Friday, 26 February 2010

Design, Print, Deliver

Lots of activity around printing this week. It began with a visit to the Print Service - an excellent team in the department producing very high quality printed materials for the University. There's an impressive array of them on display - and as the production of standard printed materials is declining (more later), they're diversifying into other areas - promotional materials, conference posters and banners, photographs in mounts, albums etc. We specifically went down to have a look at their new equipment - the latest high volume digital mono and colour printers which will enable us to do more work in house, are very efficient and allow us to do smaller print runs, all at a very high quality.

Then yesterday we had a discussion about some of the recommendations coming out of our environmental print review, specifically looking at how we can reduce print, and make what we do have to print more energy efficient and cost effective. Discussion centred around staff printing as student printing is pretty much taken care of - all managed, all double sided by default, large efficient printers, only printed when the job is released - and they pay! It's in the students' interest only to print what is absolutely necessary. Not so for staff I'm afraid. So, a number of options we're looking at, which will all involve a much more managed service for staff, and a much clearer indication of how much printing actually costs. This may meet with some resistance, especially if we reduce the models of printers we will support, and actively discourage or not allow individual printers. Hopefully we will be able to persuade people of the benefits - both cost and environmental. There will need to be culture changes as well, including the way we handle papers for discussion at committee meetings. More on-line collaboration in advance using uSpace, more display equipment in meetings rooms, more personal devices for access to digital papers. When will the iPad be out I wonder....

Finally, to continue singing the praises of the Print Service, it doesn't just print but provides a very high quality graphic design service - often at very short notice. During our tour of the facilities on Wednesday, I remembered that I'd promised to do a poster for a conference next week and had done nothing for it. A couple of us had a hasty meeting yesterday, scribbled something on the back of an envelope, gave it and some pictures to one of the designers, and by today had an excellent poster. Very professional, and done in 24 hours - thanks guys!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Fame at last..

Forgot to mention this in last post, but it amused me.....

Last Saturday I watched the last in the BBC series The Virtual Revolution - I'm sure it's on iPlayer if you missed it. It announced a hashtag at the beginning (#bbcrevolution), so I was able to follow the backchannel on Twitter while it was on. I was pleased that I wasn't the only one who was annoyed and irritated by the programme, its concentration on Facebook as a social media site, and the scaremongering about what it was doing to our children's brains (yes, Baroness Greenfield was on). In fact one of the only people who spoke any sense on the programme was Stephen Fry. So, at the end of the programme you were invited to go to the BBC web site and see what sort of web animal you were - and you know what, I tweeted:
And I made The Sun! Not quite the fame I had in mind, but cheered me up no end.

I've looked at Clouds......

Not often I have a week's absence from blogging when I'm not away - mixture of lots of work (some not bloggable), and a couple of days feeling poorly sick (flowers and chocolates can be sent via my work address....).

But, I'm back now hopefully with a few things to report. At the end of last week we had a meeting optimistically called "Cloud Gazing" where a group of us got together to look at the implications of moving some of our services into the cloud. This was of course prompted by the fact that we recently outsourced our student email service to Google, and are now looking at how we handle staff services.

I was keen that we took a step back from just mail and looked at other services which are available - calendaring, filestore, document authoring and sharing for instance. There are several drivers in my mind - not least cost cutting. We are going to face serious cuts across the sector over the next few years and need to plan how we're going to deal with them. There's also the issue of carbon footprint - a recent study showed that the two highest carbon emitting buildings on our campus per square metre are our two machine rooms. When you throw in reducing complexity, doing more with less, and improving services it seems to be me a no brainer that should at least consider it.

We tended to focus on Google's offerings rather than the cloud in general, but it was the first discussion. It was interesting having a very mixed group of people in the room, with a range of opinions. We identified a number of benefits, including improved services, faster development and deployment, reduced costs, reduced carbon footprint. Of course, there were risks identified too - access to data, security, privacy, loss of control, vendor lock in etc. A big issue while we were concentrating on Google (and if anyone from Google is reading this, take note!), was whether Google is going down what was termed the Microsoft route. With the development of an operating system (Chrome OS), browser (Chrome), mobile operating system (Android) and now even a hardware device (Nexus), are Google going to concentrate on producing services which will only run on these services, or at least be optimised to? If so, that will cause real problems with widescale adoption in the education community.

So, no decisions, but a good first meeting with opinions fairly evenly divided between the risk takers and the risk averse, and there'll be plenty more good discussions I should think.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Arts Tower reappears

Programme Board earlier this week, with only one new Project Definition to approve - for a Student Attendance Monitoring system. This is mainly to fulfil the legislative requirements around the new Points Based Immigration system introduced by the UK Border Agency aimed at International students, but will also be used to monitor all students to enable us to pick up any problems and identify where support might be needed.

We also had our regular item of looking at progress on all projects, with good progress on a number of them including the VLE review, our portal review and our media hosting project.

Yesterday I had a never ending series of meetings, from 0830 to 1730 with even my 30 minute lunch break taken up with having a photo taken of the Exec for the Annual Report. I'm pleased to report that our intrepid photographer (who perhaps wishes to remain nameless) managed to get one decent one of the four of us with all of us with our eyes open and looking vaguely happy!

One of the meetings yesterday was the Professional Service Executive Directors with the Registrar looking at progress on a number of workstreams. These included work on Corporate Communications and Planning and Budget setting. One of the largest and most complex workstreams is on our Estates Strategy as we try to reduce our running costs and carbon footprint. This will involve some moves of departments, including the Professional Services, as one of our major capital projects comes to fruition. The Arts Tower is a 19 storey grade 2* listed building which opened in 1965 and has recently been undergoing a major refurbishment. It's spent the last few months completely covered by wrapping, and on cloudy days has disappeared from the landscape. It is just starting to reappear, and the top floor is already visible as the wrapping and scaffolding comes down. - it will take 26 weeks for the scaffolding to be struck completely.

Plans for the re-occupation of the building are currently been drawn up, and will allow some consolidation of services. It will be an exciting time. It is popularly believed, although there is no documentary evidence, that the Arts Tower is based on the the Seagram Building in New York. It certainly looks similar to me!

Friday, 12 February 2010

At the bleeding edge (or just behind?)

As well as keynote speakers yesterday at the Leadership Summit, we had a number of breakout sessions where we discussed particular challenges facing the HE sector at the moment. Although it wasn't specifically an IT event, there was a Technology challenge, which I went along to. As technology is now pervasive, fast-changing and not in the control of HE, how do we ensure that HEIs put technology to maximum strategic advantage.

We discussed three areas - how do you know when and for what to be at the "bleeding" edge? When do you jump on the bandwagon, and how do you respond strategically to growing pressure from staff and students to adopt the latest greatest technology (or fad!). Several strategies were outlined - from being a pioneer (being at the bleeding edge) to being a follower (using tried and tested technologies). Of course, which you pick might depend on what service you're talking about - is it high risk, strategic, mission critical? If so you might adopt an follower approach. If it's low risk and more niche, then a pioneer approach might be more appropriate.

The second area under discussion was whether the future of IT on campus actually lies off campus - moving to the Cloud. What might we be able to do differently if we used the cloud and is access is more important than control.

Thirdly was the issue of leadership. There's different levels of "digital comfort" in the HE community, and most of the decision makers are outside of their digital comfort zone. How should senior managers make sure they're equipped to take important, strategic decisions about technology, and where should the CIO sit in the organisation to contribute to these decisions.

A very good discussion, and it was particularly interesting as the room was divided between IT people and other senior managers from HE. Our discussion linked the three challenges above and decided that for some core, commodity services you should move them into the cloud, to free up staff to do more interesting value added work. You really do then need senior managers who understand the issues and who are prepared and able to work in partnership with the IT department. In deciding on a strategy about technology adoption or outsourcing the key factor is risk. Understanding the risks, managing the risks and taking risks. The leadership structure needs to be built on partnership with the CIO playing a key role.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A Changing Landscape

Spent today at the Higher Education Leadership Summit, organised by the Leadership Foundation in conjunction with JISC and the Open University. The first speaker was Martin bean, Vice Chancellor of the OU, and he gave an excellent opening address on the changing landscape of HE and its relationship to technology.

His three mega themes were:
  • Globalisation - needs no explanation really
  • Massification - the mass expansion of HE in he world. Currently the world can't provide enough physical Universities to fulfil the demand for HE. We need to move from thinking bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar.
  • Privatisation - 1 in 3 students in the world are now studying in a private institution and the private sector will have an increasing role to play in UK HE. They have the expertise in brand, marketing and quality of service and we need to look at partnerships with them
All studies of what students want from their educational experience indicate that their digital lifestyles are worlds apart from our workstyles. He used a description of education given to him by a student - "Going to school's like getting on a plane. The door shuts behind you, you have to trust the guy at the front who you don't know and switch off all electronic devices".

Technology itself is not the answer - people need to be ready, willing and able to accept it, and all underlying processes have to have been put in place to allow technology to be successful. If you haven't got the money for staff development, don't invest in technology. Brainware is just as important as hardware and software.

His view is that Higher Education has to become more learner centric with personalised information feeds, mobile tools and personalised resource archives tagged to the student's preference serving up content they need in a way they want it. This will re-motivate learners and create a greater sense of personal fulfilment.

When asked how this was all going to be affordable, his view was that it doesn't have to funded from within the University. Use partnerships with Google, Microsoft, Apple and do it with someone else's pound. He encouraged everyone there (who were from a wide variety of roles in HE....) to be courageous and work with their IT Department not believe them when they gave you 10 different reasons why it won't work...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


There's a fair amount of buzz around at the moment, as Google announce another new feature. Buzz was only released yesterday, but there are already 2000 news articles about it when I checked a couple of minutes ago. There are those who love it, those who hate it, those who are sceptical, and those who like me are not sure what it could be used for. I've had a quick look as it's being rolled out gradually and I only got it this morning, and to me it seems at first to be a combination of some of the aspects of Facebook, and Twitter, with more use of location services. So, will it take off? Has it got a use in an education environment? Is it just another social networking service, and another inbox? I'm not sure, and am not sure what makes some services take off and other not. You would think that Google would have had a plan, but the last big product - Google Wave - seems to have gone very quiet. So, we'll wait and see. I'll give it a go, like I do most new things, and see what happens!

Edit: Something has been niggling me since I first posted this last night, and I've just realised what it is. The big difference between Buzz and other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, is that this is based on email - the others are separate. I'm not sure I want them linked. Something also worried me when I first went to look at my profile, which Google had created for me, was that it listed the people I email and chat with most as suggested followers - it was up to me to turn this off, or it would open for everyone to see. I've found a post this morning which puts it better than I could. I'm a big believer in people taking responsibility for their own privacy and security settings and understanding their own electronic footprint, but also believe that service providers have a responsibility to clearly set out the implications of their default settings. I'm not sure that this is the case in this instance. Am I being oversensitive?

Monday, 8 February 2010


Lots of meetings again today - this morning a meeting to look at change management. We're on the way to implementing ITIL - in a way that suits us - and are mainly looking at problem, incident, change and test management. Some good processes already in place, and we've looked at the sorts and amounts of changes we make by logging them all for a month. Today we were looking at what change management processes to put in place for planned changes and emergency fixes. What changes will be pre-approved, and what will need to go through a CAB (Change Advisory Board). What systems will need more scrutiny than others, and what data changes (rather than configuration changes) won't need approval at all. We also looked at how we will handle emergency fixes out of hours. Lots of heated discussion, and probably more questions than answers, but I'm sure our change manager will make sense of it!

This afternoon I got together with the rest of the Executive Team where we covered a whole range of things - from what titles we're using for staff, to feedback we're received recently about our services, and appointing a new PA to work with us. We also had a good discussion on some of the financial pressures facing all Universities at the moment, and how we might react to them.

Finally we met with a staff development colleague to discuss holding another "World Cafe" event for all staff in the department. This is part of our on going staff development programme, and the feedback on the last one we had was very good. The aim will be to bring all staff together so that they can have a say in how we go forward as a department, particularly in the light of challenges we are all facing in the sector. Hopefully it will produce some good outputs, as well as being an opportunity to network with colleagues, and be fun as well!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Google CAB

Spent the day today at Google's headquarters in London at the inaugural meeting of the European Customer Advisory Board. Very good meeting - and an amazing place - would love to work there! As you might expect, lots of bright colours, open spaces, deckchairs, places for a power nap... And the food - lots of it - unlimited supply of snacks, cereals, smoothies and sweeties. And that's just in the "micro-kitchens". The canteen is something else.

Main business of the day was a look at the road map for the development of Google Apps, especially as it relates to education. Lots of cool things on the way which I can't tell you about because we were there under an NDA. But I was very impressed with some of the development work going on, especiallly around collaboration.

One thing I can tell you about is something that's already live - Google translate for apps. It can translate instantly between 51 languages, and is available for web pages and docs. The most impressive demonstration was it translating live chat - I can see a use for this not only in academic departments, but also in support services. Helping International students with IT problems for example.

We also had a long discussion about data - where is it stored, how secure is it, who has access to it - which are some of the questions we get asked whenever we mention to the possibility of rolling out Google Apps to staff. Answers to most of the questions are already available, but today we got a lot more details and a lot more reassurances especially around security and resilience.

It was good to meet folks from other Universities who have rolled out Google Apps, especially many colleagues from Europe, and I look forward to more such meetings.

So, the meetings over and I'm in my tiny hotel room, about to go out and see Priscilla Queen of the Desert - can't wait. I love a good show - especially one full of drag queens!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Snakes on a lego plane...

Last week I posted that I was disturbed by some aspects of the Digital Economy Bill. This week I added my signature on behalf of UCISA to an open letter sent by a number of organisations to the House of Lords about the provisions for copyright infringement and public access to the internet via institutions. It will be interesting to see what response we get.

Other things I've been doing in the last couple of days include pondering whether Flash will finally be killed off by Apple, and catching up with loads of reports that needed writing. Still not finished them all yet, but have a train journey tomorrow so that should help! Going to the inaugural meeting of the Google Apps Education European Customer Advisory Board, which I hope to be able to post about later this week.

And finally, because this is such a short post, something for you to look at especially if you like lego - a Lego Airbus. Full gallery of pictures here - isn't it great? I especially like the snakes.

Monday, 1 February 2010


At the end of last week following the UCISA meeting I went to the RUGIT awayday - tortuous travel arrangements between Manchester and Warwick meant that I missed the first couple of hours, but got there in time to hear an extremely good presentation and question and answer session with the Registrar from the University of Warwick. Of course, we concentrated a lot on the financial pressures facing Universities at the moment, and looking at how we are going to have to work together to get through them. Two points I thought were particularly well made were -
- we mustn't allow the government to divide and rule us,
- we have to get involved in the debate and not let others set our future vision and direction.

Other sessions over the two days included a presentation on CampusM (from me - getting good at it now!), the future of desktop computing and the benefits of a centralised IT service as compared to a devolved one. Lots of good discussion, and as always at these events, a lot of very useful networking.

Today, some of us visited the University of York to discuss our approach to collaborative software with them. In particular they were interested in the implementation of our collaboration environment uSpace (based on Jive SBS software). Lots of interesting questions - most of which we knew the answer to. And I even got to do my CampusM presentation again! Again, excellent networking and exchange of ideas.