Friday, 31 May 2013

Summer of Student Innovation

Not had time to blog this week - sorry! So, what have I been doing? Well, one of the things was taking part in a webinar about the JISC Futures Forum which I'm a member of, and caught up on the progress of projects. The one I'm most excited about is the Student Innovation teams.

Branded as the  Summer of Student Innovation, we want to  put the power to enhance the university experience directly into the hands of teams of students, academics and experts across the UK.

Students who join the Summer of Innovation will get the chance to the chance to create real technology solutions, have the technology they create adopted by universities and join events where they can meet the other student teams as well as technical experts.
There's  £5000 per  student team on offer  to develop new technology that could improve education, research and university life. The teams will be selected through an open call for ideas, and after the projects have run, the technology developed by the teams will be embedded for a trial period in volunteer universities. Products that are successful in the trials will be provided to other interested parties through sustainable routes.  Lots more information about it here. Very exciting - hope it's a success.

Other things this week include Senate Budget Committee where we had a very productive and interesting discussion with the Vice-Chancellor about how funds are allocated in the institution. Senate Budget committee has put together a web site to try and demystify how finances are handled for those who are interested. Various other meetings and ad hoc catch ups took up the rest of the week. Oh, and a fairly major incident this morning.......

Friday, 24 May 2013

Skills and gardens

With our exec awayday and my annual visit to Chelsea Flower Show this week there's not been a lot to blog about. Chelsea was as always brilliant, and I'm really pleased that our own Professor Nigel Dunnett from the Department of Landscape got a gold medal for his rooftop garden - there's an article in the FT about it here.  Of course, I got some pictures of it - it was quite spectacular and deserved the gold medal.

 Other things this week include some catch ups with senior colleagues, and a meeting to look at actions arising from the survey of all staff we undertook to get their views of our services. We're producing a "you said, we did" web page to keep people up to date with the actions arising from it.

Last night  I was invited to talk to a group of students who are undertaking PhDs about how they could use the skills they acquire doing research and transfer them to other careers. In CiCS there's quite a few of us with PhDs and it was interesting to collect everyone's views what skills they'd learned. A lot of consensus around organisational skills, problem solving, making evidence based decisions, team work, attention to detail, and writing skills. Also self reliance - doing a PhD is often the first time you've had to do something completely on your own - and self confidence. I hope they found it interesting, and I tried to emphasise that there's a lot of jobs where these skills are needed that are not just in academia.
My favourite response when I asked what someone in CiCS had learned doing their PhD was "what the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz learned. Brilliant!

Now, because it is a cold, wet, windy bank holiday, I'm going camping!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Exec go away

Every year me and the Assistant Directors ( aka "The Exec") try and get away for a day and a half to have space to think about things. This year we've just completed it, and one of the things we used as a basis for discussion was a survey we carried out quickly last week about how our colleagues in CiCS perceive our services, and how satisfied they are with certain aspects of their role.

As usual we had a wide ranging discussion about many things, including excellence in customer service, where we had a look at Customer Service Excellence, the government standard for customer service. Under the five headings of Customer insight, the Culture of the Organisation, Information and Access, Delivery and Timeliness and Quality of Service, it looks to provide a useful framework for self assessments, and I think we will carry out a gap analysis to see if there's anything we're not doing that we should be.

Other things we looked at included effective decision making, and how we can convey our decision making process better to the department and explain why certain decisions are made. This morning we looked particularly at staff engagement, and our survey results showed that in general we do a good job, but there are pockets we need to improve.

A very intensive but extremely useful couple of days, with a long action list coming out of it.

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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Learning from London 2012

Emma Norris from the Institute for Government on What can we learn from London 2012. Author of this report.

Scale and complexity was huge.
Serious challenges along the way including security, financial etc
But was perceived to be very successful

So, how did we deliver such a complex, risky project so well?

Two main ways of doing it, new ways of working and new ways of engagement

New way of working
Politics was dealt with head on, using its advantages and minimising risks. Real openness between different parties. Turned it into an advantage

People and skills.
World class recruitment and leadership in Finance, HT, IT, project management etc
Also hired the best people to the teams, mixed teams, multi skilled
Stability , personnel stayed the course

Design and governance
Delivery bodies were built from scratch, responsibility spread across different government departments. Everyone had clear roles and responsibilities in different organisations. Lots placed at arms length form government

Programme management and delivery
Failing to deliver on time was not an option!
Focused on getting the scope right, and didn't change it
Large investment in project management £725m spent on it!
Delegate authority to bodies such as TfL, Olympic delivery authority

Some failures. Eg G4S security, they tried to treat it as business as usual. Didn't step up and adopt new ways of working.

New ways of engagement
Budget. Often public sector projects go over budget. This process was transparent. Quarterly reporting that drove efficicnet behaviour.

LCOG created a vision that tied everyone together whilst allowing flexibility to meet all agendas including benefits to London, the country and sports participation

New skill sets.
Civil servants developed new expertise in major project management and delivery
Commercial skills and intelligent client role developed in partnership with private sector.
Are these skills being redeployed?

Some overarching lessons:
Project trumps silo
Bring together right people in effective teams
Personnel stability and personal relationships matter
Political cooperation creates space for project success
Change and time discipline are crucial
Limit Innovation
Arms length bodies and the public sector can deliver
Budget transparency matters
Design in safety and sustainability from the start
Beware false economies
Plan, assure, test
Be bold and ambitious

Lots of lessons from this that can be applied to all major projects. Especially with £727m is available ;-)

Excellent talk, and I suspect the report I linked to at the beginning would be an interesting read.

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How to make sure a 70 year old business model stays relevant

Next up, Mike Dixon from Citizens Advice.
Interesting body. Considered to be lovely, and trusted. Everyone has a soft spot for them.
12.6m unique users of the website in last year, but not a good site, rated about 3/10. So, it's not all about technology!

Now looking to digitally transform their services. Their guiding principles are:
Content tailored to user profiles
Flexible digital publishing
Truly accessible, responsive design
Assisted digital-ready content driving core processes across channels
Easy out of the box solutions for local bureaux
Devolved content creation and management
Integrated social functions including peer to peer sharing, knowledge sharing.

Can't buy the above off the shelf!

Again, taking a digital by design approach with agile development. Also, pruning web pages as they move to a new CMS.

Looking at personalised social intranet. Has to be more compelling than the Daily Mail sidebar of shame. Or as he put it, the sidebar with a newspaper attached. If your content isn't compelling, people won't read it.

Fast moving digital content and debate is as important as more traditional forms of influence. Need a mixture of:
Slow web, downloads, projects, serious pieces
Integrated team and people blogs
Twitter, Facebook, integrated feeds
Tumblr etc, fast stuff. Snappy, rolling, short cuts

6 months ago, no social media presence. Now have >300 active twitter accounts, sentiment analysis shows very positive reaction. Huge number of followers. Really driven by one person. So, can change your organisations presence and reach very quickly.

Great talk, and although from a different sector, much in common.

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Next up 3 short talks about data

1. Technical director of Open Data Institute On Adapting to an Open Data World

What is open data?
Data for everyone, not limited by funding, who you are, or what you intend to do with it.
ata that is reusable, published with a permissive licence, machine readable in standard format, reliable and trustworthy.
Has to be good enough quality to base decisions on.

Accountability - citizens expect to know more.
Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.. Right to have data behind an FoI response in a machine readable form so you can analyse it yourself.
Move to more transparency, eg Tesco website with detailed information about all of their products. ( can't help thinking this might not be the best example following the horse meat scandal :-))

Open data can help with efficiencies. Can inform key activities, make better decisions.
Also improves collaboration eg open street map,
To get the best out of open data, have to engage a community around it.
Use of open data requires tools - publication, analysis, visualisation, interactive guides, questionnaires.
Better quality data is easier to reuse. Need to focus on quality that makes a difference.
Open Data Institute trying to help organisations who are publishing and consuming data.
They run short course, lectures, on- line guides, training and consultancy.

2. Head of public sector consulting from IPL talking about Data Headaches.
Total amount of global data grew to 2.7 zetabytes during 2012, increase of 48%. Not just structured data anymore, mainly unstructured. Digital by default can only mean one thing, more data. Double edged sword. Online delivery of services cuts cots, but there is a cost in managing the data produced. Not solely a technology issue, requires people with the right skills.
People need to be skilled in information management and this requires a culture change, it not something that "IT can do".
Regulation and legislation provide the stick ( CEOs can go to jail). That's OK then as long as its not CIOs......
IM basics, housekeeping, metadata, quality. Everyone should be responsible for this on their own data. Think deleting emails. :-)

But, will need specialists to manage specialist data. Need skills in:
Assurance, data quality, master data management
Retention, records management, archiving, digital continuity (maintaining access in the future)
Finding, enterprise searching.

To get true value out of data, need not just to store it, but to analyse it. Trend analysis, predictive analysis, performance analysis.
Data visualisation with dashboards, heat maps, bubblemaps.
Layering data, eg with GIS.
Need people with skills in data analytics, and information designers to exploit the data in a good presentation layer.

Can ignore it, only going to get worse, have to do something about it- asset management is critical!

3. Independent consultant talking about legal aspects of data and cloud services

Legal risks of new technologies not just technological, but reputational.
All very contextual, and little certainty in this area.
All countries have different laws, but is a lot of guidance available.
Interesting clarification on whether data has to be kept in UK ( it doesn't).
Her view is that all personal data has to be kept in European Economic Area. Doesn't fit with our view. Hasn't mentioned safe harbor. In a question asked at the end it was acknowledged that it does apply.

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In With The New - 21st century government

In London today for the Eduserv Symposium: In With The New. An interesting agenda, based on delivering customer centric services in a "digital by default" era. None of the speakers are from the HE sector which makes it double interesting. I'll try and blog the key points, but as usual, they may be in note form and you may have to fill in the missing bits yourself.

Opening session is David Cotterill from the Cabinet Office. Formerly from DWP I've blogged about seeing David talk before about Ideas Street, which was the catalyst for us purchasing Ideascale.

Today David is talking about 21st Century Government, the way the public sector is using technology to deliver services. He works in the Government Digital Service, which is very exciting.

Old model for technology in government, multi year sourcing contracts with a limited number of suppliers. Inadequate competition, smaller innovative suppliers locked out. Bad for users, bad for taxpayer, bad for growth.
Outsourced IT to one or more large suppliers. IT treated as not particularly important, "noncore" so could be outsourced.

Can't bundle IT up, need to break it down. Mission iT services and digital public services - these are unique services to meet customer needs. Concentrate on these. Back office ERP, and infrastructure are more commodity, can be swopped in and out. Use open standards so can swop to different providers and ensure decent competition. Unbundling the legacy big contracts. Effects are starting to be felt with big savings being realised.

What is 21st century government? Will involve things like Simpler, clearer,faster. Build a platform and then build services on top. Eg licence applications, e-petitions. Make it easier for people to do the things they need to do.

They've developed an IPad app for PM to use to run the country:-)

Key part of digital strategy is to look at the big services that citizens most often require from government and change them so they are digital by default. Digital teams being created to change the way services are delivered.

Need multidisciplinary teams - developers, designers, product and service managers, policy, comms etc. Must start with user needs.
Can't build websites with tools designed for building bridges. Previously, long requirement gathering process, very detailed spec, develop. 2 yrs later show it to users. Users don't like it!

Now, more discovery work up front on what user needs, produce alpha, test with users then either throw away and produce another alpha or go to beta. This method is cheaper, and faster and meets users needs better.

They have a dashboard for all services for GDS. Also a Government service design manual. Eg before go live a minister must be able to complete a transaction on your service. Also Cabinet Office standards hub, this is open and people can contribute. Definitely worth a look.

So, in summary, can build services that meet user needs and create big savings if you use open standards, open platforms, put user needs first and use agile, fast development.

Great talk from David, as usual.

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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Cat test

I need to do a post to test my twitterfeed which has been playing up. So here's a picture of my cat taking over my bed, and my laptop.

Petit animal isn't he?

Here am I sitting in a tin can

Another Service Strategy Board yesterday. More project progress to discuss, a couple of successful project closures, but no new projects to agree. There's a couple of joint ones we are heavily involved in which re just about to start. One between ourselves and Corporate Affairs to redesign the University website, and one with Planning and Governance Services to look at coding structures in our systems.  Some other developments we discussed included where we're going on MOOCs and the provision of creative media production facilities for staff. Unified comms, including integration with Google is going to be piloted, and we've got an interesting pilot going in the Information Commons with Ideascale, ideas and innovation management software. Looks like its going well, with lots of ideas and suggestions coming in. News from all of our projects is here - as I write this it's not been updated with the latest news as the meeting was only yesterday, but it will be very soon, and we update it every month.

Other things in the last couple of days that have kept me busy include a meeting between UEB and all Heads of Departments where we had a very interesting roundtable discussion about our curricula and things which are in addition to the core subjects - interdisciplinary studies, enterprise, student activities, civic engagement.

Those of you who've followed me for a while will know how excited I am by space, and on clear dark nights I often go outside to watch the ISS pass over.  Over the past few weeks I've been captivated following the commander of expedition 35, Commander Chris Hadfield on Twitter. He's been in space for 146 days, and has done more to involve people and educate them about space and the science that goes on in the ISS than any other astronaut. His photos are amazing, as are his vodcasts (one of my favourites was how you throw up in space), and the news coverage about his cover of Bowie's Space Oddity must mean that you've all seen it. Well, he and his fellow astronauts returned safely to earth today in a Russian Soyuz rocket, and Twitter won't quite be the same again!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Enterprising Students

Last night I was honoured to be invited to the Vice-Chancellor's Celebration

of Enterprise Dinner. The University has a strong commitment to embedding enterprise education, and this year we've had the first ever Vice Chancellor's Celebration of Enterprise, a week long festival of over 50 enterprising events and activities across the campus. Last night was the presentation of awards to our enterprising students. There are three categories - Commercial Concept, Business StartUp and Social Concept. This year there was even an audience award, where the 3 students nominated in each category had to do a one minute presentation on stage, and then we got the chance to vote with voting devices. The students were amazing, all stuck to one minute, and also their concepts over in an enthusiastic and engaging way. We had poems, cartwheels, props and even improvised comedy. The winner was from our table, and Guillermo had invented a new design of temporary structure called HIVE which was formed from interlocking triangles.

The winners in the other categories were all very well deserved. The Business Startup was shared between a concept for a "cycle hub" in the city centre and a company supplying polymer based oil and fuel filters for engines. The Social Concept was won by The Bear Socks Company. A company selling socks to help bears. Obviously. The Commercial Concept ( which was won last year by Edward Miller who formed ReAxive which has produced all of our Google Street view images and the gigapixel graduation photos) was won by Nourish, a fast food company producing high quality nutritious, locally sourced breakfast and lunches as an alternative to other fast food outlets. Particularly pleasing to me was that Nourish has been set up by the daughter of one of CiCS staff members, so good luck to Lauren and congrats to the proud Mum Susan.

A great night in a spectacular setting, and a fantastic showcase for our enterprising students. Credit also to our inspirational Director of Enterprise Education, Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon who does a fantastic job.

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Digital by Design

The Cabinet Office have an initiative to modernise government called Digital by Design, and that could form the tag line for the University's new Digital Engagement Strategy. Although led by our Corporate Affairs department, it is a collaborative project with us and aims to make us the best in the sector at digital communications and marketing. On Tuesday I attended the University Executive Board with the director of Corporate Affairs to present the outline to them, and I'm pleased to say they were strongly supportive. We want our communications activity to be digitally led, not taking printed documents and converting them to digital. This includes everything from the prospectus to our events calendars. We've already made a start by redesigning the University home page, and the rest of the website will follow, and we've launched the Virtual Open Days and Google Street view of our buildings. Much more exciting stuff to come, with the focus on producing exciting, rich, high quality digital content. Hopefully,we'll be expanding our creative media facilities and support to allow staff as well as students to produce material.

There's also going to be a bigger focus across the University on engaging with our customers on social media. This is something we do very well already, especially in CiCs of course, but we need to spread this across the institution.

The redevelopment of our portal, MUSE, fits well into the strategy as it will allow us to surface content from the website to our staff and students in a more focused and targeted way. Eventually we'll be expanding this to prospective students, alumni and other stakeholders. It's an exciting project, and going well. Here's a sneak preview of what it might look like.

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Friday, 3 May 2013

We're on Streetview

Edward, our friend and graduate who set up Reaxive, has done some sterling work for us photographing our degree ceremonies in very high definition and turning them into taggable pictures on Facebook, and he's also done some Google streetview images  of the interior of the Information Commons.  We were so impressed with his work, that the University engaged him to extend this across the campus. We have a Virtual Open Day in our department of Physics and Astronomy where you can walk around the Hicks Building, and seven other buildings are now open on Streetview.

Today we even made it into The Guardian!


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sharing, collaborating and more awards.

In the HE sector we are very collaborative, much more so than in the private sector, despite being in competition for students and research grants. It's a theme that came up a lot in the last couple of days, as I've been out of Sheffield. On Tuesday I traveled to another University where I am a member of their new IT Committee. They have some major projects,  replacing nearly all of their enterprise systems, including finance, HR, payroll and student. Because they obviously like a challenge, they are using a best of breed approach rather than an integrated system to cover more than one set of functionality :-)  That's in addition to the other challenges we are all facing and other projects in areas such as learning and teaching and research. I'm there as an external to offer advice and guidance where I can, and give an outsiders perspective. Of course, it's not entirely altruistic, as there is a lot of learning to be done from visiting other institutions. In this case, I learned of the existence of the McKinsey Report into The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies. I've had a quick look and the summary looks very interesting.

Yesterday I was at the Janet Brokerage Advisory Board. Well, that's how it started out, but as the funding which established the Brokerage was from the University Modernisation Fund which was time limited, we're now a Sector Advisory Board looking at Cloud Solutions. Extremely interesting and productive discussion, and one of the most enjoyable meetings I've been to for a while. We were looking at the way JANET, as part of the new JISC, could help Universities with adopting cloud solutions. What could be revenue generating (ie what would the sector be prepared to pay for), and what should be provided free as part of what you would expect from an NREN. We were looking at services, not just infrastructure -  SaaS, IaaS and PaaS (Software, Infrastructure and Platoform as a Service).  JANET are working on getting vendor agreements with our major cloud vendors (eg Microsoft, Google and Dropbox) to save HEIs legal fees and make services easier to adopt.  We also talked about HPC and how much of that could be in the cloud, and why we are building our own.   Collaboration with each other played a big part of our discussions - on procurement, on negotiation of contracts, on sharing facilities, services, good practice and business plans. All good stuff, and I look forward to seeing the business plan which is the next stage of the evolution of this service.

Last week I posted about Tim Birkhead's award for teaching together with the video that we helped with, and tonight it was good to go to a celebration in his department. They were also celebrating being awarded  Athena Swan Silver status which is great news for them. The Athena Swan charter recognises employment good practice for women in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine). The University overall holds a bronze award, and this is the first silver award in the Institution, so well done on a good week of news for Animal and Plant Sciences.