Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Various meetings and Peregrines

On a train, on way to Oxford for the second time in a few days. Last Friday I was at the first organising meeting for the next UCISA Management conference. The last one has only just finished, and we're staring again. Trying to think of appropriate themes, and good speakers. We had some excellent ones this year so it will be a hard act to follow. Today I'm on my way to Oxford University where I am an external adviser on their IT Committee. They have a very different governance model to us, and have some major projects on the go so it will be interesting to see how I can contribute.

Yesterday I seemed to be in back to back meetings all day. These included a catch up on our Equality Objectives project, particularly looking at diversity issues in our student population, followed by the closure of the first phase of our Incident Contacts project which has been very successful. Also had our first SRDS (Staff Review and Development Scheme) planning meeting for this year, and a catch up with colleagues about our new University Digital Strategy.

Open in the background on my mac all day is the live stream for our Peregrine Falcons, George and Mildred, who are incubating their 4 eggs. They're due to hatch in the next 2 to 3 days, so there should be a flurry of activity, and I suspect some gruesome feeding and disemboweling of pigeons! We're handling the live stream ourselves now after some initial teething problems with the initial supplier, and it seems to be holding up really well.

Mildred didn't seem to like the grey paint, so pecked it off!

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Friday, 26 April 2013

Inspirational lectures

A few weeks ago I went to the Inspiration for Life lectures which supported the charity set up by Tim Richardson, one of our lecturers who died earlier this year. I was truly inspired by some great lectures.

Thanks to some stirling work by our Learning and Teaching Technologies team, all lectures were recorded, and most are now available to watch.
You can see them here.
You have to click in "view more weeks" after opening the link.

All are good, and everyone will have different favourites. Mine include Brendon Stone, Mike Braddick, Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Ed Daws and Vanessa Toulmin. But really, they are all worth watching, don't do it all in one go through! Not without plenty of coffee and energy drinks.

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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Scholarships and awards

Back from London on an early train this morning, and into some catching up with the rest of the Executive Team and a facilitator we use for our training activities. We've got our annual awaydays coming up and are planning what to do. Current suggestions are around engagement - engagement with our staff and with our customers. Then a liaison meeting with our colleagues in the Library where we talked about identity management, revising and updating our Information Strategy and research data management.

This evening I went to a scholarship presentation evening organised by our Alumni office - thanks to the generosity of many alumni, parents and friends we have awarded 38 undergraduate and 6 postgraduate scholarships worth over £125,000 to deserving and talented students who are in need of extra financial support to fulfil their true potential. It was great to see the students get their certificates:

And also to see a couple of student societies who get support from the alumni fund -  the Singers Society and the Dance Sports Society. Great performances from both.

I was also really pleased to hear tonight that Professor Tim Birkhead from our Animal and Plant Sciences Department has won Bioscience Teacher of the Year. There's a really good video about him, which we played a part in getting made....  Well done Tim - a very deserved award.


Last night I attended another networking event at the Chemistry Club. I've been to a few now, and find them invaluable for making contacts and finding out what is going on in other sectors. I had the pleasure of talking to a number of CIOs from the government sector including the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our own BIS. Much of the discussion was around some of the challenges around BYOD (Bring your Own Device) and the growth of social media. Many sectors are interested to talk to us about both of these. BYOD is not really a concept for us, students have been turning up with many different devices and expecting them to connect and work on our network for years. They were also exercised by the announcement that the post of Government CIO had been abolished, and that digital reform of government would be pushed through by the Cabinet Office Government Digital Service, with Mike Bracken who spoke at our recent UCISA conference leading on this. His blog is definitely worth a read to see what's happening in the government digital space.

I also spoke to a couple of suppliers, and had an interesting chat with the Head of Future Media at the BBC about where things were going in that area. Our main speaker was Lewis Wiltshire, Director of Media Partnerships at Twitter, who spoke about how twitter can be used in different sectors to reach out to people and enhance your "brand", the definition of which varies according to what sector you're in. He had some interesting statistics, 40% of twitter users never tweet but just read content, 60% of tweets are during or about television programmes, in the UK 80% of tweets are from mobile devices compared to 60% in the rest of the world.
He talked about successful twitter campaigns, and how hash tags can be used very successfully to communicate and influence millions of people. Afterwards I had a chat with him about when hash tags go bad, and what can be done to avoid that.

Very useful evening. In my position I think it's important to network externally as much as internally, to get out there as much as possible, to find out what's going on, what we should be watching, what other sectors are doing, and make contacts. You never know when you might need them :-)

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Monday, 22 April 2013

Back of a napkin and creative problem solving

One of the final sessions at the Gartner HE sessions last week was a workshop looking at new ways of communicating strategies. Instead of lots of words, we had a go at using pictures. Someone once said if you can't communicate your vision, it doesn't matter how good your strategy is. So, we had a go at a technique described in the book, Back of a Napkin by Dan Roam. Jot down some ideas, and draw some pictures. Mine was a student with a smiley face holding an iPad with a world map on it in one hand and a martini in the other. Got it? Student centred (happy student), mobile (iPad), world class (map) and anytime, anyplace, anywhere (Martini!). Wonder if there's a job for me in design?

Today we had the second of our Registrar's events as part of the Sheffield Professionals - a series of  initiatives to ensure that we value the talent of our professional staff. Another excellent session with representatives from professional service staff from across the University, and a mixture of talks, discussion and networking. We even did some creative problem solving based around thinking of an object, then describing its attributes, then using those to think of solutions to problems. Good fun and quite productive once you got used to it!  At the last event in November we asked participants for one big question which we subsequently answered - this time we got more, so the page will be updated soon.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Information - a cost, a risk and an opportunity

Session on Information.

Four major drivers changing the way we collect and manage information:

1 Customer engagement. We need to know the profile of our prospective and current students, need to know them better. To do this we need to aggregate information from different sources better. Challenges in doing this include variations in data quality and different data models from different sources. There are many more ways now we engage with our customers, eg social media. How do we aggregate information from Facebook and twitter?
Need to know our customers better so we can customise and contextualise information for them.

2 Operational effectiveness and efficiency. Poor information management and poor data quality can cause duplication and inefficiency. How much data are we storing that we don't need to, or that no-one owns.

3 New revenue streams. Take data and add value to it, turn it into information. Can be valuable asset.

4 Regulation and compliance. An increasing demand on us. Includes privacy, security, accountability, governance. We need to manage our information well to ensure compliance.

Information is a risk, a cost, and an opportunity.

Data stewards - people responsible for data quality and data life cycle management - are emerging in many sectors. Some companies appointing CDOs, Chief Data Officers. Should this be responsibility of CIO?

Managing information for the sake of information is not what's needed. Need to focus on business priorities.
Need to look at what information could be disruptive, and not ignore it. Don't make mistake of music industry ignoring downloads, or travels gents ignoring ubiquitous access to fare information. Do MOOCs fall into this category?
Don't focus on traditional business intelligence reporting. Be more proactive. Use information as evidence to support decisions.
Avoid silos. Application integration is not enough, need data integration with same data models.
Don't go overboard on the "big data" thing. It's not a substitute for information management.

Information is an asset and we need to look after it. Optimise applications for information sharing and focus on making information usable.
Metadata is not an afterthought, should be at the core of information management and we need consistent semantics to define things.
Don't forget governance.

Applications come and go, information is permanent.

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Business capability modelling

In a session on business capability modelling, which I know very little about.

Organisations often struggle with a gap between strategy and execution. High level ambitions and goals need to be translated into actions. Often just jump straight to how we need to change, without looking at what we do.
We need to understand what our organisation does, and what we need to do differently in response to strategic challenges and opportunities.
Need to understand what is commodity and what is unique and differentiating. Different set of questions for different capabilities. Differentiating ones will have more investment and be more strategic.

Can create a map of your organisation on one page. Effective tool for having discussions about where strategies need to change, and where there needs to be investment. Look at what is strategically important to your organisation, and how mature or effective the processes are within it. You can very quickly see where there is a mismatch, ie things are strategically important, but have low maturity. Helps to identify where focus for change needs to be. Difficult to describe, but some good diagrams in the presentation.

Can also map where spend/investment is happening, and compare with what's strategically important. Often see a mismatch. High levels of investment going into areas which aren't strategically important, often historical.

Business capability models can be very effective as translation devices, using a common language which is not technology based so you can have meaningful discussions with your stakeholders.

I've just had an aha moment. I can see how we can use this to discuss prioritisation with departments, especially when we get a number of requests from the same area. Also how we can test whether we're investing in the right areas.

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Gartner HE session catch up

Following the session on service portfolios and catalogues, we had a workshop where we worked with one of the Gartner analysts to write a service portfolio. Starting from scratch, we came up,with suggestions which we discussed as a group, and then with the session. Some of the ideas we have in our service portfolio/catalogue such as Support for Teaching and Learning, and Support for Research as headings were well received, but I realised that there were areas we had missed out, for example project management and process improvement are services which have a high value, but we don't include them. Lots to think and talk about when I get back!

We've also had a session from a colleague at another University about the challenges he faced when appointed recently, and some of the actions he's taking to implement transformational changes. Very inspiring, but obviously confidential so I can't say much, but I did like his use of pictures, maps and diagrams which he had used to have conversations with senior executives. An architecture map which showed the linkage between different applications and services had been very helpful in explaining why changes considered simple to the customer, were in fact quite complicated.

Finally, we visited the University of La Sapienza, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, but housed in a very 1930s Mussolini inspired building! With 140,000 students it was huge, and they had some interesting IT challenges. One of the systems they had recently developed was to help them in their Research Assessment exercise, and was a very complex algorithm to assess which research papers to submit based on criteria including journal impact, citations etc. They'd also made big changes to their student systems to implement many self service processes.

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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Service portfolios and service catalogs

Now a session on the Art and Science of Service Portfolios and Catalogues.

IT organisations are transitioning to service based organisations. The service portfolio is critical to this. Defines what you are trying to optimise and is a critical communication tool, especially with senior executives. Also important for IT staff in terms of what it is the IT organising is optimising.

Need to be very clear about why we are doing this, what is it we're trying to do. Also, don't copy somebody else's! Don't do it bottom up. Don't creat the service catalogue first, or you will create a technical service list. Needs to be top down to create a service portfolio.

Why is service management important? IT is a service organisation. It cannot optimise what it does not manage.

What is a service? An action that delivers a benefit to a recipient. Hardware and applications are not services. It's an action, not a thing. There has to be a recipient - a buyer or a consumer. Also, must be a benefit and you must be able to articulate it. Service typically made up of 3 components, a technology, people and processes. But, doesn't have to have all, eg project management, very high value but doesn't involve a technology.
For example, eMail is not a service. Communication and collaboration is the service. That's what we need to optimise. Email is a technology.

Traditional IT based organisation supply drive, very technology and asset centric, inward looking, insulated and monopolistic, cost obsessed.
IT service based organisation is demand driven, internal customer centric, process based, competitive and engaged, service obsessed.

In a service based organisation, process improvements have to be correlated to required service outcomes and outcomes have to be measured with SLAs. Staff need relationship and business expertise, as well as technical and process expertise. Strategic multi sourcing important. Also need good costing models. Anything that is free or seen to be free is undervalued by the organisation.

Relationship managers are trusted and strategic advisors.
Product management also key, responsible for service end to end and defines the improvement path.

Services should be expressed in terms of the ultimate end customer. Need to collectively agree who the real end customer is. That's who the service portfolio is aimed at. Other parts of the IT organisation are not the end customers.

Have to be careful that you are improving services not processes. Change management , incident management, problem management, etc all important and have to improve them, but can only go so far with them.

Difference between service portfolio and service catalogue? Hierarchically related. SP is a strategic value-based description of the IT depts mission, role and capabilities. Contains roughly 15 things. No mention of technology or vendors. Ignore IT department boundaries and think about the whole service to the customer.

SC is an operational tool, aimed at day to day use, transactionally orientated, should simplify service requests from customers. Can mention technology.

Typical items frequently masquerading as services:
Email, network monitoring, security, videoconferencing, PCs, printing.
All important, but reinforces the message that It manages the technology and the asset. Underselling ourselves, and missing what the organisation actually wants.

A business value orientated service portfolio would include things such as communication services, workplace services, project management.

Value statements are important in setting out the portfolio. Aimed at senior executives, so need to think about how they see value. Some examples, Employee retention, employee productivity, reduced risk.
Must be explicit, meaningful, defensible, measurable, differentiating, crisp and memorable.
Structure could be:
Action .... in order to..... deliver benefit
Anytime anywhere work capabilities in order to improve job satisfaction, reduce travel expenses.
Then think about whether you have meaningful SLAs for them.


Build portfolio from scratch. Don't copy generic examples
Don't ask a customer to provide your value statements
Build a catalogue only after creating a portfolio. If you've created a service catalogue first, set it aside and go back and write the value based portfolio.
Don't publish portfolio until its polished
Refresh it annually
Remember both the portfolio and catalogue are user tools, and are not there for the convenience of IT!

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The Learning Stack

At the Gartner HE Conference at the moment. Some excellent sessions. This one from Marti Harris, on Building The Learning Stack.

Our institutional relationship with most of our customers will ultimately be in a cloud based ecosystem, particularly with students around learning platforms. The future learning environments will have to balance our assets - applications, platforms and content - to form a collaborative, agile learning stack. The extent an institution adopts a learning stack concept will determine teaching/learning agility and future relevance. It will consist of things we do ourselves, and services including SaaS and other cloud based offerings,

As well as known assets, we have a considerable amount of unknown assets, including software, services and devices being used in our academic environment. Even with known assets such as the LMS there is redundancy and overlapping functionality with other admin systems.

Can build the learning stack on a context platform to include services including, lecture capture, mobile apps, social media, eportfolios, web conferencing etc.

Sandboxes are important to allow experimentation. Can easily remove and add things. Could the context platform be an existing LMS such as Blackboard? Yes, but will be more viable providers in next 5 years who are developing a much more flexible and agile learning environment. Or could be built on Sharepoint, or Google apps, does not have to be a conventional LMS. Different disciplines could have different versions of the stack.

This very flexible agile learning environment will need to be managed flexibly. Cloud will be important, as well as sharing assets and services with other organisations.

Students' expectations set by their consumer experience. They can do everything on-line, so why do they have to stand in line?

More choice now for learners, from getting a degree, obtaining credits, or just learning for knowledge with no credits. Also most courses are delivered through a hybrid on-line and on-campus model. MOOCs could be disruptive to this model. They are on Gartner education hype cycle just over the peak heading towards trough of disillusionment. Gartner view is that it will rise to plateau of productivity fairly quickly, but will have a different name and will have changed to be more integrated with other forms of learning and will have credits that can contribute to a degree. Also, students will be able to take "MOOCs" at other institutions as part of their degree course. Challenge will be to identify the student and ensure that they are learning.

Interesting to see that investment in education technology companies is rising, lots of start up companies and new providers. Will of course be followed by mergers and acquisitions!

Sourcing of marketing, development and delivery is increasing as an option for many institutions, especially with special online courses and programmes. MOOCs good example of this, but may lead to changes in delivery platforms that can be used for more traditional courses.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

SSB, HPC and mobile printing.

Good Service Strategy Board Monday. Discussion about how we support some new services - always an issue as we don't seem to stop supporting any! New ones coming up including various things related to scanning including our student eFile project. No new projects to approve, but some project closures and lessons learned reports. Also talked about our Service Advisory Groups and how we communicate their discussions to the wider community.

Also on Monday was our HPC@Sheffield day, a meeting of researchers from Sheffield and our partner Univerities to showcase some of the work going on using the N8 HPC facility as well as our own HPC computer. Unfortunately I could only attend to delver the short welcome, but the programme looked excellent, so much exciting science and research going on.

We're also piloting a method for printing from mobile devices, something our students and staff indicated they were interested in having. This week we ran a workshop for people in CiCS to come and try it out. Will be interesting to see how and what it's used for. I must admit I print very little, boarding cards being about the only exception, and I know some airlines are already piloting reading them from your phone!

At the moment I'm at the Gartner Higher Education Conference, but unfortunately the hotel is suffering a major systems failure and has no reservation systems or wifi so communication is a bit tricky. So, not many updates from me at the moment as I'm reliant on finding wifi from somewhere else, but as soon as its fixed you'll see updates from the sessions.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Equality and Security

Yesterday I had a catch up with the other leads in our Equality Objectives Project together with some colleagues from HR and Simon Fanshawe who is advising us. Some good discussion on training for managers in equality issues, particularly around policy implementation, and giving people the confidence to use the policies fairly and consistently. We also looked at data, what data we held, where the gaps were and how we could improve it, especially on the staff side. We're doing a lot of work on staff recruitment, and have started to turn our attention to student recruitment. Equality ad diversity issues obviously overlap a lot with widening participation, but they are not the same. One of the issues we keep coming back to, is the importance of the question "why?". Why do we want a diverse workforce, why do we want a diverse student population. Summed up nicely by Simon as Diversity trumps Ability every time.

Today I've been in London at a RUGIT meeting where a significant amount of the meeting was spent discussing cyber security issues. We had speakers from the CPNI, who gave a very interesting and informative overview of where they felt the high risk data in Universities is, which is mainly in some research areas likely to be targeted by intelligence agencies. We had already asked our Security SIG to have a look at their 20 critical controls and how they might be applied in a University environment. There was general agreement that very few of them could be applied across the board, but were relevant to high risk areas. We also had a look at how some Universities were handling mobile device management, and discussed our relationship with UCISA.

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Monday, 8 April 2013

Medicine, comms, waste and value!

Today was our departmental meeting - didn't start well as the coffee didn't arrive in time, and at 9.30am that's important! However, things soon got a lot better, and we had a great presentation from our PVC for Medicine, Dentistry and Health on the challenges facing a faculty so closely interlinked with the NHS. We also heard a lot about their strengths - in particular ScHARR - our centre for health related research which does much of the research into public health that you'll see reported in the national media. A very good overview of one of our most complex faculties.

We also had a presentation from our comms manager about how to find out what's happening in CiCS. We have our own  Google site - Just for CiCS where we gather together everything that people should need to know. The news is collected in two main sections - About Work and About People - as we include social news as well as work related. 

The news can be updated within minutes of a member of the comms team hearing about something, and we have a comms flow which includes automated tweets and facebook updates:

So, news is spread round the department first via J4C, then if it is relevant to the rest of the University to our news blog, and then if it's relevant to students, to our Facebook page. Finally, every month we send an email newsletter out to all staff and students which is a digest of the most relevant news for them.
I'm sure we don't get it right in all cases, but we'd be interested to have feedback and any suggestions for improvements.

Finally we had an overview from the Process Improvement Unit of two things that are very important to them and to all of us - Waste, which we need to get rid of, and Value, which we need to add!


On Friday it was the MMIT (Multimedia Information Technology Group, part of CILIP) conference here in Sheffield. I was very pleased to give the opening welcome, and as the theme of the conference was "Cloudbusting - Demystifying the cloud", to give a very short overview of our experience of cloud services. So, I did a quick run through of the challenges facing us -
Consumerisation of IT.
  • 24/7
  • User interfaces
  • Mobility
  • BYOD
  • User interfaces
  • Social networking
  • User expectations
  • Critical nature of IT
No surprises there! My point was that all of these can be drivers to move to cloud based services, such as our move to Google. What's important is the quality of the service - it isn't about cost cutting. A recent benchmarking exercise shows that our email service is about 70% cheaper than a peer group, which is good obviously, but the real driver should be about service provision. A better service, available and support 24/7, more accessible, more mobile, and more innovative - google can innovate much faster than we can. Which is mainly a good thing, but not always :-)

I couldn't stay for much more of the conference, but the keynote speaker talking about Searching in the Cloud was fascinating.  How do we find all of the stuff that's out there, and a particular issue, how do we link internal and external information. It can also be difficult yo keep track of your own personal stuff when it's outside the boundaries of your local system.  How true!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Our Plan

I think our new Strategic Plan web page is looking great. As well as a video from the VC about what we are and what we aspire to be as a University, there's some excellent case studies illustrating our guiding principles which are:

Achieving Excellence
Cultivating Ambition
Making a Difference
Working Together
Protecting the Future
Leading the Way

These range from the  power of solar magnetic tornadoes, to providing free legal advice for the local community, to research on the social effects of alcohol pricing.  Well worth a read.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Innovation and Apocalypse

Today I've been in London, halfway up Millbank Tower which has a splendid view, at a JISC workshop looking at priorities for funding from their innovation fund. I've blogged before about the first workshop where I was there with other representatives of RUGIT ( Russell Group IT Directors), and other workshops were being held with UCISA, RLUK and SCONUL. Each one of those workshops came up with a series of possible projects, and they have been refined over the past few weeks. Today, two reps from each group were there, and together with JISC our task was to prioritise the projects down to a manageable number on which work will start as soon as possible.

Given that each of the four groups had their own pet projects, you might think that would be difficult. Well, I wouldn't say it was easy, but we did it. We got about 17 possibles down to 5/6 high priority and 2/3 next on the list in a matter of hours, with little or no bloodshed. There's a good spread across the themes of improving the student experience, achieving research excellence, managing national collections and improving institutional efficiency. There's also a good mixture of library and iT related ones, as well as some that involve a wider constituency. Looking at cultural, social and policy issues around Identity Management for example will involve HR, Student Services and many other areas.

I was pleased that one of my original ideas made it to the top 5, and I think was probably felt to be number one, that of setting up student teams to come up with innovations, real blue skies stuff. Risky, but exciting. We also applied agile techniques as far as possible, and where we had two projects we couldn't decide between, agreed to set up two teams for a 1 month sprint on both. At the end of the month, the project with the most chance of completion will continue, the other will stop.

A good day, and I'm looking forward to being part of this process. I had about 15 minutes to kill in the walk back to the tube, and popped into Tate Britain which is a bit like a building site at the moment. I only had time to get into two galleries, but was amazed to see lots of John Martin works, huge apocalyptic paintings which I last saw at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. This one is a brilliant example, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

My only complaint is that one of his most famous works, three enormous paintings, a Triptych representing The Apocalypse, were not hung next to each other, but on 3 different walls. But a great end to the day nevertheless.

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