Thursday, 27 February 2014

RUGIT awayday part 1

I'm at the RUGIT (Russell Group IT Directors) awayday at the moment. Always good to get together and discuss joint issues, challenges and solutions.

A number is sessions this afternoon, and first on the agenda was an update from UCISA. We talked about its aims, And then some of the developments being planned. UCISA organises a number of events, which are increasing and
representation and lobbying continues. The office team is being strengthened, and more commissioning of work will happen. Already about 100 volunteers from across the sector help out and this will help.

We also had an update on the JISC co design innovation initiative which I've already blogged about. At the moment we're thinking of projects and ideas to feed into the next phase, so if you've got a great idea which will benefit the sector, let me know! I'm pleased to see that the Summer of Student Innovation has been launched again, and we'll be promoting it to our students over the next few weeks.

Next session was on Why big IT projects go wrong from Alexander Budzier, of the Said Business School. An extremely interesting talk, and he started with the premise that large and complex IT projects can bring whole companies down. He had some interesting examples, ranging from a US health record one which started in 1970, but is still not finished, to KMart which was made bankrupt by two failed IT projects, to a local recent one, the BBC digital Media initiative.

He is part of a project which has studied 4307 IT projects worth $85bn.
The average costs overrun was 100% and the average schedule overrun was 37%. However, 18% fall outside of what is normal. Of these, the average overrun is 615%. He called them black swans, and they account for nearly 1 in 5 of IT projects. There's a much higher rate of black swans in IT projects compared to other project types eg building, energy rail, etc

Their study has shown that the root cause of risk is not technical, it is related to people and the risks are internal, not external

The cost overruns are not caused by scope, change, or innovation. They are mainly caused by cost underestimation, ie not taking into account scope change, complexity.

Bigger projects are not riskier than smaller projects and in fact the average cost risk decreases slightly with project size

Longer projects are more riskier, and the longer the project, the higher the risk of black swans.

Lack of benefits management is a key problem.
Very few projects manage the benefits and quantify them at the beginning of the project and then track them.

How can we spot black swans early?
Are distinctive patterns of cost escalation, and if the baseline wobbles very early, often during contract negotiations, this is a very good indicator.

One of the biggest warning signs is if your project is unique. You can't learn from others, can't compare and can't reality check.

The last session was on "Design thinking". I must admit, I just didn't get this. And he started by describing LEAN as a fad, which I also didn't get :-)
But, he did show a brilliant Eddie Izzard sketch about toasters and showers. Can't find it unfortunately, if anyone can let me have it and I'll include. It's definitely worth a watch.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Latest myCiCSnews

Also released today is our latest newsletter - myCiCSnews.  We only do a couple of these a year as we send out a monthly email to staff and students.

This latest edition includes articles on MySustainablePrint, the Student eFile, the Integrated Comms project, The Process Improvement Unit and our Timetabling Team, as well as many others - a great read. You can download it here.

The return of Fileman...Not

Most of what I've been doing so far is working on planning, budgeting and forecasting for next year, so not too much exciting to blog about. But, I can announce the latest in the long line of CiCS videos - and I know you will all be hoping it's Fileman the Sequel, but I'm sorry to disappoint you  - it's about the demise of Windows XP:

Friday, 21 February 2014

The falcons are back

This week we've had a liaison meeting with our colleagues from the Library. Talked about a range of issues including Digital Preservation and identity management, as well as the future of our Virtual Learning Environment. That last one is an interesting question - will large, fairly monolithic software packages continue to dominate the VLE space, or will a variety of solutions exist, loosely connected into an environment for students to access learning materials? We already know that Google apps and YouTube are being used, and there's a number of other services emerging. Will be interesting to see what happens.

I also chaired a Business Continuity Operations Group - this is a group which looks at BC for the whole University and has representation from Professional Services and Faculties. We have a big work programme which we're gradually working through, and a pilot of Business Impact Assessments in departments is coming to a close, and will shortly be rolled out across the University. This will help departments with reviewing their BC plans, and also when updating their risk registers. Many of the actions in our work programme are the result of either reviews of real incidents (a recent fire is a good case in point), or simulated incidents. We hold these at a University level, and also for individual departments or groups of departments. I suspect its getting close to us having an IT simulated one, although we seem to get enough real ones to keep us on our toes. A rather devious ransomware attack is keeping some of us busy at the moment.....

And some good news - we're about to launch our new Creative Media Room for staff. It compliments the great facilities we have already for students, and everyone's welcome to drop in and see it next Friday between 1200 and 1400.

And finally, as its Friday - a picture of one of our Peregrine Falcons,  who've returned to the nesting platform.  Not sure if it's George or Mildred. You can keep a lookout for them here, and follow them on twitter (@peregrines2014), where a motion sensor on the camera should send you a tweet when they land.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Be Inspired

Last year some of you might remember the 24 Hour Inspire - 24 hours of lectures in memory of Tim Richardson. If you want a feel for what it's like to stay there for almost 24 hours, you can read about it in my blog which I wrote when I'd recovered.  I'm really pleased to say that its happening again, but I'm not happy that I'm going to be away at a conference at the time.

It will be well worth turnng up, and being Indoired!

Programme is here - I'm assured it will be bigger and better this year, but not sure how that's possible.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Demise of XP and other things

More strategic liaison meetings with the Faculties this week. Discussion centred around their priorities for the coming year and how we could help, and also about what developments we were planning which might impact on them. We're well into our planning round at the moment so we're also looking at financial forecasts and proposed budgets for next year.

Had a meeting this afternoon with senior managers to talk about recruitment. Two particular areas - trying to encourage movement between different departments for Professional Service staff by promoting internal secondments for short term posts via our Sheffield Professional web site. We've used this route recently to successfully fill a number of posts, but we've identified process issues to sort out, especially around the speed of filling replacement posts. We also talked about how to improve the pool of applicants for our externally advertised posts - being less precious about what is an "essential criteria" for example, including "a good honours degree" which appears in many job specs where it is not actually necessary.  Language is also important - we've found for example that advertising an "IT Assistant" rather than an "IT Technician" increases the proportion of women applying.

One of the big things we're doing at the moment, like many places, is pushing people to get their machines off Windows XP and onto OSX, sorry, meant Windows 7 or 8. :-) Lots of communication with departments, but not a lot of time left. Lots of info for Sheffield people here. Another of the famous CiCS videos might be about to be launched.....

Friday, 14 February 2014

Changing Landscapes

Yesterday I gave the opening presentation at the UCISA Changing Landscapes event organised by the Staff Development Group and held here in Sheffield. My job was really to set the scene for the day, and I decided to outline what the "Changing Landscape" was from my perspective as an IT Director, the way these changes are affecting how we deliver services, and the impact on the skills needed by our staff and students.

As usual, I enjoyed giving the presentation, despite staying up late the night before writing it - it doesn't matter how much notice you give me (almost a year in this case), I'll still be finishing it off
right up to actually standing up and talking! Changing Landscapes was perhaps an appropriate title for a conference given the effects of the weather at the moment!  The main trends I covered were:
  • Consumerisation
  • Mobility
  • Cloud
  • Social Media
All are linked, and together with the rapid changes in technology we're seeing, are having a major impact on the way we deliver services.

To illustrate consumerisation of IT I like to find some gadgets that are around, or just being developed - a sensor in a babies nappy with tweets you when it needs changing, a football with a sensor inside to tell you how to improve your game, an internet enabled fridge which send recipes depending on what's in it to your internet enabled fridge. These all go to make up the Internet of Things I mentioned the other day, or the Internet of Useless Things as someone referred to it yesterday....

We had some interesting stats on mobile, where the number of students owning tablets or eReaders has gone up from 7% to 29% in one year. We are definitely entering the post PC era, and its expected that tablet sales will outstrip PC sales sometime this year. A recent Gartner prediction is that by 2017 there will be more words typed on glass than on keyboards. And the iPad was only released in April 2010.

 I like to showcase a bit of what we're doing here in Sheffield, so I showed how we use social media to interact with staff and students, using our Twitter feed and Facebook pages as examples where our aim is to have a conversation, and not use them merely to give out notifications. And we're looking to engage with innovative videos and infographics. No-one can forget our Save it Like a Hero video (which despite much criticism from within the department has been a huge success with the audience it was aimed at - students), and today we have a Valentine's theme to our tweets and posts - Fall in Love with Safe Computing. Sweet.

The talk was filmed, so I'll post a link when it's up, just in case anyone is interested in watching it.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Renewing Newcastle

Tonight I went to hear Marcus Westbury speaking at the Octagon Centre as part of The Engaged University initiative. Marcus is a renowned regeneration expert who played a leading role in the regeneration of Newcastle, Australia. Very similar issues to Sheffield, it used to have the largest steel works in Australia, and when it closed, it left a huge hole in the city. When he returned to his home town in 2008 he wanted to open a bar, but despite there being 150 empty buildings in the city centre he couldn't even get a reply from estate agents. So, he formed a not for profit company called Renewing Newcastle which worked with the property owners to lend the empty properties to someone who wanted to try something, on a rolling 30 day lease. And it all took off from there. Spaces were lent int the state they were in and had to be fitted out by the people lending them - often for as little as $60. They allowed people to fail, took risks, and it didn't matter. Thre's some amazing success stories, and the previously run down area is now vibrant with many independent businesses. Yuo can see Marcus talking about it here:

DIY transforming a dying city from Marcus Westbury on Vimeo.

Tomorrow Marcus will oversee a major event by our School of Architecture, where students will draw up  innovative plans for empty buildings in the city centre.They will work in boarded-up premises in groups, led by architecture staff and creative partners, to come up with ambitious and thought-provoking suggestions.

Really exciting stuff and I really hope that some of these ideas can be used to transform some of the neglected ares of our city centre - especially around the Castlegate area.

Funding letter, comms and connected devices

Yesterday morning we had our  UEB (University Executive Board) and Heads of Department Forum. Had a regular catch up from the VC (or acting in this case) and it was noted that since the Autumn statement where various things relating to HE were announced, including the lifting of the cap on student recruitment, we had heard - nothing. No letter from BIS to HEFCE signed "love Dave and Vince". But lo and behold, it arrived yesterday afternoon. I spotted it on twitter, were it was live tweeted, 140 characters at a time, by the The Times Higher, who looked as thought they had ripped it up and given it to 3 different journalists who did a stirling job in getting the news out. Nothing really unexpected - the reduction in funding  was expected as we finally transition to the new fees regime, although there was a slightly bizarre increase in capital funding. If you're more interested in its length rather than it content, then the best analysis of it together with15 years of grant letter funding, is in this great blog post by @registrarism, or Paul Greatrix from Nottingham University.

Today I was at the Professional Service Executive, where as well as the HEFCE letter and our planning priorities,  we had a presentation on our new internal communications strategy - One University. Lots of exciting stuff in it. Reclaiming email as a useful tool rather than for sending information no-one is interested is only a small part of it but one which I'm sure will be welcomed!

Rest of the day has been spent writing a presentation for later in the week, and in doing so I came
across this site:

It's the Wolfram connected devices project  whose goal is to provide a definitive, curated, source of systematic knowledge about connected devices. Quite an undertaking!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Planning Priorities

We've started our new year round of Strategic Planning with the Faculties - exchanging information about their planning priorities and ours so that when we come to submit them as part of the planning round, they are complementary to each other. Currently our plans consist of 5 priorities in three areas  - new developments, business as usual and things to change. These will be discussed and refined over the next couple of weeks with fellow Professional Service Directors and colleagues from Faculties. So, here's our first pass:


Research support
- provide and manage the key elements of IT infrastructure that are needed to support effective research and innovation (network, storage, HPC, support) as a central facility, which will for a high level of standard delivery be free at the point of use.
- invest in the development, build and design of our IT infrastructure (especially in storage, as a major priority in the coming year) to enhance the University's strategic agility, as well as the  sustainability and cost effectiveness of the Universities key business area
IT and information Security
- accelerate the rollout of information and IT security training and awareness, together with increasing our ability to protect the University’s information resources due to increased risk of cybersecurity threats and compliance challenges.
Learning and teaching
- develop a new model for supporting learning and teaching working with learning technologists in departments, research innovative and flexible use of space, improve availability of the learning platform, review lecture capture and other teaching technologies,  improve digital literacy of staff

Student system review
- play a major role in the review of the student system including scoping requirements, reviewing and mapping current business processes and market testing of available systems

Business as usual

- ensure that all services are appropriate to the devices used by our users

- accelerate wireless rollout to cover 90% of campus by end of 2015

Support the University’s Digital presence
-  including MOOCS, iTunesU, new website

- an increasing number of services to support and critical nature of IT systems to the University's business, mean that new services have to be sustainable, scalable and resilient.

Process improvement
- continuous improvement of University processes to improve efficiency and provide better services

Things to change
Digital by design
- think digital first. Don't take paper based processes and digitise them. Design digital processes so that customers prefer to use them.

Service management
- develop new service portfolio and use this to implement industry standard best practice service management processes

Civic engagement
- better resource the way we support and enhance events through the innovative uses of technology

IT service delivery model
- implement more efficient means of delivering IT services across the university, to reduce duplication of effort, improve quality of service, improve compliance, and build more effective career pathways for IT staff

How we collaborate
- make better use of the collaborative technologies available, including google apps, to work more effectively.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


Today's meeting was the JISC Futures Forum - the body steering the co-design innovation process which I've blogged about before. We looked at progress on all projects - including the identity management one I posted about yesterday.

One of the most exciting ones to be funded as far as I'm concerned was the Student Innovation one - or the Summer of Student Innovation as it became. We gave groups of students free reign to come up with an innovation, and from the 36,  21 were chosen to be funded, and help given to take the development forward. You can see the successful ones here. Of these, six are being funded to produce useable services with pilots running in institutions from February to September 2014. These will be showcased at the JISC Digital Festival in March, and we're already planning the next round. A great project and we're really looking forward to seeing what students come up with next time.

Another strand to this project was The Digital Student - investigating the digital expectations and requirements of students as they come to University. The project has completed its initial investigation, and is now testing the recommendations on the community. The initial recommendations (in summary) are:

  • Manage student expectations
  • Equip students to learn effectively with digital technology
  • Support students and staff to use their own devices (BYOD)
  • Ensure digital content is device neutral where appropriate
  • Enhance the curriculum with digital activities and experiences
  • Engage students in projects to enhance their digital experience
  • Develop and reward innovators – models of accreditation
  • Encourage a culture of continuous organisational research
  • Consider digital experiences alongside other aspects of the student experience – importance of joining up with other support services including IT, Libraries, Estates etc

No real surprises there, but the second phase will look at these in more detail. There's a blog just started here which has more information.

As well as looking at current projects, we spent much of the day discussing the co-design process in general, and how to take it forward. This has been a new departure for the JISC, working in partnership with stakeholders, which up until now have included RUGIT, CURL, SCONUL and UCISA. New partners will now come on board and the innovation process expanded. Lots of discussion on what type of projects can be classed as innovation, how to generate a pipeline of ideas, top down vs bottom up, communication, prioritisation etc.


Monday, 3 February 2014

Identity and access management

In London today for Identity Management Task Force - this came out of the JISC Innovation initiative and is part of the co-design process where JISC and institutions work together on projects.

This is different to previous IdM projects as it's principally about people and processes, not about the technology. It's an area that exercises many of us in IT and libraries, and unfortunately, that's often where the issues seem to lie. However, it's much wider than that. IdM is principally about access to services, which categories of staff and students have access to what. And as well as staff and students we have the category of "other" which includes retired staff, visitors, alumni, collaborators, lay members of committees etc. Even "staff" covers a multitude of categories including subsidiary staff (employed by subsidiary companies), overseas staff, honorary staff, NHS staff, Student Union staff. When you then include all the different category of student we have, you can see that putting in place policies to determine who has access to what services including systems and library resources, and then managing that, is not easy!

It's also not just an IT/library issue! it involves Human Resources and Student Services, Estates, finance, and academic colleagues. Basically, it's a University issue.

Today we were looking at interim reports of a number of projects, particularly at whether we could define categories of users, governance and awareness raising, and some initial work on usability of services. We have been part of survey of students about how they access electronic library resources, and some of the problems they encounter. Common problems include:
Multiple log ins
Being unable to download resources
Being unsure about whether a resource is available
Being stuck in redirect loops.

It was difficult to tell from these first results how many of the problems were at the institutional end, and how many at the publisher end, but this will be the subject of further work.

All of the projects are due to finish at the end of February, so watch this space for further updates.

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