Friday, 27 February 2009
My personal view? He is so wrong. We have to embrace new technologies or we will never move forward - we have a departmental presence on Twitter, and an Information Commons one. A University one will follow soon. I don't mind who comments on this blog - comments are currently unmoderated (although I reserve the right to turn moderation on if I get hit by spammers). The days when we could control the way information was communicated have long gone - as this has proved. If you're not involved, then you're not stopping it happening - you're just not part of it, and will get left behind.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Today I went to the first meeting of the Project Executive Group, and it was just like old times, in the design phase of the Information Commons. The architects are the same (RMJM), which is great as they did such a good job on the IC, and understand how the University works and what we need. The building will bring together academic student support including the Modern Languages teaching labs, English Language labs, and will provide much needed teaching space, especially seminar rooms and flexible classrooms. Being just across the road from the IC we need to make sure the buildings operate in a complimentary way, and we will be looking at how we can manage them to give the best possible student experience. CiCS is becoming more involved with managing teaching space - we already look after timetabling, the booking of rooms and the IT and AV infrastructure , and we will be heavily involved in the design of this new space - it will be an exciting addition to our facilities.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
As well as the Facebook Causes Cancer story, the Daily Mail also ran with something as sensational - Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist. This was based on statements by the Head of the Royal Institution, Professor Susan Greenfield that excessive sitting in front of a computer screen using social networking sites could "rewire the brain".
Ben Goldacre from Badscience.net appeared on Newsnight last night to argue against this theory, and that put forward by Dr Aric Sigman that loneliness affects your immune system, social networking makes you lonely, therefore - you can fill in the rest. Ben's blog contains a link to the Newsnight programme - watch out for Ben's facial expressions during Dr Aric's statements - very funny. Immediately after the programme Ben posted a load of references which do not support Dr Sigman's theory, which he had conveniently ignored.
I'm not an expert on Neuroscience, or Psychology, but I've done a PhD and 3 years post-doc work in a biological science, and I do understand the basic principles of scientific research. Cherry picking evidence to support your theory does not appear in them!
The Guardian technology blog has picked up the story this morning and quotes Age Concern extolling the social and health benefits of social networking for older people.
But my favourite post on the topic is this one, and I look forward to the More Fur, Less Facebook campaign.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
I thought it might be useful to share the conclusion from our paper to the Board with you:
"CiCS departmental culture has always been based on understanding needs and applying skills and technology to the solution of other people’s problems and we have a positive approach to Equality and Diversity. We aim to present ourselves as a willing and helpful resource to the whole University and beyond. Our customer surveys are beginning to tell us whether that is indeed how we are perceived and we will continue to use the results to inform improvements.
Our culture is changing towards a more pro-active approach, ie to recognise and, where appropriate, to provide for the needs of diverse groups rather than waiting for them to appear. This applies particularly to our customers but also to staff and of course a positive approach in each area reinforces the other.
Culture change is achieved when a clear direction from the top is expressed through specific, consistent and visible actions, measuring changes where possible. We will continue to develop awareness across the department by giving a clear lead, encouraging all staff to use the thought-provoking on-line training materials and other training opportunities and by encouraging discussion of, and action on, specific issues. We welcome discussion of our performance. "
I'd be more than happy to receive any comments people have on this.
Friday, 20 February 2009
Had a great session yesterday looking at future mobile and wireless developments with Gartner Analyst Nick Jones. Very interesting - and lots of things to think about as we continue to develop our strategy in this area. The sheer number of mobile phones being shipped at the moment - and their variety - makes application development for them and support a challenge. There are several models. Corporate - everyone given the same device, which are fully supported. So you get access to corporate applications and good support, but no flexibility. Or you can go for appliance support - everyone can use what device they want, and they accept a lower level of support and access to fewer applications. The third is of course is you can have what you want - but at a price!
Wireless changes will give us a number of challenges, particularly the move to 802.11n standard, which is not an upgrade but will require new access points. Lots of exciting developments on the cards as speeds get faster, and Bluetooth develops. Low-energy Bluetooth which will be available in the next two years will enable Bluetooth technology to be used on devices that require less energy than mobile phones or PCs, such as watches and heart-rate monitors. So, when someone rings your phone, you'll be able to look at your watch to see who's calling.
There'll also be a high-speed Bluetooth which will enable us to zap data around our devices - for example mp3 files from a PC to a phone, or bulk downloads of pictures quickly from a digital camera to a computer.
There's also some great little projectors under development - pico projectors - which will eventually be embedded in mobile devices - great for projecting your small display onto a table or a presentation onto a wall.
Lots of other interesting things on the horizon - flexible screens, location and presence awareness and mobile web.
There's a recent Gartner report on technologies to watch which is summarised here. If you want to read the full report (and you're at Sheffield Uni), you can look at it through the Gartner Research Channel in MUSE.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
One of the other areas we discussed was what makes a good service - is it efficiency, or cost effectiveness, or that it's customer focused? Definitely the latter!
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
It is something we need to consider carefully - isn't student email now just a commodity? Why are we running a service which can be provided free of charge by a service provider? All students come to us with an email address now anyway, and we can't give them the storage they want and which Google can give them. Issues we will be looking at carefully as we decide whether to roll out Zimbra mail and calendar to all members of the University, or roll it out to staff only and go with Google for students.
Will any University be running an email service at all in 5 years time?
Monday, 16 February 2009
Good first day. Had a very thought provoking discussion on the financial climate and how it's affecting the University sector. Basically the challenges are:
- Income from the funding councils – there won't be as much of it
- Income from Research Councils - there won't be as much of it
- Student expectations, especially the relatively poor performance of Russell Group Universities in the NSS affecting our reputation through the league tables which are particularly important in overseas recruitment. General consensus that the Russell Group has been too concerned with research to the detriment of teaching.
- Cost pressures on pay, pensions, and utilities.
- The need for a quality infrastructure - IT, buildings, equipment, library.
- Internationalisation and increased competition.
- Improve the efficiency of academic processes through IT
- Sharing best practice in the use of IT
- Business change through application of IT
- Building an e-Infrastructure
Sunday, 15 February 2009
Off to the RUGIT two day meeting in Edinburgh tomorrow where we'll be looking at the Financial outlook for Univeristies, and sharing experiences about some of our recent issues, including outsourcing student eMail to Google.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
The rest of the day was spent in round table discussions on a variety of topics. Two of mine were on remote and flexible working, and on equipping the mobile worker. As it was a public sector forum and I found myself on tables with a large number of CIOs from Local Authorities, much of the discussion was about security. Most only permitted totally locked down laptops, usually encrypted, no access to work emails or files on home PCs, encryption software on mobile devices including Blackberries. Very little concept of web based services access through a portal - they nearly all rely on client based access to systems but some are starting to investigate thin clients. Almost without exception totally Microsoft based - I was even asked what IMAP was when I explained that's how I access email on my iPhone. Everything standard - you can't use what device you want, just what the IT department tells you you can. No concept of using social networking tools at all. Obviously some of these organisations are handling data much more sensitive than anything we have, the concept of IT being a facilitator not an inhibitor didn't exactly come across. Most totally encrypted laptops were unusable, and many people reported the use of encrypted memory sticks where the user had forgotten the password making the data inaccessible to anyone. There is obviously a balance between usability, security and risk which we all have to consider taking into account what data we are handling. I was quite impressed with the fingerprint recognition on the new Sony Laptops - shame it's not available more widely.
As I said yesterday, it's great to get out of the sector, and look at the way others work. Had a really funny discussion with the CIO of English Heritage about networking Stonehenge, and what the bandwidth of Ley Lines might be....
Monday, 9 February 2009
Evening started very well with a presentation from the CIO from Transport for London. And yes, somebody did mention the buses stopping last week! He has a varied job - from running the tube system, the buses and every traffic light in London, to the technology behind the Oyster card and the congestion charge. Over 1 billion people use the Tube each year - talk about a customer base! Fascinating talk, and so much of what he said could be applied to our own organisation. He had some good quotes - from a German book on project management - "if at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried". And one of my favourite stories about management consultants which some of you will have heard before but it merits repeating:
"Once upon a time there was a shepherd looking after his sheep on the side of a deserted road. Suddenly a brand new Porsche screeches to a halt. The driver, dressed in an Armani suit, gets out and asks the shepherd:“If I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?” The shepherd looks at the young man, and then looks at the large flock of grazing sheep and replies "OK".
The young man parks the car, connects his laptop to the mobile-fax, enters a NASA Webster, scans the ground using his GPS, opens a database and 60 Excel tables filled withl ogarithms and pivot tables, then prints out a 10 page report on his high-tech mini-printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep here.”
The shepherd agrees and says that the man can have his sheep. The young man makes his pick and puts it in the back of his Porsche.
The shepherd looks at him and asks "If I guess your profession can I have my animal back. and the young man says, “Yes, why not”.
The shepherd says, "You're a Management consultant". “How did you know?” asks the surprised young man.
“Very simple,” answers the shepherd. "First you came here without being asked, and then you charged me a fee to tell me something I already know. You also know nothing about the business. Now, can I have my dog back".
He has made tremendous changes in the organisation, and his main message was that change comes from good leadership, and by focusing on the people, not the technology.
Now, I have to go to bed as my first session starts at 8.30 tomorrow morning.
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Spent some of yesterday writing "the day in the life of" story about a member of staff how they might be working in 5 years time, following on from Tuesday's workshop. Bit difficult to judge. Not sure if I've gone over the top or not far enough. For instance - will any of these short excerpts from it be mainstream in the next 5 years?
Chris arrives at work, the door opening to let her through because of the RFID chip in her smart card. As she walks through the building her iPhone connects to the wireless network and is automatically updated with the latest news and events from the University and the plasma screen on the wall updates to show she’s in the building. She sits down in her flexible working space, and her computer switches itself on, having powered down automatically the previous evening to conserve energy. It greets her, having recognized her using biometric data. “What am I doing today?” she asks as she takes off her coat, and the computer tells her what meetings she has, and where they are. .....
She sits down at the large flat screen and touches it, bringing up her desk top - there’s no need to log in because of the biometric technology. Another touch and she has her in-box open which contains one or two messages, details of her voice mails and the items she needs to approve. She touches the voicemails and listens to them – she has no desktop phone .....
There’s a deadline coming up for a report, and to complete it Chris needs some management information. She touches the uGoogle icon on her desktop and activates the voice recognition system. “I want to know the country of origin of all International students admitted in the last 3 years” she says, and the results are displayed. She touches the download button, and the figures are downloaded into the analysis software on her computer.....
There’s a quiet ping, and a request for a video chat with Rosie appears on her screen. Chris touches accept, and Rosie’s face appears. They have a brief chat about their paper, agree it can be published, comment on the snow which is falling outside, and sign off.....
Back at her desk, her computer reminds her she has a meeting in 10 minutes, and tells her what room it’s in and what papers are available. On her way to the meeting, Chris's iPhone vibrates to notify her that a colleague is nearby. As she takes the iPhone out of her pocket, the screen displays a small map showing the relative locations of herself and the colleague who is labelled as 'John M'......
During the meeting the key points from each paper are displayed on the plasma screen, and the participants can read them on their portable devices (phones, laptops or electronic paper ). Nothing is printed.......
And finally on my wish list:
It’s now time to go home .......and her networked fridge and ice dispenser begin mixing the perfect gin and tonic which will be waiting for her as she walks though her front door
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Some great ideas came out. To start with many of them were not about technology, but about changes in culture or changes to business processes. Or just changes.
So, what technology changes do people want? Fewer but more focused and targeted information sources. Few thought that email would still be with us in 5 years time, or if was, it would not be the primary way of communicating. Systems that know who we are (no more logging in), and knew what information we needed, what we were doing, and where we needed to be. Good voice recognition so that we could get rid of keyboards. Ubiquitous desktop video-conferencing. Everything available through one interface - on mobile devices as well as desktops. Electronic paper so we could stop printing. Location and presence awareness on all devices.
None of it rocket science, and most of it already available - but we have a real challenge to get it all rolled out.
Monday, 2 February 2009
So, snow. Lots of it. And still coming down. I am old enough to remember when this happened at least a couple of times every winter - and still the same questions being asked. Do we come to work, can we leave early, how long will it take to get home, will the University be open tomorrow, do I have to turn up for my exam?
I love it - but then I haven't got to get anywhere, and can walk to work in 2 minutes. I miss sledging with the kids though.
Last Friday had a meeting to look at how to take forward our CRM project. It's become much bigger than just CRM and is looking at the whole student experience.
We went live with our CRM system for prospective students in July 06, and we handle all enquiries, application processing, open day management and campus tour management through it. It is well used and liked, and we need to build on its success and expand to cover all students and alumni, not just applicants. We're looking to build systems which put the student at the heart of them, and change the culture so that interactions are simple, seamless, and streamlined. Eventually we'll have a single view of student information through our portal for staff and students. We've already done a lot of work on this but need to pull information from different systems together and make some changes to business processes.
Had a very good joint meeting with library colleagues this lunchtime to look at research data management, and how we can work together to provide a service to researchers. Both services have a role to play - CiCS in providing storage capacity, back up, disaster recovery, technical advice, etc, and the library on the management of the data, especially in terms of data curation. The UKRDS feasibility study will be published soon and we look forward to implementing its recommendations.
And interestingly given my opening paragraph, writing this blog post was interrupted to get a message on the University Home page and send mails to staff and students about arrangements for opening the University and exams tomorrow!