Friday, 29 August 2008


As well as the student satisfaction survey, we've also just got the feedback on a recent Investors in People review of two of our sections. The whole of Professional Services were assessed a few years ago and were successful, and in order to maintain the standard and make sure that the principles are embedded in our culture and not just dusted off for the assessor, we've trained a number of staff as assessors, and have been carrying out a series of internal reviews. Over the summer 2 of our 3 sections were looked at, and I'm very pleased to say that Business Services met all 10 standards, and Customer Services met 9 out of 10, ( only narrowly missing the one not met). This is an excellent result, and shows how hard everyone has been focusing on good management practice and support for staff development.

A number of areas of good practice were highlighted to us, as well as a number of areas for development, which we'll be sharing over the next few weeks and developing an action plan.

The third section of the department, Technical Services, were looked at last year whilst we were in the middle of our restructuring, and they will be visited again sometime next year, and I'm confident they will meet the high standard and we'll be successful in retaining our IiP status when we're next externally assessed.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A PC for every student

A day of feedback today. First we got some initial feedback on the student satisfaction survey, carried out annually centrally and which looks at all student services. We get a section to ourselves, and today saw a draft report, and will get the final one next week. Headline news is that our overall satisfaction rating has gone up with 86% of students satisfied or very satisfied with our services. There are two areas where they're not happy - one is quality of software, and we will have to wait until we get the data next week so see what this refers to. My suspicion is that it is to do with the versions of software we run - our priorities are often to stick to versions we know are reliable, even though these might be several versions behind what the students have on their own machines. Hopefully upgrading to office 2007 and upgrading our webmail client this summer will help with this, but I think we need to review all of our software.

The second, and by far the biggest, suggestion for improvement is availability of PCs. This is one we just can't win. Last year we opened the Information Commons which has 550 PCs in it open 24*7, 365 days a year, and there is a PC booking system allowing students to reserve a machine. In addition, there are another 1150 PCs on campus, giving a total of 1700. Our monitoring software shows that there is never a time on campus when every PC is in use. The problem is, the timing of the survey - in our busiest time, May, and the fact that students want to use PCs in the IC, and won't go anywhere else. During May when the survey was carried out, there was virtually 100 utilisation of the PCs in the IC, with people queuing to use them, and yet less than 5 minutes walk away was a very nice IT suite with 75 machines in, and only 3 were in use.

I don't think we'll crack this until we provide a PC for every student for a few weeks a year!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Break Even

Exec Meeting on first day back - main item on agenda was the year-end out turn and how we'd done against our budget last year. By some miracle (or was it good financial planning and management....) we've just about broken even, and have a very small surplus to carry forward to this year. Yes, some areas have overspent, and some underspent, but overall the position is excellent, despite having a very large saving to make. It's been difficult, but we managed it. Now we're planning this year's spend and our priority is staffing as we're aware that some areas are very understaffed, with some of our key services relying on the expertise of sometimes a single person.

Other things we discussed included our progress and policy on our move to Office 2007 (or 2008 if you're a mac user like me). We've agreed that we will move all of our managed machines over by January 2009 (student open access ones will be done by the start of term), and staff who run an unmanaged machine will be encouraged to upgrade by the same date.

A new project on the horizon is a replacement of our existing UCard which already brings many functions together, but we want to replace it with a more intelligent one which will replace all existing ones. This will be a big project, with a significant cost, but hopefully will bring benefits. Of course, with our benefits realisation system, if it won't, then we won't do it!

As an aside, and nothing to do with work, as I write this, I'm nibbling sweet tobacco. No, I haven't suddenly taken up chewing a nicotine related substance, but while I as in Whitby last week I visited an old fashioned sweet stall. It was fantastic, selling loads of stuff I remembered from my childhood and haven't seen for years (I bought several sherbet dabs), including sweet tobacco. Suspect it's just lots of sugar and coconut, but it's great. Not sure I've ever washed it down with white wine before though. Anyone else remember it ?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Nutters at Whitby

Sorry about the interruption to blogging - spent last week at Whitby Folk Week as we do every year. Had a great time, lots of good concerts, ceilidhs, story telling and music sessions. Not forgetting the beer. The highlight of the week was the Britannia Coconut Dancers, or the Nutters as they're affectionately known. A great group of lads wearing one of the most bizarre costumes and doing a set of dances that would be very difficult to explain to a stranger! They have to be seen to be believed and made my festival.

Back to work on Tuesday, and I'll be back to blogging as soon as I've got something to say.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


As part of our Innovative Communications project, we've been looking at what software to introduce and support to handle blogs, wikis, collaboration, social networking etc. One of the products we've been looking at is Clearspace. We had a demo of it yesterday, and I was very impressed. It's a collaborative piece of software which integrates discussion forums, blogs, wikis, documents. and social groups. Because it's so integrated, it makes searching for common interets so much easier. You can search for a term and it will not just search tags, but text and bring you results from blogs, discsuion threads, documents, personal details, wikis etc. It's used by some big companies - the BBC "Have your say" site uses it, as does the Apple Support forum site.

We're evaluating it at the moment, and so far it's proved relatively easy to install and use. It could be quite disruptive if we decide to implemt it, but that needn't be a bad thing.....

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Follow me....

When we were designing the Information Commons, we spent a lot of time looking at furniture, but why didn't we get some of these???

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Money, money, money

Had a chat this morning about changing the log-in page to our portal to include more information - links to our service status page and important announcements for example. Important to make sure that we don't put to much information there so that people don't actually need to log in! We also need to make sure that it fits in with the redesign of our departmental home page which is in progress, and some new targeted web pages for university staff currently under development.

Also had a look at the first draft of our revised booklet for new students. The emphasis this year is to keep it short and to the point, bearing in mind we suspect most new students have a quick read of it, and have lost it before the end of the first week. More information will be provided in the CD we give them as well, which up until now has contained useful utilities such as anti virus software, and a copy of OpenOffice.

Then spent the afternoon in a UCISA communications group meeting, where we discussed development of the web site - it seems that's what we've been discusing for ages, but in order to make progress we need to sort out lots of issues with the content management system we are using and how it is being maintained by a third party for us.

Managed to find time for a quick discussion about how the year end processing is going with our new finance system, which seems to be progressing remarkably well.

To round the day off I went to see Mamma Mia, and I'm still humming the songs!

Monday, 11 August 2008


Well I'm back. Two weeks of glorious weather, good food and drink, lounging by the pool, reading and exploring Mallorca are over. Left Palma at 38deg, landed in Manchester to drizzle and 17deg. Fantastic holiday - even the go-carting (I just don't get it - why don't they steer like cars??)

Spent at least an hour this morning going through emails - about 80% deleted without even opening. When will suppliers realise that I'm not going to buy anything on the basis of them sending me an email.

Then straight into a series of meetings. First up an Executive Team where we spent some time discussing two of our strategies in detail - our Teaching and Learning strategy and our Technology Strategy. These are new documents, being developed as a framework for our activity over the next few years, and will form part of a suite of strategies currently under development, including a Research Support Strategy and a Customer Service Strategy. Both were first drafts, and we had a good discussion - will share more about actual content when they're a bit firmer.

Then a Programme Board where we approved a new project proposal, to provide a centralised hosting service for streaming media, with a searchable catalogue. The main thrust of this project will be to provide a unified, simple view of all types of the media for our users. We will need to provide access to media in different ways, including hooks into our VLE, ordinary web pages, and client applications including iTunes. We will need to think carefully about how information is catalogued as well as which technologies to use.

Finally a discussion with our marketing department about responsibilities for the web service, and how we might take the development of the web site forward.

A busy first day back - even the tan has started to fade.