Last night I had my second visit to a Chemistry Club event, networking with peers, CIOs and senior IT staff from public and private sector as well as some suppliers. Very good event again, lots of good contacts made and some interesting discussions. The main speaker was Shailesh Rao, Director of New Products and Services at Google. Not surprisingly he talked a lot about innovation, and how development and implementation of new products and services can be speeded up by making use of cloud based solutions. His view was firmly that this is where the world is going, consumers are already used to working in the cloud, and we will have to accept and embrace it.
Today I've been to a RUGIT meeting, on a gloriously sunny day, so nice I
decided to forego the tube and walk the nearly three miles from my hotel to Imperial College. The last bit was through Hyde Park, and I couldn't believe how many horses I encountered, until I realised that the Household Cavalry were based nearby. I also watched some of them practising, with a lot of press including TV present, presumably for the Queens Jubilee.
This morning at the RUGIT meeting we had a presentation and a discussion with a Professor who is an applied Computer Scientist, about what academic researchers want from an IT department. Suffice to say it was a lively discussion! In summary what they want is:
Lots and lots of storage
Backup and fast recovery
Fast and reliable networks
Compute power of different kinds
Reliable service hosting
Support for any device and operating system
Availability of skilled and helpful staff, preferably known
Ability to use their own community infrastructures and interface them with our systems
That list promoted an interesting discussion along the lines of most of the above were things that as IT Directors we would all want to provide, if we were funded to do so. So, how much of the above were researchers prepared to pay for?
It was pointed out to us that they have alternatives to using our services, as many of us know, and they would use them if they felt we weren't giving them the flexibility they needed. Flexibility was the key, to use what they want, when they want on whatever hardware, OS etc they want. Dialogue and speaking to each other in a common language was important. It was suggested that IT service staff should shadow researchers to see how they work. That seems like a good idea to me, and it should work in reverse as well, the conversation has to be two way. Academics have to understand how we work and the range of services we are supporting and the constraints we have to operate under as well. She did suggest that we should move to more agile and user centic development. And mean it! I strongly agree with that statement.
It was interesting to see how much mass collaboration is going on in research using primarily cloud based and community developed tools. Most of them we hadn't heard of, and it did make us wonder whether we actually know what our researchers are using.
The key point being made was that IT services need to coordinate and support, not try and control.
Second major discussion was on Enterprise Architecture. It is safe to say this is not my strong point and something that I am grateful that I have others who understand it much better than me. We had presentations from Universities who had embraced Enterprise Architecture, employing a Chief IT Architect, an Information Architect and a Data Architect with appropriate policies, standards and procedures and some form of governance such as an Enterprise Architecture Group. We also had a presentation from another University which felt that all of these things got in the way of development, and that although architecture was of course important for reliability etc, it could easily become an end in itself. He made a wonderful comment that in an organisation he had worked in, the Architecture group was the only group less popular than project managers :-).
He proposed that we have more important things to worry about that will have a much bigger impact on our user community than getting the architecture exactly right. I don't think the two sides were really that far apart.
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