Friday, 21 December 2012

Keep Calm and Call Control

A week of catch up meetings and Christmas lunches, including the infamous CiCS Christmas party. Photos will be posted as soon as I've decided where to host them!

Today we gave our customers some Christmas reading and published our newsletter, which you can download here.

The article on our new major incident plan caused some amusement, and a rather good mock up what a poster advertising it might look like was soon mocked up by one of our twitter readers (thanks James...).  Lots of good articles in there including ones on our new desktop, migration to our new VLE, information security, research computing and using Google Apps in teaching. We produce this about twice a year, and an email one every month. You can see all of our back copies here.

So, that's it for a couple of weeks. Have a very Happy Christmas and may you all have health, peace and happiness in the New Year. See you in 2013.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Transformation Through Technology

This afternoon I've been to a briefing from the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) on their Transformation Through Technology (T3) initiative.

Started with an introduction from the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. He emphasised that there is no option but to save money by becoming more efficient. In order to make savings, we need to share resources and share common goals. They hope we can learn from their experiences.
Criminal Justice system has always relied heavily on paper, but that is changing rapidly. Lot of money spent on IT systems in last decade, but didn't always get proper return on investment, not enough joined up thinking between departments, and didn't get most out of the systems which were implemented. Now wanting to get good ROI, and achieve modern, paperless processes. Not easy. Hard to change working practices. Savings will ultimately be achieved by stopping moving paper and people. So as well as better digital processes, will make more use of video links, for example between prisons and courts. Most police forces now transferring information to CPS electronically. This is then transferred to magistrates court electronically. Lots of tablets have been bought so that cases can be heard totally electronically. CPS solicitors use them in court and can annotate and navigate through large case files. Most are finding it quicker and easier than using large paper case bundles. They also have a secure email in place. The efficiency programme has not involved major capital investment, but has used systems already in place.

Then we heard from Chief Exec of CPS, Peter Lewis. Up till a couple of years ago, CPS alone were using 1m pages of photocopying a day! To move that amount of paper is never going to be fast and responsive. Very traditional system. Hadn't embraced technology and change in the way some of the other parts of the public sector had. Had to make 30% savings. Have lost 2000 staff in last two years. Hadn't got enough people to work with that amount of paper, nor the buildings to organise and store it. Had to work differently. No choice.
Also were looking to make the system better and more responsive.

Looked at the IT system and basic infrastructure they had in place. Courts and police services were not fit for purpose. CPS had clunky, 10 yr old system. Also a cultural issue. People used to working on paper, had to fundamentally change how they worked. Biggest problem was the history of IT in CJS had been a series of disasters. Many millions of £s had been spent in a decade. People did not believe that you could be serious about changing the system through IT. Not enough that the CPS changed because it was such an integrated system with the courts and the police.

Decided to take new approach. Had to prove what could be done, change mindsets about what was achievable. Create confidence in IT. Also needed a basic level of connectivity in the system to start making immediate savings. And, needed to learn about what a digital future would be like, what was digital working going to be like.

Looked at what they could do by connecting the creaky systems together. Do as much as they could, and persuade colleagues in other areas to go with them. Had some brave people in courts and police who committed to work with them. Made bold steps to allow them to go forward. Create a sense of momentum, change is happening. Don't wait for perfection, do something now. Also create sense of inevitability. Next stage is mandation. Needs clear leadership.

Have made real progress in magistrates courts, a lot is now paperless. Now moving to crown court. But major achievement is having a shared vision. So, for example, CPS and court systems will be bought together, a common IT system for the CJS. There's a sense of ambition. Technology is part of the answer, not a cross they have to bear.

Then Jeff Thomas, Business Change and Delivery Manager for CPS. A personal story of what digital working means in the CPS. Started experimenting in 2009, before T3. Everything from police that can be electronic had to be. Master file is the digital one, not the paper one. That was a major change and was key. Connectivity in court is vital, for receiving emails and evidence. Something we take for granted, but no wireless in courts, so had to rely on 3G dongles.

When T3 came along, he reported to it. One of the key things he said was
as long as the paper file remains the master file, you are constrained by the framework of processes which support it. To move from enormous bundles of paper to a digital case file requires both a cultural change, and a different way of working. Mindsets have to be changed.

Going paperless hasn't saved the money from savings on paper and toner, it's the savings on people needed to handle and move it and space to store it.
Nationally 22.2m sheets of paper are produced by the CPS on guilty pleas, would stack as high as a mountain.

They use the HP tablet, the standard laptop which flips to become a touchscreen tablet. Demonstrated the electronic system and how easy it was to flick though the bundle, search and annotate it. Can highlight, scribble and put virtual post it notes on the bundle. Can also have lots of other stuff on your tablet for reference.

A few key points:
Digital working allows more flexible working.
Eliminate redundancy. Make systems and kit sweat for you
Standardise processes. But build in room for innovation.
Can't run two systems, paper and digital, side by side.
Don't digitise inefficient processes

Where to next, wish list:
Connectivity in the courtroom
Defence buy in
A truly electronic file
A shared platform across the CJS

Then the Ministry of Justice CIO spoke about things they were doing, many of them things we take for granted. Good, single network. Upgraded PCs. Managed print service. Joined up systems. Standardisation.

In the Q and A at the end, security was mentioned. Interesting. Going down to fewer security levels. The main challenge is classification of data and having a risk based approach to security which is standardised so no multiple copies are held. Started being nervous about it, but they were losing paper! Think they are more secure now than before. Be adult about it. Digital media is more recoverable if a lunatic burns the court down! Most of what they do is public. They share a lot of their information with criminals. :-) Need a balance. Treat really sensitive information securely, but don't apply same rules to everything.

Are looking at authenticity as an issue, but you can alter paper. Will need discovery tools because of amount of data being collected. The analogue age suggests you read everything. Can't be done now.

Looking at more modern tablets eg iPad and working out how to make them secure. But the HP ones were good enough at the time to get something working.

In summary, this was a very good case study which I found very interesting, hence the amount of notes I took! The room was packed with people from many different sectors, so the transformational story is obviously one that is in many people's minds.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Secret Sheffield

Yesterday morning was mainly taken up with an Exec meeting where we were looking at the implications for us of some of our Faculty's plans, especially in terms of student number targets. We also worked through our operational plans looking at where priorities might need to be adjusted to take account of changing University objectives.

In the afternoon I was at a meeting of PSE ( Professional Service Executive) where we discussed a number of topics, including the first thoughts of our new Director of Corporate Affairs, (Nick), who joined us a few weeks ago. Lots of interesting debate around our brand, how we are perceived and what we aspire to be as a University. For example, what does it mean to be a civic university, is it just a descriptor of the sort of University we are, or does it have a much deeper meaning about how we interact with the City? A generally held opinion, and one picked up early by Nick, is that we have lots of excellent stuff going on, but we tend to keep it a secret, in true Yorkshire fashion, we don't like to brag about it :-)

I personally was pleased to see a much greater commitment to Digital Engagement emerging, and I look forward to working with Nick and his team on this strategy.

Today I'm off to London for a presentation on how the CPS have implemented their T3 ((Transformation Through Technology) programme where they plan to make the whole criminal justice system paperless. I've been reading up in it, and it hasn't been without its problems, so I'm looking forward to hearing how they've done, and what we can learn from it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Space, SSB and George

Early start yesterday for a UEB/HoDS meeting (I should include a glossary shouldn't I - University Executive Board, Heads of Departments). One of the main discussion items was Space. I have to resist the temptation to always add The Final Frontier.  Specifically teaching space. Have we got enough, do we need to use it better?
Lots of data provided, including the different patterns of teaching (Monday mornings and Friday afternoons aren't popular), and the number of rooms booked which aren't used.  Discussions centred around how we can change our systems to improve efficiency of use, and what cultures need to change. Lots of very constructive discussion ranging from central timetabling to extending the teaching day. Lots more discussion to come as we cannot keep building more space.

Also yesterday we had a Business Continuity Steering Group where we  had a demo of our new Incident Contacts system, and a debrief of the incident simulation of a couple of weeks ago. Some headlines coming out of it include the need for "sub plans" to have in case of an incident - how do we evacuate a building safely without using fire alarms for example, or how do we cancel and rearrange exams. 

Then yesterday afternoon was our Service Strategy Board. As usual, a full meeting. In fact all meetings yesterday were full, not one less than two hours. But, all useful and interesting. SSB had a presentation on our Incident Procedure which has been revamped. Some of the key points to come out of the discussion included:
  • Front line support are a vital part of the process. We need to integrate the helpdesk and service catalogue, and complete our  Service Level Agreements (SLA's).
  • We discussed target resolution time for typical low-medium-high level problems which will be in the SLAs
  • We're introducing more regular reporting on incidents and the following reviews
  • One of the major areas of discussion was around out of hours incidents which are often the hardest to manage. Our new  incident contact database will help but we do have an issue with customer expectations of  24/7 suppor.
  • Major incidents will continue to be  handled by a team, with an identified incident co-ordinator, working with the University incident management plan as appropriate. 
  • We also noted that the Service Manager for the area is key to strategic decisions and needs to be involved in all incident teams.
A good discussion and the revised plan will now be subject to further consultation before being finalised in the New Year when we'll start a period of training and awareness raising. 

Lots of other good stuff in the Service Managers highlight reports and project progress documents. I was pleased to note the continuing success of the creative media suite in the IC, and a recent session for 40 students in the production of creative media was fully booked within hours. You can read about in the IC blog here.
We looked at several new project proposals and approved one of them - which can be summarised as Getting out of uSpace  (uSpace is our collaboration software which we hope to be out of by end of next year).  Others will be subject to further discussion and prioritisation.

And the most exciting thing to happen yesterday - I adopted a new cat. George. He's huge and furry. Does he look like a maine coon to anyone?

Friday, 7 December 2012

A new JISC and Christmas trimmings

Had a good meeting/lunch this week with a colleague from SHU and JANET. Interesting to hear about the changes happening in JISC as it moves to being a new legal entity. It's now a registered as an independent charity, owned by the Association of Colleges (AoC), GuildHE and Universities UK (UUK). JANET and JISC Collections have come together to form a wholly owned subsidiary company of JISC, and a Board of Trustees has been appointed.  Their ambitions for the future are:

1. Innovation for further education, higher education and skills - lead the way in technology aided learning, product development and new services to keep the education sector ahead of the game at the forefront of international practice 

 2. Support research at the highest level - deliver against the needs of researchers, providing core infrastructure services and innovation support 

3. A fast and powerful network - continue to supply a strong and reliable network to education and research organisations 

4. Work in closer collaboration - continue to better understand and deliver against the needs of our customers and users, to ensure a positive student experience and skills transferable to the workplace 

5. Business as usual - continue to provide, those highly valued and used services and deliver support, through networks such as our Regional Support Centres, who supported over 2,000 providers in the UK last year 

6. Advice and guidance - be a trusted source of expertise for all our customers 

7. Drive digital enablement - drive the use of digital technologies to improve efficiency, save money, drive student engagement, benefit the student experience and support innovation

 8. Offer services on a large scale - provide services for universities and colleges which they are unable to implement individually.

So, it will be interesting to see how they move forward with these over the next few months.

Also this week I gave a presentation to the launch event of our latest Sheffield Leader 2  cohort on what its like being a senior leader in a University and the challenges we face. Unluckily I woke up this morning with a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold, luckily my voice held out till the end! I covered a number of things - challenges we face in the University created by changes in government policy, recruitment, international students affected by UKBA changes, postgraduate funding and the need to be more efficient. Then I covered challenges faced specifically by us in CiCS - consumerisation, mobility, BYOD, customer expectations, 24*7 services, carbon footprint, information security - ran out of time so stopped there. So many challenges, so little time.

The other priority thing tackled this week was the annual Christmas trimming up of the offices. I thought my Christmas trees were quite festive:

 until I went upstairs......

 Round of applause for the web and portal teams I think!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

epiGenesys Showcase

On Monday i went to the 5th anniversary and student showcase of epiGenesys. epiGenesys is a business set up by the University's department of Computer Science in late 2007. It's wholly owned by the University, employing Sheffield graduates and giving  experience to current students on IT projects for businesses and charities, as well as ourselves. It's a great set up and has been hugely successful. We saw some really interesting projects, including a secure way of storing committee papers and displaying them on an iPad, a bibliographic search tool for researchers, a web interface to local hospital radio for patients and relatives to make requests and a PAT testing system. There were lots more, but I didn't have time to get round them all. A great venture, and something we are becoming more involved with - to mutual benefit I hope. We are commissioning epiGenesys to write systems for us, and I hope we will be able to give students some experience of what it's like to work in a large, enterprise organisation.

One of the systems epiGenesys has been working with us on is our incident contacts system, which we are piloting at the moment. Updatable by individual staff who've been nominated by their department to be incident contacts, it gives a nice clean search interfaces for our security staff to find contacts by name, department, building, role etc. The project group met this morning, and we're hopeful that after the pilot departments have reported we can roll it out across the University.