Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Busy. busy, busy

Spent a lot of today meeting a newly appointed IT Director of another Russell Group University. Of course I showed him round the Information Commons and I'm pleased to say he was impressed. We also shared information on a number of developments in our institutions - it's one of the things I like about working in education is that we're very good at sharing information. They were particularly interested in our CampusM development. I finally got a working version on my iPhone today - lots of things still to modify but it's looking good. Some good ideas from their side as well which I'm going to pursue - especially around PC management in academic departments.

Lots of stuff going on at the moment - we've just begun a major review of our VLE and also of our portal service. Depending on the outcome, we could be undertaking some major changes next year. uSpace (our collaboration environment) and Google mail for students have gone live - generally very successful but with some minor issues which we're working to solve as they arise. And we're trying to cope with the loss of 20 staff, at the same time as the students have returned. Everyone across all areas of the department working really hard and pulling together really well - thanks folks.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Don't print this....

Went to my first meeting of the University Corporate Responsibility Group today - very interesting, and an area where we can add a lot of value. "Green IT" can contribute to many of the workstreams we're looking at in terms of reducing the University's carbon footprint. Every project CiCS initiates has to have sustainability built-in and an environmental impact assessment carried out, and we've done a lot recently - PC power usage which led to us changing our recommendations for PC buying and a campaign to turn all devices off when not in use and automatic powering down of machines, low power servers, virtualisation to reduce the number of servers we run, and changes to the design of our data centres. The last one is a major project and will require substantial investment to reduce the cooling we need, but will significantly reduce our energy usage and costs. Printing is another area where we will be making a number of recommendations (like - DON'T PRINT). Have I mentioned I think we print too much?

Business travel is an area we'll be looking at over the next few months. Is the journey really necessary - can we improve our video conferencing facilities to reduce the need? If there is a need to travel, what's the most efficient and carbon friendly way of doing it? I was thinking about my journey last Friday - I had a 3 hour UCISA meeting in Oxford, and spent 5 hours on a train getting there and back. I suppose I could have used teleconferencing or videoconferencing but would have missed out on those 5 hours of uninterrupted time to read papers, write papers and do all of those things that I don't get time to do here. Interesting conundrum.I do always use the train though - never drive.

Microsoft Robots or Mac Monks?

As most of you will know, I'm a mac user - have been for years. And yes, I'm a bit of an evangelist, and have been know to stroke the metallic case of my MacBookPro, and lust after the latest version of the iPhone. I'm not particularly anti-Microsoft - just prefer macs, and of course, use many microsoft products, personally and at work. I try not to get drawn in to Mac vs Microsoft debates (or slanging matches as they often turn into). And so far I've refrained from commenting on Microsoft's latest adverts - the awful videos suggesting we have a party to launch Windows 7. So this morning as I sat down to read this article in the Guardian, I was prepared for some sort of mac or windows bashing. Didn't expect both, and I didn't expect one of the funniest columns I've read for a while.

Enjoy it, while I creep away to die.....

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lost laptops and discs

Excellent session this morning from David Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner on data security, particularly in relation to the spate of data losses which received so much attention in the press. Of course, the problem of data loss has changed dramatically in recent years - it used to be piles of paper files found on rubbish tips - now hundreds of thousands of records can be stored on memory sticks which are much easier to lose!

The first incident to receive a lot of press coverage was the child benefit discs which illustrated an important concept - that of data minimisation. A request for a particular set of information had been received, and instead of just producing this, a download of the complete dataset had been produced - because it was easier. The second major incident - that of the loss of an MoD laptop containing 600,000 personal records - illustrated a couple of important points. Why were so many records needed on one laptop? Why weren't they encrypted, and (more importantly), this was the fourth time it had happened - what sort of incident response had they got in place?

His analysis on why data security breaches happen included the statement that personal information is not sufficiently valued by managers and that policies and procedures around data security are not always fit for pupose - in one instance that he quoted the policy ran to hundreds of pages and therefore was neither read nor referred to. There's also the "Facebook generation effect" where today's young people have a different attitude to personal information.

The ICO have responded in a number of ways - a breach notification system has been put in place where data loss over a certain threshold and where there is potential harm to individuals is reported, (harm includes possible identity theft and release of information about subject's private lives such as medical records). since its introduction in November 2007 there have been 670 breaches reported, with the NHS winning in terms of numbers! Stolen data and hardware is the biggest cause, but also significant is the recycling of hard drives, where a number purchased from eBay were found to contain personal data.

The ICO can also carry out spot checks to audit an organisation's data security, and are currently pressing for more powers in this area. Next year for example they will be able to fine organisations for data breaches.

Privacy by design was the closing message - privacy should be designed into all new projects and a privacy impact assessment carried out before any project starts.

Some things to think about as we review our data security policies.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

No, you can't access that web site

Am in London again for an IT Strategy meeting with fellow IT Directors - this time from outside of the HE sector. It's always really interesting to get a different perspective on things. The evening started with a presentation from a CIO from a London council. Lots of good stuff about aligning IT to the business and IT as an agent of organisational change. He quite rightly pointed out that it can be very difficult for CIOs if the organisation doesn't know what it wants from IT. But in my opinion it can be very difficult for the organisation to know that, if it doesn't know what IT can offer. As Henry Ford is supposed to have said, "If I'd listened to what my customers wanted I'd have given them a faster horse". Instead he gave them the motor car.

One thing that has really depressed me tonight is the lack of interaction with technology from a group of people who are responsible for promoting it in their organisation. Not a laptop in sight, and as for software - Facebook? Twitter? Social media? Oh, we don't want anything to do with that.

And the number of people who think that blocking all "non-work" web sites, especially access to social media, is acceptable. But much worse, the monitoring of what web sites employees visit and a judgement then being made about that person. No question of this being a management issue - it's seen as merely a technology one. Had a couple of full and frank discussions, but didn't get anywhere. Oh well. Glad I work in a University!

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Battle for the Cloud

Final round up of the talks from last week’s conference. There was a good one on Google vs Microsoft which looked at the different approaches of these two huge companies in the battle for the cloud computing crown. Google apparently fighting what was termed ‘asymmetric warfare” – they spend a dollar, and force Microsoft to spend 10. They are really pushing the industry and forcing it to change – they have a radical vision which is based totally on cloud computing and uses a technology architecture which they have designed. They are the current leaders in cloud computing, partly because of this infrastructure. Their revenue model is also interesting as about 97.5% of their revenue is from advertising. The remaining 2.5% being attributed to a rounding error!
Microsoft however are basing their strategy on a hybrid model – applications which will run locally or in the cloud. They make most of their revenue from their business division and the windows operating system. But, they are aggressively marketing their latest applications including Bing and Azure.
The Gartner prediction is that for the next 5 years there will be little change - Microsoft will own the office space and Google will own the advertising and search space. After that, there could be major changes.
I also listened to a session on Unified Communications – the growing driver being the multitude of different ways of communicating most of us use, and a desire to be able to move between them easily. We should be looking at this as a way to improve collaboration and personal productivity, and not be driven by cost cutting. Consumerisation is already driving user expectations, and it’s in this market that we’re going to see some innovations, especially in the use of video conferencing.
And finally the closing comments mentioned the back channel discussions that had been taking place during the conference on Twitter using the hashtag. The first time we’ve seen it at a Gartner summit I think – 600 tweets in total with 40 regular tweeters (including me of course), two of my tweets picked out as examples. Mind you, I’m glad I wasn’t the author of the first one to be picked out, which described one of the sessions as a car crash and suggested to the presenter that she kept her day job….

It's that time of year again.....

...when our new students arrive. As usual, we spent the weekend at our Student Village - which is transformed into what one student described to me as like arriving at a theme park! A BBQ, free ice cream, stalls and loads of very helpful staff and current students to help both the students a and the parents (who are usually the most traumatised).

We aim to get every student a computer account and onto the network as soon as possible - this year we registered 880 students on the Saturday (and it seemed busy), and then did just under 2000 on Sunday (when it seemed really busy....). Last year I commented on a few trends - everyone just wants the internet as soon as possible. If there's a problem with their registration and we can't give them an account immediately they are distraught that they might have to spend 2 days unconnected. So distraught that we quickly came up with a work-around to give them temporary access for a week. Virtually 100% of them have brought laptops, and many of them have macs.

Some were bemused that they needed an account for anything other than getting their laptop on the network - why would they need to use a computer for anything else?

As well as the usual computer account and email address (this year courtesy of Google) we give them a disc to help them connect, and for the relative few who have problems we run a workshop to sort them out. I don't know the exact figures but our "drop in man" - he knows who he is - at one point was fixing 8 machines at once, and over the two days fixed over 200 different laptops - most running Windows Vista.

So - a big thank you to the staff who gave up all or part of their weekend to be there, and a big welcome to all of the new students - I hope they enjoy their time in Sheffield as much as I did all of those years ago.

Friday, 18 September 2009

The Mobile Worker, 2010 to 2020

Excellent presentation as always from Nick Jones looking at the mobile worker and what their collaboration needs will be and how they might be met.

The collaborative device most people use more then anything else is the mobile phone. There are more mobile phones in the UK than people. So, everyone is to some extent a mobile worker. But, there’s still a huge demographic variation in the levels of use. There’s a also a big variation in the types of device available – from those designed for fashion victims (in this case Nick was referring to me and my iPhone), to much simpler cheaper devices.

Some predictions about the use and development of mobile phones over the next few years:

  • By 2018 80% of all phones will be smart phones. But the support issue we face is that there is no common platform - Android, Symbian, Windows mobile, iPhone – all have a share of the market. This gives us a support issue – do we standardise on the platform and develop numerous applications for it, or support different devices with fewer applications.
  • Contextual applications which adapt to your identity, location, events, behaviour, preferences and people nearby are already being developed. These will provide information which is relevant, proactive and very personalised.
  • Pico projectors will enable you to project onto any flat surface such as a table or a wall so that you are not reliant on the small screen on the phone.
  • Flexible screens, and virtual keyboards will improve the viability of a smart phone being a single portable device.
  • Wireless networking and the cellular networks will be much faster and more storage will be on the devices – up to a terabyte.
  • The phone will be part of a community of devices which are mesh networked, including office equipment – including waste bins in office for example which can tell when they need to be emptied!
  • Gratuitous video will be widespread as a form of presence – streaming a view of your desk for example so that colleagues can see if your there – it could even be mandatory!
  • ePaper will exist but still be too expensive for trivial applications

So – lots of exciting things to look forward to, but what should we be doing about these new technologies and developments – especially as many of them come form the consumer space? Gartner suggest taking a ABCDE approach where you evaluate different options:

A – Approve - allow but don’t officially support

B – Block – ban it too dangerous

C – Contained. Approved but limited scope

D - Disregard – the head in the sand option, and the worse one – it’s not going to go away!

E - Embrace and evaluate the potential

Sister Act and a dancing Troubled Diva

I've still got some blog posts to write up about the conference - a good one on the Microsoft vs Google battle, and one on unified communications, but this is a slight deviation. Although I often travel to London, I very rarely get any free time to act like a tourist apart from a quick trip into the British Library which happens to be next to St Pancreas. Last night was a rare event - a night off as I had to stay here after the conference finished for a meeting with JANET this morning. So - what to do? Well, it just happened that Mike, from the wonderful Troubled Diva blog had his hour dancing silently on the plinth. He had produced a playlist, available for download so that whether you were there or not you could dance with him. I went down and it was great fun - and Mike did a great job of dancing for an hour. It was also quite strange (in a very nice way) meeting people in the flesh whom I've only ever know through cyberspace before.

Then I went to a show - haven't been to a West End production for ages - and I saw Sister Act at the Palladium. It was fantastic! I had a smile on my face all the way through. I was particulary impressed with the sets. In the past I've worked backstage at productions at The Crucible and The Lyceum (amateur productions of course), and at our own Drama Studio, so I spend a lot of time looking at the sets and the props etc. Last night I spent most of the time wondering how they did it. They had two revolving stages (I have had enough difficulty in my time with one!), and stuff coming up out of the stage, stuff flying in all over the place - it was wonderful.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Social software

As this is a Portals, Content and Collaboration conference, you would expect a lot of sessions on social software, and the following is a summary of the main points from about 3 of the sessions I’ve been to.

There’s definitely a move towards cloud computing and software as a service. Prediction is that 35% of business email seats will be delivered in this way by 2012. This will be different in different sectors – so for example the Education sector is moving very fast in this area. Cloud computing provides new options for functionality and features with little investment.

Services which start off as nice to have, quickly become mission critical as they become used to hold and store corporate data. They can become out of control, replicating the situation we used to have (or still have) on our fileservers. Governance needs to be put in place – but this has to be done by the end users, not the IT department. I think we’re seeing that happen to our own collaboration service uSpace, and it’s only been live a few weeks.

Blocking of social media sites to employees is still a big thing – 20% of organisations block access. There was a lot of discussion about putting policies in place around such access. I disagree! What you need are general policies that can be applied to any media. A policy on bringing the institution into disrepute for example can cover anything from a posting on Facebook to a letter in a newspaper.

Employees use on average 14 different applications to communicate and collaborate with each other. What they need is guidelines on what channels are best to use. Training should not be about what buttons to push, but what applications are best for which purpose. Main reason for failure of implementations of collaborative or social software suites are people and cultural issues. We can't just push out services and expect people to use them.

IT managers are often not aware what people are using - a recent survey showed that actual usage of social and collaborative software was 3 times what the IT department thought it was

A topic I found slightly scary was social network analysis. Using tools (mainly survey based, but there are other ways of doing it), to map people’s connections. From these maps you can see how many connections people have (or don’t have) and therefore who is critical to the business, and who might not be. Although some of the results which were presented were very interesting, especially the real life cases studies, some of the methods employed (analysing phone calls and emails for example) were a little Big Brother like!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Creative thinking

The second session I was really looking forward to - Dr Edward de Bono - the pioneer of lateral thinking. Instead of the normal death by powerpoint, so loved by Gartner analysts, he used old fashioned acetates which he drew on.

He talked about creative thought, and how it was an essential thing - not a luxury. The most significant part of the human brain was humour - which he illustrated with some slightly dodgy jokes!

He advocates a number of ways of making our thought processes more creative. Challenging, or putting a block into a normal process being one of them. For example he had advised an oil company to imagine a situation where oil wells could not be drilled vertically straight down. They'd have to bend and go horizontally. This was unheard of in the oil industry, but in fact this increases the oil yield, and now almost all wells are drilled that way. Another example (my favourite) involved looking at alternative ways of controlling car parking without installing meters or pay and display machines which are costly. Instead, he came up with the idea of allowing cars to park as long as they wanted - as long as they kept their headlights full on. This has been adopted in some places and has solved parking problems as everyone parks for as short a period as possible!

Other tactics he talked us through included inserting a random word into thought processes, and provocation - provoking a change.

He also outlined his famous thinking hats method as an alternative to argument, which he saw as a very negative way of exploring opposing ideas, preferring to adopt parallel thinking.

When asked about his views on education, his opinion was that "thinking" should be taught as a separate subject in schools, and where this had been adopted performance in other subject areas had been improved.

An entertaining talk, and it was good to see someone who's books have been on my bookshelves for as long as I care to remember!

In one of the refreshment breaks I escaped for a quick stroll across the road to Kensington Gardens to get some fresh air, and was amazed by the birdlife - comorants and herons - in the middle of London.

Portal, Content and Collaboration Conference

I’m at the Gartner Portal, Content and Collaboration Summit at the moment. So will blog some of the sessions – most will be in note form as time is limited.

Opening keynote was entitled Certain Strategies for Uncertain Times and looked at how we as CIOs need to adapt in these difficult financial times. We are apparently not even halfway through the recession yet - it’s certainly not over. IT is a big cost to an institution and we will be under scrutiny in any cost cutting exercise, and we need to be proactive and show how we can help the business and add value. That’s difficult when we spend about 80% of our budgets just on keeping things running – less than 20% is usually spent on innovation. In order to do this we’ll have to use success measures that are relevant to our institution’s business – not just how little downtime we’ve had, or how well we’re doing in user surveys. Cloud computing and outsourcing definitely being pushed as the way to go. Personally am please to hear that.

Social software also getting a lot of plugs, but with policies for acceptable use - and blocking use is not a policy! Quote from one of the analysts – “if you fired everyone who used Facebook you’d have an empty office”. On a quick show of hands it was astonishing how many organisations do block all social media sites.

The business needs to take social media seriously – think about how you can use it to form communities. That combined with the cost savings associated with open source software is a great opportunity.

A good start to the conference – a lot of stuff we’re already doing but some thoughts to take away.

Students to get University direct to their mobile

This press release has just gone out about a new mobile service we're about to launch:

A unique new mobile application that will enable students to receive University information direct to their mobile phone is set to be launched next month by the University of Sheffield.

The pioneering new campusM™ application will allow students to access comprehensive information about upcoming events, view campus maps and have their own up-to-date timetable, with just one click of a button.

The application, developed by oMbiel, will also feature a friend locator to help them meet up with other students, and users will also be able to browse their library records and look up faculty, staff members or student contacts from the University directory. Students will also be able to use the application to receive the latest news and important alerts to help them get the most out of their University life.

The University of Sheffield will be the first of a group of universities in the UK to roll out campusM™ to its students, who will then be able to download the application for free from the University’s online portal.

For the launch, campusM™ will be available on the iPhone and iPod touch, but by the end of the year, the application will be compatible with other mobile phones, including those from BlackBerry®, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Samsung, Sanyo and Sony Ericsson.

Dr Christine Sexton, Director of the University of Sheffield’s Corporate Information and Computing Services, said: “With over 24,000 students and almost 6,000 staff, students are living increasingly mobile lives, needing information and services on the move at anytime. We had to find a way to make our services more accessible to meet the need of our students. campusM™ will ultimately save students time, keep them better informed and make communicating with staff and other students a lot easier.

“The campusM™ application offers an integrated suite of services that our students want, enabling them to stay informed with the ease and convenience that mobility brings. It gives students all the information they need in one central place, which is accessible anytime and anywhere and which will enhance the overall student experience and allow them to concentrate more of their time on their studies.”

Hugh Griffiths, CEO of oMbiel said: “Our selection by the University of Sheffield is validation that oMbiel is providing a leading industry application to make student services available at the tap of a finger, regardless of their location. It is a major milestone in our development of mobile applications for the Higher Education sector and it will significantly contribute to the rapid expansion of the technology in the UK.”

I'm dead pleased with this - it's been a great example of a quick implementation, outsourced to a company who worked extremely well with us.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Fastflip and Bing

A few weeks ago I posted about Google and Microsoft making announcements about new developments at roughly the same time, and it's happened again.

Google have announced FastFlip - a new way of searching for and reading news which is supposed to mirror the way you flick through a newspaper - there's also a mobile version which works on Android and iPhone. You can choose which categories of news you're interested in, or perform a search and you're presented with a gallery of pages which you can flip though. I've had a quick try and it's very fast and looks pretty good.

Microsoft have announced that their search engine, Bing, now includes a visual search where you can browse images instead of text and select or deselect them to refine your search. It's not live yet, but apparently should be here sometime soon. Those who've tried it are impressed, but unfortunately it's limited to the number of search libraries which Microsoft has created - there's no Bing engine creating visual libraries on the fly. So, the number of things you'll be able to use this for is limited by how popular certain search terms are.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Revolutionising the classroom - 40 years ago

Programme Board today and a catch up after the summer on all of our projects and how they're progressing. The one's going live in the next few weeks - Google mail/calendar, Student timetables, uSpace, eRecruitment, are all progressing remarkably well. Some others have slowed down, but thats because of their dependency on other things or just simply lack of resources. Some reprioritisation is required, and we'll be doing that next week.

Someone has just pointed me in the direction of this link - a clip from a Tomorrow's World programme of 40 years ago showing a computer in a school. It's called Nellie, and is apparently set to revolutionise the classroom. Worth a watch. At least now we don't have to check the oil levels and temperatures of computers before we turn them on!

They quote "most adults find computers a bit of mystery, but for these children brought up in a world of diodes and transistors there's nothing mysterious about a computer". How things of changed! Of course, most computers are still a mystery to some adults, but the beauty now is that you don't have to understand how they work to use them.

Friday, 11 September 2009

All go for Google

Only a week to go to the arrival of most of our new students, and then a week after that the returners come back. Over the last few weeks we've been making sure that our new Google mail service is in place. That's meant creating all of the new student accounts with Google, and then creating accounts for the returning students and migrating all of their mail over. In addition there's a lot of technical work going on with passwords and getting single sign-on through our portal to work. Had a catch up meeting this morning and so far, so good. One or two hitches but nothing too serious. Migration will be finished next week, and single sign-on turned on straight after. Given that we only took the decision in May, it's been a fairly rapid implementation. Should be a much improved user experience for our students - hope it's appreciated! Had an interview yesterday with Google's PR agency for a press release they're doing - apparently there's quite a few Universities moving to them this September (14 is the figure I've heard) - and in Sheffield both ourselves and Sheffield Hallam are implementing in the same timescale so we've been able to share experiences. Suspect a UK HE Google User group will be on the cards soon.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

iPhone's don't bounce

Had a good meeting this morning on how to collect and manage all of our information about international contacts. These can be very wide ranging - international alumni, research links, teaching agreements, intelligence gained from market analysis, links forged on visits abroad. Lots of data, and lots of contextual stuff. We've agreed to collect most of the data which lends itself to being stored in a database in the system we originally bought for alumni data. Everything else - all the contextual stuff and intelligence we're going to put into uSpace - our collaboration environment. This will allow it to be easily accessible but secure, and can be updated during overseas visits - the blogs and discussion forums could be very useful in this respect. So, we're populating it country by country. Should be a very useful resource to support our Internationalisation strategy.

Also today we discussed producing a booklet for staff introducing our services similar to the one we've just produced for students - something just to start them off giving them information on how to use the portal and access some of the major services. In the past we've given students and staff the same information, but services have diversified so much that's no longer appropriate. Giving students Google mail for example.

And finally - I discovered that iPhone's don't bounce. Especially when you drop them onto a supermarket car park. I now have one with a completely shattered screen. Interestingly, it still works but the touch screen functionality is a bit dodgy, especially as bits of glass keep falling off it. Better order a new 3GS one. Every cloud as they say.....

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Eddie iz Running

Most of the time I try and keep this blog work related, and this is no exception - I'm talking about an alumnus and honorary graduate of the University!

Eddie Izzard is running. A long way. A marathon a day round the UK taking in all 4 capitals, all for charity. Today he completed his 37th marathon by running through Sheffield. Much excitement this afternoon when his ice cream van parked outside the Information Commons and the driver told us he would be running past about 5.30. Then bad news, he was running late, and couldn't make the detour to come past the University, so I set off in my car to find him following the route on Google maps I thought he would be following. And I found him!

Running up Duke Street at about 7pm. It was getting dark, looked like rain, he'd run from Wakefield, but he took the time to stop, say hello, check that I'd sponsored him, and pose for a photo. He is a star and doing something that I cannot imagine attempting - the thought of running one marathon fills me with dread. So - SPONSOR HIM HERE. Sorry, didn't mean to shout!

When he left me he asked how far the hill went on for. As it goes uphill for about 4 miles I wasn't sure whether to tell him the truth or not. After about half an hour the heavens opened and he got drenched, and it got dark. He completed his run at about half past 8. Did I tell you to sponsor him?

PS There's more pictures here

Open Days and various meetings

Yesterday I spent some time on our stand at the Open Day - this time talking to prospective students and their parents. Good fun again, and very busy. Lots of questions about bringing their own laptops and accessing the internet, and what facilities we have on campus. Was able to sell the Information Commons quite heavily as well as the wireless network on campus. Interesting the part parents are playing - when I went to University it was very much left to the student to make the choice, now the parents arrive at Open Days on their own, leaving their offspring behind!

Today I've had a discussion on the future direction of our Document Management Project with the Project Customer. Some hard decisions to make over the next couple of weeks (I've blogged before about it so not going to bore you again), as to how we take it forward, or whether we change direction completely.

Also today I chaired a meeting of our Business Continuity Operations Group - we're meeting every two weeks at the moment to make sure we have plans in place in case there's an outbreak of Swine Flu. With students coming back in just over a week, we're well prepared I think. Of course every year we get "freshers flu" - not flu at all but the result of all those bugs arriving at the same time. Very similar symptoms to swine flu, so the potential for much over-diagnosis.

Friday, 4 September 2009


Yesterday was a UCISA Executive Meeting, hosted here in Sheffield - made a nice change to wander over to it rather than get up at the crack of dawn to catch the early train to London. It was very pleasing that everyone, no matter where they came from, was able to connect to Eduroam, the roaming wireless network. This is of course how it should be, but many institutions either don't run it at all, or have it configured in such a way that connecting is virtually impossible. Congrats to all of our network guys for doing such a good job.

We had a long and lively discussion on the JISC strategy which is currently out for consultation. This is an important document as it sets out the funding priorities for JISC for the next 2/3 years. I thought it was a very well written document and sets out the current environment well. As well as the obvious areas of supporting learning and research, the document has more emphasis than previous strategies on business systems (in the broadest sense, including VLEs for example) . This is in the context of helping Universities manage their business more efficiently in the current financial climate. Engagement with suppliers is seen as important, particularly in terms of the systems they supply to us, and the need for them to be more simple, conform to standards and provide functionality which can be disaggregated. Although not mentioned specifically in the document, any discussion with suppliers in my view also needs to emphasise the need for them to keep up with modern technologies and provide clean and simple user interfaces.

The other main item on the agenda was another consultation which is taking place, this time on how our network is delivered Currently MANs (Metropolitian Area Networks) have responsibility in many areas for regional provision of the JANET network - explained here. However, JANET(UK) has decided to move away from this arrangement and deliver services itself. This has caused some consternation in the community, particularly in the MANs. There is concern that the regional oganisations provide a better service - YHMAN for example provides all of the Universities connected to it, including us, with a dual internet connection whereas JANET only specifies that it provides a single point of connection. There is also much disquiet about the perceived lack of consultation and the way the decision has been communicated. As an IT Director, I don't really care who provides my network, as long as I get a service which is as good as or better then the one I'm getting now, and it is the same price or cheaper than existing costs. However, I would like to be consulted and have some justification provided for the decision. I'm sure this will rumble on for some time!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Pictures at an Exhibition

Today was our suppliers exhibition, originally set up for external suppliers to visit the University. A few years ago internal suppliers of services were invited to attend, and we've made a point of being there ever since. It's an opportunity for us to meet our customers, show off new developments and services and have a chat to people as they pass. We try and project a professional image, with well designed stands - this year we had four stands covering Computing Services, Audio Visual Services, the Print Service and Transport Services.
A great way to get people to come over and start to chat with you is by giving away freebies, and there's usually a lot of competition for the best ones to be found at the exhibition - this year's winner is one of the local hotels who were giving away bottles of Henderson's Relish - a great local delicacy brewed across the road from the Information Commons. We stuck to pens, post it notes and sweets, but I'm definitely thinking about bottles of relish for next year!
I always try and get over for at least part of the day and staff the stand - chat to people, find out what they're interested in and get feedback on our services. Lots of questions this year about Google mail and uSpace, as well as the usual technical queries, which is why we always have the experts from the Helpdesk on the stand, so that there are some people who know what they're talking about!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


The latest edition of our newsletter is out today - we bring one out twice a year and include infomation on new services, security advice and emerging trends in IT. It's made available in hard copy as well as a pdf from our web site, as we've found that different people prefer different ways of accessing infomation - neither all hard copy nor all electronic will work but we have reduced the number of paper copies over the years. The latest issue has a very web 2.0 feel to it with articles about Twitter, Google mail and uSpace, as well as information on our records store and access to Gartner research.

The Forgotten Morris

Another interruption to blogging as I've just been on my annual pilgrimage to Whitby Folk Week. One of the highlights of my year - a lovely place just to wander around anyway, and during Folk Week lots of great entertainment. We were even treated this year to a breathtaking display by the Red Arrows as Folk Week overlapped with Whitby Regatta. As someone who barely understands how planes fly at all, flying upside down just confused me!

Continuing the theme I started last year of trying to illustrate the great variety of English traditional dance (it's not all bells and hankies!), this year I give you the Flag and Bone Gang. A vibrant team of black and red, face veils, clicking bones and waving flags.

So, now it's back to work - most emails have now been read or deleted and the preparations for the new academic year start in earnest. Should be back to blogging regularly now as there's lots happening.