Thursday, 31 January 2013

Hashtags and silliness

Business Continuity Operations Group this morning (BCOG), where most of the business arose out of the recent exercise we carried out. We're particularly focusing now on getting departments to carry out Business Impact Assessments, and write their BC plans to fit in with them. Also some procedures we need to clarify - we spent some time discussing how to evacuate a building when there isn't a fire, so you cant use the fire alarms. An interesting one. Run round with a loud hailer shouting "GET OUT" was one suggestion. At the end of BCOG we always go round the table and note down Incidents and Near-Misses. This can cover everything from a power outage in the student residences, to bad weather, to a serious student illness,  to systems related incidents.

We were pleased to report that this morning we'd had a "near miss", (not a good description), and not an incident. Tuesday night we had a serious hardware failure on one of our filers. Failover to the other one worked perfectly, but as we were then vunerable and running at risk we decided we had to repair it asap. Parts were brought up by the engineer yesterday afternoon, and taking into account what exams were being held and when, and availability of staff, an emergency CAB yesterday decided to do the work early this morning. We thought it was low risk  - but obviously very high impact - if the filers didn't come back properly we would lose many systems. However, we decided the risk was higher after the engineer told us that they'd only done this twice before, and it had failed both times. Cue the taking down of our VLE, increased resistance on the web site, more people around, an earlier start time and  ----  a hashtag!!

I woke up early, and with myiPhone under the bedcovers followed the progress of #fixthefiler (sorry to everyone else who'd got up at unearthly hours to come in). We're very lucky  that nearly everyone involved tweets, so I got a running commentary, and all the banter that goes with it. There was some debate about the value of a hashtag, and we felt it definitely increases the team spirit - as well as keeping the people who follow us amused. Our official twitter feed tweeted regular updates, and everything went swimmingly well, apart from a mysterious orange light which appeared on one of the filers. But, the VLE and other things we'd taken down as a precaution were brought back, and the team had done a great job. But, there was more to come. In order that they could keep an eye on the mysterious orange light, a webcam was pointed at the server, and a new hashtag was born - #filercam. For most of the day, some of us have had a screen open showing a filer with a small orange light on it. Quite hypnotic, but also very silly. Social media is now an integrated part of our communications, and is so valuable, but its good that it can also be a bit silly at time. We all need a bit of fun in our lives.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Just for CiCS

One of the issues that comes up a lot in any large, complex organisation is communication. Here in CiCS we have over 220 staff in 6 different locations, and it can be a difficult to get it right - not least because people have very different needs, both in what they want to see, and how they want to see it. One person's information overload is another's information desert. Some people want  everything to come to them in an email, some see email as a distraction or an old fashioned way of communicating, others have really taken to social media. We try to make information available as widely as we can, and there a number of good sources to go to - but that's not to say we can't improve.

 There  also has to be an element of proactivity - people have to go and find things, not wait for it to be just given to them  - this is a University after all :-)  Nothing winds me up more than someone saying "I didn't know about that", when I've written a blog post about it, or "nobody told me", when there's been something in Just for CiCS.  Just for CiCS is our internal Google site, set up for the department, which has a lead story, and then various posts about work and about people. The work stories are updated frequently, sometimes daily, and the people ones every month, when we also produce a paper version of the site for those people without easy access to computers. It's an excellent source of news about the department - and I always find out things I didn't know before.

I hope this blog provides an update of the things I do and am thinking about, and the Learning Technologies one is excellent. There's also the monthly email to all staff and students in the University. 

But, as I said earlier, there will always be things that we can improve, and the last staff survey indicated that some staff didn't always know how or why decisions had been taken, or felt fully engaged with the department's direction. So, we're meeting in the next few days to look at putting together a staff engagement strategy and implementation programme to improve that.

Finally, I have heard the odd comment along the lines of 'I'm too busy to read that", or I've got too much to do in my job to find out about that". That always makes me think about Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His 7th is "Sharpen the Saw". This is based on the   analogy of a woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and is becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade, and when someone suggests that he stops to sharpen the saw, he says 'I can't I'm too busy sawing...."  We all need to take a break and sharpen our saws occasionally.

Monday, 28 January 2013


Straight back into the swing of things today after a great break in the snow. Strategic Liaison meeting with the Faculty of Engineering. Shared our plans and priorities for the next 2/3 years, and talked about some common concerns. Issues around timetabling and teaching space, the VLE,  the managed desktop and data storage and research computing support all had a lively discussion. Also had some very productive discussion about working closer together, especially around servers - virtual and physical ones.

Had an Exec meeting this afternoon where we had our first look at the results of a recent staff survey. Only got them this morning, but on first glance, some useful information. Some areas where we're doing well, some areas to improve and do better in. Some services well liked, some not so. We'll be working over the next few weeks analysing the results and coming up with an action plan. We also agreed to change the oversight of our risk registers, and set up a new Risk Management Group.

Most of the rest of day spent catching up - with emails and chatting to real people. The latter is one of the best things about coming back to work, which is more than can be said for the former.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it snow....

Yesterday I was at a RUGIT meeting - IT Directors of the Russell Group Universities. We talked about a number of things, including setting up a couple of new Special Interest Groups - one on open access publishing, and one on research support.  We also had quite an interesting discussion about  strategies, and the different approaches taken. Some have traditional IT Strategies - usually 3-5 year rolling plans written by the IT department and mainly about central IT. Others, especially where all IT is run by one department, have whole University strategies. One had a quite short, infrastructure strategy written by the IT Department, with the rest contained in departmental plans. Here in sheffield we are developing strategies for our service areas, so we have a Teaching and Learning Support Strategy, a Research Support Strategy, one for Communication and Collaboration,  Help and Support, Corporate Information, Business Activity and Infrastructure.

Everyone seemed to be struggling with the same problem - too much to do and not enough resources. Too many requests for work coming in and unrealistic expectations of what we can cope with, and  how long it might take. We're not the only place having issues with prioritisation either, and a distinct lack of services that we can stop offering in order to develop and run new ones.

Today has mostly been about snow. As chair of BCOG, (Business Continuity Operational Group), I often end up coordinating the University's response to events such as bad weather. Today we were making sure that our snow clearing and gritting teams were prepared, we had communications for staff and students, and that we were prepared to get venues ready for exams over the weekend and next week. We have a great weather adviser from the met office who keeps us up to date with the latest predictions. As I write this, we've had light snow for a couple of hours, but nothing serious so far.

Signing off for a week now - my annual pilgrimage to Center Parcs for a birthday treat - lots of sitting in the hot tub drinking cocktails I hope, even if it snows.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Co-designing Innovation

Today I've been in London at a workshop organised by JISC, to work with

them to put together a programme of Innovation projects.
A bit of an unnerving start to the day to hear reports of a helicopter crashing into a crane and bursting into flames, and it was across the river from where we were meeting. Tragic news and of course my thoughts are with the people and families involved.

JISC have £2m to spend over the coming year and are working with four agencies, UCISA, RUGIT, SCONUL and RLUK to co-design the programme.
I was there as one of 6 representatives from RUGIT, and by the end of today they will have run a workshop with each of the groups.

JISC provided a list of possible innovative projects, and we had a chance before today and during the workshop to suggest others. Following the workshops JISC will be setting up a Futures Forum to oversee the programme of work. We agreed that we and the programme needed to be focused, user centric, open, agile and willing to experiment. Some risks will have to be taken, or the programme will not have been innovative. We also need to work together in a collaborative and pragmatic way with a joint commitment to making this work.

I'm afraid I did have to question whether we were the right people to be discussing innovation in the use of digital technologies, when the amount of digital technology in use in the room was minimal - paper, pens and notebooks seemed to rule :-).

However, we did have a very good discussion, with lots of good ideas which we had to prioritise. One of the major themes was the Digitally Enabled University, with projects particularly around technology and students. This theme included ideas around putting technology in the hands of students and seeing what they do with it, assessing the use of BYOD, the mobile student, use of technology by academics and how technology can can improve processes.

My top rated idea, (well it would be, it was mine) was to set up a team of creative people including students with different IT skills, lock them in a room for a few weeks, figuratively speaking, and see what they come up with. Don't constrain them by giving them a problem and ask them to solve it, just let them do some blue skies thinking.

I would love to do this, and am having some thought about setting up an innovation team in Sheffield, possibly using student interns.

Altogether a very good day, and I look forward to seeing the results and to being further involved.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 14 January 2013

Handshakes and planning

So, the graduation ceremonies went well, the handshake videos are up (excellent quality), and the gigapixel pictures are there and being tagged.

Today we had our first snowfall of the winter, on the day exams started. So, we dusted off and updated our web page, made sure we had excellent gritting and clearing arrangements in place, and reminded everyone where to go for information. We're not letting a bit of snow be a crisis!

This afternoon it was Service Strategy Board (SSB), no project reports this month so we focused on the highlight reports from our service managers. Lots of non project work going on, but a lot to do with more requests for work than we can deliver, so we will be working with departments to prioritise. We took a look at our development portfolio and agreed to completely review our benefit profiles and set up a departmental risk group to review our various risk registers and bring them together.

We've also started looking at our planning statement for next year which we'll be completing after we've met all of the Faculties. Some themes coming out after the first few meetings - more, bigger computer rooms for teaching and assessment, and more wireless across campus. Neither of these will come cheap, so we'll be having a close look at our budgets.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Creative Media at Degree Ceremonies

Today and tomorrow are our Higher Degree Ceremonies. The sun is shining, but there is a lot of frost on the ground which won't do the newly planted borders round the Octagon much good :-)

This year  CiCS have taken on all aspects of recording and streaming the ceremonies. We are streaming them for the first time in HD, and had about 150 people viewing at this morning's ceremony. You can watch the stream during the ceremonies here.

After the ceremony the video will be available both as a DVD and on a USB stick, which we are duplicating immediately after the event so they will be ready for the students and families to take away with them. Spent some time in the projection box this morning which was quite exciting

We have three cameras recording things which are mixed during the event. Lots of CiCS staff involved, as well as the Student Union, and they're all doing a great job. And they are all looking so smart....

As well as the whole video, students will be able to purchase a short clip of their "handshake" which they can tag and put on Facebook here.

As well as the DVDs, the USB sticks and the handshake videos, we've also got our fantastic range of Varsity Gifts on sale from our Design and Print Service:

And, if that wasn't enough, we've engaged Edward from Reaxive to take high definition gigapixel pictures of each ceremony which students and families can tag on Facebook. This year's will be available here after each ceremony, but you can look at last year's summer ones here to see how good they are. Edward's pictures are much better than this one I quickly snapped of him working on the picture of this morning's ceremony.

So, a great team effort and some really innovative stuff to make sure the students and their families have a good experience on the day, and have something to take away to remind them of it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Photos and processes

As part of our drive to simplify and standardise processes to improve our services, we set up a Process Improvement Unit last year. Yesterday we had a Steering Group meeting, chaired by the VC, where we looked progress so far. Lots of things being worked on, including a number of student related things - change of status forms, fee waivers, UKBA issues and helpdesk referrals in the IC.  There's some quick wins we think we can get by improving the speed and efficiency of processes, which in turn will improve services and free up resources. There's also some big projects we need to work on, and one of the things to come out of many different discussions is the critical nature of course data in our student system. It is used by so many different processes, and has to be right. It's curated and input by a number of different areas, and it isn't always as accurate as it might be. So, historically we have found ways round it, but we can't continue to do so - this is something major that we have to put right. Lots of other exciting things to be worked on, including helping departments across the University to think about and improve their processes. We're hoping for a step change in culture!

Also yesterday we visited our colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health for a Strategic Liaison meeting, where one of the main topics of discussion was eLearning. On-line assessment, distance learning, ePortfolios, learning technology - all important topics for them, and we talked about how we could help. We also touched on MOOCs, but more of that in a couple of weeks.

And if you're wondering about the pictures in this post....
When we moved into our new building we were faced with a lot of blank corridor space, so we asked our staff  to submit photos which could be blown up. printed and displayed, and the first set has just gone up. The quality was excellent - please don't take the quality of these photos as indicative - I've just walked down the corridor with my iPhone :-)  Unfortunately some didn't have a high enough resolution to be blown up to the required size, but we'll be doing it again soon. And to avoid accusations of favouritism, these are just the ones nearest to my office! It's really brightened the place up, well done folks.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Has ePaper finally arrived?

One day I'll make it to CES (Consumer Electronics Show) which has just started in Las Vegas. Being a bit of a gadget girl I'm sure I'd be in seventh heaven, and it's always good to see your initials trending :-)

Today PaperTab was revealed - a collaboration between Intel, Queen's University Canada and Plastic Logic (a British firm). A flexible, paper thin tablet which looks and feels like paper. You can flick through a document by bending the screen, and join them together to make bigger displays. Will paper ever be the same again?

Back to work and virtual humans

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to 2013 - hope you all had a good break. I'm sure 2013 will be another successful year for us - lots to do, and we also welcome our new Assistant Director, Dave Surtees, who started with us today.

When we got back last week it was straight into a 9am meeting of the Steering group overseeing the review of our student system. We're looking at what we currently have, as well as a vision for the future,  but the emphasis is increasingly on process change, simplification and standardisation.

I've had a meeting with HR about the Equality Objectives project I was involved in last year, and particularly how we can change the way we recruit staff so that we more closely reflect the local population. Lots of things to try out, and an interesting pilot is soon to start for some of our ancillary staff.

This morning we had a Business Continuity Operational Group, where the main agenda item was looking at the recommendations coming out of the exercise I took part in before Christmas, where we had three teams working on three different simulated incidents.

Finally today, I and some colleagues went to talk to one of our academic research institutes, INISIGNEO. This is a really exciting initiative - joint research involving departments in the Faculties of Engineering and Medicine. They are using computer simulation and modelling techniques to predict changes in the physiological state of a person. For example the progression of a disease, or of treatment. They are building biological models of organ systems which will eventually complete the virtual physiological human. This is all very exciting (there's a press release about it here), and of course, it requires computing power, hence our discussions with them. We'll be working with them to make sure they get the right sort of processing power, and the necessary training and support. It's one of the reasons I love working in a University, listening to academics who are passionate about their research.