Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas

So that's it. Another year over, we've had the famous CiCS Christmas Party, and it's nearly time to finish for a well deserved break. I'd like to thank everyone for all of their hard work over the past year, and to everyone who reads this - whether inside the department or outside, I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Peaceful New Year.  Here's a few pics of the Christmas Party to entertain you.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Sheffield Professional and an interesting print story

Interesting meeting today discussing our Sheffield Professional initiative which we have developed to make sure that we value the talent of our professional staff, and to promote team working and collaboration between professional services and academic departments. So far we've had three big events with the Registrar, and put together a set of useful web pages. Now we're promoting secondment and project opportunities to encourage movement between departments.

Last year we had an intern working with us to produce training and promotional material, and he produced several excellent short videos. We've just taken on another intern, with a similar remit, and he's just produced this as his first great video about our Sustainable Print Project:

Friday, 13 December 2013

Curry for lunch

CiCS User Group yesterday - always a good turn out, and we did presentations on our new iTunesU site which has just gone live and the new University web site, both of which I've blogged about recently. We also brought everyone up to date with work we're doing on Unified Communications which will integrate many features of our voice system, including voice mail, with Google apps. All messages, whether email, voice or chat will be integrated and accessible from one place. We're also rolling out soft phones and mobile integration - all exciting stuff. The final talk was on Infrastructure Demystified. usually the most hidden (until it goes wrong) part of what we do, we thought it was important to make it more visible - it is certainly critical, and we spend a lot of money on it. It was an excellent presentation - interesting and simple enough for non technical people to understand.

Last week we got together with our colleagues in the library for a joint awayday - we try and do it once a year and have a set topic to work on. This year we were refreshing our Information Strategy. But first, we had to cook out own lunch as a team building exercise!  Led by an excellent chef at the Tideswell School of Food, we made onion bhajis, lamb curry, dhaal, rice and indian salad.

No serious injuries, lots of team work, and an excellent lunch. And we did a lot of work on the Information Strategy, which has served us well for about 10 years with minor amendments, but was in need of a major refresh. Hopefully we will be able to share the revised version soon, when it's been through the approval processes.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

How to perfectly share a cake and other food related maths problems....

An exciting couple of days as two major projects have gone live. I mentioned the first the other day, which was our new web site which is getting some great feedback. The second, which went live at 1600 yesterday afternoon is our iTunesU site. It's been a bit of a long time coming - as a department we first suggested it a few years ago, but as a University we agreed that the most important thing was to get the content right, and now we have.  There's some brilliant stuff up there, with some good branding.  Looks great doesn't it?

Trouble is, I keep getting carried away watching stuff.. I particularly like Eugenia Cheng's maths tutorials, using food. Check out how to perfectly share a cake.

Another example of a collaboration between ourselves, Corporate Affairs and many Academic departments.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Push here....

I think everyone's trying to get the last round of meeting's in before Christmas - almost back to back ones for the last couple of days. Work is really starting to get in the way of preparing for Christmas :-)  Although I am pleased to see the decorations starting to appear in our building. One room is particularly spectacular - the one with Santa's runway. You know who you re.

Yesterday I chaired a meeting of our Incident Contacts project board where we're developing phase 2 of the system which will store departmental contacts, as well as all business continuity and incident management information, and links to information about fire marshals and first aiders. We also had a meeting to discuss how we might handle accounts and email addresses for our students when they leave us. there are various options that our move to Google gives us, all with pros and cons, so we need to think carefully moving forward.

We also had a Service Strategy Board meeting, where we looked at progress on projects, and our 'business as usual" work that doesn't fall into the category of a project. Unfortunately in some areas, this work has seriously impacted on other work which we hoped to carry out. I posted the other day about issues we have been having with our PC booking software and how we have had to turn it off, but this is nothing to the problems we've been having with another of our systems - our VLE. We've been plagued by problems since the beginning of semester, and despite working closely with our suppliers to fix, it is taking so much effort away from other things. We can only apologise to our staff and students. Lets hope normal service will soon be resumed - for all our sakes. It is so inconvenient to our customers, and so frustrating for us.

Today some catch ups and HR stuff, and then a meeting of our Professional Services Executive which took place in the University's new restaurant - Inox Dine. Open all day and evening, Monday to Friday, and open to the public,  I recommend it. We had two main items for discussion - one was the announcement in the autumn statement that the cap on student numbers was going to be lifted, and what that will mean for us, We also touched on how the government was going to afford it, but that's another story!

But, the most exciting item for discussion was the launch of the University's new web site. Sent live this afternoon, it's the result of a great collaboration between Corporate Affairs and colleagues in CiCS. I think it looks great, well done to everyone involved. Oh and if you wondered how we send things live.....

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Thank You...

I love my department. No, seriously, I do.  They are  a great team of people to work with and provide an outstanding set of services  for our staff and students. This year, for the third year running,  we had the highest satisfaction rate in the UK for IT services to students in the Student Barometer. So, every year we have a thank you event. Nothing too special - a really good buffet, some beer, soft drinks and wine, and what has become a bit of a tradition - the CiCS charity raffle. We ask people to donate a prize, and ask suppliers to donate something, and also those of us who are lucky enough to go to conferences bring as many freebies from exhibitions back as we can. At a recent Gartner conference I had to buy a new bag to bring stuff back in :-) . We also try to pick charities that mean something to us, and this year it was Leukemia Research and a local autism support group - both chosen because they affect members of our staff.  As usual we were inundated with prizes - including  a one night stay at our very special University boutique hotel, 2 mini iPads, a Kindle, a case of wine, Amazon vouchers - and about a 100 more prizes. We raised hundreds of pounds (still being counted as I write this), and I hope everyone had a great time.  Thank you to everyone - you make coming to work every day a pleasure. Here's a small section of the prize table...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Cloud Advisory Board

Today I was at the JANET Cloud Advisory Board. This was established when the JANET Brokerage was set up with £1.5m of UMF money and has acted as a Steering Group for the brokerage activities. Now the UMF money is coming to an end, and we were meeting to look at how we go forward with JANET activities, especially in the context of changes to the JISC.

We looked back at some of what the brokerage had achieved:
Frameworks are in place for data centre to cloud and telephony services
New frameworks are about to be announced for archive to tape and file synch and share
Two commercial arrnagements are in place  - Google and Microsoft
Financial X rays have been carried out in 18 organsiations

In the future we agreed that as a sector we need to  be more confident and assertive with suppliers, with a more commercial attitude to providing services. We also need to be ahead of the game more - speed is essential and as the digital world is moving fast we have to keep up. We must become thought leaders, and the inertia for innovation has to be banished!

We agreed that we need to work together - collaboration with ourselves, with JISC and Janet, with our suppliers and other organisations is vital. 

So, we will continue as an Advisory Board but maybe with a slightly different membership, and will act as a "critical friend" to JISC technologies which consisits mainly of JANET and Cloud services, advising on product offerings and services. We will also input into the different stages of a product life cycle including requirements gathering, testing etc. I'm looking forward to working with the new JISC, especially the new Director of Innovation,  on these developments.

During the day we had quite a lot of opportunity for discussion around cloud services, and one of the things I'm interested in is why more Universities, including us, aren't moving more into the cloud. Storage seems to be a favourite for many people, including many commercial organisations. Yet we, and I suspect other HEIs are spending vast amounts of money on on-site data storage. So, what are the barriers, why aren't we doing it? I asked the question on twitter and was directed to this article by Andy Powell which suggests that Universities think of themselves as special cases. Other reasons given included leveraging the already heavy investment we've made in on-site provision, cost, complex inter-dependencies with other systems, bandwidth and latency. All good things that need to be taken into account, but I think we really do have to look carefully at what we provide internally and what could be provided elsewhere, in a public, private or hybrid cloud. Cost comparisons need to look at the total cost of provision, including space, power, staff, and not just hardware and software. of course, moving stuff into the cloud has to have real benefits, in either service provision or cost efficiencies to make it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Gone, but not forgotten

Nobody likes removing services, especially one that is valued by customers, but sometimes we have to in order to protect a level of service. We had to do this very recently. We've been running a PC booking service in our Information Commons for several years. It means that students can reserve a PC and know that it will be available for them when they need it. However, recently we have had issues with it  - it has been failing  and unexpectedly logging out groups of students which creates a real risk of them losing work. Unfortunately our third party supplier of this software hasn't been able to provide a fix for us, so we've taken the difficult decision to turn it off. All of our PCs are now walk up only. So, although our students can no longer reserve PCs, we have a supply of laptops they can borrow which are bookable in the IC and library sites. They can also find free PCs here, or using the iSheffield app. We'll continue to work closely with the company that provides the software to find a fix - I hope it won't be too long.

We try and keep everyone updated with this and other CiCS news through our blog here, and our twitter,  and Facebook pages.