Thursday, 28 March 2013

An Easter Egg

Sorry for not many posts this week - not a lot to write about. A lot of catching up with people, preparing presentations I'm giving in the next few weeks, and traveling to Scotland (see previous post).

However, three exciting things have happened which are definitely worth mentioning:

It's been confirmed that the New Engineering Building will go ahead on the site of the Jessop Hospital as the Secretary of State is not calling the decision to demolish the Edwardian block in - see more detail about the building here. It's great news for us, because as well as engineering laboratories for students there will be pooled teaching space including lecture theatres and seminar rooms, and a considerable amount of student led learning spaces which we are provisionally calling ICE - Information Commons East. Given its proximity to our Arts and Humanities departments including languages and music, we are intending to create some interesting and state of the art creative media facilities for students in it.

Here's a video of what it will be like - it's going to be stunning!

Next, for the second year running, students have given IT Support a 96% satisfaction rating in the student barometer survey - this is the highest score not only in the Russell group, but in the UK. Well done everyone!

Any finally - Mildred has laid an egg! Our peregrine Falcons have so far produced one egg but more are expected - you can read all about them here on the Sheffield Bird Study group's blog. I sort of get the feeling they don't like us calling them George and Mildred, but I do....  Mildred has spent a lot of time on the egg keeping it warm which given the current temperature I'm not surprised at, and they've also been seen a lot ripping pigeons to pieces on the nest.  Here's some pictures.

Have a nice Easter everyone  - especially our SAPBasis guys who are doing a major upgrade instead of eating easter eggs. Or maybe as well as.

Sitting on a railway station....

At some point all systems need reviewing to see if they're fit for purpose, and our student information system is no exception. Written in-house based on Oracle, we went live with it in 1996, and it has continued to grow and develop. However, we are finding it hard to keep up with the development work needed - especially statutory things and government initiatives. The KIS, HEAR, UKBA have all taken significant amounts of our valuable developer time, as well as making required changes to HESA and UCAS. Time which we would much rather be spent on developing the system and improving our services to students.

So, we have a number of options ranging from do nothing, to putting in a package solution, or hugely increasing our developer resource to rewrite our current system in modern technology and continue to develop it. At the moment we're developing a vision of what we want our system to be - not just what do we have now, but what sort of system do we need for the future.For example, one that is flexible, supports internationalisation, is mobile and provides good self service facilities to students.

At the moment we're on a fact finding mission, and the last couple of days have been spent visiting two other institutions to look at how they have implemented different packages. A lot of time on trains (both were in Scotland and we visited 7 different railway stations!), but immensely useful, and I'm grateful to everyone who gave up their time to talk to us. We're very aware that we don't want to base our decision just on technical issues, although they are important, but what we want to do is choose something that our users feel satisfies all of their needs, so we took representatives from our main student areas and academic departments as well. Only a couple more visits, and we 'll be looking to make some recommendations by May. Whatever the outcome, and whatever we do, a big project is on its way!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Research SAG and Process improvements

This morning I went to our Research and Innovation Service Advisory Group. Made up of researchers from across the Faculties and from Professional Services research support areas,  it is one of  number of SAGs supporting our different service areas. The SAGs act as a channel for connecting our services and developments  with the relevant areas of the University, and they help us collect user requirements and agreement about services, service levels and priorities.

This morning we had a really productive discussion around service levels, response times and where different research services should sit in the critical, high, medium or low priority matrix. Very pleasing to see a group categorise services as mainly medium, no critical, and very few high. very realistic and helps us enormously. We discussed storage of research data at length, and what advice we should be giving researchers on where to store data - preferably not on a pile of hard drives on their desks, or a small server underneath it! The staff survey we did recently had some comments in about both research computing (which people are generally happy with), and some of the support systems, which many people aren't.  There's some work to do on either improving the user interface, or changing the way our costing system is used so that only experienced admin staff use it, not PIs who maybe use it infrequently and therefore find it difficult to use.

Yesterday I went to a presentation on a recent Rapid Improvement Event facilitated by our Process Improvement Unit, looking at the student "Change of Status" form.Now, that might not sound too exciting, but it's an important event for a student - withdrawing, changing course, taking leave of absence - a possibly life changing event. And to achieve this, it was taking up to 200 hours per form over 8 days - and the 8 days could be spread over several weeks. So, the process was not fit for purpose, the event identified where the waste was, and got rid of it. The process was pulled apart, and a new one built. That sounds easy, but it isn't. I was really pleased to see that the team was taking a pragmatic approach, looking at fixing the paper based process very quickly, with a fully digital, workflow based process to come later. If you wait for all of the system based things to be improved before you change anything, then nothing will happen. So, with no system enhancements at all just process improvements, they've reduced processing time by at least half, and seriously improved the experience for students.  Well done to all involved.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Talks, web apps and birds.

The talks from UCISA last week are all now available to view here.  I would particularly recommend the last four - Idea Street, Digital by Default, the view from the BBC, and Mark Ormrod.
All excellent.

Since I got back from the conference there's been a lot of catching up to do, emails and face to face meetings with a number of colleagues. Today we had an interesting demo from Jadu on a couple of their products. The first, WeeJot is a platform for developing mobile web apps, and looked simple enough for me to use.  The app studio had a number of templates for pulling in content from various sources including RSS feeds, maps, social media, web pages etc.  I might apply  for a developer account and have a go - which would be a first :-)

The second product was their search and portal engine, Rupa, which amongst other things is a presentation layer for the Google search appliance.
Of course these were just preliminary looks, and we shall have to see how they fit with our mobile and search strategies and discuss further, but I was impressed with the presentation of both.

I'll leave you with a picture of one of our Peregrine Falcons, taken just a couple of minutes ago.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Flatliners, innovation and Inspiration

The latter part of the UCISA conference was excellent. The conference dinner on Thursday night was held in the crypt of the Catholic Cathedral, which I didn't know existed. Looking a bit like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, it was designed by Lutyens in 1930, built between the wars, and was going to be the base of an enormous new cathedral. However, after WW2 the money ran out and it was never built  - just the crypt remains under the modern cathedral. I had the privilege of sitting next to Mark Ormrod, a remarkable man, of which more later, and Martin Bayfield,  Rugby international. Boy, was he tall - just under 7ft I reckon!  Usual evening of food, amusing afterdinner speech from Martin, charity raffle, and some shots in the bar afterwards which seemed like a good idea at the time. Flatliners - Tequila, Sambuca and Tabasco. If anyone ever offers you one, say no.

Friday morning we had three external speakers. First was David Cotterril from DWP talking about an innovation game he implemented called Ideastreet. I've seen him speak before and blogged about it here. Worth a read, and his video clips are worth watching as well. This sort of crowdsourced innovation is something we hope to implement with Ideascale. There's a case study of it here.

Next up was Mike Bracken from the Cabinet Office, about the transformation work he's leading in government on their Digital by Design projects. Again, I've heard him speak before (that's how we get good speakers), and blogged about it here. Another really interesting and relevant talk about what we do with our legacy systems, how we move to totally digital processes, and the challenges around it. Some great stuff being done in government, such as the car tax site (everybody's number one), and we got a sneak look at a dashboard which had been developed for the Prime Minister.

Finally we had Adrian Woolard, Head of R and D at the BBC based in Media City in Salford. I hadn't heard him speak, but he had been recommended to me by Rory Cellan-Jones via Twitter! He gave a great insight into some of the developments that the BBC are working on. My favourite were the telethrones - full height 3-d projections to replace video conferencing. Photo by Gareth Edwards.

All of the above talks were recorded  and are worth watching - I'll post a link when they're available which should be in next couple of days.

The closing talk is always a motivational or inspiring one, and this one was truly inspirational. It was a young man called Mark Ormrod, who was a Royal Marine in Afghanistan and on Christmas Eve in 2007 he stood on an IED. It exploded and blew both of his legs and one arm off.   I could not possible do justice to his talk by describing it. It was gripping, shocking, awful and funny as Mark interjected his own black humour. Mostly it was gripping - at one point as Mark described the moments after the blast where he realised what had happened to him and asked his colleague to shoot him, I looked round and everyone had their hands to their faces with dropped jaws. Not a sound in the room. He was initially told he would never walk again, but now he walks with prosthetic legs and hasn't used a wheelchair for 4 years. His legs are amazing! With a cpu in the knee and using bluetooth to communicate between all of the sensors, the technology is very special.  A very inspirational young man, and if you get chance to hear him speak you should.

So, another great conference over, and I'm still on the organising committee, so time to start planning the next!

EDIT:  The talks are all now available here.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


As well as listening to and blogging about presentations at UCISA, I've also been involved in presenting two.

Yesterday afternoon as part of the University Showcase session Chris Clow and I presented on our Creative Media facilities.
We showed the video which you can see on the web site, and talked through why we'd set up the facility:
- students were clearly producing media
- facilities for them to do so were split over a number of departments and not coordinated
- there was no facility for students to collaborate on projects.

We then showed the facilities on offer, and talked through some of the technical aspects of setting up the shared, temporary accounts which students use. We hoped to show some examples of projects, but unfortunately I'd forgotten to connect my laptop to the wireless network! It seemed to go well, and everyone was impressed with the facilities which we offer to students on a 24/7 basis. So, thanks to Chris and the team.

This morning I was on the main stage with our Chief Financial Officer, in conversation! Asked him the obvious questions, why are you an accountant, what is the point of accountants, and what do you as CFO want from a CIO? Of course he asked me the same question back, what did I want from him? I got a round of applause for asking for procurement officers who understood IT procurement ( no reflection of Sheffield's procurement team who are of course excellent!) It was a lively conversation, streamed, and will be on line soon if anyone is interested in watching it. Watch for the Pink Floyd theme!

EDIT:  The presentation is available now here. And sorry, you will need to install Silverlight.

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From IT Director to CIO

Transforming Leadership of your IT Service, from IT Director to CIO
Albert Ellis CEO of Harvey Nash.

Annual CIO survey, global, 2400 participants, 14 years of data.

Change is the key driver for all CIOs. Main factors in the changing landscape are:
Social media

The skill set of a CIO is also changing. Main skills:



Survey shows that most CIOs are targeted with generating revenue or supporting growth. In HE sector, still focused on costs and savings.

How has role of CIO changed in 6 years?
Business focused
Multi skilled
Cost conscious

Feel less important
Relationship with the CEO
Well paid

What do members of the technology team look for in their leader?
Blue sky thinker and emotional intelligence at bottom.
Having a vision and being a good listener at top!
Honesty and integrity also near top.

What skills do we need to succeed?

Understand new business models. Current business models in danger of being defunct and overtaken by new ones.

Understand how technology can open up new channels of engagement with our customers

Demonstrate breakthrough thinking

Simplify complex process and be able to articulate them. Figure out the steps needed to get things done in practice.

Courage to take difficult decisions.

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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Engage, Amber Miro award winners

University showcase from Oxford University who won the Amber Miro award for innovative use of Social Media.

Engage project. Collaboration between IT Services and the Bodleian Libraries.

Had an increased demand for training and guidance in digital technologies. Increased awareness of social media. Some job adverts say show imagination in disseminating results of research.
Researchers required to have a portfolio of modern research skills.

So, increased demand, but no budget.

Came up with umbrella a term, " Engage". Under that, training and workshops, seminars, online resources, community support and guidance.

Online resources, labelled 23 things for research. Picked 23 things over 9 weeks. Self directed course, exposed to rampage of digital tools, on line support provided, reflections recorded in blogs. All available under Creative Commons here.

Series of training workshops and courses. Flagged existing courses eg course on how to use twitter, podcasting etc. Ran new ones on Wikipedia, copyright, developing LinkedIn presence, advanced workshop on your online presence.

Seminar programme showcased experience and expertise of academics. Tried to inspire academics to experiment and try new things with social media tools.
Lunchtime seminar programme was recorded, all as podcasts.

Coordinators of the project used Facebook and Twitter, as well as VLE to interact and collect feedback.

Tried to engage academics on live twitter, 3pm to 4pm, follow hash tag and have a conversation. Put into Storify so could be read later.

Programme was open, so reached beyond the University. 740 course bookings, 17,000 website hits. 41 people went all way through course with direct support. Lot of podcast downloads.

Going to run it again, doing evaluation at moment to see how it can be improved.

Spin off benefits:
Raised awareness of services, and workshops and consultancy being sort latter on a paid basis.
Raised profile of public engagement projects and expertise within the University.

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VCs Question Time

Now at the UCISA Management Conference in Liverpool. Opening session is a new format, a Question Time format with three VCs, chaired by Peter Gallimore who for many years was Assistant Editor of the Today Programme.

A,B,C relate to different VCs, but not necessarily the same one :-)

First question
IT services are fundamental to University services 24 hours a day, however very few funded to provide 24 services. So?

A 24 hours essential, not appreciated enough. Need to ensure that IT services not taken for granted.
B Resilience and quality of software important. Need to ensure that our systems are resilient to minimise downtime. Must work together with suppliers to make sure quality if of highest standard.
Moving into a world where we are student demand led. Students want 24 hour access, and 24 hour services. Also issue of online course, time zones etc.
C How do ensure we get 24/7 support that doesn't rely on goodwill? Be clear about what we want and plan for it to happen. Not just let it happen. Need to contract appropriately with staff. Can't rely on serendipity and goodwill. Be clear of what is expected of staff.
Look at how other sectors do it.
Outsource what you can eg mail.
But don't outsource where you need to provide personalised service.

Question about big data and opening up research data. How big an issue is open access?
A In favour of opening up data. Why shouldn't work that is publicly funded be publicly accessible, unless it is commercially sensitive? But uncertainly around funding model - top slice from Science budget would be a bad thing.
B Issues around FoI. When should info and data go into public domain.
Under what conditions should research data be restricted? Need policies and clear guidance.

University Finance Directors sit at top table, Given key strategic importance of IT, should IT Director be there as well?
A Yes, but need to take part in wider debate and wider strategic direction of University.
B All Universities different. Some senior management teams too big. Are issues about how professional service and academic parts of Universities are structures and represented.
C IT Director should have early involvement and early strategic influence, yes. But how that's achieved depends on appropriate consultation.

Needs of IT need to be made and considered at top table, can be done without sitting at it.

Need good communication between SMT and IT, in both directions.

Is an HE Institution a "business". Who are our shareholders and customers. Should we have some level of governance as in a commercial business

A Don't have shareholder expectations to meet, but we have students expectations to meet, should treat them better than shareholders. Keep our promises, deliver quality, and be business like and efficient in our processes.
All of us are accountable to far more stakeholders than ever before. Have to be business like in our decision making. Students are not simply a financial transaction, we are driven by intellectual curiosity, and this has to be financed.

B Agreed, HEIs have to be run on business principles. Business cases are critically important. But, we are driven by different outcomes. Not profit. We have to take forward major social challenges, eg social mobility.

C If we're not business like and effective we will go bust, if one university goes bust would have huge impact on rest of sector because of declining confidence in which we would be held. We're values driven organisations, not driven by delivering dividends to shareholders. We have to understand and be responsive to our stakeholders. We're not ivory towers.

How do you get input from the student body into design of services, and how appropriated is NSS in measuring success

A NSS is crude, and you can't rely on it solely. Need to embedded it into much more structured assessment of student need through organised feedback. Need rich information form staff and students. Social media can be used to collect it.

B Student engagement and the student voice being discussed by QAA at moment. How is this fed into QAA institutional review. Can be formalised, but all student feedback should be collected and acted on. Students must be given opportunity to communicate on IT provision, needs to be a partnership.

C Can't ignore NSS, but it is an exit interview. Most institutions have embedded ways of collecting student feedback. Derby have a programme rep system, trained by SU, they hold senior team to account in public once a year. Ignore student voice at your peril. It is extremely useful.

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Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Next up was a case study discussion with the founder of Friendsurance

Friendsurance is insurance as a social business. With standard insurance, much of cost of premium goes into administration and marketing.
With Friendsurance you insure each other, anything exceeding what can be afforded by the peer network goes to traditional insurance company. Much lower admin, marketing and small claims costs.
First viral product in financial sector.
Very old traditional product been modernised by use of modern technology including social networks.

Innovation very important to them, especially for improving the customer experience.
Innovation should not be used to make things easier for us, but should always be done to make things easier for the customer.

The user guides everything about how they operate.
Use hackathons and disruptive ideas to innovate. Sometimes developers will say something will take 4/5 months. Intern in a hackathon solves it in 2/3 days. Doesn't matter that it was an intern not a developer.

Have to partner with traditional insurance companies, but very difficult. Different timescales. Friendsurance does all the magic! Don't use the IT departments form the insurance companies, they are too traditional. Friendsurance employ people who think differently.
Makes use of customers' existing social networks including Google Plus, LinkedIn, Facebook.

Interesting example of a start up company using a different way of working (although wasn't Lloyds originally friends?)

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The Digital Enterprise

Opening session here at Gartner CIO Forum was about the Digital Enterprise. Again, just some notes I took, it was a long session, but very entertaining, with quite a bit of audience participation.

World has changed outside of IT. More dynamic, more change.
Mobile, social, big data and cloud combine to create a different environment to operate in,

Poll of audience using texts for mobiles - How much of technology's potential has your organisation realised?
55% said between 20% and 40%. Average in most surveys is 43%. Top reason this number is so low, is "the enterprise is not ready to adopt new technologies". But they are going out and doing it themselves, writing apps, going to cloud etc. It's an IT mindset. Not ready to adopt our technologies.

CIOs cannot expect to raise this level by working within IT. Need to take a new look at strategy, funding and skills.
Not about controlling costs anymore, but about supporting growth and innovation.

Top technologies we should be looking at are:
Analytics and business analytics
Mobile technologies
Cloud computing, SaaS, IaaS, PaaS
Collaboration technologies including social media and workflow

We need to keep doing the things including virtualisation, ERP, SOA etc, but the reasons to get increased funding are in top four. CFOs need good business reasons for investing in technology, not technological ones.

CIOs reporting that they don't have the right skills in their organisations. Skill set in most depts based on a world which no longer exists.

Need to hunt for innovative projects, some will fail, but we will still learn from them. Recognise business impact of deploying new technologies, and drive them through. If they don't work, learn from it.

Another text poll. What do most of us do?
Tend to operations
Hunt for innovation
Harvest for results.

Most of us tending to operations, with a bit of innovation. Very little harvesting for results (ie supporting growth)

Most CIOs have senior position in company, ie report to CEO or COO. Also, many CIOs now have wider role than IT. So, we should be leading, not tending.

Best business reason for investing in IT? Improving the customer experience.

Need a digital strategy, not a mobile or social strategy. Bring together mobile, social, cloud, analytics into one strategy.

What we mustn't do is fail to communicate the rationale and options for the things we will not be dong this year. " IT says no". Explain what we're doing and why it's more important than other projects.

Business performance improvement should be endgame for IT, not enablement. That means don't implement a system or finish a project and move to something else. Have to make sure organisation gets most out of it.

New digital technologies have to tap into the work we've been doing for last 30 years in building the infrastructure. Creates huge potential for innovation.

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Monday, 11 March 2013

Death of the Desktop

Next session from Nick Jones on mobile and wireless trends through to 2018

Definition of mobility getting bigger and broader. Now it's an innovation powerhouse. No longer mobile strategy, but multichannel strategy. Mobile has to fit with all other channels. Overlaps between channels.
New gadgets coming out, eg smart watches.
IT folks lost control of it. Now have to cope with what employees bring through door. Consumersiation has won.
Mobile is now part of an ecosystem.

Smartphones about 50% of all handsets being shipped, but by 2016 will be 80%, mainly due to cheap android devices.
IOS will stay strong player.
Windows phones have small share of market, but might rise, uncertain.
RIM may not be saveable, will remain a niche vendor.
No winner, so multi platform is the only future.

At moment sales of tablets equal to notebook PCs, but will outship them by 2016. Definition of laptop, ultra book, tablets will become very blurred.
Multi formfactor future, as well as multi platform.
IOS will continue to dominate tablets for some time, but android strong in emerging markets.
Windows 8 tablets will be interesting to corporates, not consumers.

Resolution is growing on displays. Curved screens and flexible OLED screens are emerging. User Interface getting more sophisticated, eye tracking on its way. Near field communication rolling out slowly, touch to act technology - unlocking doors, discount vouchers from a poster, mobile payment.

Mobile HTML5 still a work in progress. Has a lot of vendor support, but lots of standards, it's incomplete, multiple inconsistent implementations, security challenges, fragmentation of hardware makes it difficult to work on many devices.
Write once, test everywhere technology.
Will take 3 to 5 years to mature.

Mobile apps will become more sophisticated and more complex:
Better user experiences, people less tolerant of poor experience. Cosmetic design, psychology and motivation, usability all important.
Multichannel integration. Decide which services and which channels
Increasing sophistication, augmented reality
Improved quality, customers want less bugs and better support. Single cause of complaint in App Store is bugs.
Cloud partners, for context, payment, marketing, navigation, location.

A mobile app for every "thing". Increasing integration with consumer electronics
Smart fork monitors how fast you are eating!
Asthma inhaler, sends signal, tracks asthma
Smart watches
Augmented reality displays
Look at crowd sourced ventures eg Kickstarter for where real innovation is.
and set becomes the hub of the personal network. Based on architecture of app, device, cloud.

IT either runs the business, grows the business, or transforms the business. Mobile can be used to do all three. Mobile is critical to CIO strategies.
Many CIOs think the desktop will be dead in the medium term, 40% of organisations will only have mobile by 2016.

We need new architectures, new methods and processes, agility is essential and testing is vital.

What architecture to use for apps - native, hybrid or HTML5 ? It's a business decision, not an IT decision. No right answer, all have a place.

Five key technologies to follow:
1 Mobile and Cloud
Expoit cloud for scalability, agility, SaaS
2 Multiplatform mobile Application Development tools
3 Secure, multiplatform document sharing
All senior knowledge workers have multiple devices. Dropbox almost become a corporate app. Sharing and synching of docs is essential
4 Mobile testing
Testing challenges will increase for several years
Despite many challenges, mobile web apps are attractive for some uses.

Explore security of devices and apps, especially with BYOD
Find innovative ways to use mobile devices, apps and services
Don't go for a rigid one size fits all management of people and devices
Stop trying to manage things you can't control
Mobile strategy is a process not a document, update it frequently
Stay agile
Don't try to be an expert in all aspects of mobile app design and development, choose partners.

Another good session, and good set of recommendations

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Digital Customer Experience

I'm at the Gartner CIO Leadership forum for a couple of days, trapped in a hotel at Heathrow Terminal 5. Still, should be some good sessions. Blogging might be in note form. Depends how I feel :-)

First session is entitled Customer Engagement in a Digital World.

Are we taking digital customer experience seriously enough? Most of us have been affected by an online experience. Digital services are affecting traditional services. Many companies selling an experience rather than a product via their websites. Companies with the best customer experience may not have the best user experience. Do we listen to our customers enough? Extremely loyal customers will tattoo themselves with your brand!!

Customers care more about their experience than in the past. And they are more likely to complain about bad experiences, tell people, and move away.
Customer experience is a great differentiator.
Loyal customers are created primarily by reducing customer effort in dealing with you. So, process simplification very important.
A customer experience face to face has 6 times the impact of a phone call, which has 6 times that of online interaction.

Seven types of project to deliver improved customer experience
Listen to customer
Redesigning processes
Organisation acting as one, single view of customer
Make organisation more accessible
Changing attitudes, empowering employees
Designing better

Opening up, being transparent important. Be inclusive and enable the community, improve social networking, allow reviews, recommendations and feedback. Use collaboration to codesign, Eg, Lego.

Personalisation important eg website recognition, tailoring of content

Disney are experts at designing customer experiences! They plan and design the whole experience, especially car parking.

Some innovative projects in digital customer experience:
Outsource app development to customers, give out APIs, publish what development tools can be used, make sure secure.
Ski company, RFID tags in skis, take photos of customers on slopes, transmitted to Facebook for free, pay for high def version.
Look for digital innovation in gambling, betting and vice. Anything sinful. Far ahead in most technologies.
Walls. Smile activated ice cream vending machines. If you smile, get a free ice cream, and then they take a picture of you smiling and send it to Facebook.

Find out what's being done in your organisation, IT directors often unaware of what's happening.
Map all customer touch points and processes, find out what customers care most about and fix them
Don't think the customer experience is something soft, trivial, measurable or will go away if you ignore it.
Don't rely just on an annual customer satisfaction survey as the only voice of the customer.

Very interesting session, aimed mainly at business sector but some lessons we can learn, and somethings we're already doing. I'm thinking of all of the creative media we did around degree ceremonies this year, posting handshake videos to Facebook, tagging hi-def pictures etc.

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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

George and Mildred

About three years ago a pair of Peregrine Falcons were spotted flying around the tower of St Georges Church on our campus. In 2010 a nesting platform was erected, and last year they nested and had two chicks. You can see some pictures of them here.

Now our EFM department have put a web cam up so that we can get a glimpse of George and Mabel. At the moment it is only a glimpse as they are not there a lot - presumably they are out catching pigeons. But soon they will be nesting, and we should get some good views. Of the nest, any eggs and chicks, and I'm told, gruesome pictures of pigeons being devoured.

Here's a picture I took yesterday evening of Mildred on one of her quick visits.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

I'm an International Student because...

Yesterday the University launched a report in Parliament showing that International students pumped £120m into Sheffield's economy in a single year. The research follows concerns from the University of Sheffield that international students are being discouraged from studying in the UK because the country is seen as less welcoming following changes to visa rules and political rhetoric over immigration. We got national press coverage, and as part of the launch our Student Union made a   film showing how we're all International Students. Definitely worth a watch, and something else to make you proud of working here.

Monday, 4 March 2013

I was Inspired.....

Last week I had the honour of being at the Inspiration for Life 24 hour lecture to raise money for a charity established by Tim Richardson, a physics lecturer  and inspirational teacher who died recently. You can read all about Tim and the charity here. It was a fantastic, moving, inspirational, funny, informative, and tiring night! Here's my diary of it, complete with photos - apologies for the quality of some of them, mainly taken on my phone in a dimly lit lecture theatre.

5pm. First lecture, the Laurel and Hardy of the University science community - Tony Ryan and Richard Jones, debating Is Science Magic. Excellent talk, humour and science. First corny joke of evening "Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Sodium, Batman"

6pm. Dash home. Change into jeans. Grab overnight bag of pyjamas, snacks, energy drinks.

6.30pm Claire McGourley from Law talking about the Innocent Project and the INUK, set up by law departments to provide pro bono casework for allegedly innocent victims of wrongful conviction. Excellent talk, surprised at how much is put in the way of overturning a wrongful conviction.

7pm Jamie McGourlay from Rolls Royce on gas turbines. Learnt that gas turbines are jet engines. Some so powerful they could turn the lecture theatre into a vacuum in less than a second.

7.30pm Mike Braddick on John Lilburne,  founder of Human Rights. Some gruesome punishments around in 17th century. Illustrating suffering as the guarantee of authenticity, like Mandela, Ghandi. Another excellent talk, very passionate.

8pm Lecture theatre fills up with the Dan Tovey fan club (so I'm told). First particle physics talk of night. Almost kept up. Impressive stuff about the Atlas experiment at CERN and the competition between the dfferent experiments to find the Higgs Boson. Which Atlas did.

8.30 Dentistry, kissing and the mouth. Learned that toothpaste and brushing has improved the oral health of the nation more than dental services. Brushing teeth with a flouride toothpaste is a bigger determinant of dental health than going to a dentist. That cheered me up.

9.15 Fantastic big band playing in foyer, in their PJs.

9.30 Brendan Stone. This is not a Lecture. It wasn't. It was a story written about a real event a couple of weeks ago when Brendan found a man laying in the road.  Gripping. Tweets stopped completely. Listen to it when we publish the recordings.

10pm. Another band playing in foyer.

10.30 Willy Kitchen showing clips from the Big Bang Theory of Sheldon trying to teach Penny physics to illustrate different facets of Education. Very funny

11pm. Put PJs, dressing gown and slippers on.

 Pizza and coffee arrives. Tammy Haervy talks about how EU Law has influenced cancer treatment.

1130  Professor Vanessa turns the lights off, and we're into an hour of ghosts -  haunted attractions through the ages.

We had Phantasmagoria, Peppers Ghost, 12 foot Curried Prawns descending on audiences. It's all done with smoke and mirrors and Vanessa explained how. Ghost shows, spiritualism, ghost rides - everything illustrated with some wonderful old film clips. And finally, we were all freaked out by film of a dancing, stripping pig. Watch this and be traumatised.

1230am A Piano is carried into the lecture theare, followed by more crowds of students. The physics students are out in force for the graveyard shift.  Ed Daw in his pyjamas playing blues and jazz on the piano. A tiny bit of physics, and a lot of piano.

1am Paul Crowther in a dressing gown (but bare legs - what was he wearing?) showing pictures of deep space taken from the Hubble telescope. Fabulous pics.

Students have an assortment of food and drink to keep them going. Have to take bin liners round at frequent intervals to collect mountains of rubbish

1.30, Ash Cadby on Light. Is it a wave, is a particle? Tonight it's a wave. Great film of an invisible octopus suddenly appearing

2.00 Matt Mears, dressed in a panda onsie, on the physics of making a good cup of tea.

We drink 165m cups of tea a day in Britain, and if you want a hot brew after 5 minutes, add whole milk immediately after tea is poured. Useful

2.30 Eugenia Cheng playing violin in foyer to a YouTube video of herself playing the piano.

Lecture theatre still packed.

Go for a walk outside, get some fresh air, drink more coffee. Definitely not with a slug of brandy in from my hip flask. Sit in foyer, listen to music, chat to ticket sellers, security, and students who are working up there.

3am Mark Geoghagan on Nanotechnology. Which company has the most nanotechnology patents? L'Oreal. Because we're worth it.

3.30 Nigel Clark on the science of drumming. Lots of physics about resonance etc. Why different drums make different sounds. Drums as pitched and unpitched instruments.

4.30am More particle physics. Am completely lost by this one. Something about mass, quarks, charm and a charge called colour. Have my first ever energy drink. Tastes disgusting

4.35am. Wake up.

5.30 Amazing, inspirational moving, brave story of her life told in photos from Elena. Cried.

6.30am. Dragons in onsies still going strong.

Matt Flinders and the politics of fear. Good political commentary.

Bacon Butties all round.

7.30am. Bubbles. Getting a bit tired again now so struggliing to remember but I know there was bubbles.

Lecture theatre starts to fill up again with day shift, or lightweights to those of us who'd been there all night.
Go out for walk and meet VC on way to give his talk.

9am VC on Higgs Boson, complete with light sabre, to illustrate The Force of course.

This is the third particle physics lecture I've sat through in last 15 hours, and first one I've understood.

9.45 Some of the overnight students are "resting" I'm reliably informed they are not asleep.

10.00am Sneak home for shower, change, a very quick nap and to pack another case as I'm going away for the weekend when this is over.

1130 back to find Graham playing his harp in the foyer.

12noon. Alistair Warren on the Human Body. Yay, Biology (my subject). Grave robbers and sword swallowers featured.

1pm Susan Cartwright on Are we alone in the Universe? If there are aliens out there, why haven't we had contact yet? Maybe we don't exist, and we're just a simulation created by some intelligent beings.....

2pm Have to go to day job for a while, sort some thing out, boring stuff compared to this.

3pm Tim Birkhead, lots of sex. Mainly in birds. Penises of every size and shape including spiral. Birds with huge testes:

Birds with small testes (bullfinches apparently). Very funny, very entertaining.

3.30 Talk on creativity, which is heightened when you're tired. Should be a lot of creativity in this room then. Creative people have a tolerance for ambiguity, like taking risks, are open minded, independent, have a lot of personal energy, and are a tiny bit arrogant. Hmmm, does that sound like anyone?

4.00 and its time for the last talk. Giant bowl brought in, did wonder what size goldfish we were going to have

But it was just Tony Ryan and Helen Storey and their story of Chemistry meeting Art. Dresses that self dissolve, and catalytic clothing which cleans the air.

A fitting end to a great day, and a very emotional finish from Catherine who had masterminded and organised the whole thing.

An amazing experience. So many people involved, so much more happenening than I could capture here. A brilliant example of a University community coming together.

There's a Storify here where you can see the event in tweets and pictures.

Everything was recorded, and will be available soon.

If you couldn't make it and wan to donate, you can do so here.

I suspect a lot of people slept very well on Friday night!

Social media, diversity and stuff

Quick round up of things happening last week. which I didn't get to write about, mainly because of the 24 lecture event, which I will write a full post about later today. I went down to London on Wednesday to talk to some people from The Ministry of Justice. I'd been asked to go by Gartner, and to share with them our experience of using social media.  I was a little hampered in the presentation by the fact that the AV didn't work very well, there was no wireless network, and the laptop they provided was so locked down it didn't have anything on it for opening pdfs! But, I'm used to getting by with a wing and a prayer, so that was OK. I think they enjoyed it - talking to people from different sectors is always interesting, but I still find it astonishing that tools we take for granted - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -  are still blocked in many organisations.

The bulk of Thursday afternoon was taken up with a session looking at Equality and Diversity issues in Student Recruitment, facilitated by Simon Fanshawe.  We've spent a lot of time over the past few months looking at staff recruitment, and student is more complex. There are many additional drivers affecting how we recruit students - the tariffs, AAB/ABB, league tables,  Widening Participation (WP) targets, International student recruitment. There's also evidence of subject and cultural biases and choices in some areas. So, to narrow it down, we're going to look at underepresentation, and any differences in attainment between different groups.

Other things discussed last week - MOOCs, iTunes U, Open Learning Resources, our new portal, various presentations we're giving at UCISA next week and our budget for next year. It was a busy week of meetings.