Friday, 28 September 2012

Janet News

When I offered to do an interview for Janet, I didn't think I'd be quite so prominently featured in Janet News!

The whole publication is definitely worth a read - not just my bit. There's a really good article on password security for example, and lots of information on the Janet brokerage.

Major incidents..

Sorry, not many updates this week - lots of HR stuff going on,  that I can't really blog about.  However, yesterday was fairly exciting. A bit scary but exciting.   Spent 5 hours in a training session for incident managers. These are the people who will manage a major incident, so it's quite a responsibility. we looked at how incidents are reported, assessed and declared, and the things that should immediately be covered by an IM. Some of the exercises we did included how we would respond to a duty manager contacting us at 2am on a Saturday to report and incident, and as was pointed out to us many times, the clock is already ticking. At that time on a Saturday you could be anywhere (I've been phoned in the middle of a field), or in any state!

 One of the biggest recent changes in incident management is in communication. We no longer control the reporting or the messages. Chances are that any incident will be reported on Twitter, Facebook or other forms of social media before we know about it. News and rumours spread quickly. Citizen journalists are everywhere, and we just have to deal with it.

Anyway, I'm now the proud owner of the Incident managers handbook, and this is definitely one thing you hope you never have to use!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Starting the week tripping over a cat

Well this week didn't start too well - I tripped over the cat walking down the stairs, hit myself in the face with my laptop, and gave my self a black eye!  Luckily it got a bit better after that. On Monday I was in the last of the workshops that I've been involved in looking at equality and diversity issues in the University.  I've been in a team looking  at staff and student recruitment, and we've set some objectives for the University which go to UEB next week for approval. We've seen some interesting data, the most recent of which used postcode mapping software to look at where we appoint our staff from, and it's very obvious that we only recruit from about half of the city. Hopefully some of our recommendations will address that.

Today I've been with other Professional Service Directors looking at how we can refresh the Strategic Plan, and how we can make it  relevant to more staff. We came up with some interesting ideas, and we'll be working on them over the next few weeks. Rest of the last couple of days have been spent mainly on HR matters and responding to an audit report.

Also over the last couple of days I've been keeping an eye on a problem we've been having with mail. Most of you will know that we have outsourced our mail to Google, and normally we get a very good service. However, over the past few days we've experienced an issue, and what it's demonstrated is how different this is when the solution is not in your control. Luckily the problem looks as though it's been solved, but it has raised questions about how we manage support for such services.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Social media policies

Session on Social Media Policies. Will be interesting to see if it convinces me that we need one.

Biggest risk in social media is in public facing communications. Are risks, but need to understand what the real ones are, and not overblow them. Policies should encourage good behaviour as well.

So, why do you need one?
Employees can be too enthusiastic, eg product manager caught praising his own car on a forum, retailer tried to get complaining customer fired.
Some just don't think :
Dominos example of youTube video fairly famous.
Chinese official didn't realise twitter was public and was using it to arrange meeting with mistress.
Some retailers used Arab Spring tweets to promote lines
Quantas promoted luxury during nasty labour strike

None of above have anything to do with social media policies. Policy cannot prevent stupidity.

You need to Inform everyone of what is expected of them, prevent what you can and deal with the rest

More important to deal with things quickly and effectively than attempting total prevention.

Policies should describe desired outcomes. What is the behaviour we want? What are the values we're trying to express? More important than detailed rules. Describing good outcomes make them more Iikely.

Adoption of social media is usually a bigger issue than misuse. Policies which have too many rules, risks etc, less likely to use it.

Things to include in a policy:
Need to point out that existing policies still apply, eg acceptable use, codes of ethics, confidentiality, privacy, harassment, bullying. These should cover most social media situations.
Use case studies of good and bad to promote discussion and understand the issues.
May need to determine "hot zones", ie stuff that is very sensitive. Could include compliance issues, scandals (!), financial and commercial information.
Give people somewhere to go for advice, or to report something.
Discuss goals, intentions, purpose, why are we doing this
Guidance on personal vs business personas. What can you tell an employee not to do? Anything?

Not everyone in an organisation are the same. You might want different policies for them:
Forbidden: no access to social media, cannot comment on company business. To be avoided if possible
Neutral: no blocking, but not expected to participate on behalf of the business
Encouraged: not really their job but encouraged to participate, eg thought leaders in senior management blogging ( does that make me a thought leader?)
Tasked: usually in PR and Marketing, job includes social media monitoring and participation

Long list of do's and don'ts won't work. Use values, eg we respect our colleagues, we value confidentiality. This allows a discussion based on
content, not rules. Rules can never cover everything.

Interesting discussion on blocking access to social media sites. Used to be common, but getting better. Blocking blinds the organisation to social media activity, drives the use of personal systems eg own mobile phones, sends bad messages about innovation and trust, and is using technology to solve a management problem. Biggest reason for blocking is time wasting. This is not a technology issue. We don't ban newspapers, or suduko books!
What I've been saying, especially to local authorities, for years!

I've always though that famous quote " Don't be a dick" is the main, if not only, thing to include in a policy.

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Mobile trends

Another Nick Jones session, this time on trends in the mobile area we should be watching out for.

Mobility is 2nd on list of CIO priorities in 2012. Mobility isn't about devices or networks, it's about business innovation. It is an area where you can get a competitive advantage using innovative mobile services. Seize it now while it's still an option!

Smart phone ownership growing, by 2016 90% of mature market will have them. Tablets growing, but Gartner don't think tablets will make a difference to laptop sales. Personally I disagree, but we'll see.

Android dominating smartphones at moment. Expected to remain so. Apple second, and in a different market space. Microsoft expected to rise to no 3 and may overtake Apple ( again, Gartner's view, not mine). RIM/ Blackberry disappearing, 5% market share and falling.

In tablets, Apple dominating, but Android will overtake them. Windows tablets might grow in enterprise market, but won't be consumer device of choice.

So, we all still have to support multiple platforms. Older versions of Android not disappearing, so getting more diverse. Unlike iOS where newer versions replace older versions.

HTML 5 will not solve cross platform problems. Although it has good vendor support and new features, it is an immature and fragmented collection of different standards with multiple inconsistent implementations and security challenges. Be cautious with it.

Other trends to watch for include more touch screens, more sensors, voice control, higher res screens, new user experience, more NFC ( near field communication).

Apps will become more sophisticated and more complex:
Better user experiences including cosmetic design, psychology and motivation.
Multi channel integration, mobile has to be integrated
External integration. Peripherals, links to consumer electronics
Increasing sophistication, context, gaming, indoor location, augmented reality
Improving quality, less bugs and better support
Cloud for context, payment, social.
We will need to up our game if we want to compete

Wireless enables the Internet of things. Prediction is in 2016 there will be billions of devices that are not handsets. Already sensors in trainers, body monitoring etc. What are we going to use to talk to our smart freezer? The mobile phone. Smart phones and apps will be the end point. Different wireless connections. Things will talk to cloud, cloud will talk to apps.
By 2020 there will be more machines connected to cellular networks than people.

Our strategies should include innovation, agility, flexibility, defining business goals and supporting and developing for a fragmented market. Replace mobile strategy with multichannel strategy.

Consumerisation is everything, devices, applications and services. We need endpoint independent architectures for a world where Windows is less dominant ( been there, done that).

Native app vs web? Stop fighting the war, there isn't one. We'll need many different architectures. Trick is to use the most appropriate for what you want to deliver.

Mobile and cloud combine to enable many services and business processes such as payment. Scalability much easier with cloud, as is agility eg integration with other services. Push computation into cloud to improve performance of apps.

Key technologies to support mobile strategies:
Apps stores, consumer and corporate
Multi platform mobile development tools
Secure, multi platform document sharing
Mobile testing - some companies offering cloud based testing on different devices, OS etc
HTML5 - despite previous negative comments, mobile web apps are attractive.

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Becoming a Social Organisation

Opening keynote this morning is on Becoming a Social Organisation, by the author of this book:

Got a couple of copies if anyone in Sheffield wants to borrow it.

Organisations deploying Social media often fail. It's the "provide and pray" logic. Provide the software, and pray that people collaborate. But no point implementing tools if you have no idea what your supposed to do with them. Few managers know how to turn potential collaborations into meaningful results.

A social organisation is one that applies mass collaboration to solving their business problems. Resources are applied to innovate, collaborate and achieve results.

In a good social organisation, it's OK to ask questions, to share experiences and trade ideas and experiences. Not related to organisational structure.
Some mass collaboration behaviours:
Collective intelligence - all of us are smarter than any one of us.
Flash coordination - SWAT teams for complex problems
Expertise location - finding the right people regardless of where they are
Interest Cultivation - bringing together birds of a feather
Emergent structures - building an understanding of how things work in reality
Relationship leverage - reaching the masses interactively

It's about mass collaboration, not technology. Mass is the important word. Has to be the whole community. Has to be a purpose, a why.
Social media, community and purpose come together to enable mass collaboration.
For effective collaboration, has to be a cycle of engagement including contribution, feedback and review to encourage more contribution.

Purpose is key. Has to be a reason why you would volunteer your time, experience, attention, energy and ideas? We don't pay people to engage in social media.

Have to guide and nurture mass collaboration. Need just enough structure. Have to watch and nurture, make sure participation is appropriate. Make sure it's achieving it's purpose, but the most important thing is to take the ideas out of the collaborative community and make them work in the organisation.

Is a social media assessment kit on the web to see how ready you are as an organisation.

Have just taken it, and we have a "forging" attitude. I think that's good!

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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Workspace design for 2020

Last session today is about designing new office work spaces for the year 2020.

Research by Lilly
Replacing generic cube farm with multiple specialised spaces, has many benefits. Not sure if you can read this, but impressive findings.

Proximity makes the heart grow fonder. Best thing you can do, is put people together, co-location is best, but typically unachievable! Frequency of interpersonal communication drops exponentially as distance increases. Even on Facebook! The more people work together in a physical space, the more effective they are when working apart. Need to balance mobility and proximity.

Some case studies.
Citrix had goals including better support team innovation; more, faster, earlier collaboration; fewer silos.
Created large, glass walled space, transparent. Everything on wheels, no reservations, whiteboards used to separate areas. Kept under review, and constantly improved and made changes.

SEI had a set of values and wanted space to reflect them. Everyone got a desk on wheels, no offices, no personal phones, but team phones. Lined walls with contemporary art to invite creativity and debate.

How do you measure whether this sort of change has been successful? Have to measure, set up things to measure beforehand eg behaviours.

Other studies show that people in high visibility locations have 60% more interactions.
Need to provide oases of informal meeting space. 102% more interactions than in formal meeting rooms

Some best practice guidelines:
Need to design for activities, not roles.
Assume people move several times a day
Establish social conventions (. Eg it's OK to ask someone alone in a room to move for a meeting)
Measure results
Furniture should echo the space's purpose
Thick carpeting for quiet areas, thin for high traffic
Usual natural light, free flowing air and green rooms with living plants
Create zones and randomise in neighbourhoods
Put lockers in high traffic areas
Always have space not reserved
Create different kinds of space, "library" space for quiet working, huddle rooms, stand up meeting spaces.

Smart buildings are important, and it's not just about HVAC. It should know where you are and what you're doing. Also who you are, biometrics for access control and authentication.

Environmental and privacy issues need to be considered. The walls will have eyes and ears. Everything may be recorded. Systems will know your patterns and will be able to automatically schedule travel time.

We need to plan on the new PC area, personal cloud not personal computer. We will all use multiple devices, apps will be everywhere. Smart mobile devices will be pervasive, and there will be WiFi for everything, except maybe power. Don't want to cook people.

Lots of technology changes will affect workspace:
Touch interactive surfaces. Multiple displays per person. 3D gestures and voice controls. Active displays and monitored passive projection surfaces.
Video in meetings, multi point commodity video, eg Hangouts, for team meetings. Holodecks ( I think you have to be a Trekkie to understand this one).

Workspace best practices:
Adjustable dimensions for varied devices
Power at work surface
Controlled lighting to minimise glare on any device
Ergonomic chairs
Minimise noise propagation

Some cool stuff.
Self navigating robotic aides. Autonomous mobile assistants with contextual awareness and are able to adapt to environmental change and recognise individuals. MIT already have prototypes.

Paper consumption per capita in offices peaked in 2002 and has been dropping ever since. Tablets have made it drop even more. Set paper targets. Ban personal printers. Power and noise benefits. But make sure you have an informal oasis to replace the photocopier!

In summary, need to explore cultural, social relationships, behavioural objectives and business goals when designing workspaces.
Plan for the future, 2020 will be here soon.

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Big Data. It's big, but is it clever?

Presentation from Autonomy
Fundamental shift in the "I" in IT. Now all about information. Most of it doesn't fit into neat databases. Eg social media, rich media, clickstreams, sensor data, images, email and more.

All unstructured. Growing rapidly. It's where all the interesting things happen. But, how can we analyse it? Human information contains emotions, nuances etc. Difficult to derive meaning.

Processing human information very complex. Traditional searching is based on attributes. Not looking at concepts and meaning of the information.
Human information is diverse, many different types. Ideas have the concept of distance, no two are the same. Can use very different words, but the concept can be the same. Context is also important. Your point of view can change the context of the information.

Meaning based computing is the answer! Moves away from keywords to ideas and concepts. Has to be done in real time. What's happening not what's happened.

An example. Analyse calls to a call centre to find out what customers think of customer service. Sentiment analysis on all contacts, email, calls etc. using intelligent queries. Apparently it works, and has been used in many areas.

We all have a lot of valuable information locked up as unstructured data, which we can now analyse. Social media, twitter, blogs etc can all be used to extract information.

So, should we be using this sort of analysis, and if so, what for?

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Consumerisation of mobile

I always try and get to a Nick Jones session at a Gartner, he's usually got something interesting to say about future technologies, especially in the mobile space.

This session was mainly about consumerisation in the mobile area.

Have to learn to live with it and love it, it's all we've got. A lot of consumer technology is better than enterprise technology, often cheaper, more features and quicker to develop. Often more innovative.
Some conflicts including security and compliance, cost and risk. Balancing act, has to be win win, there have to be compromises.

Lots of different sorts of mobile work and mobile workers. Some is under the radar, personal iPad used for a mixture of work and personal, through formal BYO programs to traditional company owned device. Consumerisation destroys one size fits all model of support and management. So, you need to segment your workforce, and look at appropriate model for different roles and types.

BYOD will continue to grow. IT can no longer dictate hardware and platform decisions. Staff can use up to 6 devices and share data via the cloud. App stores redefine expectations of app behaviour and appearance. BYOA (apps) is also going to grow. Key mobile vendors have become service and cloud vendors eg Apple, Google, Amazon.

Employee ownership of smart devices is continuing to increase as prices fall and smart phones replace feature phones. Might be a backlash to BYOD from employees who see it as an additional cost to them.

Some future mobile technologies:
3D device display
Ubiquitous screens
Gestural interfaces

Watch out for them!

Internet of things
Apps will connect mobile devices to everything. Toys, toaster, lighting, tyres, you name it. There will be new interactions and solutions. Clothes with stress sensors to help you with Pilates already there. Leads to new challenges in supporting end user devices! Most of management of these things will be through mobile devices. Lots of opportunities, and risks.

Social factors are important. Consumerisation is not for everyone. Technically unsophisticated staff ( I like this phrase!) tend not to be good at self support. Low income workers can't afford this technology.

Consumerisation makes you think differently about vendors.
Windows very corporate
Google very consumer orientated
Apple, mainly customer, not much enterprise focus.
Need to understand where vendor is coming from.

Consumerisation not just about devices:
Personal informatics. Applications designed to support personal goals. Email sentiment analysis. Personal brand management. Apps to remove emotion bias. CBT apps.
Apps store will compete with corporate It over things like expense management. Buy your favourite interface to SAP or Oracle.
Peripherals and cloud. On body monitoring, text to speech headsets.
These things could cause HR issues which will need managing.

Architecture is important, we need to:
Standardise on data formats not applications and tools
Licence people not devices
Become endpoint independent
Authenticate people and apps, not devices
Embrace open standards and strong ecosystems
Allow staff maximum freedom of choice
Protect data, you won't know where it's stored
Encourage bottom up innovation
Don't try and control things you don't own
Assume the user is in control of all decisions involving devices and apps
Be alert for new risks eg location snooping
Move data away from devices to the cloud

Software licensing and distribution not easy in a consumerised mobile world. Bulk licensing often not possible. App store purchases hard to audit. BYO licences can't be recovered when employees leave.

How to make mobile consumerisation safer. MDM (Mobile device management), not the only answer. Consider all of the following and choose most appropriate:
Trust the platform, eg Blackberry. But no one wants to use them...
Trust the configuration, use MDM tools
Trust the cloud, rather than the device
Trust the app. Containerisation of data and trusted app store
Trust the file system, encryption or synchronisation tools, but you may still have to trust the apps
Trust nothing, use thin client. But usability is an issue.
Trust the user? No?

Support is an issue, can we support absolutely anything?
Need to make apps and devices more supportable. Adopt supportable architecture.
Manage risk, address legal, HR and insurance issues. Address issues such as backup
Enable self help. Provide community and peer support. Social networking, wikis etc to share information. Educate users. Suggest and signpost external support resources.

Segment users, define management regimes
Consumerisation must be win win
Work with users, not against them
Explore new technological solutions
Revisit architecture and tools
Stay tactical and flexible, look for good solutions today not correct solutions tomorrow
Look on it as an opportunity, not a problem

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Being better professionals by being more amateur

Next session is from Ed Smith, a journalist, broadcaster and cricketer, and is entitled how we can become better professionals by being a bit more amateur.

We could all just be lucky, but that's not under our control. So, we need to maximise the serendipity around us.

Seven simple, counterintuitive ways to do that.

1 Evolution is smarter than all of us.
1968 Olympics. Fosbry, wanted to go over high jump backwards. Coaches thought he was mad. He had an intuitive feeling. Broke world record, gold medal.
Sport not about following right answers, it's about problem solving. Good athletes recast the question.
Left field question is always the one to answer. Why shouldn't I do it this way? Don't resist innovation. Allow intuitive original answers to emerge to old questions.

2 Send people home to work, or at least to the nearest cafe. Open plan offices work against the two things we need to do our job well. Solitude, and social interaction. People retreat into solitude, eg with headphones. We should apologise not for leaving the office, but for coming in. Google gives all employees 20% time to do what they want. That's where Gmail came from. Is 20% enough?

3 Bump into people. Innovation and creativity come from being close to interesting people. Renaissance happened in the most urbanised place in the world. Need to read newspapers in print, not following links, it's the article next to the one you're reading that might change the way you think. Put yourself in the way of serendipity

4 Move forward by going around a block rather than hammering at it. Do something else. Free your mind from it.

5 Embrace uncertainty rather than deny it. On the day, trust yourself to make the right decisions rather than always sticking to the plan. Respond to the real world rather than what you think should be happening.

6 Stop being so busy. It's not how long we work, but how much of the time we are fully concentrating. High performance is about self education. Time is crucial. We need time to be high performers. Time comes from not committing to the wrong things. Trusting yourself to allow time. Takes deep confidence to do. Small amount of high intensity work is better than long periods of low intensity. Busyness is not the solution. If you're always saying you're too busy, reassess your strategy.

7 Back love, not money. Doing things for love, rather than the outcomes, will help us to be better. We don't need to be incentivised to do things we enjoy. Especially true for creative work. We don't need to be bribed to do things better, but given the autonomy to find our own way.

Take naps in the afternoon, talk to strangers, don't be busy, do things for love. Be more amateur!

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Anything, Anytime, Anywhere

Here I am at the Gartner Portal, Content and Collaboration Summit. Opening welcome is slick as always. Covered the most important interconnected forces around today:
Information, Mobile, Cloud and Social.
Combine to create an "always on" era.

First keynote follows on from this and is entitled Always On. Anything, Anytime, Anywhere. I remember going to a SUN ERC conference about 12 years ago where I heard that phrase coined for the first time.

Industrialisation of IT does not mean the death of the IT professional, but frees us up to do more interesting things.

Picture of a typical CIO. Looking out over the horizon. Or, not sure what it is or how it got there.

CIO technology priorities at the moment include cloud and mobile, and are looking for customer experience to drive innovation. This latter one is a big change from previous surveys. IT more than ever now has to be part of the business, cannot be separate.

Social computing not very high on CIO list of priorities. (NB, it is on mine :-)). But, the only way we will deliver solutions to our business problems is by collaborating with each other.

How do we put the Nexus of the 4 forces, Information, Mobile, Cloud and Social, to work? Things we should be looking at to build really cool collaborative apps:
Image and position capture
Integration into the social network through APIs
Approval workflow
Text and natural language analytics

Some other scenarios:
Second screen
enhance real works with virtual overlay. Eg watching a film with iPad on your knee to interact and look things up
Or meta data over a sports event.

Health management of the whole individual based on the individual's interactions inside and outside of a doctors office. People are more honest with their friends than their doctors. Big privacy and ethical issues of course.

People are driving a convergence of information, social interaction, mobility and cloud. Using multiple devices and applications of their choosing people connect with each other and interact with a wealth of information. Seamlessness of the experience relies on underlying cloud infrastructure.
People expect this interactivity in all of their roles, ie personal and work.
BYOD will be the norm. Followed by bring your own applications.
We used to talk about rogue developers. Now we have citizen developers.
We have to give up some control, in order to have some control.

People are drivers. Customers switch between open and closed environments, apps, devices etc, but all they see is the glass. They don't know, nor want to know what goes on behind it. User manuals barely exist now. Things just work. Or they should. Big challenge for our architectures which are often complex and based on legacy technologies.

What is a portal now? Integration of different apps? But iPads do that without a portal. Tying to solve problems in wrong place in the architecture. Too close to the glass.
Existing architectures are usually conceived in isolation and are techno centric not user centric.

Empowered individuals are untethered, work anywhere on anything. Have access to great design, technology and app choices, and will quickly discard apps that they don't like and move on. They aggregate and integrate information. They will engage with technology if it provides value to them.

Information is key to good apps. From multiple sources, historical and in real time, specific to the individual, relative to the individual's social connections, informed by their behavioural patterns. Interesting problems to work on.

Is our view of enterprise content management in our organisations informed by the above, or are we still document pushers?

Interaction across devices is important. We all use different devices for different experiences. Eg iPads for consuming content, laptops for creating. Therefore consistent state and data access is vital.

Lots of architecture implications for everything covered in this talk.
We need to embrace a post modern architecture,
Think in terms of an ecosystem. Mutual and interdependent. Co-creative, innovative and collaborative.
SOA is important.
APIs are the skeleton key, design APIs for your consumers
Choose from the range of app development tools
Legacy modernisation is the elephant in the room. It's required but not easy.
Architect for the Cloud.
Evaluate IaaS and PaaS providers
Understand the business. Build things that add value.

We need to channel our inner anthropologist, sociologist and ethnographer
It's not just about technology anymore!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

New students, space and data

So, the campus is buzzing this week as the new students arrive back. We had staff up at the student residences all weekend, mainly helping them connect to the newly installed wireless network. Many had completed all of the pre-registration information which gave them a computer account, but those who hadn't were able to do that as soon as they arrived.  It was very interesting that many of them who had completed all of their pre-arrival information, and had been given a username and email address, couldn't use them, as they couldn't remember what password they had created!  This was despite making it more obvious that this password was actually important to them once they got to University. Perhaps next year we should just suggest they use their Facebook password :-)

Now it's Fresher's Week, new students are finalising their module choices, picking up their uCards, and finding their way round campus. Helping them to do that is our newly re-branded mobile app, iSheffield, available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and as a web app. It's got some great location features, including finding the nearest free open access PC.

As well as keeping an eye on what's happening with registration, this week so far I've had a couple of catch up meetings, and the inaugural meeting of the the Learning Infrastructure Group. This is a small, focused group, chaired by a PVC, and with the Directors of Student Services and Estates, myself, 2 academic heads of department, a project support officer.  Its remit is to provide a strategic steer to a number of projects which have an impact on teaching space, including the common timetabling project, teaching space refurbishments, and many projects looking at data which utlimately affect the way we handle process such as timetabling.  I'm not sure anyone understood the complex interactions of these projects, until they tried to study the diagram below!
Later today I'm off to London to a Gartner conference on Portals, Content and Collaboration, so will try and blog as many interesting sessions as I can. As usual, this will take the form of live blogs, so most will be in note form.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Incidents and Awards

Highlight of today was a demonstration of our new Incident Contacts System. For use principally by our Control Centre, it stores  details of staff who might need to be contacted in an emergency. Sounds simple enough but there's a lot of data in there which needs to be easily entered and  searched by  campus zones, buildings, rooms, departments, specialist facilities etc. Not to mention all of the different staff roles we have including building and facilities managers, safety officers, duty managers. It is extremely elegant and easy for individuals to enter their own data, with automatic reminders if you've not updated it in a specified time. A read only copy will be kept off site in case the incident involves access to our services! Developed by our colleagues at epiGenesys, it will be ready for piloting very soon.

Another excellent piece of news today was that a group of our students and their teacher, Gary Wood have won a competition to create an outstanding on-line resource for learning and teaching using Google Apps. The competition was run jointly by ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) and Google, and was announced last night at the ALT conference. It was chosen from hundreds of entries and was judged by an international panel of judges. was designed, built, and launched using Google Apps such as Sites, Docs, Google+, Maps, YouTube, and Calendar. The project was also a major piece of assessed coursework, through which students deepened their understanding of linguistics alongside gaining skills in project management, team working, use of web-based systems, and communication and collaboration tools.
Great stuff - well done to Gary and the team.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Student Union Officers - team objectives

At PSE (Professional Service Executive) yesterday we had an excellent presentation and discussion with some of our new Student Union Sabbatical Officers.  As well as individual objectives, they have team ones, and we focused on those.  I thought some readers of this blog might be interested to see them, so I've reproduced them below. Hope they don't mind, but I've made a couple of minor additions to clarify them. And added some comments form the discussion.

Diverse and Inclusive Union
To give all students – in particular students from under-represented groups, WP backgrounds and those who do not traditionally engage with the Students’ Union – the opportunity to enjoy the full extent of what is available at the Union, in order for them to both share their diverse cultures and shape their own unique experiences.

Fits in very well with work of Equality and Diversity Board on Equality Objectives. Some discussion about how Alumni Foundation might help with this. Some good ideas, including shop staff wearing flag badges to show what languages they speak - maybe we should adopt same in our frontline areas such as IC?

Minimising Disruption, Maximising Fun
To raise awareness amongst our members of the building works (on the Student Union and University House) and engage and communicate with them as to the reasons why it is happening, and the benefits for them.  We will minimise disruption to our services, communicating that the union is still open, accessible and vibrant.

We have already met the Activities Officer and will be helping student societies and other groups find alternative space and make it easier for them to book it.

The Demo and Beyond
The Higher Education system is changing beyond recognition and the government is choosing to ignore the views of students on this issue. In creating a student movement impossible to ignore we aim to empower students to shape a better future. It is important that we both build momentum for the National Demonstration and then use it to create a generation of activists who will campaign on a range of issues that students care about.

I think this is using the word activists in an interesting way - in a much more positive way than it is often used. Empowering students to shape their future has to be a good thing.

Priority Campaign: Reclaim Your Education
Linking in with our objective ‘The Demo and Beyond’ we will be running a campaign throughout the year voicing students’ objections to the regressive changes in the HE sector.

As usual, we on PSE all look forward to working with the Officers during the next year as partners.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

SSB and staff survey

Major meeting yesterday was our Service Strategy Board (SSB). Lots to discuss and a lively meeting. As usual, we had a look at the progress of all of our projects, including everything that we're trying to get in place for the start of term which I mentioned last week. Some new projects which are just starting up include development of an Open Day App, and the introduction of a text messaging service for staff and students. The first phase of this - being able to send a text message to all students in the event of an incident is almost in place, and future phases will involve targeting specific groups. we're also piloting on-line Information Security Awareness training, which will eventually be rolled out across the University.  Every month we get an informative report from our Problem Manager which gives us a heads up of various types of problem. These cover resolved problems, problems unresolved with work arounds, and problems with work on-going to fix them. It also highlights areas where we may have to make policy or strategic technical changes. This time it highlighted some issuses we having around authentication/SSO via our portal and some single points of failure which might need a change to our authentication process. A good meeting as usual.

I've also had a meeting of the Professional Services Executive, where we looked at the results of a recent staff survey. We've got the headline results for the university and also in-depth analyses of our individual departments. As you'd expect, there's things we want to celebrate, things we want to improve, and things we need to investigate. We'll be doing all three in the department over the next few weeks.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Robots, wind tubines and the cave

Yesterday a few of our senior managers when on a trip!  Really exciting - a bit like a school trip. We went to visit the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), part of the Faculty of Engineering which is located on the Advanced Manufactuinrg Park just outside Sheffield. Most people know it by the huge wind turbine which you see as you approach Sheffield down the Parkway, but I suspect not many people know what goes on there.

It's a very large place consisting of a number of buildings - the original AMRC, AMRC2 or Factory of the Future, the Composite  Centre and a Knowledge Transfer Centre. It was a fascinating tour - the AMRC works with many partners, and in essence works with them on highly specialised manufacturing processes, to improve them, cut down product time, improve accuracy etc. They have very highly specialised machines, lathes and, most exciting, of all robots! Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures of them, but I did get some of assorted machines.

Some of their case studies are very impressive - cutting down the time it takes to fit a blade to a jet engine from hours to seconds for example. In fact, sometimes they cut the time so much, the rest of the assembly line can't keep up. They also work with composite materials, and we had a good session looking at carbon fibre - which is really fibre coated with carbon. Who knew? It's light, so you can make airplane parts out of it such as landing gear, and some planes are now 50% carbon fibre.

The robots were particualry exciting, and the precision of them is helped by a very complex internal GPS system so they know exctly where they are.

At one point we all donned glasses and went into "the cave" - a 3D virtual reality area where we flew over the factory and got up close and personal with a jet engine.

It was a fascinating trip, and one that more people should do if they get the chance to see the real applied research that is going on in the University. We did have a chat about their IT requirements, but mainly it was just to see what was going on. We should do it more often!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

What do you do over the summer?

Well, we're really back into the thick of it now. Only a week and half till Freshers Week, and the race is on to get everything up and ready for them.  Our voice and data team are working like mad to get wireless into all of our student residences - we've had it in some of the main social areas such as bars already, but every bedroom had a wired connection. When we put the network in, we thought that was the best way to go, and students loved the fast connection they could plug their desktop PCs into. Now the world has changed. They don't have PCs anymore but laptops, smart phones, tablets, and they don't want to be tied to their desk to use them (that's if their device has  even got a network input), they want to sit on their beds, or chairs, or be social in the communal living areas and use them there. So, major project this summer to get every bedroom wireless. Some easier than others - the new ones are fine, but in the old buildings we have the thorny issue of asbestos to contend with. But we're getting there, and the majority of rooms will be ready for when the students arrive.

Another major project is our new managed desktop - moving to Windows 7. All of the applications  - around 300 - have had to be repackaged and installed, and we're racing against time to get this complete as well. Some sterling work from the team, and some great help from our IT staff from academic departments, 5 of which have been working with us to do this. Some great collaboration between central and devolved staff.

We're also continuing to introduce changes to our on line registration system so students can do more before they arrive, and the module add/drop period should also be online at the start of the year.

Our new VLE has completed its roll out this this summer, and we'll be piloting personal student timetables in google calendar was well.

That's on top of replacing hundreds of student PCs and refurbishing many of the teaching rooms over the summer as that's the only time we can do it.

I'm sure I've missed some things out, but it does always make me smile when people ask us what we do over the summer, as it must be so quiet when the students have gone.  Actually, it's one of our busiest times!