Friday, 30 September 2011

Quick round up

Just a quick round up of things before I go off for a week.  Lots of meetings this week - and lots of sunshine - can't believe how hot it is, and how much time I've spent inside!

We've had a section heads meeting where we talked about training plans and how we handle them, and how we take forward some scenario planning we've started doing.

I've also been in a couple of meetings discussing plans for an exciting new capital project we're going to be involved in.

A whole day helping colleagues at another University interview for a senior post.

Sorry for short post, and lack of them this week, but I think I probably made up for that last week.

See you soon!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The students are back

Some pictures for you today. First is the queue into our Sports Halls at some points last week in Fresher's Week during the very intensive testing of our new systems for registering  students. Not bad after last year where we had multiple problems with some fairly big queues of a couple of hours just to get in. Much improved this year, some teething problems, but great teamwork both within CiCS and with our colleagues in Student Services. A much better experience for all concerned. 

And it's great to see the students back. Lots of activity across campus, including the activity fairs to get the new students into all of the societies - the place is really buzzing. Even nine o'clock lectures have been busy this week.

We've been busy putting in place lots of new stuff, including refurbished teaching space,  new PCs in the IC, and some new services. This is one of my favourites - a floor plan of the IC showing exactly which PCs are free and which one's aren't, rather than just numbers. Cool.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Crowdsourced innovation

Last session was from the Head of Innovation at the Department of Work and Pensions.Some facts and figures about them:
20m customers
14m payments a week
1m job searches a day
100k staff
7 people in the innovation team!

One of the mistakes they made in the beginning was to focus on a few big things in the hope that they would get some big wins. But, many innovation projects fail, and if all of your eggs are in a few baskets, there is nothing to show. The whole point of innovation is that it's risky. In an organisation the size of DWP you need lots of ideas to make a difference  - 7 people can't do it.

3 great myths about public sector innovation:
We don't have the time
We don't have the resource
We don't have the culture

So, in order to address them, particularly the last in the hope that it would solve the first two a number of initiatives were considered. First was reward - make everyone submit an idea as part of their review process, but that would provide only quantity, not quantity, and would not be popular. Social mechanisms are very important and have to be considered as part of any strategy. He illustrated this with a clip from a TED talk by Clay Shirky about nurseries who introduced fines for parents who were late picking their kids up. It's here, about 6.50 mins in.

If you want people to be generous think of the social mechanisms you can apply, and your peers are very important. Crowdsourcing was considered, and he gave a really good example of a this in Ushahidi, which is a crowd sourced crisis monitoring tool, provided by volunteers.

Most of us know that wikipedia is the worlds largest wiki, but how many know that the second largest is the World of Warcraft wiki?  So, they looked at Game Dynamics - a good talk on it here, worth a watch, and look at the guys job title.....

They decided to use game theory combined with social activity to motivate individuals to contribute to innovation.
They invented Idea Street, where the objective of the game is to get your idea implemented by completing a series of tasks.
First phase is the buzz phase where you have to get people commenting on your idea, talking about it and people come up with lots of innovative ideas to get people interested
Second phase is the  team phase where you recruit team members to help you build an idea into a fundable proposition
Third phase is the investment phase where you answer the questions can we do it, should we do it, when can we do it
There is trading in virtual currency, and you can offer people virtual shares to be a team member. You earn currency by activity like having ideas, refer a friend, commenting. The share price fluctuates during investment phase and at the end of the investment phase if successful, goes to 100 and everyone gets a share.If not, crashes to 0 and everyone loses share.

Since its launch in 2009, they've developed a network of 10,000 innovators, 1,800 ideas are in the pipeline. They've delivered 74 successful ideas with £20m savings

So, who's going to develop our game?

PS apologies if the videos aren't sized properly, you can always look for them on

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Collaboration products for SaaS

This session gave an overview of SAAS  (Software as a Service) in the collaboration and social sector looking at the three main players Google Apps, LotusLive and Microsoft Office 365

SAAS is different to software. It's mainly pay as you go, outsourced, only lightly integrated, and configured not customised. Software tends to be the opposite, so they are complimentary to each other. Gartner believes that a hybrid model of a mixture  of in house and outsourced will be around for some years.

Google released Apps Premier Edition in 2007, and this was market altering. IBM and MS have been plying playing catch up ever since,  MS Office 365 not being released until June 2011.  Both are  investing heavily in this area.

Email and web conferencing are the most mature and popular applications in all suites.

Business drivers for moving to SaaS in this area are:
Agility, on line capabilities can be spun out quickly.
Cost savings, especially in education where solutions are free. Also not all workers require rich capabilities provided for example in MS Office
Scalability, eg in  web conferencing  which can be used for large meetings.

Inhibitors are:
Third party data storage may not be in-country
SAAS still a relatively new delivery model and downtime continues to occur, also risk mitigation, laws, etc are still evolving.
SAAS lacks integration with in-house systems and transferring data between in house and cloud systems sometimes leads to data loss esp between MSOffice and Google docs

So, you should look at SaaS for collabotartive tools to gain scalability, to decrease costs, to support disenfranchised users and to avoid or decrease the IT footprint. I was really surprised that no mention was made of offering a better service. It was certainly one of the drivers in our move to Google.

The strengths and weaknesses of the different offerings are:

Strengths - easy to use; low cost
Weaknesses - no web video conferencing, no software counterpart,  its only web so no hybrid solution ; it's missing some enterprise capabilities because it grew out of consumer product
Popular in Education and SMEs

IBM LotusLive
Strenghts - Familiar interface for IBM users
Weaknesses - Missing a portal; Email apps notes and inotes are incompatible; rarely a one to one mapping of SaaS to software
Popular in IBM installed based

MS Office 365
Strengths - Widest application portfolio; integrates with other MS products; Familiar interface
Weakness - can be expensive; Exchange and Office are comparable to their software counterparts, Sharepoint and Lync are not
Popular in education and enterprises

Decide whether SaaS as a delivery model is acceptable
Calculate your internal costs  - which are often not well understood
Clarify SaaS advantages over software
Decide on needed functionality
Segment the user base, decide who needs what. Especially important for MS licensing purposes
Create the migration and deployment plans, including escalation procedures

Quite a good overview of the three products, and interesting to see he differences in decision making about moving to SaaS in sectors which are not Education.

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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Flexible working and social media at Virgin Media

Next session from Virgin Media on a pilot they're undertaking about flexible working and social media

They have 20k employees in 800 UK sites. High amount of travel and entertainment expenditure. Very email centric. Lot of voice conferences.

A number of drivers for change including cost savings in travel and hotels. Also improving the experience for employees and improving the way people interact with each other. Their property footprint is high with only 45% utilisation so efficiencies needed there.

Obviously another driver is the trend towards consumerisation of IT. The best toys are now at home and everyone wants to use them, especially the execs with their tablet devices. The consumer experience is being defined by Apple and Google. Bring your own device, any device any time, and
enterprise apps need to look like consumer apps.

So, they Introduced Quad, social software from Cisco, and WebEx for video conferencing

In space terms, this has enabled a shift to shared spaces, more breakout spaces, less offices and cubicles. Wireless everywhere. Also removed loneliness of home working. They've seen a huge increase in flexible and mobile working.

Annual benefits have seen £5m savings in property and £2m savings in expenses.
Big increase in productivity, as staff have more time with less travel. Staff satisfaction has improved as has their work life balance.

There were one off costs in terms of infrastructure and licences, but these have been recovered.

Introduction of WebEx, especially video has made a huge difference to the organisation. Used for training, troubleshooting, meetings, working from home discussions.

Quad has created the opportunity for serendipity. Filtered, relevant, personalised information comes to you. The demise of the inbox. You find stuff you didn't know you needed to know. Also enables conversations between people that are previously unknown to each other. New relationships have been built.
Enables discovery of skills in people, and the unlocking of the power of workforce. Can ask question across the organisation or in a community. Very good search capability.

Good example of a major network outage. 1 engineer in a data centre used quad to find the engineer who knew who to fix it. He was in a hospital waiting room, luckily with his laptop. With the use of quad, WebEx and remote log in, he fixed it.

Virgin Media are currently running a pilot with 1000 people. Good take up, lots of WebEx sessions initiated from Quad. Lots of communities formed.

They've also seen evidence of the social software rule, which I'd never heard before of 1:9:90. 1 content creator 9 commenters 90 lurkers, apparently exemplified by Twitter.

The lessons they learned:
Preparation is key. Understand the business. Do lots of research. Have clear goals and objects, and know what you're measuring
Won't be successful without board level sponsorship and participation
Breadth and depth of Quad gave users choice of platforms which is essential.

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Google as a Strategic Disrupter

Gartner has analysts who specialise in looking at particular vendors. This morning, early, I listened to Tom Austin, lead Gartner Google analyst talk about Google. Short presentation, but some interesting stuff. Amongst the analysts, Google is viewed as either naive, arrogant or brilliant.
They are definitely viewed as disruptive amongst all of them, along with Apple.

What does that mean? Disrupt as a verb, means to break apart, throw into disorder, to interrupt the normal course or unity of.

Google's drive to defy conventional wisdom is disruptive, and some examples are:
New business models (adsense)
Revolutionary technology (googles infrastructure),
Asymmetric warfare ( google apps)
Head fakes (reshaping wireless). Apparently this is a sports term, meaning to look one way and go the other

They are similar to other firms in these areas:
Worried about cash flow, growth
Threats from security, reliability, privacy, patent claims
Fear of obsolescence
Innovators dilemma, someone more agile coming in and undercutting them

But there are differences in:
Critical assumptions
Operating model
Business model
Investment approach

The Google operating model is based on the following principles:
Question authority. Don't trust experts. Very analytical. Don't accept conventional wisdom
They don't share everything, like roadmaps. The transparency master lives in an opaque castle. I like this quote. The company that has made the world transparent....
30% of their investment goes into long term projects which they don't tell anyone about until they're unveiled. Rest is short term projects, experiments, upgrades every two weeks. Rapid iteration with hard data and analytics.
Constantly dissatisfied with the way things are.

Their revenue is mainly from ads. Gartner estimates that Google Apps is only 0.5% of total revenue. It is growing but is a very small part of their business.
R and D spending is going up, and Sales and Marketing. They are generating a lot of cash flow and bought 27 firms last year.

Their strengths are Ads, search appliance, analytics, apps, android, cloud development and chrome.

Their weaknesses are antitrust, patents, Office 365 pressure, opacity. There's also the "Google knows best" culture which some see as a weakness.

Google apps are far more capable than the Microsoft office web apps, but inferior to the full suite of Office. But they cost a lot less. So, Google apps cost less, but you get less. That is probably good enough for many organisations.

Google develops what its data says enterprises need, not what enterprises say they need.

Interesting quick overview of Google and their philosophy.

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Augmented reality

Had a good session today from Autonomy about one of their new products, Aurasma. It's an augmented reality product, which currently exists as an app on iPhone, iPad and some android devices. Basically you point your device at a trigger image, a photo in a magazine, a poster, even a real object, and your device produces content related to it. This can be a video, as in the Harry Potter image below, or a 3D image of a building from a 2D plan as in the image below.

Very impressive, and "auras" are easy to create. I could see lots of uses for it in teaching, instructional videos, navigation and just information transfer. We need to look at how we could use it.

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Consumerisation of work

Consumerisation of work is happening, can't stop it, have to accommodate it. Can be embraced and managed. Professional people like using their own tools to do the job. Changing nature of work, more communities instead of teams. Need to make employees more self reliant, empower them, so have to relinquish control of the tools they use to do their jobs.

What drives consumerisation?
Social factors: Personal preference, peer influence, personal goals.
Performance: generally speaking consumer products perform better that enterprise devices, easier to use, also have tools the employer doesn't provide such as microblogging,
Economic: consumer technology often costs less as market is bigger, affordable personal purchases, responsibilities and costs transfer to individuals.

Consumer devices have huge diversity in model, OS and capabilities. Smart peripherals are developing. Displays you wear on your wrist to see tweets. Bluetooth devices accessing cloud services.

Rigid standardisation is impossible. Can't hold the line at one platform.
Need to look at new ways of managing and delivering. Standardise on protocols, not platform.

Some possible exceptions:
It's possible that some organisations might standardise on Apple only policy.
Some may have security and compliance demands become too onerous to support multiple platforms
Support costs of diverse devices and platforms may prohibit it

Consumerisation of applications. Exponential growth of apps from app stores, will hit 80 billion by 2014. Many are free or cheap eg Dropbox, document editing and annotating. Corporate app stores being developed. Much easier to develop and deploy applications.

Consumerisation of services. Emerging device plus cloud services eg Kindle
Affordable cloud alternatives to classic applications eg google,docs.
Cloud services for data management, backup, file sharing.
Communication and collaboration in the cloud eg social networking, VOIP, microblogging.
Are challenges including security and support, but can be overcome.

Future technology developments include improved user interactions across multiple devices. Smart TVs interacting with smartphones.
Flexible displays. Transparent displays, looks like pane of glass when turned off.
Mind based interfaces. Already developed is a small hat with EEG sensors plugged into mobile phone which analyses brain signals which can act as remote control for other things.

Technology scanning needs to keep up with consumer technology developments.

Consumerisation of me. Personal informatics. Applications which exist to help you support your personal goals, collecting and analysing information:
Life logging, interpersonal informatics, health and exercise, personal brand management, email sentiment analysis, reducing emotional influence in decisions, email analytics, mobile apps for cognitive behavioural therapy.
Will throw up all sorts of issues in the enterprise. Keep an eye on this!

Corporate Benefits of consumer technology include user satisfaction,technical superiority, performance, cost reduction, innovation

CIOs are trying to balance 4 conflicting goals:
Social goals. Keep the employee happy. Much of the demand for device choice has a social component.
Operational goals. Have to keep the business running. Use of employee owned devices has support implications, what if employee loses own phone?
Financial goals. Have to manage costs. Issues such as roaming data, fixed data caps are a challenge with employee-liable contracts
Risk management. Stopping bad stuff happening, especially in areas such as security and data leakage.

CIOs need to decide how innovative they want to be:
Defensive- enforce rigid control
Reluctant toleration - allow more choice
Opportunists - explore new models such as bring your own
Aggressive - rip up all assumptions. Go for it!

Supporting "bring your own" technology:
Provide community resources.
Provide time limited support
Deliver secure and supportable applications
Have a contingency plan
Educated users
Suggest resources

Understand where consumerisation is already being used in your organisation
Review your technology strategy and propose how consumerisation is going to be accommodated
Harness employee enthusiasm for consumer technologies
Create an organisation that can accommodate and profit from consumerisation
Monitor key consumer technologies to better understand future application opportunities and support challenges

Good talk as always from Nick Jones.

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The rational optimist

Next session today was entitled Rational Optimism, and delivered by Matt Ridley who
argued that for most people in the world, the future is going to be inexorably better than the past for the following reasons.

1. Despite recessions and wars, human society has been getting wealthier, healthier, happier, cleverer, cleaner, freer, kinder, more peaceful and more equal.

2. Though we repeatedly expect this improvement to cease, yet it keeps defying the pessimists.

3. There is a reason that this happens – through exchange and specialization, a process that allows us to work efficiently for each other in an increasingly interdependent way that creates a sort of collective intelligence.

Reasons to be cheerful| - Lots of positive trends:
World GDP going up
Probability of dying in a war going down
Globally we're more equal. Gap is closing. Rich countries getting richer, slower.

Can it go on? What could bring it to a close?
From beginning of 20th century has ranged from eugenics, population explosion, nuclear war, acid rain, y2k, climate change

Population growth rate has halved since 1960s. Heading for static population in 2070 of 9billion.Happened because people get richer, move to cities, reduced infant mortality.
Can we feed them? Need a lot of land if we go organic! Need to increase yield. Have already tripled yield in global cereal crops. Just need to get fertiliser to people who aren't getting it to people at the moment.

Climate change currently undershooting estimates made several years ago. Dying as from extreme weather down 98% because we've got better technology, communication.

Running out of fossil fuels? End of oil coming for hundred years and still not happened. Have consumed tiny amount of fossil fuels available.

Resources? Metal prices dropping because we're getting better at finding and extracting them

World getting better, people getting richer. Why? Something in last hundred years which has caused explosion in development and inventions. What? Habit of exchange.

Innovation like evolution.
Innovation that happens from the bottom up is chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens form the top down is orderly but dumb.

Sex. Cumulative evolution requires sex for recombination of genes. Like exchange in technology.

Accelerating pace of technology all about exchange and collaboration.

We're all expanding the amount of time we spend working for each other rather than working for ourselves.

Ideas can have sex. Exchange and trade.

If cut people off from exchange, innovative development stops, and goes into reverse. Technologies die. Tasmania good example, when became cut off, an island, lost many technologies. Innovation requires a critical mass of people to interact.

Comparison of a stone tool and a computer mouse. Who knows how to make a computer mouse? No one. Knowledge held in the crowd.

The Internet is a brain. We're the nodes in it

Human beings have gone from the individual intelligence enabling us to make stone tools, to the collective intelligence enabling us to make the iPhone.

That's the reason he's incredibility optimistic about the human race despite the fact that terrible things are probably going to happen in this century!

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Portals, Collaboration and Content

The UUK Efficiency Conference is over, a very useful day, and I'm still in London for the Gartner Portals, Collaboration and Content Conference. When I first started coming to these the focus was very much on the technology, what portal technology to use, how to generate and store content etc. Looking at the programme for the next couple of days the emphasis has changed to much more about how software is used, especially for collaboration and the use of social media.

Will try and blog some of the sessions, probably in note form, whilst suffering withdrawal symptoms from missing Freshers Week in Sheffield. Am being kept in touch though by frequent updates through twitter and mail, and sounds like lots of good team work going on back there.

Given the emphasis on social media here, I was surprised there was no mention of using social media during the conference to interact with colleagues, and the hashtag wasn't pushed in the intro or displayed. Maybe Gartner needs to get social!

First session today was entitled Business gets Social, and in summary covered:

As individuals and professionals we have been quick to embrace the internet and a new generation of technologies born on the Web to change the way we communicate, connect, voice our opinions and concerns, or take decisions. We are changing faster as individuals than the organizations we do business with. As employees, customers, partners, consumers, citizens, or participants in open conversations, we expect those that employ us and those that want our business to engage with us differently. Businesses need to get social.

Here are my notes, a bit long, it was an hour of fast delivered information, but some interesting nuggets if you scan through it.

The many faces of social:
Public social networks started in the 70s and 80s, with The Well, The Source. Now Facebook, Twitter, Google plus. Difference is organisation, around content taxonomies in old ones, new ones organised around people.

Social behaviour is governed by the social behaviour of others. Social relationships are often based on trust and reputation. Social communication has moved form unspoken signals, to cave drawings, to storytelling, printing press, radio, Internet, twittering..... All forms of communication, just using different media.

Over last 30,000 years size of human brain has shrunk by 10%. One theory of why is we were less social then, and humans had to be more capable. As we live in closer proximity, people are smarter in a collective group, can rely on others. De-duplication of function.

Unconscious emotions, intuitions, biases, social norms and habits drive most human behaviour.can make assumptions about people based on 1/10 sec exposure to a face.

Social pervades our organisations. Within our teams, with peers, across the organisational structure, on the board. Social phenomena are an intrinsic part of everything we do. Social also transcends the enterprise. Networks of friends, family, etc which influence what we do. People respond to social cues and ignore organisational controls. Social collectives drive attitudes and purchasing decisions.

Social is not just new sharing and collaboration tools, or a communication channel. It also provides context - information, actions and agents. It drives relationships and reputation. Can't just use it like you'd use other media to broadcast messages.

Enterprise 2.0:
Bringing the social read/write web into the enterprise.
Austins Law. Internal hierarchical resistance to bringing social web into the enterprise. Based on number of employees and number of levels in hierarchy.

Where is social adoption fast:
Education at the top.
Youth using social tools and fuelling new employee demands
Smaller, more agile firms adopting quickly

Pace of Change:
1971 first microprocessor
1977 email
1981 pcs
1985 on line community The Well
1991 www
1995 Windows 95
1997 apple Newton
2001 Wikepedia
2002 Friendster
2003 Facebook
Then accelerates rapidly

Now we have things like The Pulse of the Nation. A Twitter sentiment analysis showing how happy are people according to tweets.

Behaviours are changing forever. Moving from personal productivity through knowledge distribution to collective empowerment. Is it revolution? Yes probably.

Rate of change is accelerating. Going to see new forms of social networking appearing with bigger impact. If you can't cope already, retire.

Customer relationship now about consumerisation of IT. Socially and digitally connected customers.
IT depts getting freaked out about it. "iPad provokes IT anxiety" recent headline. Companies buying them and then telling IT department to get them working.

Control is an illusion, get over it.
48% of companies ban access to Facebook during working hours. Completely pointless as everyone has smart phones etc. Like banning Internet back in 90s

Consumers more willing to complain than before, more willing to comment and talk about it, more likely to leave a bad company after one experience, social networks magnify these up.

And the point?
Recognise the massive power of people
Mass collaboration is the differentiator
You can engage with them, or ignore them. At your peril.

The future:

The Internet of Things, Embedded sensors, Image recognition, augmented reality, near field communication

Real time predicate analysis, big data, audio and video analysis, in memory computing

Natural user interaction, touch and gesture, media tablets, screen advances, natural language question answering

Life logging.
Ubiquitous cameras, wearable cameras, ultra cheap storage, instant upload to social media, Diminishing expectations of privacy.

Instrumentation and self quantification. Measuring blood pressure, Sperm count, etc. Uploading it and sharing it (hopefully with doctors..?)

Mobile devices are transformational. Smart phones will outship PCs in next couple of years.

Spend on apps rising rapidly. Question from consumers will be "Why can't this application be more like an app?" Prediction that soon we'll be spending more on apps from app stores than on big enterprise applications like SAP. And of course spend won't be in IT department.

How do we deliver apps through our portals? Portals will be much more personal.

Phew. That's it

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Meeting the Challenge

Panel on Delivering Efficiency and Improving Quality.

Ewart Woolridge leadership foundation:
Difficulties of working in a sector where no clear mandate for change. Will never happen with 160 autonomous institutions, in competition. Need other ways to generate energy for change and keep it going.
Need to look at core business of universities, ie academic area. Has to be about whole institution, not just operational.
Change is about transition. Sector transition, institutional transition, and personal transition.

Leadership foundation and HEFCE innovation and transformation fund announced today. £1m for innovative ways of improving efficiency in Universities. More information here.

Richard Barrett, Deloittes
Look closely at processes. Don't make efficiencies in one area and move inefficiency to another. That's where LEAN comes in.
Universities need to manage processes as one holistic activity, not piecemeal. Can see dependencies and risks, and single line of communication if looked at holistically.
Have clear view of benefits.
Involve all staff in process, they have the ideas.

Tim Marshall, JANET
Passionate about shared services and synergy. JANET is a mature shared service, funded on a model that may not continue. But need to retain some top slice for universality. JANET brokerage just been set up. Lots of autonomous institutions, but lot of collaboration. How can we build on this? Answer is trust. Also, Why do we take so long to do things in our sector? Need to be able to move quicker and make decisions better. How are we going to implement report because we have to. Need more passion about service. Lot of passion in sector about academia but not about service.

Will this be the driver for efficiency in Universities? One in 5 unis are in deficit .

Not just an urgency to deliver this report, but a compulsion. It is non negotiable. Alternative is imposition from government.

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IT, Cloud and Efficiency

Workshop on IT, Cloud Computing and the Efficiency Agenda delivered by Eduserv, UCL and UCISA.

Typically unis spend about 5% of their income on IT (do they?). If save 20% of that, not huge savings. So, efficiency is more than just cost savings.
Cloud, nothing really new. But, some key recent drivers. Virtualisation means there's no longer a link between a piece of tin and a task. Other development is strength of connectivity. We're very lucky in sector to have JANET. Fantastic connectivity, a great enabler of cloud services. Also developments in SAAS eg outsourcing mail to Google or Microsoft are contributing to take up of cloud services.

Good guide to basics of cloud computing produced by UCISA available here

Important to understand costs of IT, not just in central IT but what's happening in departments. Often not well understand in Universities, lot of hidden costs, including estates, power etc.

UCL differentiated between commodity and strategic IT. No benefit in differentiating in commodity IT, email etc.
Is a value in differentiating between strategic areas eg VLE, research.
Some are borderline.
Take commodity IT, centralise, outsource where suitable, share across sector, look at industry best practice, benchmark
Strategic IT is then planned, insourced, invested in using efficiency gains from Commodity IT. Focus planning on this area.
Free up resouces from efficiencies in commodity IT to strategic IT. Be aggressive with efficiency targets.

Biggest spend is staff. Look at this first. UCL Started from scratch with organisational structure with focus on teaching and learning and research. and strong customer service. New dept dedicated to Teaching and Learning support and one dedicated to Research support. Commodity side including network, data centres, desktop, printing, service desk, is being delivered with less staff. Have consolidated, standardised, outsourced, shared. Eg printer consolidation has produced big savings, as has outsourcing student and staff email. Now looking at shared data centres. Use industry standards such as ITIL.

General picture, IT depts have been doing a lot of this for some time. Eg email outsourcing. Comes under "Better for less" category. Services are free, but often offer a better interface and more storage, so not just about cost savings. This frees up staff resource to concentrate on more strategic stuff. Some VLEs have moved into hosted environments, as it is a key service which needs to be available 24/7.
Infrastructure as a Service, eg amazon for research computing, is also being used in some HEIs. Shared data centres exist, and they can be hybrid.

As move more down this route, are challenges including skills in vendor management, integration with other in house services such as authentication, contract length, understanding costs.

Use of cloud can enhance Internationalisation agenda.

Centralised vs devolved. Has to be some stuff that is so obvious that it has to be centralised, so has to be top down, ie you will use the central email system, finance system etc and not develop your own. Also need to sell benefits, better service, less duplication, more efficient.

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Watmore and Willets

Second session is from Ian Watmore, Chair of Efficiency Reform Group, Cabinet Office.

Had experience of reductions to funding, dealing with expectations, dealing with debt, and introducing efficiencies when working at Football Association. Government had similar challenges: Getting costs into line, diversification of income, paying off debt, concentrating on core business.
This government's deficit reduction plan means we're not in same position as some of other European countries. Everyone looking to what we're doing as we're on a much more positive trajectory.

Core strategy behind deficit reduction strategy, summed up in 3 slogans:

Not more for less, because less is so much less with reductions of 30%. So, better for less. Better might mean not doing it all. Could mean outsourcing, stopping, doing just good enough. Do things in a different way.

Not spend to save, but saving to spend. If you want to do something, then save more aggressively and reinvest.

Credibility begins at home. Attack waste in your area. Eg expenditure on consultancy. Reduce marketing budget. Perks of job, first class travel etc.

Not just about cost reduction but about reform. All public sector services to be delivered over web. All back office systems being re-engineered. New business models for public sector being developed, some partnerships with private sector.
Deregulation, the red tape challenge. All regulation being looked at. Will be abolished unless there's a reason to keep it
Better use of local and voluntary sectors, and also using SMEs rather than always going to big corporates.

Enjoyed this session. He'd be an interesting attendee at some of our business meetings.....

Next session from David Willetts, Minster of State for Higher Education and Science

Don't want to see return to bleak cuts environment, that his own party was associated with in late 80s with cuts to unit of resource and reductions to quality. If work we together can avoid it. Changes to funding arrangements have meant that there is a stream of cash flowing into universities. If this is taken alongside efficiency proposals, then quality of education and student experience will be higher.

Benchmarking, transparency and better data crucial. TRAC data, use it or lose it. It's either a burden and no good in which we should get rid of it, or it's a crucial part of our financial information. At moment in limbo.
Wouldn't it be good if students could use it to see where our costs fall and what we're doing to control them.

Pay and pensions. Academic pay has caught up with and in some cases overtaken other equivalent professions. How much of new fee income will be used for pay, and how much for investment in improvement in services? Should be mainly WP and improvements to infrastructure and services, as pay has caught up.

Procurement, needs to be more collaborative. Government needs to play its part. Are discussions going on re VAT and EU procurement.

Announcement today of initiative between HEFCE and Leadership foundation of £1m for innovation in delivering recommendations of the Modernisation and Efficiency Report.

Implementation up to universities, scrutiny will be as much by students and prospective students as well as BIS. Will be a challenge. Need to be open and transparent with our information on what we're spending the new fee income on. It needs to be accurate and trusted.

Keen to see more collaboration between Universities, is the opportunity for sharing of IT capacity and software developments.

Universities not part of the public sector. If we were, would be more controls and obligations. Mission of HE includes private and public benefit and this is reflected in the flow of public funds.

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Modernisation and Efficiency Conference

At the UUK launch of the Efficiency and Modernisation Report. Will try and keep blogging fairly up to date, but will probably be in note form.

Opening introduction from Nichola Dandridge. In current climate, Universities have to be as lean and efficient as possible, whilst maintaining quality. Following today's conference, action plan will be drawn up for implementation by Universities.

Ian Diamond, Chair of Task Force. Economic context: we face difficult financial times with pressure of public finances and a new way of funding HE. There's a political imperative for universities to be seen to be making efficiencies, but it also important to improve student experience and research output. Not a piece of work just about reducing costs. UK HE is one of UKs biggest success stories. Have to maintain this quality. So, quality is as important as efficiency.

This report is about operational efficiency. Most of spend in Universities is on academic area, so feel that there's a need for a further task force to look at efficiency in that area.

As a sector we have to work together and co-regulate to make efficiencies. Also need to provide a framework for action.

Acute understanding of need to act
Much good practice already in the sector. But sometimes we're poor at communicating them
Not complacent about challenges, are barriers and constraints to further progress.
Need better data and to get serious about benchmarking.
As a sector, proud to be transparent.
Lack of clear understanding and data on operational costs.
Benchmarking is piecemeal and fragmented

Must improve streamlining of our own processes. Simplification and improving internal processes is essential.
More can be done on shared services but VAT remains a barrier. First must share services internally before can share them with each other.
Potential for outsourcing and shared services, including with private and rest of public sector.

Procurement not always seen a strategic part of HE but should be. There's significant potential for collaborative procurement across sector

Areas where regulation could be simplified and costs savings achieved, eg FoI and EU procurement.

Interventions should fit longer term strategic aims rather than short term
Cost reduction activities should be clear on savings
Concentrate on leaner, better processes
Better data on operational costs is needed
Set of benchmarks should be produced for sector
Advice on implications of competition law should be developed
Models for developing shared services should be disseminated
HEIs should look to exploit existing services with a track record of excellence
Government should implement mandatory VAT exemption o shared services across public sector
I light of new funding arrangements, procurement regulation relating to EU should be looked at
Better understanding of FoI costs should be developed, and sector should engage with the post legislative review
Body to lead procurement in England should be developed
Real savings to be made in IT, eg outsourcing to cloud, shared IT advice services etc.

Ian Diamond's personal 3 most important things in report:
Getting one version of the truth in organisations
Improving collaborative procurement
Improving IT

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Monday, 19 September 2011

Getting started.....

As well as the excitement over Freshers Week and registration, there still other events going on. Last Friday I was at the HEFCE Cloud Advisory Group for an update on the various strands of the UMF Cloud projects. Going well, and there'll be another press release soon. Particularly important given the UUK report last week, with its emphasis on shared services.

Tomorrow I'm off to London again, this time for the formal launch of the Universities UK report on Efficiency and Modernisation, so hopefully you'll be able to read about it here.

Today was our first real day of Freshers Week. A real buzz on campus, and it's great to see the students back. Loads of flyers being given out for local clubs, bars, shops - lots of things might have gone digital, but this sort of advertising hasn't - the campus looked as though it was drowning in a sea of paper. And of course we have our own booklet as well, which proved very popular when we gave them out yesterday.

Our new registration systems were put to the test today. Lots of people working hard together the make the experience as positive as we can do for students. A bit of a teething problem this morning, fixed by lunchtime, and all in all a very successful day. Well done to everyone who helped.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Fresher's Weekend

Well, another Fresher's Weekend is over, and our new students have arrived. The rain held off for most of the time - Sheffield looks so much better in the sun - and the usual festivities happened at our two Student Villages, including free ice cream from Our Cow Molly.  I recommend Cora's Chaos - very good! As usual we had teams of people in - in both Student Villages helping students get connected, and working across campus fixing network points, installing AV equipment for the start of term, and printing several thousand Ucards to be dished out starting tomorrow. This year we've developed new systems to enable most information to be loaded by students before they arrive, unfortunately not delivered through our new portal as we'd hoped, but a huge improvement on last year, and some very nice looking screens.

Virtually every student arrived with a laptop, and many more than last year with wireless only devices - mainly iPads and Macbook Airs, so we need to crack on with getting wireless in the student bedrooms as well as the wired network which is in there now.  This year students have access to which gives them free TV, free phone calls, back up, and various other services provided by Cablecom.

So, now we move into Intro Week, and hope that registration is a success, after the one or two problems we encountered last year. Lots of hard work has been done by many people, and hopefully it will be a much improved experience. I leave you with a picture of a penguin, drinking a cup of tea, because it amused me.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Efficiency and Effectiveness in Universities

For the last few months I've been a member of the UniversitiesUK Task Force on Modernisation and Efficiency, and our report has been published today.  You can find it here. I think it's a good report, (well I would, wouldn't I?). The press release below summarises the key findings well:

Efficiency and effectiveness are key priorities for the UK higher education sector, but universities must continue to demonstrate good value for money in the new funding environment. These are the findings of a new report published today (Thursday) by Universities UK.

The report acknowledges the efficiencies already achieved by universities, while continuing to provide high quality teaching and research, but says there is substantial scope to do more. It highlights that the higher education sector is doing this against a backdrop of public teaching funding reductions, alongside the introduction of the new graduate contribution system and the resulting rise in student expectations.

The report focuses on identifying how universities can work across the sector more effectively to overcome duplication or fragmentation, and how this can be brought about through strengthened leadership, both at institutional and sector level.

Its key findings and recommendations include:
  • Information on the costs of operational activities within higher education needs strengthening, to help demonstrate how they are ensuring value for money in these areas
  • Benchmarking is vital to increasing efficiency, but currently its practice is piecemeal and fragmented and would benefit from more effective sector wide coordination
  • Shared services are often viewed as an ‘off the shelf’ solution, but simplifying, streamlining and improving internal processes must be a priority in order to realise its benefits fully
  • There is potential for outsourcing and the development of strategic relationships with the private sector to deliver services
  • The sector is not yet making full use of its size and purchasing power to generate additional savings, particularly in England. A more strategic coordination of higher education procurement is proposed, along with challenging targets
Professor Ian Diamond, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and chair of the Universities UK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group, which authored the report, said: “The UK has a strong university system, second only to the US, generating over £59 billion for the economy and attracting £5.3 billion in exports.
“But universities have recognised for quite some time now that their future success, and by turn, that of our economy relies on increasing our efficiency and effectiveness, especially in the changing funding environment. Our report today shows that there are many excellent examples of universities improving their operational effectiveness, but we need to get better at sharing how we do it.
“Our aim is not to identify how universities can save money in the short-term. We want to show that it is better for students, universities and our economy if universities place efficiency at the heart of their long-term plans, so we can continue to enjoy an autonomous and diverse sector made up of effective universities providing the high quality teaching and research we have come to expect.”

Professor Eric Thomas, President of Universities UK, said: “This is a thorough report from Professor Ian Diamond and it's important that we take forward its recommendations.
“Universities have already made significant progress in terms of efficiency, but with a new funding environment and enhanced student expectations, it's more important than ever that we demonstrate good value for money.”

We've already started discussing how we can take forward the recommendations and work already in progress towards them, and I'll write more about that later.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bourne again

As part of the Digital Day Out today, some of us were lucky enough to get a tour round Ravensbourne. Previously Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, and before that an art college boasting alumni including David Bowie, it moved from its Chislehurst location to a brand new building in 2010 and rebranded itself Ravensbourne.

It specialises in digital media and design, with a courses spanning fashion, broadcasting, product design, architecture, graphic design, animation, moving image. The building is ideally placed on the digital peninsula, and as you would imagine, is the product of very innovative design with some great features.

The space takes flexibility to its extreme. It's mainly open plan, no academic has an office, there's no owned space, no concept of departmental space. Just functional, flexible spaces.

The prototype lab has everything from textile design, to engineering product design, to 3d printing, to electronic prototyping. All of the students work side by side.

Everything is open and flexible. Sometimes just the pillars have "room numbers" on, and the space is arranged however it's needed.

Lots of lockers around as well for personal possessions. It's incredibly technology rich. Every student has to own a laptop, and there's a bursary system in place for students to purchase MacBooks. Lots of media editing stations, sound studios, broadcasting studios, etc. But sometimes, low tech works just as well, such as the vertical projection screens which can be moved around the flexible teaching areas and are better than fixed plasma screens. Some great social spaces for students as well. And with 80% space occupancy it's very efficient.

I loved it! It even has a funky url -

Hope to get a group of us from Sheffield on a proper tour soon. Oh, and the views were pretty impressive!

PS Apologies for quality of photos - taken with my old iPhone so not brilliant, but they're a lot better if you click on them

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A Digital Day Out

Today I was supposed to be attending a conference on digital and social media in the public sector, but last week it got cancelled. As many of the attendees already had trains/hotels booked, someone suggested we should meet anyway. Very quickly a venue and sponsor was found, speakers who had been going to speak at the conference volunteered their time, and a Digital Day Out was born! I had a horrendous trip down which took nearly 5 hours, and involved getting on 5 trains. 1 cancelled, 2 got me to Doncaster, 3 got evicted from, 4 broke down near Stevenage, 5 got me to London.

The event was sponsored by Cisco who kindly provided a venue and lunch, but ironically no wifi. The venue was fantastic, right next to the O2 arena on the Digital Peninsula, which is being developed as a home for the digital industries.
The view from the 11th floor was very distracting. We could see the Olympic Village and Canary Wharf, and I learnt that there are plans for a cable car from the peninsula across the river!The event was for the public sector, and consisted mainly of people from local authorities with a smattering of others from health, education, museums etc. The format was informal with a number of presentations and a lot of round table discussion. Topics mainly covered included the use of digital and social media in a public sector organisation.

Rather than write a detailed account of each session, here's a list of the main topics and the things I thought were interesting:

Presentation from Cisco on BIG, The British Innovation Gateway. Read about it here.

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London's special advisor for all things digital. (that must be an interesting job working for Boris), spoke about data.
Big issue when oyster card first introduced, people worried that data would be used to would track them, so it was locked down. Fast forward 10 years, data is much more open. People want to see their own data, and use it.

The digital world is immediate, no time for reflection. Things can be tweeted before you've had chance to think about it. Or before you've said it's confidential.

Blurring of digital identities. Do we have a public one and a personal one, or just one?

Good debate on IT skills in children/ students. Do we need to teach them IT ie how to use a spreadsheet? How does a computer work? How is a game developed? Or not?

Should we still be having conferences about technology? Is it not more about how to use it?

Emer Coleman from the London Data Store talked about making public data available. Its all about trust, and risk. All about risk. Very difficult to dermic what the public are interested in. public are interested in. Best to release everything, see what happens. Are risks. Have to have strong leadership, that will back you if you make a mistake.

Ken Eastwood talked about Public Sector Nomads. The way we work has changed due to technology. Can we use it to change more? Usually small incremental change - the Senior management get a Blackberry or iPad and can get their email. Should we look at a more strategic step change.
There's evidence that changes to working can give benefits in work life balance, higher motivation, improved productivity. There's also reduced
accommodation costs with hot desking and touch down, home based and flexible working, as well as the environmental benefits of less travel and congestion. Bring on Work 2.0?

How can you be an elected representative in 21st century and not use social media. But, can get you into trouble with misjudged tweets. More blurred boundaries. Boundaries blurred.

Many organisations still ban use of consumer devices, some lock down Blackberries so that you can't access the Internet on them, many still seriously restrict Internet access on desktops. Madness!!,

If you're not a digital organisation in 5 years time then either you won't exist or the world will have changed around you so much you'll struggle to survive.

Things must change because we have no money. We have to create different, better, cheaper services.

Personal use of social media by councillors can drag public institutions into the 21st century.

Is there a problem with information overload? Should public sector be involved in directing people to web sites, apps etc. Can they be trusted intermediaries? Dangerous to do that?

Social media is a great tool for the public sector to engage with the community, but policies vary. For example the Home Office use it, but in a mainly broadcast way rather than interactive. they have a YouTube channel,, but comments disallowed. And their staff can't look at it because media streaming's not allowed on their network. Neither is java, flash, access to social media ..... Serious concerns about security or paranoia?

Rav Chambers from Be Inspired Films. Good talk on using video in social media. Once video loaded to somewhere - Google, vimeo,YouTube - can be shared with others with one click. All free. Cost of putting an add on Tv about £30k.
YouTube is the second most used search engine, first choice for younger generation.
Main barriers are cost, (resources and time), skills and confidence.
Important to know why you're using video, and check at end if you achieved aim.
Money isn't everything. Initial set up doesn't have to be expensive.
A camera isn't a Hoover, it's a gun. That's why it's called shooting

Social media has democratised society. 400m people visited twitter last month. A phenomenal communication tool.

Third sector have had to adopt social media to survive.
Democratisation of information through social media.
Importance of serendipity in discovering information. Don't just stick to trusted networks. Cross pollination also important.

So, all in all, a good digital day out. We in the public sector can learn from each other, and it's good to talk and share information.

I also got a bonus trip round Ravensbourne, which will be the subject of a separate post.

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Projects progress and day trips for nerds!

Service Strategy Board today, and a chance to catch up on our projects and other developments. Always a tricky time of year, as new things tend to come to fruition at the beginning of the new academic year, as well as everything else we have to do.  There's a lot of work going on to upgrade teaching spaces, and our teaching and learning infrastructure team are working very hard alongside contractors to get all of the AV installed, often in very difficult circumstances. Hopefully it will all come together before teaching starts!  We're also installing 700 new PCs in various computer rooms, especially the IC, with all of the work that entails. Then of course there's the new students due to arrive this weekend...

Some of our projects are going really well - the Google apps implementation, and the VLE upgrade to name just two.  Others are undergoing some business process reviews using LEAN and are on hold until that's completed, some are just on hold because we haven't got the resource to complete them at the moment.  A lot of resource has been directed to improving the procedures for getting our new students registered and computer accounts, uCards etc generated quickly and efficiently by implementing new processes that can be accessed by the students before they arrive. Some of this has gone very well, and a much improved experience has been implemented, but not quite as far as we'd hoped using our new portal technology. But, it will happen soon, and then we're moving on to use it to develop a new portal for the rest of the University.

Last Friday I was in London again, this time for a meeting of the UCAS Admissions Process Review, where we had a a look at some proposals for change, to a process which hasn't really changed since I applied to University! I can't say much about them as they haven't gone out to consultation yet, but watch this space!

Finally a quick plug for a web site - this is mainly an IT blog, so it seems appropriate to mention one especially for nerds. Nerdy Day Trips grew out of an idea of Ben Goldacre's when he wanted ideas for a day out in London, and now it's grown into a web resource. As Ben says "We really want to gather as many as possible of the more obscure ones, the clearing with the abandoned factory, a strange earth feature of nerd interest, the terrifying power station, the water slide park, and so on. Our fantasy is that on any given road trip, you will be able to find a nerd stop somewhere along your route, or perhaps even plot out a nerd odyssey across the UK." So, have a look, and add your nerd destinations!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The future's a Mole....

Change is afoot for learning technologies across the university. After over a year of review, planning, consultation, collaboration, piloting, technical know-how and lots of hard work -  our new virtual learning environment, Blackboard Learn 9.1 (or MOLE 2 as we call it), is going live.  From the 12th of September a new link will appear in our portal, MUSE, to connect students and staff to MOLE 2. We've been working with Departments to come up with a timescale for migration which suits them and approximately half will be on the new system this month. The rest will follow in 2012 and will remain supported on MOLE during 2011-12.

A big thanks to all colleagues who've worked hard and brought so much experience and expertise to the project.

This isn't the only change which is happening  - not only are we launching our new VLE but the teams which supports it and other learning technologies - from back-end technical support to day-to-day guidance and development for staff and students - are coming together for the first time within this department. It's an exciting time and a great opportunity for collaboration and partnership for all of us. I'm personally really pleased with the way things are going, and the future's looking good!

There's lots more information about the way we're supporting learning and teaching and MOLE2 here.

And if you're interested in our acronyms:
MUSE - My University of Sheffield Environment
MOLE - My On-line Learning Environment
They trip off most people's tongues without us even thinking about what they stand for - suspect a lot of people don't know they stand for anything.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Icebergs and Clouds

We're in the middle of upgrading our High Performance Computer, Iceberg (can't remember why it's called Iceberg - suspect there was a reason originally), and there's a blog about it here. A good account, and saves me reporting on progress.  There's background info for the technically minded, and for those that aren't, some good pictures - of racks, boxes, and cables. I like the cables. Never quite sure how anyone knows where they should all go.....

Been having lots of discussions recently about our future strategy, and one thing that always comes up is Cloud. Someone commented yesterday that unfortunately some senior managers think that Cloud is the answer to cheaper computing. Use Cloud, they say, it's cheap/free.  Reminds me of when we were told to use wireless as a cheaper alternative to putting a network into new buildings. I had to explain that wireless doesn't mean no wires.   One of the things often struggled with in Universities looking at cloud solutions are the legal issues, and JISC have responded to this by bringing out a toolkit - Cloud Computing and the Law. As well as an overview, there's four detailed user guides covering Cloud Computing and the Law for IT, for Senior Management and Policy Makers and for Users, as well as a guide to Contracts, SLAs and Terms & Conditions of Use.  On first reading it looks to be a very useful guide to the key points and issues, with some sound advice. There's some very good points made in relation to data protection and security, and I would think this will be a very useful resource for institutions as we move more towards Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service offerings.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Segways, competition law and reviews

I've posted in the past about Segways, and how much I like the look of them, and this weekend fulfilled my ambition of having a go on one. It was fantastic!  Now I want one even more. Very easy, and very intuitive. The steering is so sensitive I swear I only had to think about which way I wanted to go and it went, with virtually no movement from me. Very sensitive gyroscopes inside. Stopping was the hardest - move your weight from your toes to your heels, and if you lean back too far it goes backwards. But I soon got the hang of it. Would love to see the ban on their use on anything other than private property over here relaxed, as it has been in many other places.

After that excitement, it was off to London for a RUGIT meeting (Russell Group IT Directors). Good meeting, lots of discussion. Started with a look at how we're all approaching the "do more with less" situation we're finding ourselves in. General agreement that we need to stop doing things we don't need to do, and focus on supporting teaching and research. Then we had a real debate - given the introduction of differential fees and the new market economy in Universities, how much does competition law stop us discussing the things we've always shared in the past.  UUK have published guidance, which is very helpful, which we will of course be following, as well as applying a good dose of common sense.

As well as our internal discussions we have a number of invited guests - a representative from the Russell Group attends to bring us up to date with the latest issues our VCs are discussing. The CEO from JANET was there and we spent some time discussing their response to the JISC review. In particular, if the funding for the JANET network is moved from central (as most of it is at the moment), to devolved, then there is a danger that the network could be broken up.  This is something none of us want to see, and in fact most of us would say that we value JANET as a most essential service. This led nicely into a discussion with the CEO of the JISC about the future of the JISC, the current transitional arrangements, and consultations which are taking place including those on governance and the future of services such as JANET.

Finally, an observation. There were 18 Russell Group IT Directors round the table, with 5 iPads, 3 Macbooks, 2 windows laptops, and 8 notebooks/bundles of paper. Interesting?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Value for Money?

Back from a great week in Whitby, and luckily to a fairly quiet week, as far as meetings are concerned anyway. Lots of work going on - installing 700 new PCs in our student computing areas including the IC, and getting our new Enquirer and Applicant portal ready to go live in - about 48 hours! I love it when people ask us whether we have a quiet time over the summer when there's no students here - it's usually our most frantic time!

One of the main things I've been doing this week is drawing up a value for money report  - all professional departments and major committees are doing it for the Audit Committee. In these financial times its a subject everyone's interested in, and one where we in particular have a very good story to tell. In terms of what we've done over the past 18 months the highlights are:

  • Introduced a new service strategy with  particular focus on customer service & business value, putting in place structures and processes that underpin the requirement to provide both high quality and value for money IT services.  Specifically we are now presenting our services to customers via a "service catalogue". Service Advisory groups have been set up to oversee our seven main service areas. We have introduced change management, incident management and problem management processes which have improved reliability, resilience and effectiveness of our services.
  • Comprehensive strategies and operational plans have been developed for all of the service areas. These have been widely disseminated and discussed in the department, are aligned with the University's mission and are used to allocate resources and set priorities.
  • As well as the above service strategies,  there are overarching themes for all areas of the department which are: sustainability, reducing complexity, doing more with less, improving the student experience and resilience.
  • Individual computer servers have been replaced with a handful of more powerful computers capable of running many services at once. This has four benefits: a small number of staff can continue to manage the increasing numbers of services; direct costs of computer purchase and maintenance have been significantly reduced; indirect costs of energy and cooling have been reduced, and CiCS are able to offer hosting services for other departments with a very rapid turnaround and at a low cost.
  • Work to upgrade our main Data Centre's cooling system is taking place in conjunction with the Estates department. Meanwhile, computer servers and the racks they occupy have been resited in order to improve cooling air flows. Computing equipment is being monitored for energy usage in order to understand better energy usage patterns.
  • The increased use of the University records store  has assisted large departmental moves  reducing the demand on more valuable space.
  • A managed staff print project has started to manage university wide printing strategically, to provide best value by driving the volume to shared multi function products  reduce purchasing and operating costs and   electricity costs.
  • Design and Print Services are developing web-to-print  job submission for staff and students to support 24/7 ordering and an EU tender has been completed for the University's outsourced print ensuring VFM.
  • A specialist consulting company has been engaged to review contracts for hardware, software and services and renegotiate on our behalf where feasible, with payment only by results.
  • CICS core accounts have been restructured to allow more efficient reporting and to reflect the new service-based approach to CICS activities. Together with careful allocation of staff cost, this will enable each of 32 major services to be costed and its VFM assessed.
  • A Business Process Improvement toolkit has been produced and a pilot LEAN programme has been established
  • Over the past two years student and staff email has been outsourced to a free service provided by Google. This allows us to decommission and not replace a large amount of computer hardware, including mail storage.  The associated backup of mail data is no longer necessary.  The introduction of Google Calendar has enabled us to decommission the previous software  and its associated hardware and further improvements in efficiency are anticipated as we make increasing use of Google Apps and associated cloud storage.
  • Over the past 6 years all computer data storage has been centralised on to two large data servers, and individual computer disks decommissioned.
  • Increased automation of University processes such as student registration will reduce lead times for many student activities and remove unnecessary hold-ups in the flow of data and information. 'Mobilisation' of student facing services is reducing the need for students to use a desktop computer for many tasks, improving their overall experience while not substantially increasing support load on CiCS.

That's quite a list - and only a selection from the report, there's quite a lot more. Of course, there's some areas where we need to improve VFM. Areas we've highlighted include the increasing burden of complying with FoI legislation and responding to requests (although I'm not sure what we can do about that without some change to the legislation), some of the duplication of effort between the central services and departments, and timetabling.

Lots of work planned for this year to address these and many other issues.