Friday, 30 January 2009

UCISA planning

As I walked out of the hotel in Manchester Airport late yesterday afternoon , I suddenly realised that I hadn't breathed fresh air for over 2 days, and when I did it was the station platform! I had seen a lot of planes take off and land though. I'm easily pleased.

After the leadership forum I'd stayed on for a full day UCISA Executive Planning meeting. Unless there is a coup at the AGM, then I will take over as Chair at the end of March, so I led the discussion on what we want to do in the next year.

We talked about liaison with other bodies - traditionally we have had a strong relationship with the library community which we want to maintain, but there are other areas where we have common interests and overlap such as Estates, and we will be pursuing this over the next few months. Other areas we will be putting into the plan include the dissemination of good practice and the publication of more case studies, continuing to organise workshops, and other events and looking at our members top concerns and how we can help them address them.

I'm also keen to make sure that we help members align their issues to those of the institution - we need to make sure that we deliver what the institutions need to succeed, and not what we think they want.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Inspired Leader

The best session of the day was given by Adrian Gilpin from the Institute of Human Development called The Inspired Leader. he was an excellent speaker who used a series of movie clips including Gladiator, Star Wars and Indiana Jones to illustrate the art of becoming a leader. I couldn’t possibly give the talk justice here, but I can give you a few of his thoughts - possibly a bit random, but these are the ones I jotted down as having some resonance with me.

You don’t have to change yourself to be a good leader - good leaders have little in common except that when they turn round there is a bunch of people following them.

Good leaders have influence without authority

The role of a leader is to create a change in will and a change in belief.

People have emotional states including anxiety, frustration, and restlessness. Being a good leader is not just about bits and bytes, strategy and the customer. It’s about dealing with people and what they bring with them.

Be a pathfinder – help people find a way to get to where they want to be.

Don’t give advice – it will often be ignored. People need to discover things for themselves. Instead, ask questions.

Apply this to your business. Instead of telling them about technology, ask what they need to do their business more effectively and what they want.

Standing behind someone pushing them into an uncomfortable place doesn’t work – you have to entice them through.

And my favourite bit - storytelling is important – the story that goes through your head effects how you feel - look at this:

What makes the guy a champion is that he pauses – he doesn’t hit the ball until the thought process matches the outcome. His emotional state has to be right and this in turn is dictated by the story in his head. People don’t need to be told what to do or how to do it. Good leaders know the story in people’s heads and change it.

Leadership and Strategy

Spent all day today in a UCISA Leadership Forum - an annual event designed for CIOs and Directors of IT Services. excellent day with a number of very good speakers. We covered three areas - Strategy, Authority and Responsibilty.

The first session was about developing strategy and governance to increase ICT effectiveness, beginning by looking at the definition of strategy, and the difference between leadership and management. The speaker suggested that leadership is about vision, negotiation and conviction. Management is operational and is about delivering services.

In the development of an ICT strategy you need to take into account vision, goals, resource needs etc, but the key factor is to involve the business. If the development of an ICT strategy is driven by the IT department in isolation, then it can be difficult to get business units to engage with it, they can abdicate any responsibility for its delivery, they don't engage, and will ignore the outcomes – for example ignore the policies and standards, flout rules, and present requests out of the blue.

The speaker postulated that any ICT strategy will be ineffective unless strong governance in place, and all business managers must participate in ICT governance and ensure the delivery of business benefits. This is not an ICT job, they are the servants producing the systems.

ICT managers must talk to the top management team to need to win hearts and minds not by talking about technology but about business benefits. It was suggested that when you have their attention, you should talk about the terms of reference for an ICT governance board, and its responsibilities and explain the importance of good governance.

The above issues were well presented, and most I agreed with, but not all. I don't believe we are servants producing systems - we have to be much more than that - facilitators and enablers. I also don't think I would necessarily grab my senior management team's attention by talking about governance - I'd much rather talk about how IT can improve the business of the organisation.

The next session looked at a transformational change programme in a County Council and the role of the CIO in this process. This began by emphasising that ICT is not the driver of change, but the enabler. It is too easy for business leaders to think they’re investing in technology, whereas the reality is that there are only business outcomes to invest in and ICT exists to enable them to happen. Engagement between ICT and the business must be at the top level, and this needs to be robust in order to stop the finger pointing syndrome. “I didn’t deliver x because ICT didn’t deliver the system I needed.” That could never happen in our institutions could it???

This particular council had undergone a major change programme, reviewing and streamlining all of its processes, with ICT playing a leading enabling role. The prerequisites for change have to include dissatisfaction with the status quo. If people are happy with how they're doing things, they won't change. If that dissatisfaction is not there, then it has to be created. There has to be commitment to change at all levels of the organisation, and very clear communication about the need and reasons for change, not just what the changes will be. Use expectations have to be managed - under promise and over deliver. Old ways of doing things must be removed - take away the tools that allow users to circumvent new systems. Most importantly, prioritise business benefits over savings and cost cutting.


Off to Manchester to a UCISA Leadership Forum. Lots of networking tonight and meeting colleagues - always good to share information and swop experiences. We also had a very inspiring talk about why Leadership is important in IT. The main message being that we need to understand the business of the Univeristy, not just IT - we need to rise above the operational and firefighting issues and not stay in our IT bubble. Our institutions need us as we have a good understanding of cost control, of managing user expectations, of risk management, of business process change and of rationalisation. Difficult times are facing all sectors, including ours, and we need to extend our sphere of influence and show that we can achieve.

Rousing stuff!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Helpdesk review

As we try and improve our services we carry out regular reviews using a web survey, and then we put in place an action plan depending on what the review came up with, and publish everything on our web pages so our customers can see what action we've taken.

The latest review was of our Helpdesk, and at yesterday's Executive Team meeting we discussed the report. In general it was very good - there were areas identified for improvement which there always are, but there were some very nice comments. There's been a clear growth in contacts to the Helpdesk over the last few years, with the majority coming from staff - students prefering to use the staffed desks in the Information Commons or IT Centres. It was interesting to see who the largest users of the service were - the top users are mainly from professional services rather than academic departments, but that is probably because many academic departments have some form of IT support locally.

Edit: This post got cut short because I was dashing to catch a train, and someone has commented that we should be developing self service systems so that contact with the Helpdesk will eventually drop. Of course, that's right - we should be developing more self service. We've already launched a service status page, and a self-service Helpdesk system where users can submit and track calls, and a knowledge base - all of these are bring developed and promoted. We're also looking at enabling customers to do standard tasks themselves such as retrieving passwords and increasing filestore. But, many people prefer to talk to a person, so we'll always be there..

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Eagle and Portal

Well I'm back - had a great week off in Center Parcs. Tried my hand (and glove) at Falconry, and flew a Golden Eagle called Shadow - she flew fast and weighed over 10lbs, and had rather an evil look to her - especially when she couldn't get the food out of my hand because I was hanging onto it too tightly!

And now it's back to work... A day of meetings and catching up. I chaired our Portal Application group, where we discussed the future development of our staff and student portals. We've invested a lot of resource into ensuring that all of our systems are web based and available through the portal, but the user experience is still different according to what system you go into. So, to approve expenses you go into SAP through the portal, but it's a completely different interface to going into our eLearning environment to do something, or into the student system to look up a record. This doesn't cause too much of a problem for "power users", but is a real problem for infrequent users. As we are often told, no-one needs training to do their on-line shopping, so why do they need training to order stationery? Our strategy now is to take bits of functionality out of the systems and make them directly accessible through the portal via a common, user friendly interface. So you will not have to go into the big systems to perform routine tasks, and all of the screens will have the same look and feel. This will also make things easier for access through mobile and other devices. When we've worked out how to do it, I'll let you know.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


Had a very good presentation last week on the way our Estates Department has approached the scanning of all the various document connected with University buildings, including drawings, floor plans, manuals and deeds. Previously over 100m2 of space was needed to store it, but over the last few months it has all been digitised, and is now available through a web browser to anyone who needs it, including engineers, architects, and planners. Very good project, and uses some very nice software to view the information - at the moment it is stand alone, but we need to work with them now to integrate it with our LDAP directory.

We've just begun a scanning project to look at the best solution for the rest of the University which will integrate with our corporate finance, HR and student systems and our document management system.

We also had a couple of meetings of our executive team last week. The first with our section heads where we spent a considerable amount of time discussing the results of an employee satisfaction survey carried out across the whole of the University last year, trying to interpret the results and come up with an action plan to address some areas of concern.

Our other meeting was mainly concerned with discussing our capital budget spending plans, and how we were going to do everything we wanted to this year, but without enough money to do it. Fairly common discussion that one! So, a few projects put on hold until we have detailed costings for the others to see how much we can do. Current priorities for the spend are general replacements (student PCs, servers etc), resilience (including replacing all of the air-conditioning in our data centre), and a replacement for our current managed desktop.

I'm off for a few days now - anyone really interested in what I'm doing can keep up with me on Twitter but don't expect anything riveting!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Twitter Power - part 2

The other day I posted about a use of Twitter that was not just social networking. Rory Cellan-Jones (or @ruskin147 as those of us who follow him on Twitter know him), has just blogged about something similar - this time about how he uses it to keep up with what's happening in the news. Check out the pictures posted on Twitpic and Flickr of yesterday's miraculous plane landing in the Hudson River, especially this one, before the ferries had got there.

Edit - and then the 10 o'clock news carries the same story!

Thursday, 15 January 2009


Went to a seminar yesterday on managing stress in the workplace - given by a local legal firm. Some very good advice and discussion. Stress is a huge cost to business at the moment, and the cost is estimated to be £3.7bn per year with 13.8m days lost. Stress accounts for over a third of new instances of ill health, and as was pointed out, has replaced the bad back as the most common reason for being absent from work.

So, lots of reasons to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress amongst employees and to make sure you have good practices in place to minimise the risk of employees suffering from stress. What we should be aiming for is a happy, mentally healthy workforce who are able to do their jobs and a system in place for managing issues if they arise.

Lots of interesting discussions around how to recognise stress - (or how do you know you're not freaking your workforce out as someone put it), and how to deal with it. There's also the issue of what it is - is suffering from stress the same as being stressed? We all get stressed occasionally, some people thrive on it, and all deal with it in different ways.

We worked throught some case studies, and looked at the HR and legal isues relating to all of them. It's something I'll be sharing with the managers in the department and I hope will be discussed within each team so that we can make sure we have good practices in place.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

meetings, meetings

Meeting with our internal auditors yesterday to look at the report of our most recent audit which was on Green IT. Lots of thing we're doing well around power usage of servers and PCs and also around printing. Areas that we're looking at now include the design and cooling of our data centres. We also discussed our next two audits - on Information Security and Business Continuity Planning.

Had a CiCS Programme Board meeting yesterday where one of the main items was how we can help Application Groups take a more strategic and proactive role in systems development, and also to be much more active in ensuring the organisational process change to really get the benefits out of new and existing systems - we're meeting with the Chairs of the Groups over the next couple of weeks to look at a number of options for achieving this.

Today we had a University Collaboration Improvement Programme Board where we looked at one of the benefts we hope to realise from the programme - improved delegation. The report began with a nice quote from Andrew Carnegie: “The secret of success is not in doing your own work but in recognizing the right [person] to do it.” We talked about the barriers to delegation - not enough people to delegate to, little awareness of models of delegation or how delegation is handled by other departments, unfamiliarity with systems which could help - the designate functionality of the calendar system for example. and then how we could help - better education about systems, more information to new heads of departments about what is available, targeted training and a wider dissemination of knowledge about "who does what".

Monday, 12 January 2009


Departmental meeting last Friday - I really enjoy them - nice to see so much of the department together. We looked back over the last year and what we'd achieved, and looked forward to our two new strategies: Technology and Learning and Teaching. We had a presentation on action taken following recent surveys of our services, and launched our new liaison service. This will have 3 strands - strategic, technical and community. We also had a demonstration of our new collaboration product - uSpace.

I was pleased to present a number of long service awards to staff who'd been with us 30 years, and to one who'd completed 40 years service. Finally, this was the first occasion that we had our "above and beyond awards" for staff who had given that extra level of service. These have rapidly become know as the ABBAs, so maybe I should invest in a number of Mamma Mia DVDs to give out next time. Following the success of the karyoke at the Christmas Party, perhaps I should make it the sing-a-long version.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Environmentally aware printing

Yesterday I received the Report of our Environmental Printing Review. Initially this was set up to answer some questions we had about the cost and environmental aspects of printing - are we spending too much on printing, is our Environmental Footprint from Printing and Photocopying too high, are we getting best value from our current assets including our own Print Service, and are we promoting best practice amongst our staff?

The report makes interesting reading - and concludes that we print too much, we don't use enough recycled paper, and we don't print efficiently. We don't know how many printers we have in the University other than networked ones, there is no printing policy in force and printer use is not currently monitored. There's also a lack of awareness of printing costs and how to make best use of printing facilities across the university, including use of the University Print Service.

The Education Sector in general is a big spender on print - it has the third biggest spend on external printing in the UK. I was surprised how little use we make of recycled paper - only 34% of all the paper sold through our central stores is recycled. Printing is also a big user of electricity, contributing to our carbon footprint - the total energy consumption needed to produce the paper that departments and the Print Service used during 2007/08 was 7809KWh, which resulted in 4.19 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

So, we need to reduce the amount of paper we use, ie stop printing as much. And when we do need to print it needs to be in the most energy efficient way possible, using recycled materials and appropriate machines.

Our next steps are to produce a printing policy and to include printers in our asset register.

There's also the BIG issue of culture change - how do we stop people printing everything, (in colour and single sided!) and demanding a printer on their desk. That last one could be tricky as I've got one.....

We've already started, but there's a lot of work still to do.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Research support - who does it

With the new Faculty structure we need to look at how we provide support for research, teaching and learning and general IT support. Had a very good meeting this morning with the Faculty of Engineering which was initially set up to discuss research support. We provide a central High Throughput Computer facility, which we provide funding for initial pump priming. Departments can then buy additional services such as compute power, processing time etc. We also know that there are various clusters of research machines around campus, some very well looked after in purpose built machine rooms, some running in corners of labs. What we were investigating this morning was whether, if we were provided with additional funding, (from research grants,) we could take over the support of some of these servers and services. We also looked at what services would be better provided locally where specialist skills were needed, what could be provided by a support team at Faculty level, and what would be better provided centrally by us.

Although the discussion began by looking at research, we also touched on general IT support and teaching support – especially departmental run open access computer rooms, and whether these would be better run as part of our general provision. Very positive discussion, and lots to do now to investigate and cost the various options.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

To outsource or not

Well, interesting first day back yesterday. Power off in our offices from 10.15 until 4.30am. Spent most of the day camped out in our Customer Services area with my laptop, trying to work whilst remembering how noisy it can be in an open plan space. Quite enjoyed it though - especially being able to talk to lots of customers coming through the doors. Think I'll do it regularly and really upset everyone.

Spent some of today reading UCISA and JISC's latest briefing paper on outsourcing student email services. As well as the paper there's 4 case studies - one from a University who decided to go with Microsoft, two who chose Google, and one which decided not to outsource. Peter Tinson, Executive Secretary of UCISA, has written a very good blog post about the papers which sums them up better than I could, so go and have a read - and don't forget to look at the case studies.

This morning met with representatives from the Estates department to discuss some options for our space requirments over the next few years. Our main issue is the number of different locations on campus we have staff - 10 at the last count. By the very nature of some of our services we'll never be all together, but it would be nice to reduce the number down to 4 or 5. We had some ideas, but all depends on a complicated set of moves, beginning with the refubishment of our Grade II* listed Arts Tower which will start this year.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Twitter power

Happy New Year everyone - and welcome back. What a wonderful day to come back - snow everywhere and a freezing building! And what a start to the year we had yesterday - last lie in before returning, and what do we get - a two minute power cut to our main data centre which brought all of our systems down. Power cut you might ask - surely you have a generator? Well yes we do, but it didn't work. But only two minutes you might then ask (as I did when phoned up at 7am on a Sunday morning!), surely the UPS should have covered that? Yes it should. But it didn't. Investigations happening today - yesterday we just concentrated on getting all systems back up. Theres's definitely a downside to moving to VOIP - lose the network, lose the phones! Anyway, got most things back eventually - thanks to everyone who gave up their Sunday to help out.

Some of you may know that I use Twitter a lot - a micro-blogging service. Interestingly a lot of celebrities have started using it, leading to some of the press catching on. They just don't get it, but it's quite funny watching them trying to get their heads round it. There's a good spoof of one of my favourite papers (not!) on there at the moment. The reason for mentioning it, is that early yesterday morning, one of my colleagues spotted that we seemed to have major problems here and couldn't email me, didn't know my phone number, so sent me a direct message on Twitter. So, more than just a social networking tool!

Edit: About 2 minutes after publishing this, everything went dark, and lo, the power is off. Has been for last 2 hours. Luckily just in our offices, not the data centre. Staff decamping across campus to find somewhere to work.