Friday, 21 January 2011

Realising benefits and costing services

One of the external projects I'm involved in is the production of a best practice guide funded by HeFCE, which began as a guide to project and programme management, but is now concentrating much more on  outcomes rather than management. So, it will be concentrating on how you can realise strategic change and benefits. It arose out of a perceived need for such a toolkit by estates directors and capital projects, but has now been expanded to cover other areas of Universities including IT.   On Wednesday I spent the day at the Steering Group meeting where we looked a the different stages of realising change and benefits -the vision and strategic business case; the operational business case; implementation; benefits delivery - and what tools you might need. A very interesting group, and I think the guide will be extremely useful when finished. In toolkit form it will contain information and templates which people can adapt and use to suit their own requirements. As funding becomes more restricted, we'll have to be more rigorous in what big projects we do, and make sure we get the maximum benefits from them.

Yesterday we had our first meeting to kick off a change in the way we look at budgets and expenditure. We want to get much better information on how much our services cost. I could easily find out how much we spend on hardware, software, paper, etc etc, but do we know how much the web service costs? or filestore? or the wireless network? or the payroll system? And do we know how much of our expenditure goes on supporting teaching and learning? Or research? The answer is no - with some qualifications of course. We have done some preliminary work on this, but are now moving into much more detailed work. This should help inform some of our decision making and resource allocation. How do we know what we might have to stop doing if resources are limited if we don't know how much things cost? We've just outsourced email, but we don't know how much we've saved, because we don't know what it was costing us to start with. Hopefully we'll get some useful information out of it.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Facebook and Twitter use in Universities

There's been a couple of interesting posts recently about use of social networking in Universities. First one I saw was Brian Kelly's post about the institutional use of Twitter in Russell Group Universities. Some interesting metrics, and Brian suggests some good practices that Universities should adopt. There's a fairly lively discussion in the comments as well, with most people finding the data useful.

Then a couple of days later, another post about the use of Facebook in the same group of Universities and some more discussion, particularly on whether in a big University students are more likely to feel an affiliation with their department, school or course rather than the institution.

And then I spotted (via a tweet from the Registrar of the University of Nottingham), this study which looks at Twitter and Facebook use in European Universities. I'm not sure adding the number of Facebook and Twitter followers together to create a league table is good science, but it's nice to see Great Britain at the top of a table! Apparently UK Universities are by far outperforming other countries in communicating via social media with more than 60% of all university twitter followers connected to UK institutions.

There's a rather good post on whether these sort of metrics actually tell us anything here. I haven't made my mind up yet. It's great to see Universities engaging with social media, and it should be encouraged. I'm surprised that some Russell Group Universities don't have either a Facebook or Twitter account, but I wonder if it's doing them any harm in communication, reputation or marketing terms. I suppose only time and more research will tell.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Business continuity, planning, and what's your mobile operating system?

The week started with a Business Continuity Operations Group which I chair.  Today we looked at reviewing the University's Incident Management Plan, which has been in existence for a while, and is time to be rewritten, especially as we've now tested it in a number of incident situations. We looked at how we handled some recent incidents - including the student occupation and the snow. Templates for departments to carry out Business Impact Assessments have also been drafted and we'll be trying them out with faculties and departments soon. We want to get Business Continuity integrated with the University's risk management process, and these should help. I keep saying "we",  but a lot of our progress is due to the hard work of the University Business Continuity Manager who is based in our department.

Then we had another planning meeting, this time with the Faculty of Social Sciences. A number of professional services were represented at it, and it was interesting hearing the discussion around a number of topics - estate strategy, marketing, recruitment and  student number planning. We contributed to many of the topics, including the need to create flexible and technologically rich teaching spaces and the importance of the web in marketing.

This afternoon we had an executive meeting where we looked at a near final draft of our Annual Report - which is looking very good! We also worked our way through a survey we're going to send to our students soon about mobile devices - what they own, what they use them for etc. Edinburgh did one last year and we've been relying on those results, but thought it was time we did our own. We're looking at what sort of devices people own, and how to get students to tell us what they have - had an interesting debate about how to describe a netbook, and whether they would know what operating system their smart phone has.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

From gee-whiz to junk

I've always wanted to go to the Consumer Electronics Show,  but haven't yet managed to find myself in Las Vegas while its been on. I try and keep up with what's hot, and what's not, and found this brief article on A Gadget's Life in the Washington Post interesting. A look at what gadgets have gone from obscure to ubiquitous - or vice versa - and how prices have changed.  The average price of a mobile phone in 1984 was $4,000, and a home PC about $5,000. Sales of standard mobiles are being overtaken by smart phones now, and mobile devices now make up the majority of personal computers sold. Worth a quick look.

Operational plans, carbon targets, and why do people print so much....

One of the regular meeting the Exec team have with all of our Section Heads today. Most important item on the agenda was our operational plans for this year and next, which have been drawn up by the different sections under our seven service headings. Next task is to amalgamate them into one plan for the department, and to look at priorities. Interesting how some priorities have changed  - as I mentioned yesterday, wireless is top of everyone's list. Lecture capture and streaming, which we do a limited amount of, was not in demand a year ago, and now is so that we will have to expand our service. Too many other things at a high priority to list here - the difficulty will be finding the resources to deliver them!

We also talked about projects to enhance the student experience (very important in the light of higher fees), how to improve and speed up decision making in the department, and our great Vice-Chancellor's open forums, which are highly recommended.

This afternoon it was the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, where the main topic of discussion was reducing our carbon emissions. Lots of work already done, but a lot more still to do. We're picking off the buildings on campus which have a high energy consumption and concentrating on them. Of course, the buildings which consume the most energy per square metre are our two data centres - despite all the good work we've done on virtualisation and layout etc. But, lots of good things planned to improve the air con etc.  Paradoxically one of the other buildings with a high energy consumption, is the one doing all of our research on energy and climate change.

The other big agenda item was developing our sustainable procurement policy - we already have a policy on ethical sourcing, fair trade, supporting local businesses, and this will build on that. There's a lot of work to do looking at the environmental impact of our suppliers.

Finally, I managed to get a plug in for our managed printing project, which should reduce the amount we print, and make that which we do more efficient. People still seem to print everything - including the covering emails with the agenda attachments (you know the ones - please find attached, etc, etc.....  And they print everything single sided. And powerpoint slides on a whole page with solid blocks of colour.  Grrrr

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Alice, Twitter, Quora and WiFi in the Park

Good start to the day with meeting with one of our student sabbatical officers. As he tweeted later, "we discussed Orgreave, Alice in Wonderland, Twitter, and even what we were supposed to be talking about".  Of course, what we were supposed to be talking about was IT facilities for students, and we did, especially some improvements we're looking to make to the registration process, introducing SMS for better communication and our new portal. twitter came up a lot in the hour we spent together - and as we are both fervent twitterers, some of the time bemoaning the fact that other people just don't get it, and how useful it can be if used properly. As a source of information, news, advice, and from the Students' Union perspective, as a campaign tool.

Social Networking came up in a later meeting in a planning meeting with the Faculty of Science, especially in terms of how academics use it, whether they use it, and how best it can be used in teaching. We know there's a whole lot of staff out there who either haven't used it at all, or who've dabbled in it, but aren't sure what to do with it. We've talked before about introducing digital media literacy training, and this needs to be integrated with best practice in terms of teaching.

Other things which came up in the planning meeting were using laptops to better utilise space, for example laboratories when they're not being used for practical classes, and we're about to begin a pilot with the Biology departments.  The student experience needs to be at the core of everything we do, and talked about how little things - like equipment in lecture theatres which doesn't work (even clocks!) can have a big effect. As can lecturers who don't know how to use the equipment, and so we're working to standardise it as much as possible.

Expanding the wireless network - which is already extensive on campus, but not pervasive - is going to be vital if we're going to be able to support the explosion of mobile devices, and one of the suggestions was that we extend the coverage to the public outdoor spaces, some of which already are covered but by leakage from the buildings. WiFi in the park - with the bandstand at the hub?

And finally, discovered a new website today (thanks to Jo), Quora.  Still trying to find my way round it and what it's for. Will keep you posted!

Monday, 10 January 2011


Started this morning with a discussion on using SMS services for communicating with staff and students. Currently we have a couple of ad hoc solutions for some departments, but we want to put something in University wide. There's a number of reasons, including communicating changes - this morning's lecture's been canceled for example - but also, in the light of recent incidents, emergency communication. That could be with members of the University, staff and students during the bad weather for example, but also between members of the incident management team. There's a number of things to overcome - linking any system to our main corporate systems for example so we only store data in one place; getting members of staff and students to keep their contact details up to date; moderating what it's used for so we don't bombard students with messages; cost - at about 5p per text it's not a cheap option.  There's also the issue in incidents of texts not always getting through if the networks are busy. Anyway, a pilot service is about to start within a couple of areas including an academic department,  our department and  the incident management team, so we'll see how it goes and if we can get some of the issues ironed out.

Service Strategy Board had a good meeting this afternoon - some full and frank discussions, so it wasn't boring! It's proving to be a very good forum for discussing issues and getting different views of how we might do things. We had an interesting discussion on how we might take forward development of our new portal and our enquirer and applicant portal, and how that fits in to plans to change the way we  register new students. Some conflicting priorities we need to sort out. Also some differing opinions on our Google apps implementation - especially whether we turn any apps off, or leave them all turned on. No final decision on that one so more discussion needed. We've just started our managed staff printing project, which hopefully will reduce our printing, and make what we do print more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome back - hope you all had a good break and have come back rested and relaxed and ready to face the challenges ahead.  Hopefully I'll have lots of exciting things to blog about over the next year. Any request, or things you particularly want to know about - let me know!

I've spent the last few days looking at our planning for next year. We're now into updating our planning statement and having some detailed discussions with Faculties about how our plans and there's tie in with each other.  Each of our three sections (Technical Services, Customer Services and Business Services) have produced operational plans for the next year under our seven service headings, and we're now busy comparing them and bringing them together into one consolidated plan. This is a departure from previous years where our plans have been very much related to our organisational structure rather than service based. We've also been  planning our capital expenditure for the next few years, especially looking at major upgrades and refreshes of the infrastructure.

Today I had an unexpected bonus when I was invited to watch our generator test - not very exciting you might think, but I found it fascinating. Although the generators on our two data centres are tested every month, every six months we do a proper test, where we actually turn the power off - and see if the generator kicks in.  I've never even seen our generators before (they are kept very secure!), so today was a treat. I was surprised at how big the main one was, and how complex it is! Basically just a large diesel powered engine, it has a very complex interaction with the High Voltage supply, the transformer and the UPS (batteries). This complexity has been one of the problems we've had in the past when it hasn't always worked as well as it should.  It's also very loud when running! I'm pleased to say both generators worked a treat. Let's just hope they do if we do suffer a real power failure...