Friday, 31 July 2015

Swimming pond, fountains, steps and the darknet...

On Wednesday of this week I went to a RUGIT  (Russell Group IT Directors) meeting in London. I got there a bit early, so instead doing what I normally do and having a cup of coffee, I went for a walk. I needed to get my steps in for our Global Corporate Challenge team! I went round the back of St Pancras station,where the area is really being developed. I found a swimming pond, filtered naturally by vegetation, though there weren't many swimmers as it was a bit cold, and dancing fountains outside the University of the Arts Building. After a very early train, it was nice start to the day.

The meeting started with a discussion about our relationship with JISC, the future funding model for JISC, the services it offers, and which ones we use. We also talked about the possibilty of a shared datacentre in the north of England, similar to the one in Slough which a number of London Universities use. We'd be quite interested in being tenants in it, especially if was located in Sheffield :-)  We also had a presentation on our Security SIG (special interest group), which raised a number of questions about things like web filtering, and whether we know how much of our internet traffic is using the dark net....

I mentioned earlier that I'd been trying to get my steps up for the Global Corporate Challenge which I've mentioned before. There's a team of seven of us from CiCS taking part in it, about 43,000 teams worldwide, and about 75 from the University. I've upped my daily step minimum from 10,000 to 15,000, and am doing about 17,000 most days. Still not as much as some other members of the team though! Currently we're on day 66 and are third in the University and have virtually walked from Japan to Europe. Here's hoping we continue to do well.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Internet shaming....

Lots of stuff going on this week, so haven't had a minute to blog, so will just share this with you as I catch my breath.  As most of you know, I am a great advocate of social media. I think it can be a great force for good. But, as in all things, it has a dark side, and can be used to cause great harm. Jon Ronson, author of amongst other things Men who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test sums up the phenomenon that is internet shaming in this great TED talk. I recommend you watch it before tweeting again.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Risky decisions

Another couple of all day workshops this week. The  Executive team (me and the 3 Assistant Directors) took ourselves off to do some work on a couple of important topics. First was Risk. managing risk is extremely important to us - deciding which risks we're prepared to take, which we need to mitigate, and which we can ignore. We need to keep and maintain a risk register, and have risk management plans in place. We've already done a lot of work in the department on this, but this was a chance for us to look at it in some detail. To get a fell for the type and range of risks we need to manage, we each came up with as many different risks as we could think of, using post it notes (of course). The we tried to group them into categories. Won't go into all the details, but the range of risks was very interesting - 'technical"risks were just one category out of about 13 including reputational, political, staffing, regulatory and supplier risks. We also mapped them onto a heat map - plotting impact against probability. Like this, which given the lack of things in the top right implied we were either complacent, or had our calibration wrong.

All fairly standard stuff in risk management terms, but we then used this to start to write a risk strategy, and identify risk management plans.

We spent the second day looking at our decision making process - what sort of decisions we take, where are they taken (and more importantly, where should they be taken), and how we can make the whole thing more transparent. Adopted a similar process and had a brainstorm of the types of decision we take - everything from where to go for the Christmas party to deciding our strategic priorities :-)  Used this to categorise them, look at where they are and should be taken, and began to draw up a decision matrix.

More on both of the above later as we develop the ideas and share them with the department.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Towards digital transformation

Today I've been in a workshop, helping to develop a vision for our website. Well, that's how it started. What we actually did was come up with plans for digital transformation.

Earlier this year we set up a project to look at reviewing and replacing our content management system (CMS). But, we soon realised that what we actually had to do first is work out exactly what we want our web site to do, what audiences it serves, what we want it to deliver, before we even think about the technology. Today we had a workshop facilitated by Paul Boag, who writes a really good blog on all matters digital, to try and come up with a vision of where we want to go.

We know a University priority this year is "Digital", and one of the the things we were trying to unpick today was what "digital" actually means. At one level its a set of technologies - mobile, web, social media, new players such as digital assistants (eg Siri) - but more importantly it's the way these technologies influence behaviour, culture and user experience. 

Some organisations are approaching the challenges and opportunities of digital, by setting up Digital Transformation projects. Actually, I'm loathe to call them projects, as one of the things we discussed was how a project culture can kill digital developments, where the cost of failure is low and the process needs to be a quick build, test, improve. Much like the discussions we been having around bimodal IT.

One of the organisations we looked at is the Government Digital Service who  have been leading the digital transformation of government, making public services digital by default, and simpler, clearer and faster to use. They have a Service Design Manual which sets out all of their standards for building digital services.

During the day we looked at our business objectives, our customers of the website and its services, what our tangible deliverables are, and opportunities and threats. We did some hard prioritising, and it was painful taking some things out. But, we got to a stage where we have the outline of a business case for a major digital initiative, including the creation of a digital transformation team.

Won't say more than that for now, as we have a lot of work to do, but I'll leave you with one of the fun things we did where we used our artistic skills to illustrate two views of the future - one where we embrace digital, the other where we don't. Hopefully you might be able to tell which is which, but whether you can interpret them, well that's another story :-0

Monday, 20 July 2015

Graduation time again

Graduation week again - I love this time of year, especially when the sun is shining. So nice to see our graduands and their families.

We're always heavily involved, we have members of the department who are marshalls and stewards, we sell our great range of quality gifts

and of course we film the event, stream it live, sell DVDs and USB sticks of the ceremony, and our own invention, the handshake video.

Congratulations to everyone graduating this week.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

BBQ pics

Yesterday was the Annual CiCS BBQ. A lovely day, if a little windy so I'm not sure the big gazebo will last another year - by the end there was a lot of gaffer tape involved!  As usual, a team effort, led by Alison, and many thanks to everyone who helped set it up, take it down, cook, prepare food, fetch and carry, and to everyone for turning up and enjoying themselves.

Here's the obligatory pictures.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

TechQual and TELFest

This week has involved more travel, more delayed trains, and another site visit for the UCISA conference - this time in 2017. We're thinking ahead!

Also this week I've continued my visit to Heads of Departments and had more interesting conversations, as well a coffee and cafe meeting with members of the department.

Yesterday I discussed with colleagues some communications we want to get out. The first is the CiCS Story - who are we, what do we do,  how do we work and more importantly how can people input into our decision making process. This came out of the TechQual survey, and is one of the areas we are addressing. We have many ways in which they can do so, including the CiCS User group, our Service Advisory Groups which  contain a representative from each Faculty, Professional Services and the students, and our feedback page. But, we probably don't make it clear how everything fits together, so that's something we need to do. We're also looking at publishing our Annual Report in a more innovative way - more on that later.

Have also been talking to the team organising TELFest - our Technology Enhanced Learning Festival to be held in September this year.  Intended to help academic staff make the most of technology in learning and teaching there will be workshops, drop in sessions, panel discussions and talks. It looks like its going to be a fantastic event, and this year Innovation Corner will have robots and 3D printing, and we'll be launching our Learning Lab which will be a space where staff can trial new technology, furniture and other classroom facilities.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Happiness and a balloon

The conference closed this lunchtime, and I'm glad I stayed till the end. I had considered leaving yesterday, but the sessions have been good, and because the focus of the conference Is not normally what I would come for, the content has been refreshingly different. Most of the attendees run or are from IT support teams, service desks or service management teams, and it's been really good to get a different perspective on things, and I can see things that we could do in Sheffield to improve not just the customer experience, but also the happiness of our staff.

Happiness was a theme this morning, with a session on Rewarding the IT Service Desk from the University of Leeds. The have been through tthe SDI's Service Desk certification programme! although their original thought was that it would be mainly about processes, it was really about people. They've invested in reward and recognition to reward individuals and build a customer focused team as happy people give better customer service. Staff satisfaction has increased to 100%. Interesting to see some of the things they do, including putting themselves forward for external awards which improves morale, and they do as a joint effort, so improving team working.

The last session was on Leadership, and was delivered by Andy Parfitt who for a long time was controller of Radio One. Great talk, but he invoked the Chatham House rule so I can't tell you what he said. I can say though that happiness played a big part. In fact, the only thing that matters in running any service or business, is how happy the staff are. It was an excellent talk, and I can recommend him for any conference organisers out there.

I've also just realised that if I had left early, I wouldn't have seen the after dinner entertainment which was the wonderful comedy maigician, John Archer. If you're into magic like me, you might remember him as the first guy to fool Penn and Teller on a show a couple of years ago where they tried to guess how you'd done a trick. They couldn't work out how he'd done his, and he did the same trick last night. And he wouldn't tell me how he'd done it. Apart from apparently swallowing this balloon

he also produced a magic square in seconds from a random number given to him by someone in the audience. A magic square is a 4*4 grid of numbers where every group of 4 adds up to the same number, in this case 62. I don't know how he did it so quickly. There must be a formula. I'm off to look it up.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

What to do if all your IT goes up in flames

Interesting session today about Business continuity and disaster recovery, focusing on the aftermath of the Crowmarsh Fire. Covers some theory and best practice around BC and DR, but I'll just focus on the Dr after the fire. A slightly scary story from the IT Manager for two small Local Authorities in South Oxfordshire.

The main services are provided by the LAs were waste collection, planning and building control, housing, food safety, council tax collection and benefit payments.

All services are shared between the two councils. All staff based in one place in Crowmarsh. Having recently relocated, and left a property which they now lease to Oxford City Council.
The IT department had 440 users. 1 main data centre with remote back up. Mostly on premise applications. Onsite back ups disk-disk-tape. Most Servers virtualised using VMWare. Most data stored on SAN technology. Some physical servers.

Om Thursday January 15. 2015, there was big fire at their location requiring 27 fire crews. Raged from 0330 till late afternoon, then reignited at night. A car loaded with gas bottles has been used in an arson attack. They effectively lost the whole building.

The story for the IT Manager....

Call from building manager at 3.30am to say building alight.
Took on role to raise senior management board and then initiate emergency plan.
Initiated the IT DR plan. Called suppliers to get plan started and equipment delivered. Had a contract with a company for hot standby. About a 4 hour lead time.
Made decision to use the building they had recently moved out of (Abbey House) where there had been a data centre. That had been identified in the plan.
Contacted BT to get numbers rerouted. That was also in their plan. Redirected to the switchboard in another building
Contacted IT team and relocated to them Abbey House.

Crisis management team had been set up including Senior Management, IT, HR, comms and members of emergency services. First meeting at 7am
Building had police cordon because no one knew why and if other buildings would be targeted
Back up tapes needed but there was only only one key to the safe which was on someone desk which had been destroyed in fire! Rang locksmith to break into safe. Had them before equipment had turned up

Existing infrastructure in building configured for use
DR plans checked so people know what to do
Equipment delivered to remote site by 11am
Set up equipment, rebuild of restore server.
Initial run of back up tapes, found problems with tape drive. Thought back up tapes were damaged :-(
Wasted several hours. But had been sent wrong type of tape drive. So had to get new one. But lost a day
Shared bandwidth with Oxford CC to get access to Internet and set up some temporary web sites

7pm, sent everyone home to rest.


New tape drive delivered and restores started.
Contacted key suppliers and asked for help where needed. Suppliers offered engineers etc. accepted all help.
Emergency laptops purchased to get frontline staff working. Housing staff especially as they dealt with vulnerable people, they used a hosted application. Bought Staff mobile phones.
Lot of laptops and mobiles lost in fire
Old XP machines used for temporary desktops.
Put up temporary web sites to give public information and key things they needed.


Restore fully underway of key systems and data bases. Was an issue getting AD back
Had regular meetings of the team throughout the process
Migrated mail to Office 365. Needed to get mail working, was about to do it anyway so had licences, scripted process to automate user creation. Within 2 hours had fully functioning email system, through a browser. Didn't restore legacy system.
Building laptop image for use on Monday.
Live websites back up by Sunday night
Over weekend had an issues with available storage space for VMfarm.

Monday onwards

Limited number of desks, so only limited space, had to improvise!
Initiated VDI project to replace desktops. Had a new desktop within a week. A week!!!
All system and data recovery completed by Wednesday.
Challenge then was to get rest of business working.
Buy buy buy, build, build build
bought New laptops, thin clients, replacement physical servers. Built new desktops and laptops
  • Limited office space, staff had to work in rotas.
  • Expectation of people about how long it would take to recover, assumption it would just happen
  • Out of hours support for emergency changes, some providers didn't provide out of hours support.
  • Needed to minimise impact on services to the public
  • Deliver major elections, largest set of elections for 30 years
  • Office accommodation for staff. Leased some space, brought some old buildings back into play
  • Communications to staff on what was happening, regular briefings in local town hall.
Where are they now?
  • Just moved into new offices
  • Still running on DR equipment.
  • Impact on projects, lots of delays

  • Test your plans
  • Be prepared to change plans, eg move to office 365
  • Never assume anything, like there's a spare key!

Other points
Out of news after 2 days, so consider it. Success
25m insurance bill!
Video of damage, lot of damage not done by fire but water and smoke.
Had to do full data destruction process on all kit damaged

Really great case study.

It's not just Facebook and Twitter

First session this morning is from a student about how students use technology in their everyday lives.

A student who just completed 4 year law degree at Leeds. She used her iPad, iPhone, laptop, computer clusters and laptop loan during her course. Technology became more essential over the period of her course. People fight over plug sockets, bring extension leads into library etc

A laptop is vital for university studies, for making notes in lectures to dissertation research. Wifi everywhere essential. PCs are not past their sell by date and students still need clusters. Laptops are for more informal work. It's more studious sitting at a desk.

She has 5 email accounts, all accessed on her iPad and iPhone. That gives constant contact between her and tutors

Leeds uni app means she always has her timetable in the palm of her hand. Blackboard Mobile also very useful. Makes big use of Q and A during exam time,

Even Mac users use Word and PowerPoint. One Note also essential for making notes and synching between different devices. Using mini keyboard iPad becomes mini computer and its handbag friendly!

Tablets great for reading journals, and paperless.

Social media and students. Lot is procrastination based, but not all! Facebook great for group work, group conversations and reaching out to people. Think Facebook should be separate from their teachers.

Twitter great for social profile. Follow all the big employers, get news faster. Follow uni social media accounts to get instant updates. Just what students want.

Evolution of the library. Students only need two things from a library, wifi and power sockets. War at exam time for power. Will go round looking at how much power people have left. Leeds opened new library with plug sockets, comfy chairs, big bright spaces, space for group work. Sounds like our 8 year old Information Commons :-)

Development of technology. Office 365 has been introduced and has made email more accessible and calendars, more integration, reminders etc.

Leeds for Life on-line portfolio is great. You update throughout your time at University with all achievements and experience, Much easier to update than a cv and can be done on the go

University learning environment means educational materials accessible any time, anywhere, for example if you have to go home or are ill. Lecture recording just being trialled. Had a big fear that students wouldn't turn up, but made not difference. Used for revision. Much better coverage of those lectures that had been recorded, second learning experience.

IT service desk is great support for students for computer repairs, queries and the dreaded loss of work. IT service desk has to understand that student needs are different to staff. They have a physical service desk as well as telephone and email. Thinks more use should be made of social media to raise issues

Technology has changed so much in her 4 years at Leeds, can't wait to revisit in another 4 years.

Red Kites, a Bee Gee and a role play.

Some other highlights from yesterday include seeing Red Kites circling overhead, beautiful birds, huge, and they come down so low I would be worried if I had a piece of meat in my hand! Also managed to get into the nearest village which is Thame after the sessions had finished, and discovered that Robin Gibb lived there and is buried in the churchyard!

Another highlight was watching the husband and wife duo which is Heidi Fraser-Krauss IT Director at York University and Thomas Krauss, Professor of Physics at York, do a wonderful session on what IT can do to support academics. With some very funny role play, they illustrated the different drivers academics and iT Directors have, and how we have to be careful to respect those. As Thomas pointed out, academics aren't paid to be compliant!

in summary, the plea from the academic was:
Understand my drivers
Don't put me in a straight jacket, I don't get paid for compliance
Offer me services that makes my job easier
Make it easy to use, easy to access, easy to learn
Centrally managed services have to be reliable, if we don't own them we'll be more critical

And from the The IT Director:
Supporting research is non trivial
Build trust and credibility, go out and see people
Don't assume you know what researchers want
Difficult enough to provide commodity services eg storage and HPC, specialist services are hard
Pick your fights. Don't offer a managed desktop to an academic who uses a Mac!
If you get it right academics will support you
Manage expectations

Excellent session which will be on line soon, and worth a watch.