Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Well it's that time of year again - Christmas is nearly here!  We had a great Departmental Christmas party yesterday - about 150 of us out for lunch, drinks and a disco. Much fun seemed to be had by all, and there's photos to prove it here.

I hope everyone has a great break, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tablet news

Last week we had the second of our LEAN Rapid Improvement Events - another 5 days of people from all areas of the University locked (well not quite) in a room together, looking at a probleme and coming up with a solution. This time it was the way we maintain and manage our regulation on-line. Currently it takes a huge amount of effort in academic departments and in central ones, the process is complicated, and the data isn't always data timely or accurate. And yet this data is vital for so many of our student related processes - module choice, registration and timetabling for example. I was pleased to go up on Friday afternoon and have a presentation on a revised process which will simplify matters enormously, reduce the time taken and improve the accuracy of data. Great work by everyone on what has been a problem for the University for many years. Now we just need to put it into practice!

And in other news.....

Today sees the publication of our newsletter, myCiCSnews, which can be downloaded as a pdf from here.  There's articles on learning technologies, research on the campus compute cloud, information security, and many more.
For the first time we've made it available in a tablet version, which works really well on iPads and other tablets,  and includes embedded video etc. Click here to view.  Both versions look great, thanks to some fine work on the content and design.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

SSB, release and business continuity

Given that it's the run up to Christmas, its still extremely busy, and lots of meetings to attend. Monday was our Service Strategy Board, where we discussed a real variety of issues. Google features on most agendas these days as we start to roll out more of the apps, and see more use of it. Google+ has been activated now on the University domain, so we're piloting it with some people in CiCS at the moment, hoping to roll it out in the New year across the University. It will be very interesting to see the response. Those of us who have personal G+ accounts may find it confusing, or may like to see a separation of work and social circles. We will be watching whether it gets taken up in the learning and teaching area.

We also looked at issues around resourcing, especially in the development area - we have many projects ongoing, some outside of our control such as the changes imposed on us by UKBA, others are new projects we need to get on with such as our new portal.

Yesterday I had a catch up with our finance manager to see how our expenditure was looking against the budget, and looking at future financial planning. Also we had a really good discussion internally about how we implement release management into our service and project management framework. Interesting to see how the releases come not just from projects, but from small pieces of work we instigate, and from upgrades etc imposed on us by suppliers.

Today it was the Business Continuity Operational Group, where the main item on the agenda was a paper looking at Business Continuity issues around Teaching and Learning and how the University would deal with both major and minor incidents which might disrupt teaching or assessment.  A really good set of guidelines for academic and professional service departments.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Price is Right

Last Friday I was speaking at a UCISA event on What Price Your Service, which covered a number of aspects of pricing and costing services.

First up was Andrew McConnell who is chair of the British University Finance Directors Group, and has also sat with me on the UUK Group looking at Modernisation and Efficiency.  Andrew gave a good overview of the financial environment and the challenges facing HE. Continuous change and uncertainty, cuts in resource, competition for student numbers, inflationary pressures on pay and non pay costs, the impact of spending on the REF and cash flow changes all contribute to a difficult picture. Although the viability of institutions does not seem to be an issue at the moment,  we are operating on very fine margins, and many institutions are not generating enough surplus. So, we need to have entrepreneurial leadership and generate income from  diverse sources, have robust financial, institutional and growth strategies and take the efficiency agenda seriously. I've written before about the UUK report (commonly being referred to as the Diamond report), and of the 17 recommendations, 11 touch on IT. Andrew called for better collaboration between UCISA and BUFDG, and between Finance and IT generally, working together and overcoming the language barrier that sometimes exists between us. He reminded us what Ian Watmore had said at  the launch of the Diamond report - we used to say we had to spend to save, now we have to save to spend.

Next up was the University of Oxford, who have been looking at how their services are costed. Originally they worked on a simple basis, allocating expenditure to different cost centres, but more recently have been adopting the TRAC approach, and looking in detail at all aspects of expenditure including power, space, overheads, dependencies on other services etc. They received funding from the JISC, and have produced a toolkit for costing IT services, available here.  They've found this model to be extremely useful in looking at how much services actually cost, especially in departments. For example they found a small department running their own exchange server instead of making use of the central one, who insisted it didn't cost anything. However, it actually cost twice as much as the central one.

Then I spoke about the work we've been doing at looking at where our expenditure actually goes, rather than how much things actually cost. We've changed our accounting structure to match our seven service areas, but this year manually allocated all expenditure - staff, non staff and capital, as well as expenditure in those areas which generate income - to those areas. So, using expenditure as a proxy for activity, we get the following results:

Then each of the service areas can be broken down, and we can see where the expenditure is coming from  - is it mainly staff, capital etc. There's loads of information, and it's thrown up some interesting questions, as well as highlighting some issues. If you're really interested in seeing the results, and how and why we did it, you can see the talk here. All of the talks given on the day are here, and you will need Silverlight to view them.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Catching up

Lots to catch up at the end of this week, apologies for lack of posts, just didn't seem to get round to it! At the end of last week I went to a RUGIT meeting, the IT Directors of the Russell Group, and we had several interesting discussions around organisational structures, shared data centres and the recent announcement of £145m for eInfrastructure which has to be spent in an unfeasibly short timescale. We're very lucky that the new Chief Executive of JISC is one of our number, and Martin gave us an overview of the current review of jISC and some of the changes that will be made to current funding models. It seems clear that although the sector as a whole will be paying less for JISC services, individual institutions will have to pay more and we need to be putting something into our financial forecasts. Hopefully things will become clearer in the New Year, and it will be our role to ensure that this is seen as an institutional cost, and not something that can be found from within existing IT budgets.

W also had an overview from the Chief Executive of JANET on a number of things including SuperJanet6 Procurement, the JISC Review of Janet, the JANET Brokerage Service and IPv6.

This week I've had feedback on the action plan which came out of the LEAN Rapid Improvement Event looking at student computer registration, and changes that we will need to make. Some of these will impact on existing projects such as our Enquirer and Applicant Portal development so it's important to get them fed in as soon as possible. We've also had discussions about our capital spending plans, and some fairly big investments we're making in our infrastructure.

Finally, two really good news stories from the department. On Tuesday I got the feedback from our recent Investors in People assessment, and I'm pleased to say we met the standard on all categories, with many areas of good practice highlighted. Not unexpectedly there were a few areas identified where we could do better and we'll be working on those, but in general it was very positive. Lots of good work obviously going on in the department, so well done everyone.

Then last night we had a reception for staff to say thank you for all their hard work during the year, and we also raised some money for charity as well. CiCS have always been very good at digging into their pockets for good causes, and last night was no exception. We had a raffle, and 73 prizes were donated, some from suppliers, but most from members of staff. They ranged from an IPod, various bottles of booze, chocolate, two amazingly hand decorated Christmas cakes, various electronic gadgets, cameras, to a dubious chocolate shape on a stick (let's just say it rhymed with stick).

Altogether we raised almost £700 to be split between Prostate Cancer Research and Ovarian Cancer Research. Well done folks!

Today I've speaking at a UCISA event on service costing, so a post on that will follow later.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Apps everywhere

A couple of floors below the On Line Information Conference is Apps World. I couldn't get into any of the workshops (not without paying anyway), but did register for the exhibition and visit it a couple of times. It was very lively! Loads of app developers demonstrating apps for everything. And most of them multiplatform.  A good indication of rise of the mobile device, and our apparently insatiable appetite for delivery of services to them.

The last session I went to at the conference was delivered by Steve Wing, the Head of Mobile at The Guardian, and he gave an interesting overview of how their delivery strategy has changed over the years. He strongly believed that mobile had been overhyped in the sort term, but massively underhyped in the medium to long term, and the effect it would have on those of us who deliver services underestimated. The often quoted statement that mobile user of the internet would be greater than desktop users by 2014, which was unthinkable only a couple of years ago, was having a huge impact on publishers. As well as the growth in hardware and apps, consumers want to have access to content and services wherever they are - not just physically but virtually. So, The Guardian now has a presence in Facebook, YouTube and Google+.  The other driver is user expectations - we want a good experience, and are not prepared to put up with badly designed interaces or poor features. I loved him describe the "oh shit" moment at the Guardian when they looked at the ratings for their mobile site, and realised how bad it was...

They now have a range of offerings, from their normal website , to a mobile site, to apps for smartphones, to their recently releases iPad app. They've done a lot of research, and it was fascinating to see different usage patterns,both in terms of what users do, and at what times of day. So they've tailored their services - for example the iPhone app is updated frequently but the iPad app is more like the newspaper and static during the day.

His view of the apps vs mobile web argument? Both have a place. They have different roles to play - its all about user experience.

So, this conference has really reinforced my view that we need to get ahead of the game for all aspects of mobility - infrastructure, delivery of services and support. Mobile is just too important and compelling to ignore.