Thursday, 30 January 2014

Gartner Research and MUSE

For several years now I’ve been a client of Gartner, an IT research and advisory company providing expert advice to all sectors - you'll notice I go to their conferences and summits, and we make a lot use of one to one phone calls with their expert analysts.

What many of you may not know is that all staff and students at the University of Sheffield can access Gartner Research. Just log in to MUSE, go to my services and view all services, and click on it.  There's some great stuff there.

And of course, because of the new feature we've just released in MUSE,  each time you select a service from the View all services page, if it isn't already listed on the My services panel, it will be added in yellow to a new right-hand column, so all of the services you need are easily accessible.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

LEAN and Lego

About 18 months ago we set up our Process Improvement Unit, which has done some great work looking at a number of processes across the University. There's some case studies of completed projects here,  and a list of projects currently being worked on here.  As well as carrying out process improvement events, the team also have a training and awareness remit, and today I attended a morning session on process improvement awareness together with other staff from across CiCS. It was for people not directly involved in process improvement events, but for those who might be sponsors, or have members of their team involved. With process being an estimated 90% of what the University does, it's vital that we take process improvement seriously.

One of the tools the team uses is LEAN, and we had a quick look at the history of it  - it came from Toyota who saw what Ford were doing in the US in car manufacturing, and decided to improve it!  there are two main pillars in this model of process improvement - respect for people (if the end result is worse for the people involved, or customer service is worse, than people will not participate again), and continuous improvement (constantly thinking about how to do things better)  - they have to go hand in hand.

We looked in more detail about a couple of imporantt concepts - value and waste. In summary, every part of a process has to add value, and waste has to be eliminated. Well explained here.

And then - a practical exercise - building things with lego.  Ziggurats to be precise. I can't give too much away, but a great demonstration using production line techniques of many LEAN principles.

I was Queen, of course, and was pleased that by round three, I had plenty of Ziggurats coming my way!

Very enjoyable and informative day.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Services, Planning and Water

When  we introduced Service Management a few years ago, one of the first things we did was construct a Service Catalogue, and divide our services into seven categories, each one having a Service Manager and Service Advisory Board.  Recently we began looking at constructing a service portfolio, which has a different audience and purpose, and as part of that it was natural that we review whether our service areas are correct and still fit for purpose. We come up with a new suggested structure, and have started to look at how it might work, and yesterday our Service Managers and Process Owners met for a first look at it. The portfolio is written very much from a service and value perspective - what do we do that adds value to our customers, and I think we've made a very good start. Lots more work to so though - watch this space.

We've also started to look at our plans for next year, and the first thing we do is look at our top five priorities in the following areas:
New developments
Business as usual
Things to change.
Its a nice easy way of focusing the mind on what we want to achieve, and we've put together a first draft which will get refined over the next few weeks and incorporated into our final planning statement.

Today I've been to Oxford as I'm on the University IT Committee  - always interesting to see how another place works, and also to give them some helpful advice if they're doing something we've already been through. Implementation of major new Business Systems is something they're in the middle of, and Information Security also high on their agenda, as indeed it is on ours. One of the advantages of a long train journey is the amount of work I can done on it, including reading lots of papers - about the only time I get chance. Although yesterday I spent the latter part of the journey looking out of the window at the water everywhere - there were times when the train looked as though it was going through a lake!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Save it like a Hero

Communicating with students is not always easy. Lets face it, many of them are a lot younger than us, and have grown up in a completely different environment to us. We know they don't like reading emails, and it can be difficult to engage. For the last year or so we've had an intern working with us producing videos which seem to have gone down very well, with staff and students. Today we launch a new kind of video - we have our own superhero, FileMan :-)  Bit of a departure for us in style, but we're willing to see how it works and if it catches the students attention to read the web pages on saving files, which have been written in comic book style.  What do you think?

The web pages are here.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Collaboration and communication

Yesterday I got together with colleagues from 3 Universities who, like us, are reviewing their student systems. All of us coming from a different starting point, and all at different stages of our projects, but a lot to learn from each other. We'll be keeping in touch during our projects, sharing information, letting our project teams network with teach other, and jointly getting a feel from suppliers about their products, roadmaps and capabilities.

Later in the day I talked to the rest of the exec team about planning for next year, and had a very productive meeting about a review of our Process Improvement Unit which we need to do over the next few weeks to secure its continued funding.

Today was one of those days where my diary was full of end to end meetings - some requiring teleportation to get from opposite ends of the campus in no time.

One of them was looking at our new portal and how we keep developing it. Most of our discussion was about how we improve the way we target communication to staff and students who actually need or want the information, rather than blanket staff and student emails. We want to reduce the amount of emails, and use our portal to both push messages and allow customers to pull the ones they're interested in. Hopefully it will benefit the senders and receivers of information if we get it right.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Data, data everywhere....

Yesterday I went to a meeting of the N8 Library and IT Directors to catch up on progress on a shared initiative looking at research data management. We have four groups looking at areas of collaboration - metadata, archiving, architecture and training. The latter group is looking at commissioning an on-line training package, developed specifically for us similar to the information security one we use, to raise awareness of the issues around research data management, particularly amongst researchers. It's an interesting project ad hopefully will lead to some real results.

Today another meeting about research data, this time between representatives from ourselves, Sheffield Hallam, the Children's Hospital, Sheffield Teaching hospitals and the City Council. This was again to look at whether there was the possibility of collaboration specifically in two areas, storage and "big data" analysis. It's fair to say the appetite for collaboration over storage was not shared by all present, including us, but it is obviously an issue for some in the NHS, especially with the amount of data being produced by some genome research groups. A Big Data initiative however, where we share data with each other was supported, and we'll be meeting again to look specifically how to take this forward.

Also today were degree ceremonies, and we were doing our usual recording and streaming of the ceremonies, producing and selling DVDs and USB sticks almost immediately after the ceremony, and the short " handshake" videos which are very popular. Not forgetting of course Print and Design Services doing a roaring trade with our Varsity Gifts.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Leadership, change and donuts

Today I went to one of our Sheffield Leader cohorts, to talk to them about change management and leadership. Instead of a formal presentation, it took the form of an hours conversation - a question and answer session. An excellent group, some interesting and challenging questions, and the time seemed to fly by.

First question was  - what do I do? Always an interesting one. Lead the department, keep the vision, act as an ambassador, network, be the PR person, negotiate and influence, work with colleagues on strategy, monitor the internal and external environment, promote the CiCS culture, go to lots of meetings.....

Another one was how did CiCS come into existence, which made me think back to late 1995 when the then Registrar asked me to pull all of the IT in admin departments (as they were then, now we're Professional Services) together. The Department of Corporate Information was formed, which was a very short lived department lasting only months, until it was agreed that it would merge with Academic Computing Services, and to get a name that embraced both, Corporate Information and Computing Services was born. We've had a number of changes since, gaining telephony, Corporate Services, (AV, Print and Design, Timetabling and Performance Space) and Learning Technologists. Combined with my experience of bring the North Trent College of Nursing and Midwifery into the Medical Faculty in 1994, I've had to manage a lot of organisational change :-)

Most of the other questions were about leadership, managing change, what had I learned, what techniques did I use, what was my style, etc. Some of my answers below, but I should point out that I'm not saying these are right, or that I stick to them all the time, but I do my best:
  • Recognise that not everyone thinks like you. Other people are not put on this earth just to annoy you. I love change and positively thrive on it. Some people don’t. Instead of seeing change as an opportunity, they will see it as a threat. You need to understand them, and find out what is their fear.
  • Talk to people, but more importantly listen. Go to see people in their place of work, not your office. 
  • Gain trust. Be as open and honest as you can be, but more importantly, be credible. Say when you don’t know what to do, or have to change your mind, and admit to mistakes.
  • Take risks, use your instinct. This isn't right for everyone, but in general I think we're too risk averse.
  • Listen to different points of view - let  colleagues question your assumptions until a decision is made - then you all have to stick to it. Be firm, If you’ve made a decision, stick to it, see it through, but explain why.
  • Accept people won't like what you're doing all the time. I joke that I have a broomstick and pointy hat in my cupboard for when I turn into a wicked witch.  If you have their trust and respect it shouldn't necessarily stop them liking you.
  • You can always tell a good leader because people are following them, but that's no good if you don't know where you’re going. You need a very clear vision, know what you’re aiming for
  • Communicate. Obvious, but not always done, and not always done to good effect.
  • Language is very important - you have to use a language everyone understands, and that language is different for different audiences.
  • Consider that feedback is a gift - don't be defensive, thank people for it. 
  • Learn from mistakes. Investigate what went wrong and learn but don’t blame. 
  • Coach staff so that you don't solve their problems but get them to a stage where they can solve their own problems. People often come to my door saying, we have a problem, what shall I do?. I always say, what do you think we should do? Nine times out of ten they tell me, and they're right.
  •  Never make permanent enemies. Get on with people, especially people who matter and can get things done for you. Porters have always been people I try and get to know. Give favours freely. You never know when you might need them. 
  • Listen. Know what's going on, walk the floor - a good leader likes gossip 
  • Share credit for success but shoulder the blame for your staff,
  • Be aware of your own weaknesses so that you can compensate and form a team with people who are complimentary to you. I am not a detail person - detail turns me right off. I'm also not a doer or completer. So, I have to have people around me who can see detail, and get on and do things. See if you can guess who they are :-)
  • Use the Tinkerbelle principle -  if you can get enough people to believe in something, it will happen. Never say if, say when. Used very successfully to get the Information Commons built!
  • Finally, maintain a sense of humour at all times, and a sense of perspective. Always ask your self, what's the worst that could happen?

The very last question was about motivation - how do I motivate staff especially when things are going wrong? Obvious answer - coffee and donuts.


We've been subject to a fairly sophisticated phishing attack over the last week. An email which looked as though it had come from our Helpdesk, asking people to log in to their email account, and a link directing them to a very convincing fake of our main log in page. All standard techniques, but brought together to look real. We wrote a blog post about it on our CiCS News blog here, and prompted people to look at our phishing video produced by our intern last year.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Back to meetings...

Getting back into the swing of meetings this week. Yesterday was our Service Strategy Board - no project reports this time because of the 10 day closure over Christmas, but a full meeting looking at the many things that are happening in the department. All the news on our different service areas is here, and other things we talked about included operationalising our incident management policy. We have very good procedures for our Helpdesk, with the incident co-ordinator who is on duty all of the time our Helpdesk is open playing a leading role in communicating with our users and acting as the liaison point with the technical staff. Our service status page is very well used, and we even have bat phones to contact the Helpdesk and different technical teams, (they're not really bat phones, I wish they were). Now we're expanding the procedures to better document what we do out of hours. We also had very good feedback on our involvement in the Learning and Teaching Conference - Digital possibilities. More on that in a later post. Other things covered included a discussion on moving to agile project management and some training we're arranging for our project managers and other key individuals in the department.

Today I went to the first meeting of a Project Board looking at replacing our Learning Management System (which recently died), with a University wide one as the place for all development activity to be accessed, recorded and reflected upon.

Then this afternoon it was our PSE (Professional Services Executive) meeting with our Faculty Directors of Operations, and the main part of the meeting was a presentation from the FDOs on Faculty priorities for the coming year. This feeds into our planning process, and we will be meeting with all of the Faculties over the next couple of weeks so that we can explore how we might work with them to deliver their strategic objectives.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Happy New Year

Welcome back everyone - and a very belated Happy New Year. Here's to 2014, and I hope it will successful and peaceful one for everyone.

It's been a week of catching up for me - I've had four meetings with colleagues in what is almost a University meeting place, our Coffee Revolution - there's always several meetings going on in there. It's definitely good to get out of the office occasionally and chat with people away from phone calls and emails.

I've had a good meeting this week with a colleague fro procurement, where we looked at the ways we can work together, especially as we move towards purchasing services, not just hardware and software. That requires skills in supplier and contract management which we don't necessarily have.

We're also moving forward quickly now with the review of our student system, with secondments being advertised across the University for a project team to work full time on it. We're going to be using our Sheffield Professional web site for future ones which will be coming up soon.

The other thing I've been doing is keeping my eye on CES (Consumer Electronics Show - nice of them to name a show after me...) which has been happening this week in Las Vegas. I'd love to get there one day.  The consumer space is certainly driving a lot of what we do now, and we need to keep a watching eye on it. The big things coming out of it this year are curved televisions, health monitoring gadgets, wearable technology and drones. There's a nice round up in this BBC video here. There was also a "smart home" app which controls smart devices in your home - you can adjust the light, view rooms in the house, set heating controls, set the robot cleaner, start your washer - all remotely. If it would just do the ironing then it would be perfect....