaper that night was City University destroyed by Fire. As Peter read that headline whilst he was sitting in his office, it was patently not true.

The project came up with a number of different scenarios and methods of calculating impact. The finished report can be found here.

EDIT  The podcasts of most of the talks at EUNIS are now up - they can be found here. Mine is called challenges are what make life interesting and Tim's is the difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The FEAST Report

Next session was an overview of the FEAST report, an overview of the adoption of shared services and cloud computing in universities which was funded by JISC.

HE is just too expensive for most economies, especially as an increasing percentage of the population attend University. In the end, the customer pays, either though fees or taxation.
Administrative overheads must be cut, putting more emphasis on front facing services. Why do we compete on services that give no competitive advantage eg payroll?
The transformation of the IT environment requires greater agility than we currently have. The world is changing rapidly!

Government in UK believes that efficiencies will come in back office services through sharing, pooling or outsourcing. They believe we have too much money, we can afford to run 160 payroll systems, data centres etc.

We have an excellent record in shared services eg purchasing consortia, JANET, UCAS. However the sector has been set up to compete with each other. We all want the best students and the best staff.

The report is aimed and written for VCs, Finance directors etc. High level. Intended as a report to be utilised rather than stand alone.

You would expect back office systems would be expensive in small institutions, and cheaper in big ones. Yet, this isn't seen.
Expenditure often based on legacy, not cost justification. Also institutions have no understanding of their back office costs. Know cost of IT systems, but not processes, eg how much does it cost to register a student.

Full report is concerned with emerging technologies with a focus on innovation to support flexible service delivery. The report contains a number of vignettes of shared services, and 6 in depth case studies. Eg University of Canberra have outsourced a lot of administrative systems and processes, with significant cost savings, and an increase in user satisfaction. Major process change took place. Kings College have outsourced a number of services including email and the desktop. The case study highlights a number of successes, but also the people and contractual issues.

Also includes a study of the STEP-F project which looked at the implementation of SOA projects across institutions though the use of an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). Very rapid deployment of cloud based applications calling data from different student systems have already been demonstrated.

Message is that the pace of change is being driven by an accelerating provision of technologies and end user expectations. New paradigms are rapidly gaining maturity and institutions should prepare for the adoption of many. As IT depts we need to move away from technology and concentrate on processes and people. The obstacle to shared services is not technology, it's culture and people issues.

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Business as Usual?

Second session is from Keri Facer, Professor of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University and is on Challenges Facing Education. She promises us Zombies by the end of the talk!

The ideas that we hold about the future are critically important to education. We have an educational contract. We say that if we invest in education now, the student and society will be better in the future. But, is this contract breaking down? Questions are being asked. Students work to borrow money to get them through Higher Education, and to get jobs after graduation which are similar to those they get whilst studying.

Do we take "the future" seriously enough in education? We haven't got time, conning on issues of today. Also we use cycles a lot, if it happened in the past we assume it will happen again in the future. Often ideas are highly tokenistic and rhetorical. Also the future is very technologically determined.

Problems of this approach: radically disempowering, vulnerable to fads and gurus, lack of awareness of special interests, no accountability to future generations.

So, what should we be doing? We should understand the range of discussions already going on about the future, think about how education could respond to those discussions, and intervene in the futures that are being imagined.

Project looking at possible scenarios, beyond current horizons, is here.

Technology futures we know will happen are:
Constant connectivity, to people, to systems, to networks and processing power
Culture of accountability and security, coupled with increase of storage capacity, leading to massive data sets. easier to keep everything, then use search
Merging of digital and physical, the Internet of things, pervasive and augmented realty, prosthetics.

In the longer term:
Working and living with the machines, automation, access to NHLI and processing power
The rise of Biotech, the biotechnical in education, cognitive enhancement, genome maps. Personal genomes, bespoke medicine, cosmetic pharmacology. How will this interact with social and cultural norms? Cognitive enhancement?

How will Universities cope with bioethical diversity? How are we responding today to the connected learner? How are we enabling students to work with their own data?

Knowledge futures:
Collective intelligence or the global brain. Developing a student who knows how their knowledge fits with the knowledge of others.
Embodied knowledge, modelling and the reconnection of mind and body, academic and vocational knowledge
Dangerous knowledge. Biotechnical knowledge, eg posting genome of flu virus on Internet. Interconnected systems and interdependencies of systems eg financial ones. Recently biggest crash on stock Market, billions wiped off, then it came back. No-one know how it happened.

Demographic futures:
By 2035, 50% of population of wester Europe will be aged over 50 with a further 40 year life expectancy. Competition for public resources, eg pensions at expense of education. Raising working age when lot of youth unemployment.
Intergenerational conflict?
Radical longevity argument. If we get through next few years, will be able to live to 500. Raises interesting questions about lifelong learning.

Are we moving into a high skills, low wages culture?
Radical casualisation of middle class roles ie secure professional roles. Growth of crowdsourcing, freelance, amateur, volunteer effort.

More radical future scenarios.
Energy shocks and constraints interacting with climate disruption causing breakdown? We don't know how oil is going to run out. Don't know how temperature changes will effect society.

What sort of education helps students deal with the futures outlines above?

Technological, demographic, knowledge, economic and environmental changes mean that we cannot count on a business as usual future.

How can we radically reimagine Universities?

Need to remember that playfulness, trying out different approaches has to be part of this conversation. Here come the Zombies! Several hundred gamers in Bristol playing zombies on the street. Video. Maybe we should adopt this sort of creative gameplay to imagine the future and how to deal with it?

Be creative! Move aware from future proofing the university. Recognise that we can't control the future, but we can work together to nudge it in the direction we want.

Be optimistic and imaginative.

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EUNIS begins

First plenary session at EUNIS is from Patrick Cunningham, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Irish Government, and is about Investing in the Knowledge Economy.

Ireland has a statement of policy that it will by 2013 be internationally renowned for the excellence of its research and will be to the forefront in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress, ie investment is part of economic and social policy. Up to 2007 invested in
Institutes of Technology across the country offering range of courses, including degree and PhD. Also large investment in R and D. But, then in 2008, recession hit. Rate of growth dropped, and public investment in R and D decreased.

Public investment in science and technology has to have outputs. Has to be new knowledge. Look to published literature for evidence first of quantity, and then citations for quality. Both are still increasing in Ireland. Also benchmarked their Universities against similar UK and European ones, TCD and UCD both doing well.

Benefits of R and D investment by private and public sector include new patents, improved processes, products and services, leading to benefit to society in terms of employment, health and quality of life. Goal is economic and social. Wealth creation is important. Natural wealth, created wealth and intellectual capital all contribute to a nation's wealth. In Ireland, natural wealth is 3%, produced is 14%, human and social wealth is 83%.

What should be goals for investment in society? GDP is one measure of how successful a country is. Can also use human development index which uses health and education measures, is a strong correlation with GDP. Satisfaction with life index, still a high correlation with GDP. But, don't just need R and D investment to improve quality of life, are social and political factors as well.

Innovation scoreboard ( a combination of many metrics) for EU shows leading group to be Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. UK and Ireland in next group ( the followers).

Challenges in getting into leading group include monitoring delivery against correct indicators, effective linkages to business sectors, and keeping on track in investment terms with leading countries.

Interesting tweet during the talk " Unis add £1.31 billion a year in value to UK society Reminder why Govts should invest "

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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

In Dublin's fair city......

I'm in Dublin at the moment for the EUNIS annual conference  - the European Universities Information Systems organistions.   I've been asked to be a plenary speaker, and I'll be speaking tomorrow afternoon on Challenges are what make life interesting. Will be blogging some of the sessions from tomorrow morning, trying to get them up as fast as possible, so apologies as they'll be in note form. Was a bit surprised when I registered to be asked to sign a disclaimer from the University where the conference is being hosted giving them the right to record my presentation, and use it in various ways, such as on their iTunesU and YouTube Channels, and to reproduce, distribute, and publicly display it in any medium, in part or whole.  Lots of other legal stuff in it about releasing the HEI from claims in law that I might have out of the recording.  I signed it, reluctantly, because I was surprised by it.  Am I right to be a bit concerned about it? This isn't even the organisers, just the University hosting the conference.  Will ask around and see what others think, but would be interested in comments.

But, forgetting that,  should be a good conference. Lots of attendees, from many different countries, and Dublin is a cracking place.  I've had time to sample the Guinness already  - something I never drink in the UK - and am always amazed how different it seems to taste over here!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Print and Design Solutions launched

One of the problems with being away from the office so much is that I miss some local events. Last week while I was in London our Print Service had an open day to launch their new name and brand. They are now Print and Design Solutions, putting more emphasis on the different services they provide. They have a new web site showcasing the range of services they offer - these include print and design consultancy, events and promotional material, document production and binding and creative design for electronic publications. They also do some really nice things with digital photos - huge posters, float frames, canvas prints and fabric prints. Great for presents or brightening up your office!  The open day was a great success, and thanks to everyone involved.

Google CAB round up

So, the Google CAB yesterday wasn't just about security and privacy. We looked at the roadmap for Google apps, and at some exciting new developments - which I could tell you about, but then I'd have to kill you.

We also had an interesting session on Chrome OS, and Chromebooks, which are optimised for the web, and in fact only have a browser on them. Google's pitch is that they're easier to manage, more secure, have a lower TCO and make for more productive users. They're very quick to load - about 2 secs from sleep -  and have 8 to 10 hours of battery life. Although we didn't get to play with one (they won't be in the UK till later this month), we were told they feel like a tablet. So, one question for Google might be - is there going to be a Chrome OS tablet?

They're secure, in that every app runs in its own sandbox, the OS is separate to the browser, local data is encrypted, and they only boot to a verified OS.

They can also be easily shared, as once you log in to the browser, it's your machine. I could see a really good case for using them as loan machines for students in places like the Information Commons and teaching labs. Or even coffee bars, the Student Union? We'll be getting hold of a few for a trial as soon as they come out.

The final presentation was probably the best. It was from ESSEC,  a French Business School with campuses near Paris and in Singapore. They have embraced Google apps in a big way. They describe it as an ecosystem - they have no VLE, doing everything in apps, and they don't develop anymore but instead look for solutions to problems which are publicly available, for example in the Google market place.

They make extensive use of Google Sites to produce learning materials, and more than 70% of courses currently have a site. They also provide life-long access to course documents to alumni.

There's a nice site here with information about how to use apps. Hopefully this will be a Google case study soon. We saw a good video, which Jean-Pierre and Benjamin who were at the CAB star in, but I can't find a subtitled version on YouTube. So, for those of you who speak French, it's here:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Google security and privacy myth busting

Have had a great day at Google CAB. Some of it was under NDA (non disclosure agreement), but there was a lot I can report on.  This first post is going to concentrate on a topic that I think is really important - and much misunderstood. Security and privacy. It's the main topic of discussion when we tell people we've gone Google.

Let's start with data centre security. The scale of Google's operation is that they can afford to spend much more on security than we can. In fact, they can afford to spend more on security than most governments. They use biometrics including retinal scanning and thermographics for access control, their data centre hardware is built by them, and they completely destroy decommissioned discs by overwriting the data, crushing them, shredding them, and then recycling the materials. Their infrastructure is built with failure in mind, they have multiple connections from different providers to the internet, and all of their data centres can run independently to the power grid. There's an excellent video about their data centres here:

In terms of security of the data, they employ a full time team of security experts including cryptographers, specialists in application security, expert hackers. They have automated intruder detection and repulsion systems - and much more that they weren't prepared to share with us, understandably.

I can assure all of our users, your data is much more secure with Google than with us.

But what about privacy I hear you say -  the Patriot Act means the US government can intercept and read your data, Google doesn't know where your data is, it's illegal to export our research data, data protection means we can't do this, it's OK for students but not staff - I could go on and on quoting the many things people have said to me. And they're all wrong!

So, lets bust some myths:
Google is the data processor, we are the data owners. They do not own our data.
Our data is stored in data centres in Europe and the US, where there is confidence in the policies of the countries where these are located - it is not stored all over the world.
All of our data is protected by Safe Harbor, which is fully compliant with the EU Data Processing Directive, and the UK Data Protection Act.
Moving to Google Apps does not increase our exposure to export controls (important in terms of research data).
The Patriot Act is a red herring. Exactly the same laws exist in the UK, but they aren't run through the courts. In the US there is a judicial process, here there isn't.

There's a number of reasons why you might chose not to go with Google, but concerns about security and privacy shouldn't be part of them. Trust me. I'm not that stupid. Neither are they!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Google CAB

Today I've come down to the Google CAB,(Customer Advisory Board) at Google HQ in London. This is a good opportunity to act as advisers to them and have a two way conversation. There's about 400,000 plus students represented at here at CAB, so its quite a big audience.

So far we've met Android, (the green fluffy thing above), seen few android tablets, and listened to a presentation on android and seen a demo of some apps. Tomorrow is the real meaty stuff.

The presentation on Android focused on it being a complete technology stack, open source and free.
There was a lot of focus on numbers, and it cant be denied that Android is the most popular mobile platform at the moment. There's c310 different android devices available, and c100 million devices activated. They plugged a number of things - it provides powerful browsing including flash, it is highly personalisable, it handles true multitasking, and there's a wealth of apps - about 200,000 at the moment.

It all leverages the power of the cloud, and allows you to access your google account across devices and platforms.

We saw a few demos including Google translate, Honeycomb which is their multitasking service, and the touchscreen control, which looked remarkably like gestures on iOS. We also saw some apps, including Google body which is like Google earth but for the body!

There's some great stuff, but the only worry I expressed, was that they made it clear that they're optimising some apps to work much better on Android than on other OS. I hope they don't do that for the apps suite we use. One of the reasons we chose Google was they didn't have an operating system at the time, so we knew they would be optimising their products to work on any browser or OS. We'll be pushing for them to continue that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 3 June 2011

Clouds, and the Internet of Things

Yesterday I was at the HEFCE  Cloud Advisory Committee, where we oversee progress on the workstreams that came out of the £12.5m from the University Modernisation Fund for Cloud Computing. Most going well, some slippage but being caught up, and there's some exciting developments which I 'm sure will benefit all of us in the sector. Hopefully there'll be a comprehensive news release and web page available in the next week which I'll be sure to link to which will give you more information.

Today has been an interesting day today. Two of our Unions were taking industrial action, so there was some organising and planning to do to make sure all services were covered, and I had an interesting "Back to the Floor" time when I worked on our main reception desk to help cover lunchbreaks. Luckily it was quiet, and nothing too difficult came up. It was good - nice to meet our customers. Interestingly not a single student who came in knew anything at all about the action - despite having been sent an email about it. More proof, if we needed any, that students don't read University emails often.

Today I tried to settle down to write a presentation I'm giving at EUNIS in a couple of weeks. It's so long ago since I agreed to do it that I had to look at the web site to see what title I'd submitted. Luckily its one I've got plenty of content for - Challenges Are What Make Life Interesting. Trouble is, I've got more challenges than I can fit in a 30 minute talk!  One of the biggest challenges facing us is the consumerisation of IT, and I read an interesting blog post about it yesterday from Brian Madden which sums it up well - The consumerisation of IT is about the fact that today's users can do whatever they want, and you in IT can't stop them even if you wanted to.  He calls it FUIT, and if you're interested you can read why in the post.  I'm looking forward to reading his next post where's he's going to give us some tips on how to deal with it.

The other topic I like to cover in these talks, especially for non IT people, is the Internet of Things. The  way everything is becoming connected to the internet. The fridge that will text you to tell you you've run out of milk, the washing machine that knows when it's broken down, alerts an engineer and orders the right part, smart buildings, the digital wine rack, (I don't keep wine long enough to need one) - the list goes on and on - the BBC had a good article on it today. Interesting stuff, and could lead to all sorts of applications and developments.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Too much information

I spend a lot of time on trains, usually catching up on the papers for the meeting I'm going to, reading reports, writing presentations (often ones I'm on my way to give), and very occasionally trying to get 3 stars on an Angry Birds level. On Tuesday I read an interesting article in The Independent on information, and how we handle it. Entitled Too Much Information, it looked at one of the most commonly moaned about subjects today, Information Overload, and whether it really exists, or is down to "filter failure", or even our feeling that we have to read and consume everything. Definitely worth a read, and it got me thinking.

I hear a lot about Information Overload, but it's not something I've ever noticed. I love information, I have about 30 blogs either bookmarked or on RSS feeds, follow 330 people on Twitter, read a couple of on-line newspapers, keep up to date with Facebook, and occasionally read a real book, you know, one that uses that funny stuff, paper. But, I accept that not everyone is like me. Thank goodness some of you are probably saying. With her blogs, incessant twittering etc she's merely contributing to that information overload.

The article that started me on this post talks about filter failure. We expect and want information to be tailored to us, to be what we want to hear about and read, and nothing else. That's why google have so many algorithms in their search engines, why we use lists and filters on twitter. When some of us get something we don't want we call it spam. Like the staff in this organisation ( a University for heavens sake) who get the odd email inviting them to a seminar they don't want to go to. No matter that our email system can't possibly know who is and who isn't interested in Medieval Genetics, they expect it to. But if everything is filtered and tailored to the nth degree, what happens to serendipity? I delete most seminar and lecture invites (hitting that delete key takes a fraction of a section you know), but just occasionally something leaps out at me, like a recent lecture on Probability and Chance which I went to on the off chance, and thoroughly enjoyed.

Time is another often quoted factor in the information overload debate. I haven't got time to read everything. Well, I don't think you have to read everything. You have to know what you want to read, and prioritise. Someone in this department told me the other day that they didn't have time to read this blog. Now, I don't mind if people tell me they don't want to read it, or they're not interested in it (although woe betide them if they then tell me they don't know what's going on....), but no time? An RSS feed tells you when it's been updated, and at most it takes about 20 seconds to scan the post, and about 2/3 minutes to read, let's be generous and say 5 mins in total. It's not about time, it's about priorities. I've used this blog as an example, but it could be anything.

So, don't moan about information overload, it's here to stay. There's a nice quote in the article about Gutenberg putting the fear of God into scholars in the 15th century when they were suddenly confronted with a choice of books to read. Use filters if you need to and can, ignore what you're not interested in, don't feel you need to read everything, but prioritise what you want to and embrace serendipity.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

IT and Efficiency

Yesterday's meeting on modernisation and efficiency in Universities and the role that IT and IT departments can play was very productive. I was with Peter Tinson from UCISA to input into the Universities UK review, and the report that they will publish soon. A number of areas are being looked at in depth including Procurement and  Estates & Facilities, as well as more generic process and organisational issues.

We discussed a number of areas, and concluded that IT departments in general have a good understanding of the area and the issues involved, and are positioned well to take a lead. We have a history  of collaboration and sharing, and some of the best used and most cost effective shared services are in our area including JANET. Skills found in IT departments are not just technical, but are transferable to many other areas including project management, benefits realisation, business process review & analysis and service management. Many of these skills are already being spread from IT departments across the University.

Recent developments over the last few years include the setting up of special process review sections, including LEAN Units, and the development of more shared services including the NORMAN out of hours helpline and the Shared Information Security Service, ESISS. Improvements in the way services are delivered to staff and students have included self-service, web based transactions and paperless processes. Printing has been reduced, and managed staff print systems have meant that where printing has to happen it's done in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way.

In many cases the driver for these changes has not been cost savings, but a better quality of service. Where staff time has been saved this is usually directed to supporting services which add value such as learning and teaching and research. This has been a particular driver for outsourcing projects, such as the move of many of our services to a free provider such as Google. Other drivers for outsourcing include lack of skills in house,  the provision of 24/7 cover, and the transfer of risk.

Organisational and structural changes  have brought efficiencies, particularly the bringing together of local and central IT support staff. An improved level of service, efficiencies in procurement, space utilisation and economies of scale have been achieved in many places.

We managed to provide a really comprehensive list of how IT has driven some real efficiencies, and it is particularly galling to know that it is still the view in government that nothing is happening in the sector.  We need to celebrate and publicise our successes more.

Of course there are some barriers which have to be overcome including more standardisation within our institutions so that we can start sharing more services and processes, a recognition that some efficiency projects will need some initial investment, and last but certainly not least, a change in culture!

EDIT:  When I wrote this early this morning, I hadn't realised that Peter Tinson had written an excellent report of the same meeting, or I could have just linked to his post here.  :-)