Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Modernisation and Business Cards

Today I'm off to Oxford for a discussion on how IT and IT departments can help Universities become more modern and efficient - it's going to feed in to the UniversitiesUK review of modernisation and efficiency. If anyone wants to contribute ideas, put them in the comments and I'll make sure they get considered.

Just before I set off to get the train I had a quick look at my twitter feed and came across this - augmented reality business cards - there's a few different videos. We had a demo of how AR was being used in teaching in our dental school and few weeks ago, and this is another use for it. A good advertising tool, or just the latest fad? Personally (and you know I'm going to say this), I think they're great and would make you really stand out. So, our marketing department - what do you think - can I have one as my next card?  And Print Service - could you design and make them? And could the technical people do the clever AR stuff to make them work?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Need to get the T shirt...

After a great day at Chelsea (hundreds of pictures here if you've got time to kill), I was back down to London the following day for a meeting of the UCAS Admissions Process Review group. This was the second meeting, and is a steering group overseeing a fundamental review of how the admissions process works. Representatives from schools, colleges, Universities, the NUS and other interested bodies are involved, and this meeting was looking at the huge amount of research that has gone on already into how the current process works, how things happen in other countries, and what changes schools, prospective students and Universities would like to see made.  The next task is to analyse all of the findings in more detail and come up with a set of recommendations - which will be the most interesting part, and expected to happen over the summer.

Yesterday we had a bit of a brainstorm over the expected Higher Education White Paper and what it might contain, and how we might react to it.  More unknowns than knowns at the moment, although we can make some educated guesses. It's already very delayed over the original published date of March 2011, and the latest guess is that we're expecting it in the middle of June.

We had a Change Advisory Board this morning, and one of the interesting changes we talked about was the technical things we have to do to take part in IPv6 day. As a university we will be taking part, and ensuring that our main web site is running on IPv6 on June 8 2011 - like many other organisations including Google, Facebook and yahoo.  We're hopeful that everything will be fine, although some users may experience some slowing down of web access, depending on how their clients are set up. I jokingly suggested that we should wear T shirts advertising the occasion, and only later discovered that they do actually exist.

Later this morning we had one of our Strategic Liaison meetings with the Faculty of Arts. Lots of good discussion around learning and teaching and research support.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Scenario planning and baking with cats

Last week I spent two days with the other members of the Exec at our annual awaydays - just once a year we get together for an intense period of facilitated training and planning. It's  expected that something will happen while we're away - we've had an assortment of disasters including the famous Sheffield floods, so the incident plan is normally dusted off, but this time nothing untoward happened (or if it did, no-one told us!).

We had a very useful and busy time looking at a number of things. A useful exercise was looking at the external environment, and all of the different factors that could affect the HE sector, the University, and us. These then fed into an exercise of scenario planning, where we looked at possible different scenarios of what the world might be like in 5 years time, and how we might have to change to adapt to it. Something we'll be carrying on with the other managers in the department. As always, a big action plan resulting from the couple of days, and our facilitator will be checking up on us at regular intervals to make sure we've done everything we said we would.

This morning we had the third of our coffee and cake sessions, where we invite a random selection of staff to meet us for an hour to discuss anything they like.  Unfortunately our normal baker, Dave, is on holiday so I volunteered. Baking is not normally my strong subject, but the apple spiced muffins and banana & walnut loaf seemed to turn out OK. Mind you, I did have a couple of helpers during the baking process.

A lively discussion this morning, and topics included various capital projects around the University - the main question being why isn't the Information Commons Phase 3 being funded at the moment? We also talked about the financial situation facing the sector and the University, and the possibility of changes to the way we work with IT staff in faculties and departments. A lot of enthusiasm for more closer working.

Now I'm off to catch the train for my annual trip to the Chelsea Flower Show. The horticultural highlight of my year. Several pictures will be tweeted during the course of tomorrow if you're interested!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dancing teeth

After the various national things last week, a mixture of local meetings in the last couple of days. Yesterday we had a Strategic Liaison meeting with the Faculty of Social Sciences, where we went through our plan again, picking up a number points of interest.

Then I spent sometime discussing our business continuity and incident management procedures specifically around student occupations of University buildings. A lot of things to consider, not least the health and safety of the occupiers themselves.

Today I went to a meeting between all heads of department and the University Executive Board, where we had an update from the VC on the current situation in the sector. Uncertainty in many areas still seems to be the order of the day. The White Paper is still not published, there are obvious differences of opinion in the coalition, and a lot of speculation around student numbers - most of which it is probably safe to ignore. We don't yet know how the changed financial situation is going to affect prospective student behaviour, and it will take a couple of years for patterns to emerge and become clearer. But, we intend to keep on track towards our vision - there's a lot of business as usual which we need to get on with, and this is particularly the case in delivering excellent teaching to our students. Our VC has written a good blog post recently In Praise of Teaching which is definitely worth a read.

And talking about delivering excellent teaching..... This morning I went to one of our Fireside Chat sessions where a topic is presented to staff mainly from Technical Services (although I think following this morning's session we need to look at broadening that out). This morning's session was on Augmented Reality and was delivered by one of our excellent teachers from Dentistry, Chris Stokes. It was an excellent presentation - who knew that teeth could be so interesting? Chris showed how he'd been experimenting with using augmented reality to help teach students to recognise the different types of teeth. He took us through some of the existing AR stuff around, including some of the places you can try it out  - I'm going to have a play here later. Then he showed us what they've been doing in modelling 3D teeth. Lots of exciting stuff  - teeth dancing off the desk! Well, probably not exactly dancing, but spinning.  Lots of problems still to be ironed out in the creation of AR stuff, and development has slowed down slightly as the concentration is on mobile. But, lots of potential for exciting uses.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Blogging Overload?

Last week was an interesting on in blogging terms!  I went to two forums, and managed to write 5 blog posts from each - mainly in note form, but I hope it gave people who weren't there a flavour for what was being discussed. And as someone pointed out at the meeting, it meant that no-one who was there had to take notes!

On Thursday I noticed difficulty posting, and thought at first I'd broken something, but it soon became apparent that Blogger had gone into read-only mode so although blogs were still available to read, no new posts could be made. Apparently some routine maintenance on Wednesday had caused some data corruption (wonder what their change management procedures are like :-) ). Then, all posts made on Thursday suddenly disappeared, as Blogger rolled back to a pre-maintenance state.  Quite annoying, as you don't tend to keep copies of posts, but we were assured by Blogger that they'd all been backed up and would be restored. Eventually, Blogger came back, and posts began being restored, although as of today, not all of my posts are back, and I'm not on my own as the many comments in various forums are demonstrating. Luckily I've been able to retrieve my lost one from an RSS feed and have re-posted it.

It was an interesting episode, and made many of us realise how vunerable we are with our content - we don't keep backups once stuff has been published.  It also created problems for people who use it for academic purposes, as this report from The Chronicle for Higher Education shows.  The University of Maryland at College Park was one of many who use Blogger as a way of students submitting work to be assessed, and last week was the deadline for students to hand in their projects. They quickly started using another free site for students to use (YouTube, also owned by Google).  Should we be using and encouraging the use of these tools for academic purposes, as many are suggesting they will eventually replace the need for a VLE?  As is pointed out in the article, and many of us know to our cost, all services can suffer outages at some point. And these tools are free after all.

Friday, 13 May 2011

eduserv Symposium Round up

A quick round up of some of the eduserv symposium sessions which I haven't blogged about in detail.

We had a lightening round - 4 very quick talks on different aspects of the UMF money which has been allocated to shared services in cloud computing. I've posted about this many times before, so won't go into much detail, but a couple of interesting extra items came up.

Dan Perry from JANET talked about the brokerage service. It's aim is to facilitate the uptake of off-campus datacentres and cloud centres. Is it cost saving, or quality and service improvement? A blend of both. Also reducing risk, addressing technical and business questions, easier to do as a broker.
The JANET brokerage role is a cross between a dating agency and marriage guidance. Wonderful quote, I look forward to seeing it in action!

Matt from eduserv gave an outline of the cloud services they are developing for education. These are designed to address the major concerns of HEIs, including ensuring that the data remains in UK, that they are integrated with JANET and are low cost. They will operate out of Eduserv's new Swindon data centre with Janet connectivity, and by this summer will provide a shared services platform which the UMF services will run on. By the end of the year a sustainable business model will be in place. He confirmed that they are looking to compete with Amazon on price.

Phil Richards from Loughborough University talked about his views of cloud computing, especially after some recent work he's had to do which started off looking at how to rebuild his old data centre.

There's two sorts of IT activities: complex and innovative, and commodity.
We need to differentiate between the two, and outsource or share the latter. This will be a dynamic equilibrium as today's complex will become tomorrow's commodity.

We have a great distribution network for our commodity in JANET which the private sector has to invent. So when HP went to a private cloud and reduced their data centres from 85 to 6, they had to invest $100ms to create their own network. Still made enormous savings. Industrial scale can give huge savings in power.
Greenpeace just released a report called How dirty is your data which gives size of corporate data centres, eg Microsoft at 303,000 sq feet, and many others similar. Is this where the critical mass is for power? If so, we're way behind, eg eduserv's is 37,000.

What's the killer app for HE/FE cloud? Is is Research tools or admin apps? More likely to be cheap virtual servers via a hybrid cloud, achieved by JANET brokerage.

There has to be an exit strategy mitigated by migration back to local cloud.

Definition of not having an exit strategy. Owning an iPod and iPhone, buying lots of music from iTunes, and then deciding to buy an android device.

Terence Harmer, from the Belfast eScience centre talked about their experience of cloud.

The BeSC is entirely self funding, don't use shared resources within the University infrastructure. They have no internal infrastructure for mail, calendars, chat rooms, and all project shared services have migrated to utility resources. They are in the business of turning internal kit off. Users are not interested in kit, but capabilities. They buy capacity and storage on demand, and play the market.
His advice? Don't go into cloud half heartedly. Don't pick up your server room and put it with a provider. That's not a cloud, it's a bunch of kit.
Don't adopt a single vendor.

The cost of cloud infrastructure is low. You can punch above your weight if you go cloud properly. They have 10 staff and 300 servers running simultaneously.

Interesting fact about the scale of digital media scale. The current entire BBC archive is 52PB, but iPlayer pumps out about 7 PB every month. That's why ISPs don't like streaming media.

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eduserv Symposium, Above the Clouds

Armando Fox, from UC Berkley gave the final keynote at the Eduserv symposium which was entitled Above the Clouds, A View from Academia.

The report, Above the Clouds, on which the talk was based is available here.

The talk centred around how his lab had used the cloud over the past few years, and some of then issues associated with that. It was a fast paced talk, full of good information, and I'm just going to post a few key points, the video of the whole thing will be up on the Eduserv web site soon.

One of the things that had interested him and his lab was whether they could demonstrate that using cloud based services they could enable an entrepreneur to prototype a great web app over a long weekend and then deploy at scale. eBay had supposedly been developed over this time scale, but had had to be re-architectured many times since to cope with scale problems.

They had moved their services to Amazon's EC2 in 2008, and since then have spent $350,000 on amazon web services. That's about 1/3 of a PhD student a month. It's allowed them to carry out many experiments, ( 100 to 300 nodes most common, 900 max), have large scale storage and carry out cloud programming.
They have done work that they could not have done without cloud services, and it has acted as a research accelerator, at a cheaper cost.
Has given students an experience they would not have been able to have. Administering, provisioning, sizing and delivering courses have been much easier on the public cloud than using UC instructional computing.

In terms of costs, capital, hardware, networking and power is 5 to 7 times cheaper at 100k scale, ie when you have data centres that have at least a hundred thousand servers in them.
Cloud operations are heavily automated with 1000s of machines looked after by 1fte admin
This scale makes availability affordable with wide- area disaster recovery facilities.

It's hard to compete on cost with cloud providers, and that's even with their margins, which are estimated to be big! However, more competition may bring costs down.

Cloud allows you to smooth out peaks and troughs. Not waiting in a queue accelerates research. You can run several experiments simultaneously each using 100s of machines for 1 to 2 hours, without queuing up.

On the other hand, a lot of data is generated. for example, the LHC generates 60TB per day. All of this data needs moving. In the US, long haul networking is the most expensive cloud resource. UC Berkley have found that it's easier, cheaper and quicker to ship the drives to Amazon in the post. In UK, we are lucky to have JANET, but we need to combine this with cloud providers, ie get them direct links to JANET.

Does cloud create a single point of failure?
30 hour Amazon outage in April 2011. Triggered by human error during network configuration change. Good test case!
Netflix were largely unaffected, yet they are one of Amazon's largest customers, because Netflix had re-architectured their software to think about how to deal with failure.
Non redundant services were screwed with catastrophic outages. Cloud does not buy you redundancy.
Would more operational expertise have resolved the outage faster? Should they have been able to recover faster? Interesting question!

Keeping up with innovation can be an issue with cloud - AWS has deployed 1 new service every two months.

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eduserv symposium, Research data management

Kenji Takeda from the University of Southampton gave a great presentation on research data management. They have are taking part in a JISC funded project, the Institutional Data Management Blueprint, and the web site is here. There's a lot of information on the site, including a comprehensive report of a survey they carried out of researchers, and it's worth a look.

The survey asked questions such as Where do you store your data?" Answers ranged from paper, to CDs, to local hard discs, local servers, off site storage solutions, with only a minority using University provided storage, (with associated resilience, security, disaster recovery etc).

"How much data do you have?" gave answers from paper records only, to many terabytes.

Not surprisingly, the answers to " How long do you store it for?" ranged from don't know, to forever.

I suspect that these responses would be mirrored in most of our institutions.

Southampton carried out a gap analysis to see where they needed to take action, and drew up a series of recommendations. in the short term they included developing an institutional data repository and develop a scaleable business model, ( ie how are recommendations going to be paid for). They have calculated that 1 petabyte of data costs £1m over 5 years.

They also agreed to set up a one stop shop for researchers for data management advice and guidance.

In the medium term they are establishing a comprehensive and affordable back up service for all, and proposals to manage the complete research data life cycle.

Their ultimate long term is that good research data management is embedded in all policies and procedures, and it does not need to be considered separately. An Institutional data management policy is needed to help researchers by providing guidance on what is expected and providing guidance.
Has to be about building trust. if you want a quick win, give them hundreds of terabytes for free and back it up!

They have done some case studies which are outlined in their report accessed via the previous web link, especially in Archaeology which lends itself this sort of study. They collect a lot of data in many forms from laser scans, geophysics, CAD etc., and they understand the need for context and metadata. They have developed a Sharepoint 2010 site for Archeology data management using Pivot to slice and dice the data based on the metadata.

A good talk, and good to get an academic perspective.

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Thursday, 12 May 2011

Shared Services in IT Management

Next session was Chris Cobb talking about Shared Services in IT Management. Bit of deja vue here as the more observant of you will have noticed that he was speaking on a similar topic yesterday.

Some confusion of terms, shared services can mean many things. Sharing within the same university, ie centralising and standardising, sharing between institutions, or outsourcing completely to a different provider.

Economies of scale, or critical mass both drivers for shared services.
Economies of scale such as JANET, UCAS, USS, SLC.
Critical mass, where institution can't afford a large team, but a single person is a risk, things like out of hours IT support, internal audit, procurement.

Being pushed down the economy of scale route, so how do we create that within our institutions? Need to identify those elements which lend themselves to economies of scale, ie transactional based, and those that are decision support and strategic in nature. Then concentrate on transactional based processes. We're guilty of looking at things at too high a level, ie HR or finance function. Need to dig beneath the surface and drill down.

Need to get beyond the barriers. VAT often quoted. But we already pay VAT on many things eg non staff, and our staff costs are higher than private sector. Service sharing beaten ourselves will be VAT exempt eventually.

Don't outsource a problem. Need to get the process sorted out first, but we're all going through efficiency programmes at the moment and looking at business process review, so this might be a good time to outsource.

Devil is in the detail, things are often more complex than initially perceived to be. Need to break things down to a functional level, and enterprise architecture will help with this.

Drivers for shared services used to be resilience and quality, but moving more towards cost savings and efficiency now.

Let's not think about outsourcing or sharing a student record system, but look at what processes we could. Already doing some elements of it eg for payments.

Four step approach to sharing services:
Disaggregate what we have, distinguish strategic from transactional.
Start transferring systems and services into the cloud, possibly with another institution to get joint procurement
Than look at sharing the architecture, eg a finance system with multiple operating entities
Then share the services, eg finance transactional processes.

Then Chris talked about the University Modernisation Fund, he sits on the Steering Group as I do. I've blogged about it before, but to recap, funding is going into these areas:
JANET brokerage service for Cloud Infrastructure
National Research Data Curation Centre
Systems and services procurement service ( first project will be a research management system)
Electronic resource management service
Secure document management service

Eduserv Symposium. Situation normal, everything must change

Am at the Eduserv symposium on Virtualisation and the Cloud. Will try and blog the sessions again, but not sure if I'll be able to keep up with pace of yesterday - someone just described me as a blogger on speed! Anyway, here goes.

Opening keynote from Simon Wardley from Leading Edge Forum talking about Situation Normal, Everything Must Change.

We don't know what cloud computing is yet, but lots of definitions of it, including some given by the kittens which keep popping up in this talk!

There is a path by which innovations and business activities eventually become a commodity, commoditisation. Because of competition, there's a demand for a constant drive for improvement. Demand and improvement drive commoditisation. It's happening now to computing. Cloud simply reflects the path from product to a utility in computing.

Why now? Some of past barriers to it have gone. to be successful, you the need the concept of utility, suitability, the technology, and most importantly, change in attitude Ie a willingness to adopt new models. As activities evolve and become ubiquitous, they lose their competitive advantage. Then they become suitable to be provided as a standard service eg HR, payroll, finance
So, you need: Concept, Attitude, Technology, Suitability. Conveniently spells cats. There's been a lot of them so far in the slides. Guess you have to be here!

So, it's all down to risks and benefits.
Benefits are economies of scale, ability to focus on core activities, pay for use. Increased efficiencies, which could reduce costs.
Also it will increase agility. Eg time it takes to get a server up and running.
Also increases opportunities for use.
Comoditisation increases rate of innovation. Enables it, and accelerates it. Provides a stable infrastructure base for innovation in higher order systems.
All of these increase consumption. So, get more use, more innovation.....

The risks are mainly associated with transitioning for one model to another and are around confusion, governance, trust, security, transparency.
Outsourcing risks are mainly around competition, lock in, control, suitability.
These are standard to the commoditisation of any utility, not unique to cloud.
To mitigate these risks you need many providers, open APIs and data interchange so you can get your data out.
Also, all providers have to run same system for maximum interoperability.
Will reduce some of outsourcing risks. Some interesting stuff on open source going on in this space.
Hybrid model will reduce some of transitional risks. But comes at a cost including economies of scale. Building a private cloud is expensive. Won't get the benefits, also will have to continually evolve to keep up.

Acceleration of the rate of innovation is the most exciting benefit of cloud.

Commodity services are repeatable, standard, linear in nature.
At other extreme there are chaotic, innovative, dynamic services.
Because things change as they evolve from one to the other, need different techniques eg for project management and organisational structure. One size does not fit all. Same true for outsourcing and cloud.

Innovate, leverage, commoditise.
Pattern used by companies like Google and Amazon.
Cloud is more about new models of management than anything else.

When something moves from product to commodity it's almost always disruptive. Need to manage, and more importantly, leverage this.

Excellent opening session.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Final Futures session, shared services.

Final session at the futures forum today was a panel sesion on shared services. Looking forward to this, as it's an area we're very interested in, and I'm on the HEFCE Steering Group for Shared Services and Cloud Computing with one of the panel members, Chris.

Malcolm Gillies, VC London Metropolitian University.

Talked about London Higher , an umbrella organisation for the 40 or so publicly funded bodies or Universities in London. In itself a success story for a shared service.
One of the issues they face is that the heads of institutions have more of an appetite for shared services than other senior managers such as Finance directors.
A recent survey of London Higher members showed that the interest in shared services was not about cost cutting, but about improving quality and share risks. At the moment, popular areas for sharing are audit,compliance and procurement.
HR, training, ICT, and Finance are all areas where shared services will be all developed over next few years.
Teaching and learning and research not high, because these are areas where we are differentiated.
Private sector being used to help in development of shared services.
HEIs must come together to discuss their objectives, and this may require a neutral space. Shared services will not happen overnight, quick wins vs long term gains, will require a long standing process.

Andy Westwood, Chief Executive, Guild HE

There is a willingness in HE to consider change. It's only the term shared services which is strange to us. We've been doing it for a long tine. Many organisations are delivering on behalf of the collective rather than individual HEIs, eg UCAS, JISC, JANET.
A Culture shift needs to take place. At the moment there's a fear of what others will think. If 2 or 3 VCs get together for a stragic discussion, they must be talking about a merger. if it's more than 3, then it's a new mission group!
As a sector we are normally very happy to collaborate and we need to capitalise on that.

Chris Cobb, PVC Roehampton University

Definition of terms is one of the main issues in the barriers to shared services. Is it outsourcing, sharing collaboratively between instititutions or centralising within an institution? Can be any.

Can be very important where a critical mass is needed, but one HEI can't justify having a large team but one person is a risk. Coming together builds capacity. (Roehampton and Kingston Universities share a procurement function.)

Also economy of scale. This is the one government beating us over head about, want us to come together to save cost. Have been initiatives in the past, but often gets stuck at high level.
Have to talk at a process level. Transactional in nature, not about decision support or quality.
Need to dispel myths. The VAT issue should be solved soon, but it will still only be about collaboration between institutions, it won't cover outsourcing. Have to look at our cost base. We already pay VAT on non staff items, it's only staff we don't pay it on and our staff costs are much higher than rest of public sector. So, VAT may not be solid argument against shared services.

Also mustn't outsource a problem. Processes need to be made more efficient first, then outsource or share.

A good Q and A about what models might work, and whether we should consider sharing VCs!

So, last blog post of day. It's been a bit of a marathon, and I might have broken my own record, but I hope it's been useful. It's been so much easier to blog - I've written everything straight into blogpress and hardly done any tidying or rewriting up at all.

I think its because all of the talks today were just that, talk. No powerpoint. No screens full of bullet points to distract. Just listening to what people were saying. I much preferred it.

All in all a very useful day, and great to be with a mixture of senior managers, VCs, Directors, PVCs, instead of my normal peer group of IT Directors.

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Futures forum, two panels

Panel on Student experience and expectations

Aaron Porter, President NUS

One of the most pertinent questions institutions should be asking. How might expectations shift going into this new landscape where contributions have shifted. Student satisfaction currently high. Students do value the experience and the quality of what they're getting. Two areas will come under increased focus. Employability. They want a route into employment. Second is a cruder analysis of what are we providing in terms of value for money. Different to are they satisfied. There's been a large concentration on things like contact time. Needs to be taken further, into different areas. Induction is critical. Talk to new students about what they expect to get, and how they should direct their learning. Issue of PG profession also needs examining. We need to make the case about why PG is important. Browne ignored it. Also need to tackle head on the notion that students are consumers. They're not. They have consumer traits.

Phil Jones, VC, Sheffield Hallam University
At SHU, experienced Browne report and subsequent discussions as a trauma. Can make it work, but was a traumatic period for all, for staff, students, prospective students, parents. Then start planning for future. Both Sheffield unis set up 2012 projects. Looked at costs, WP, defining the offer. Defining the offer was a core part of that period, and the offer is much more than the access agreement. Looked at a lot of data, including NSS data. Has an impact on student behaviour, and in departments. Employment data also important. Talking to students, working with focus groups.
Difficult to know what impact will be.
When Phil appointed to UoS in 90s ran Legal Practice course where fee was £5k. Students didn't really act as consumers.
What happens in curriculum, in city, in sport, in clubs etc. all vitally important in student experience. All contribute, and may be more important than finance.

Lori Manders, Director of Development , UCL.
Converting students to alumni. Alumni very important to institution. Can be ambassadors, employers, mentors. Relationship starts right at beginning, even from first enquiry or contact, and if managed properly it can be a successful lifetime relationship. Alumni can help with employability, and enrich students' experience. With increase in fees, will stop giving? Not the evidence in US. Also students possibly will value education more if paid for it. Need to get alumni involved with current students from beginning.

Questions on employabilty. Need to find opportunities for students to pick up skills using placements, internships etc. What about assessment methods, why do we still sit students in a room and make them write for 3 hours, why don't we make assessment methods more relevant to the work experience? Accessibility and visibility of careers services needs improving. Make them available to alumni so can provide career progression advice for life.

Panel on Linking financial strategy with sustainability

Andrew Wathey VC Northumbria University

Challenges are meeting student expectations, decisions on less popular courses, ensuring demand is stimulated. Under the new finance system we mustn't get rid of life chances for prospective students. Research will be more important for reputation, but there's less money in it. Increased selectivity will make us rethink model for sustainability. There are reputational challenges. We need to rethink split of T and R, which currently doesn't reflect the symbiosis of T and R funding. Need to generate cash to generate capital or meeting expectations on campus quality will be difficult.

Shared services, LEAN processes will all be important. Delivery of courses may need looking at, including ultra low contact hours and delivery in same way it's always been done. Should we record lectures and concentrate staff time on small groups teaching?

Competition and collaboration will have to go hand in hand. Will be increased global competition for students.
Institutions are unlikely to go under, but will have to change their business model.

Paul Greatrix, Registrar Nottingham University

Facing time of significant cuts. Path not clear. Moving from supplier led to demand led model. Old models may still be able to deliver and survive, but challenge is sustainability. Have to find enough money and people to do what we want to do. Will be new market opportunities. Have to build relationships and access different resources. Institutional culture has to be tuned to saving money and making money. Will require good leadership. Have to remain optimistic and focus on the key goals, have to seize the day and make sure it happens for us.
Cultural shift. At some Unis making money is something somebody else does. Everyone has to understand money, understand the cost and value of things.

Good Question on whether management teams are up to the challenge. Are they too academic? Should we have more people with non academic backgrounds.?
Need right blend of academic leadership and professional support. Tactful answer!

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Futures forum part 3, Sir Martin Harris, Director of OFFA, Office for Fair Access

Widening participation and fair access.
Sector has been staggeringly successful in WP, it's one of the great success stories of British unis. Have given opportunities to many more people than was possible a few years ago. Test of next few years will be can we sustain it. We're at the start of a new radical period.

We need to get our message across. Students have impression that HE is either not affordable or worth it for them. Deferred graduate contributions are not the same as up-front fees. We need to get his out. Unis are part of way that upward social mobility is increased, we must have that as our goal and sustain the opportunities we've delivered so successfully.

Pricing. No evidence that pricing will influence what uni students choose. Maybe under new regime, but not convinced. Choice is made on a number of complex factors, many of them social. Financial is unlikely to be decisive.

Student support or outreach? Outreach is vitally important. Decisions that students make at 14ish in schools is the key way to raise aspirations and attainment.

Bursaries or fee waivers? Won't know what students will choose for a couple of years. Will have effect on treasury forecasts.

Important question - will there continue to be in all communities an institution with a reasonable range of courses so that students who cannot or will not move elsewhere have the opportunity to do the course of their choice? Can institutions survive to offer the right range of courses? Will have effect on access if not.

Critical nature of advice and guidance to schoolkids. Has to be informed. Unis can help in outreach.

Look at retention, don't just concentrate on recruitment. Keeping and supporting the students is as much a part of a successful access policy as getting the student

This is a transition year, don't willfully allow things to stop in 2011/12 because of funding gap, use money wisely. Don't lose people. Don't stop collaborating where its appropriate.
Despite competitive pressures, we must not cease to be a sector.

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Futures forum part 2

Diversification and stratification, fees and positioning. VC, Lancaster University.

4 years of turbulence predicted. Huge cuts imposed on us. Will be lot of pressure to reduce operating costs, especially in non academic areas. Lot of pressure to share services. Cooperation and collaboration will be as important as competition, but there is a timelag. Some institutions will have to reorganise resources to provide better data and information for students. Will be more web tools, and e-interventions, social media will become important ( not much in evidence here) :-)
Student experience will be differentiator between universities, and between unis and FE, and unis and private sector.
Lot of risk out there!

Panel session on A Time to Choose for Higher Education

David Sweeney, HEFCE

Lots of data showing that Universities phenomenally successful, but they are output statistics. This debate is about what unis will do for the country. Let's talk about what we can do, not how tough it is for us. Shift focus to be more outward looking. Unhelpful to talk about privatisation. It's about how unis can make the best use of the significant amount of public money they get for public good. Let's not pretend we're entirely private institutions. The country needs economic growth, therefore contribution that Unis make to this is a public benefit. Not going to get hugs and sympathy for moaning about needing more money. Unis need to be more diverse. Business models need to change to be more sustainable.

Anthony McClaren, QAA
Categories of private and public becoming more fluid, unis becoming more complex. Styles of provision also becoming more diverse. How does QAA measure quality in this diverse environment is a challenge.
Student expectations increasing with higher fees. Informed student choice will drive the future shape of sector. Need good public information to inform that choice. Increasing places to get that information, and it's often uncontrolled, eg social media, twitter etc. Student centredness and student choice increasingly critical. Students will be at the centre of the new method of measuring quality, and will be involved in reviews.

Jeremy Oppenheim UKBA
No's of migrants must come down. New immigration rules have been introduced. Clear that Home Office want them to support HE sector. Have been teething problems, and we need to work together to sort them out. There are some concerns about private education sector still, and the spikes in applications to them from overseas. Some places offer cut prices, don't apply English Language rules etc. We do need to bust the myths and make sure other markets don't take advantage and take our markets.
On -line applications will be introduced later in the year. Will be simpler process for highly trusted institutions. Need to work together.

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Futures Forum

Today I'm at the Higher Education Futures Forum in London. Lots of good sessions, including some friends and colleagues on the stage! Will try and blog most sessions, so next few posts will probably be in note form.

Opening introduction by Mike Baker of BBC fame, who's chairing the event. Lots of people watching via the web, but given it's a futures forum, there's a distinct lack of anything digital in the room. Every table covered in paper! My iPad feeling very lonely. Mike sets the scene for the day. White paper now delayed well into next month. Fees set, and £9k not the exception, but the norm. Lots of big questions on the horizon. Will the white paper give a push to PQA, what will happen about social mobility and fair access, what will impact of UKBA changes be, will private sector step in to provide some courses?

Then on to Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK for a look at what the sector can expect over the coming year.
so much change, difficult to know where to start, but 5 main issues chosen.

1 Business as usual

Despite the changes, we have to continue to provide high quality teaching and research. Will there be a peak in demand this August, or not? Prospect of industrial action. Growing international competition.

2 Incremental development of new fee regime over next few months.

In July OFFA will approve new fee level.
August, will see demand for 2011/12 places
End of 2011 first indication of student choice for 2012/13. Will see if students have been put off. Do students understand reality of the fee package, ie no fees paid upfront.
What will take up of student loans be. Will families pay, or will students work, or will they take up full loan. Wll only become clear during 2012/13. Critical, because only at that stage will BIS know consequences to CSR budget for HE.
So, HE will not be out of the news for some time.

3 White paper

Expected end of June. Will cover number of issues, including relationship between HEFCE, OFFA and SLC. Will it have core and margin model relating to student number allocations. Model may be that HEIs are allocated a core, and a separate margin then bid for. May have off quota - events of yesterday fascinating. Willets announcement of being able to pay for additional places. Serious issues about social mobility, but also politics! Need thoughtful and analytical development of policy.
More private providers?
White paper will be extensive, but we don't know how much detail, but will be 3 month consultation period.

4 Changes to external environment eg NHS, teacher training structures

Change coming at us from all quarters. HEIs with health related courses NHS changes will have enormous effect. But some much unknown, and lack of uncertainty makes planning difficult

5 Internationalisation

Must have an eye on our international competitors. Their investment continuing apace. Whilst we've frozen investment in research, ( and we're pleased it's frozen and not cut!), India is doubling its investment in R and D. China increasing by 10%. US investing huge amounts in R and D. Very difficult for us to compete and maintain our position. UKBA changes causing huge damage to our recruitment of international students.

Next few months, will be difficult, but hopefully worst is over as we know what changes are, now we have to make them work.

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Monday, 9 May 2011

Services, projects, liaison

Strategic liaison with the Faculty of Engineering this morning. We used our planning statement as the basis of the agenda, particularly our objectives for the coming year. Under Learning and Teaching we reported on the upgrade to our VLE, and also a lot of work which is happening over the summer to improve the teaching  infrastructure, especially the wireless network. Lots of things happening in the provision of learning and teaching spaces as well, with refurbishments being planned for University House which will include some flexible learning space, and the development of the Learning Hub which will bring a number of student skills support together. We also talked about the planning Engineering are involved in for some major capital developments which  will provide some very innovative and shared teaching spaces.  The main topic under Research and Innovation was research data management, and some work we are doing jointly with the Library and R&I services to come up with practical solutions and advice for researchers.  The biggest topic under Communication and Collaboration was our move to Google Apps, which is currently going very well.  Well over half of our staff accounts moved, and very few problems encountered. And we got some very positive and complimentary comments about our staff who have been helping departments with the move.

This afternoon we had Service Strategy Board where we receive reports from our Service Advisory Groups (which have just started meeting), our service managers, and our project managers. Always a very full meeting, with a lot of useful discussion. No new projects today, which is a good job, as we are struggling in some areas to delver the ones we have. Some projects on hold to allow us to concentrate on the ones where we have a tight deadline, such as the Enquirer and Applicant Portal where we have to deliver it for our new students who will be coming in September. Some good progress on many projects though. We also had a look at a revised Incident Management Policy, which is the sort of document you hope you never need, but if past experience is anything to go by..........

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Disruptive trends

The second session yesterday morning at the Gartner HE conference had a great title: Enabling and disrupting macroforces affecting the expanding education ecosystem.

Basically we were looking at trends affecting education, started with an interesting comparison, showing that there are few new ideas, just new circumstances.  The Rhind Papyrus dates from 1600 BC, and contains geometrical and arithmetical formulae in what seems to be some sort of reference or revision document. It would have sold for about the price of a small goat.  Now we have iPhone revision apps containing very similar information, retailing at about 1/400th of a small goat. But given that an iPhone cost about 1.5 times the cost of a small goat, perhaps a different ROI calculation is needed!

A number of different macroforces were examined including changes in demand for education, especially globally.  There’s also the move to decrease public funding, and involvement of other suppliers in education provision. Education is continuing its transformation into a business with all the cultural and managerial impact that has.

Interestingly, the speaker suggested that the Green movement has lost momentum, and green IT is now more about cost savings than being green. I’m not sure whether I agree. There is uncertainty about the infrastructure, and whether it is sufficient for future developments. It is already difficult to build data centres in London because the power grid can't take it, and in India there are more people with access to mobiles than toilets. Green issues are not in the top 10 of CIO business priorities according to Gartner, although it does appear at number 9 in the UCISA Top Concerns survey as something likely to increase in priority.

In terms of the economy, Cost control is the word of the day (has it ever been any different?), and we need to understand the cost of our services.

Technology changes include the death of distance, or the huge increase in connectivity, coupled with consumerisation of IT. Facebook has 0.66billion users – that makes it the third largest country in the world behind India and China!

Some interesting heat maps about what our current priorities are – in a recent CIO survey the top strategy in every country surveyed was developing or managing a flexible infrastructure.  Technology, governance and cost all featured high.  There was little focus on the business, or customer facing services.

One of the other trends we looked at was outsourcing, especially the possibilities of outsourcing parts of the infrastructure. Interestingly Education is bottom of list in terms of percentage of outsourcing compared to other sectors.

In one of the later sessions as a group we had to list what we thought were the most disruptive trends affecting us, and then vote on the top, in the three different areas of technology, business and society. In summary:

In technology
Consumerisation and mobility came out top

In society:
Employability, and changing modes of learning eg lifelong and workplace learning won

In business:
Funding and Internationalisation were the most popular.

There are many ways of analyzing these trends and the affect they might have on our business, and Gartner provides tools such as the technology radar screen and the hype cycles. But, all trends need to be analysed from a business perspective, not a technology one.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Realising the benefits

First session this morning was about Benefits Realisation Management. Something we all aspire to do, but difficult to do well. Of course, it's not just an IT issue, but the IT department is usually involved in many different and difficult change projects. It can also be easy for people to put the blame on IT, if a project fails.

Some interesting observations and techniques outlined in the presentation. Will try to give a flavour, without reproducing the whole talk. A recent CIO survey looking at how often a technique was used, and how effective is it was in  ensuring benefits are achieved showed an unusual correlation  - the things we use the  most (eg project and programme management, business cases), are the  least effective. The most effective tools such as benefit audits, harvesting reviews, baking benefits in (had not heard of this one, it means reflecting the benefits to be achieved in things like budgets, headcounts etc) are the least used. We tend to opt for the techniques which are less politically sensitive and more under our control, the things that we know how to do.

So, what do we need to do? Some suggestions:

Shift from project focus to benefit focus. 
Implement  joined up governance throughout benefits life cycle from planning to execution to harvesting. Sponsors and team members must commit to it.
Have a value model, used for all projects which is simple so that everyone understands it and it's consistently used.
Introduce accountability. Make everyone in the enterprise cares and ensure that every change/ benefit has an accountable owner. 
Carry out reviews, not just project post-implementation, but harvesting reviews, get someone from outside to do a benefits audit, look at remedial action if expected benefits not materialising. learn lessons, and share best practice. 
All very sensible stuff, but it can become an overhead, so you have to use judgement  as to which projects to apply it to. You can use the size of the project, the risk to the enterprise of it failing, or how many people it touches to determine how much formal BR technique to use.

One technique outlined was the benefits dependency network where you start with the main objectives of the university and the benefits you are trying to achieve to align with them. You then identify the IT/IS changes you need to make, but more importantly, the  business changes and enabling changes which need to be put in place to make the IT changes work. If younfocus too much on It, and not enough on business, culture and enabling changes, then you will never realise the benefits.

A couple of final points. As well as an intrinsic value, these tools have a signalling value. They confirm to the university that it's not just about IT, and hopefully get people thinking wider.

Also, in project management and execution terms, the biggest risk is often big projects. But often the biggest risk to benefits realisation is in small projects.

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Just say Yes!

The recent spate of bank holidays and long weekends has meant a bit of a gap in blogging, but hopefully normal service is about to be resumed. Today I'm in London for the start of the Gartner Higher Education European Forum. Tonight we had a networking dinner with other CIOs, and  Dave Aaron led a discussion on Ways out of Leadership Deadlocks. So, is it easier to be an it leader now ? Are people more open to change because of the financial situation. Or is it harder? Are people's expectations higher? Do they want more services, to be more reliable and easy to use? But, few if any of us are getting more cash.

In these changing times, has IT leadership got better, has it evolved, and what barriers do we face?  Round our dinner tables we were given five possible issues to discuss and come up with solutions to. Listed below, with the notes of some of the things that came up in our discussions,

 1. Ineffectual IT governance.
First question we asked was What is IT governance? Do we need it. Should we get rid of IT committees ( as we have done), and have influence through business committees such as Learning and Teaching Committee or Research Committee. Related to maturity of the business of the organisation. Amazon and eBay for example don't have IT committees, it's just part of their business.
IT governance can include ITIL, project management, financial planning.
Definitely should be integrated with the business of the institution, and should involve customers, eg students and possibly people from outside.  Use a non executive on IT related decision making bodies?

2.   Lack of ownership and accountability for IT intensive  projects. 
For example, accidental ownership - the IT dept suddenly finds itself owning a project such as a new finance system.

Take ownership and control where appropriate,  assess the risk and benefits.  Could be better if the IT dept owns it. If not, get high level sponsorship from outside IT. 
Business depts have to play their part in making projects successful, especially through benefit management and realisation. Clarify outcomes at the start. Don't call business projects  IT projects. Best way to fail, call something the SAP implementation project. :-)
One CIO had introduced partner scorecards, where departments were scored on a number of issues eg did they participate in IT discussions, did they have an IT strategy, did they send good people to project meetings. Scores were made public, and used in strategic  discussions. Interesting idea! 

3.   Lack of executive interest in IT, (or the wrong kind of interest eg cost only, or fads)

Talk their language. Don't talk IT. Talk services, not systems. Outline the benefits. Make a business case. Have a disaster. Cost services. Business benefits are important
Should executive be they be interested in IT? T they just be interested in services and innovation.
Use dissonant communications, to explain concepts. Be slightly shocking. Surprise. Cartoons. Visual representations. 

4.   IT staff associate more with IT than the business, ie  the University. Will say they work in  IT, not  at a University.

Focus on services not systems. Introduce service management. Create an environment where staff understand teaching and learning and research. Don't talk about them as separate. IT is part of the business. Get them out of their silos. Put them on front desks, help desks. Take them with you to user groups. Take them out to talk to staff and students. Talk to IT people in depts. 
 Base objectives around the success of the university. Use business success metrics, not IT success metrics.
Create sense of pride around what the University does. 
Introduce shadowing projects. 
Sit in a classroom. Single biggest manifestation of IT to a student is in the lecture theatre.

5.   IT staff having limited understanding of the business, and have the wrong skills.  Not just technical skills but business knowledge and behavioural and managerial skills. 

Everyone in the dept needs to know the business. Training very important, especially in non technical skills. 
Also a problem with IT staff having very limited understanding of customers needs, especially students.
Technical people can be very limited in their use of technology, especially new technology. Find it difficult to understand usability issues.
have to get used to loss of control.  Consumerisation and use of social software have meant that we have to be more open, more facilitators of new technology. 

IT staff need to put themselves in the position of a user. 10 mins downtime is nothing to be relaxed about. 

And as someone on our table summed it up, we just need to learn to say yes. 

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