Friday, 28 May 2010

You couldn't make it up, (aka The Digital Economy Act)

Yesterday I was in London for a UCISA Executive meeting. One of the main items we discussed was the implications of the Digital Economy Act on Universities. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not particularly enamoured by it, and I'm afraid my opinion of it is not getting any better!

Despite the LibDems intention to repeal it, that doesn't seem to have made it into the ConDems manifesto, so it looks as though we are stuck with it. It is intended that the bulk of the measures in the Act are up and running by January 2011. Given that the measures to deal with copyright infringements will need both European and parliamentary approval (estimated to take 5 months), that doesn't leave a lot of time for consultation. There has already been some consultation on the costs associated with its implementation, and both JANET and UCISA have responded. The JANET response contains a link to the original consultation document.

The main challenge we face is that is not clear what the Act defines as an ISP, or as a subscriber. Universities could fall under either category. The process laid out in the Act is that every rights holder will have to lodge a sum of money with Ofcom for every ISP that they expect to make a complaint with, based on the number of complaints they expect to make. This sum of money will be called off every time a complaint it made. With me so far? That's every rights holder, with every ISP. As the Act does not clearly define an ISP - that could be many, many orgainisations. If every University is classed as an ISP for example, that means that every rights holder will have to work out how many complaints they expect to make against each University and lodge that sum of money with Ofcom. And then there's libraries, hospitals, prisons, small businesses...... You couldn't make it up could you?

UCISA have responded to the effect that this will place an unacceptable administrative burden on Universities, when we already have effective mechanisms in place.

So, might it be better if we're classed as a subscriber? Well no, because if that's the case, and we get a number of complaints we could be cut off from the the internet entirely!

So, our plan at the moment is to try and persuade Ofcom to agree a code of conduct with Universities outside of this scheme, which mirrors the situation we have at the moment - if we get a complaint, we investigate and deal with it. Our track record is quite good and we get few repeat offenders. So, watch this space....

Thursday, 27 May 2010

A bronze medal and a green Hero (or Heroine?)

The University recently launched the Green Impact awards . Participating departments (17 of them) had to complete a workbook which logged and accredited the basic, positive environmental steps they were taking. These were quite strict criteria, with all departments expected to do the same things: heating audits, Fairtrade foods, printing reductions, and others covering many areas of sustainability. Yesterday it was the awards ceremony, and we were tipped off to make sure we were represented there, and I was very pleased that we got a bronze award. Well done to everyone in the department who had played an active role in this - especially Simon who coordinated it. Now we need to work hard to make sure we get a silver (or gold) next time. Congratulations also due to our Finance Department who got a Gold award.

What was even more surprising though, was that there was an award for Environmental Hero - and I won it! But, because I didn't know I'd been nominated, I wasn't there to receive it, and Kath, one of the Assistant Directors received it on my behalf. Shame - I could have given a gushing speech, thanked everyone, cried a lot.....

I'm seriously honoured to have won it - apparently the nomination included " your leadership in authorising and promoting green initiatives, your willingness to lead by example, and the sheer importance of the fact that you frequently make your support clear during green discussions". All those stroppy blog posts about printing were worth something then!

Despite all the nice things that were said in the nomination, it's not just for me, but all of the good University-wide initiatives that have come from the department. Our "Say Goodbye to Standby" campaign encouraging all staff and students to turn off PCs when off not in use was a great success, and our environmental print review and subsequent print audits are also proving successful in reducing print, and making it more efficient and environmentally friendly. The first print review we did for example revealed that we used only 34% of recycled paper - our own print service only used 5.7%. Now that figure is up to 98% use of environmentally preferable paper.

So, thanks, and well done everyone.


Apologies for blogging break - my annual pilgrimage to Chelsea Flower Show rather got in the way! Great event as usual, and some pictures here if you're interested.

At a UCISA Exec meeting today where we're discussing the implications of the Digital Economy Act, and I got a Green Hero award yesterday, so normal blogging will resume later....

Friday, 21 May 2010

Friday at last....

The end of another busy week, but not a lot I can blog about! We've started our annual SRDS (Staff Review and Development Scheme) round, so I've had long and interesting review meetings with all of the Assistant Directors. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I've also had a very useful briefing from the Director of Finance about the Resource Allocation Model we are adopting - or how budgets are set. Yesterday morning I spent an hour with internal audit for the latest audit we've involved with on the processes and policies we have in place for ensuring accuracy of the student data returns we do to HESA and HESES.

We had a meeting of the Exec with the Section Heads where we discussed the outcomes of the World Cafes we had last month. Lots of interesting stuff, and some definite themes emerging. All being pulled together for a presentation to the department, and I'll post about that later.

So, short post today, but I'll leave you with an amazing 3D street painting. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

John Hawley Trophy

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending the Student Sports Awards dinner in the Octagon Centre. The reason for being there was that for the first time, The John Hawley Cup was presented to the best sports club. John was Deputy Director of the department until he sadly died 18 months ago. He was a great sportsman, playing Rugby League, and a great supporter of the University. He left a sum of money to the University, which is being used to support student and community sport by developing a new sports pitch, which will also have a memorial garden. Last night his family made a very moving speech about him, and presented a very over the top trophy (John would have loved that) to the Equestrian Club for being Club of the Year.

It was a brilliant night - great to be surrounded by lots of very noisy and enthusiastic students reminding us of why we're here!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Mobile University (continued....)

All of the videos from the presentations at the Eduserv Symposium on the Mobile University are now up here. Not sure about the second one, but the rest are certainly worth a watch.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Optical Illusion

I do love a good optical illusion - this one won the 2010 Best Illusion of the Year Contest held in Florida:


Files, files, everywhere.....

Today started with a meeting about files - where to advise users to store them mainly. Prompted by an upgrade we're doing soon to our collaboration service, uSpace, which allows uploaded documents (and spreadsheets, pdfs, powerpoint) to be previewed and annotated in the browser. Currently we advise users not to upload documents etc, but to create them as uSpace documents using the wiki-like editor. They're easier to view that way, and collaboration, comment etc is much easier. We also want to keep the environment as a collaboration space, not a document repository. But - it's easy to upload documents, so people do. And the upgrade will make it easier to view them. So, the discussion this morning was on policy - and what to advise users. There are many different places to store files - personal hard disc, uSpace, shared filestore, individual filestore, portal groups, VLE - as well as the many places in the cloud including Google apps and MobileMe. Developments we're making to our portal and document management will solve some of the issues, but we need to map out how everything fits together. The diagram above is the first attempt. That's clear then.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

What price a joke?

As many of you know, I'm a user of social media - mainly blogging, Twitter and Facebook - but lots of other things occasionally. I'm getting increasingly concerned at the lack of understanding of these new types of media and communication - especially by "people in high places" - the judiciary, the police, the CPS, and if the Digital Economy Act is anything to go by - the government.

I've written about the Digital Economy Bill, and a recent case where a blogger received an unnecessary visit from the police. I've also been following some disturbing libel cases, Simon Singh's being the most famous, but more recently Dave Osler, which was a case brought against him for a blog post he'd written more than a year earlier, and involved comments posted by others on his original post. Both of these have had good outcomes - eventually, after much time and money has been wasted and the defendants have had to put their lives on hold.

However, a recent case has REALLY made me cross! You may have heard about it - it's had a lot of press - David Mitchell has written a column about it, the News Quiz had a segment on it, and it's been covered in many news items.

Paul Chambers was frustrated- he was due to fly to Ireland, but Robin Hood Airport was closed because of snow. He posted a tweet along the lines of "you've got a week to get your shit together or I blow you sky high". He didn't send it to the airport - he tweeted it to his followers - he never expected anyone else, not least the airport to see it. However, 3 days later, someone from the airport did a search for Robin Hood Airport, and found it. Although they didn't think it was a credible threat, they reported it. And then all hell seemed to break loose. He was arrested and escorted from his place of work. His computers and mobile phone were seized and he was questioned for 7 hours. And then he was charged. Not with sending a bomb threat - even the CPS accepted that there was no evidence for this - but under a little known clause (section 127 ) of the Electronic Communications Act. Apparently Paul had sent a "menacing" message over a telecommunications network. Outrageously - he was then found guilty, fined £1000, had a criminal conviction, and lost his job. Now, his original tweet may not have been the most considered in history - but did it really merit this? And did the CPS really have to dredge up a little known clause in a law written for completely different reasons? I don't pretend to understand all of the legal issues in this - but jackofkent does a brilliant job of explaining them here, and if you're interested - and if you're reading this blog I suggest you should be - you would do well to read his posts on the subject.

This is an extremely important precedent - English law relies on case law - so this decision has a bearing all of us who blog, tweet, or...insert whatever tool might be there in the future. As soon as the verdict was announced Stephen Fry offered to pay the fine and a fund was set up to pay Paul's fine and his legal fees if he decided to appeal, supported by many prominent tweeters, especially famous comedians. I'm pleased to say that he is appealing, and the best legal team in the blogosphere is going to work pro bono on the case. I'm proud to have contributed to his fund, and I urge all of you who tweet or blog to do the same. This is important to protect the free speech of all of us in this new era of social media.

Good luck to Paul, and to all those working on the appeal - I'll follow it with interest.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Mobile University

Spent yesterday at the Eduserv Symposium on The Mobile University - an excellent day , with some great speakers (I was one of them, but am not including myself in that description!). Paul Golding, CEO of Wireless Wanders kicked off with a very big picture overview of the mobile scene - now and what we can expect in the future. 1.2 billion mobiles are sold every year - and in 59 countries there are more mobiles than people - that's active mobiles, not those languishing in drawers. He talked about current trends and drivers for Mobile 2.0 including faster access, better tarifs for data, rich user interfaces and augmented reality. A really good opening keynote, and then the next speaker brought everyone back down to earth :-)

I spoke about the issues IT departments face in supporting this mobile revolution - including licensing, infrastructure, data security and synchronisation, and user support - both locally and remotely. I used as a tag line for my talk "we don't support that", because we used to be able to say it. We owned the hardware, gave people the software, and controlled what they could do. Now we increasingly don't own the hardware, people can get software and services from many sources, and there's a diverse range of devices, browsers and operating systems. I don't believe we can say it anymore - we may have to come up with different support models (I outlined a number in the talk), and encourage self help, but I don't think we can afford not to let people ask us support questions.

Other presentations during the day covered changes to learning and teaching in a mobile University, and an extremely interesting view from outside the sector on what it was like to develop apps for mobile devices. If you want an example of the diversity available - to hit just 70% of the mobile market you would have to test your app on 375 different devices!.

In the middle of the day were some lightening talks where presenters were given just 7 minutes to present an idea or a case study - this worked extremely well and led to some interesting debate. Edinburgh University presented on a survey they had just done in readiness for developing their mobile strategy were they asked students what devices they had, what they used them for and what they would like the University to provide. Very interesting results which you can see here, and something that we may want to repeat as we develop our mobile strategy.

All of the slides from the presentations are here, although mine makes very little sense in places as I prefer pictures to bullet points! All of the talks were filmed and streamed live, and will be up on the web site soon - I'll provide a link as soon as they're there.

Thanks to Mike Nolan for the pic of me speaking!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

JANET stakeholder meeting

Spent today in London at the JANET stakeholder meeting. JANET provides our network, and we were discussing the SLA they have to provide services, interestingly not with the Universities who are ultimately their customers, but with JISC, who fund them.

It was a very interesting day, with a real consensus of how important JANET is. It was originally formed from a number of research networks with the intention of providing a high quality private network to support computational research. However, now it supports the whole business of the University sector, including teaching and learning and many critical business applications. As we change our sourcing model for services - moving more into the cloud, and using out-sourced and out-hosted services, our connection to the internet becomes even more critical.

We need very resilient services - which means two independently routed connections which some Universities still don't have, as well as sufficient bandwidth to handle data and applications being hosted off site. As one member put it - being off-net is not an option. The security of the network is also an issue, as potential threats are likely to get worse.

We are lucky in that JANET currently provides an excellent service in all respects, but as we move forward, especially into difficult financial times (which as I write this may just have got worse....), we need to be very clear on what services we need, and whether we are getting value for money. I suspect the next SLA will look much more like a service catalogue, with more focus on services and user satisfaction and less on monitoring.

A very productive meeting, and lots of very positive discussions - I'm proud that we have a network like JANET which is the envy of other countries, and it is important that we protect it.

IC Evaluation

Yesterday afternoon we had a presentation from our Information Commons Manager on an evaluation of the building, three years after it opened. Three years - difficult to believe it's been that long - there's a whole generation of students here now who don't remember life without it. It's been extremely popular - and definitely a victim of its own success. Students will queue for a PC or printer here, rather than walk 5 minutes to empty PC rooms. The evaluation report is very full, and has collected and analysed data from many sources - the library system, the entry/exit system, PC, printer, and software monitoring software. In addition, students have had their say on the facilities through feedback forms, comments cards, focus groups, satisfaction surveys and interviews, as well as Facebook and YouTube. For me, the most exciting thing about it has been seeing a whole new way of studying, in a more collaborative way. Group study rooms and group tables are always full, and students will pull chairs up to study spaces to be together. There have been issues of course - students not quite being sure of how to behave in different areas, and how to use the various areas for different types of study. The concept of quiet for example has different meanings for different people, and depends to a certain extent on your expectations.

We have also had some - but given the level of occupancy and it 24 by 7 opening not many - behaviour problem from students. These have been mainly around how the building is treated - litter, empty food packets left around, furniture damaged, the odd chinese takeaway consumed in the group rooms. And complaints from other students about PCs being "reserved - logged into and then left - and too much Facebook and not enough academic work. But - they admit they are their own worst enemies - one student admitted in an interview that for every student she complained about using Facebook, she was that student the next day.

Speaking personally, my only real disappointment is the lack of engagement from some academic staff, many of whom have never been in it. But, all in all , the building has been a resounding success - due in no small part to the staff who work in it who have been (and continue to be) excellent, and have shown that two departments (ourselves and the Library) can work together to run an outstanding service.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Visiting Faculties

A couple of visits to Faculties this morning - first was a strategic liaison meeting with Social Sciences. We talked about the key challenges facing us and our plans for the next year. A tension which is apparent in all of our discussions at the moment is that we know the HE sector is facing financial pressures, and we need to plan for cuts, but Faculties can plan to expand, whether its student numbers or research. That's not really an option for us in the Professional Services. In order to protect our support for teaching and learning and research we may have to look at reducing support in other areas - or looking at different ways of sourcing services.

We also discussed a number of new developments, including upgrades to our VLE, uSpace and our CMS - all happening in the next few weeks - discussion focused on the effect they will have on academics in particular and the benefits they will bring. We also covered our common timetabling project, and possible future developments in student assessments. We had a good discussion about support for research, especially in terms of data storage - there's still too many departments storing their own data on departmental servers with the associated security and business continuity risks.

After that we visited Engineering, and covered a number of areas, many to do with infrastructure and space. Space for large groups of IT- enabled teaching is a particular issue, and we're looking at more innovative ways of using space - by using laptops in laboratory space for example. We're investing quite heavily this year in expanding our wireless network to facilitate this. Re-equipping lecture theatres, using lecture capture software and improving access to software from laptops is also high on our agenda to give more flexibility in use of space.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Mobility and governance

Had another phone conversation with a Gartner analyst yesterday about how to support a user population who own an increasing variety of mobile devices, running different operating systems and browsers, who expect to be able to access our services on them, wherever they are. This was in preparation for a talk I'm giving next week at the Eduserve Symposium on The Mobile University . As usual, I'm well prepared and have my talk and slides already prepared (that's just a fantasy...), but not panicing yet as the talk is coming together in my head, and at some point it will find its way out. Hopefully before I stand up and open my mouth. Lots of issues to address, including the level of support we can provide, the different services we can offer, and the different models of providing services, ranging from a very controlled to very hands off. Not to mention security, standards, native apps vs web services.....

I've also been having a series of meetings with senior managers in the University about changes to our governance structure. Governance usually is enough to put me to sleep, but this looks interesting! We're proposing a series of strategic advisory boards, aligned with the service areas in our service catalogue, so we're moving well away from having groups that look at systems, to a much more high level, strategic look at whole services - teaching and learning, research, communication and collaboration for example. So far its been well received, and we hope to bring it in by the summer.

Finally, I spent a very pleasant day today with a newly appointed IT Director from another institution, sharing ideas, experiences and ways of managing our respective departments. It's good to talk as they say, and good to share and network - we can all learn a lot from each other.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

LEAN and mean

Had an interesting call with a Gartner analyst this morning about LEAN - an on-going process improvement technique, originally developed for the engineering and manufacturing industries but now applied to any process. It focuses on a number of basically common sense approaches (but we all know that common sense isn't always that common), and I like it because its simple and makes sense.

A key principle is that of removing waste. Waste can be a number of things. Stuff for example - detailed project plans that sit on a shelf and are never referred to, piles of paper people print and take to meetings, documents that are produced too soon and in too much detail. Papers should be read, not weighed. It can also be unnecessary steps in a process such as a sign-off step just to keep someone happy, or unnecessary loops.

Another waste can be motion - waiting for information, not knowing where to get help and information from, unnecessary movement of information, people or things.

Time is another form of waste - task switching is a good example. If you're in the middle of doing something and someone phones you up with an unrelated 5 minute question, it can take 30 minutes out of your day.

In IT terms, over-development is a waste - good enough is exactly that. We should be aiming to deliver just what is needed which might only be 60/70% of what was asked for, and delivered quickly.

The LEAN technique involves following a process through from end to end and working out what is waste and what adds value - if anything isn't adding value it should be remove. this technique brings together staff from different functional areas and allows them to see the whole process rather than just their bit of it, and should help to improve collaboration and reduce silo working. By allowing staff to work in teams on processes (without necessarily having the line management present it should also empower them to suggest improvements. Of course, with all such techniques it's important that it is kept lightweight, that quick wins are achieved and it doesn't become an end in itself. I'll certainly be suggesting that we give it a try some of our processes - the difficulty will be deciding which ones to start with!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Leadership Event

Last week I attended a UCISA Leadership Forum where we looked at the IT department and the CIO of the future. We started by looking at the challenges facing the sector and the changing higher education landscape. It is widely accepted that public sector cuts are on everyone's agenda - it won't particularly matter what colour government we wake up to on Friday. HE is up against schools, the NHS and the police for funding - it will be up to Universities to demonstrate the value of what we do.

Service departments like ourselves will have to look at a number of options:-
- what can we stop doing?
- what can be outsourced?
- what gives us a competitive advantage?
- where can we be more efficient?
- how can IT help the University to be more efficient?

The challenge will be to make changes without affecting the student experience, the quality of our services, and not stifling innovation. In terms of direction, the future requires much more collaboration - with industry and commerce, with overseas institutions and with each other - within the same institution and between them. Collaboration with each other could include shared services, shared procurement, and working together on open source solutions - Kuali was mentioned as an initiative that perhaps we could look at and learn from.

After this good bit of scene setting for the sector, we looked at specific challenges facing IT departments, and what the IT department of the future might look like. Some specific challenges suggested to us included the conflict of standardisation and innovation, (especially in the area of social media, where much innovation is going on outside of the IT department), interoperability, availability and security. It was put to us that the perception of the IT department for many years has been that it is slow, expensive, too focused on technology, late to deliver and unable to communicate with the business. How true is that still? And if so, how we can change it?

User expectations are high, and getting higher, driven by consumer electronics. Devices are proliferating, with different standards and operating systems. Web 2.0 and cloud computing are currently in favour - but for how long, and are the current business models sustainable? Should those of us who use the "free cloud services" be worried by the recent change in Ning?

Then on to a round table discussion of what we thought the IT department of the future would like. Things I picked out from the discussions (and agreed with - I didn't agree with everything....):
We will need to be more service orientated, and less focused on the technology, but we will still need skilled technologists to implement the services.
We will need to talk and engage in a language that the rest of the University can understand, and sell the benefits and value of our services.
We will need to be facilitators, not controllers, and much more flexible than we are now. Innovation will be crucial, but on a rapid scale - no more projects taking two years.
Risk will be important - as we move to multisourcing of services (a combination of in-house, shared, cloud and out-hosted), we will need to understand and manage the risks involved.
We will need to work very hard at being seen as part of the business - not as something separate - we contribute to income generation, to teaching and learning and to research.

All in all a good, thought provoking session with lots of good discussion with colleagues.

The day finished with a role playing exercise to practise our negotiating skills - I ended up as one of the role players trying to negotiate a contract with a cloud service provider. We didn't buy it, so I'm not sure how competent that made us!