Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The $8billion iPad

Yesterday I visited UEA, where I've been sitting on a review group looking at their IT Strategy. It's been very interesting and enjoyable, but the worst bit has been the train journey. It takes almost 4 hours, on a small two carriage train with no trolley service, no power, no wireless, fairly awful loos, and yesterday, in temperatures of 28 degrees, no aircon or even opening windows. Despite the heat I did get a lot of work done on the way down, and on the way back, where the journey took well over 4 and a half hours because of signalling problems, I kept myself busy moaning on twitter, and watching TED talks. I love TED talks - there's always something new, fascinating, funny or amazing.

My favourite from yesterday was this one, Rob Reid using Copyright Maths to explain how the media industry is losing millions of dollars and thousands of jobs through copyright infringement. Or not. Watch the video and decide. It's only short.

And one other thing - I bumped into Stephen Fry in the Co-op on Norwich station. Literally.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Gardens, SSB, Portals and Cloud

Sorry for short hiatus in blogging - my annual visit to Chelsea Flower Show has interrupted this week. Great day, glorious sunshine and stunning gardens. If you're interested, my favourite was Chris Beardshaw's Furzey Garden, absolutely gorgeous. And for pure bonkedness, Diarmund Gavin's pyramid garden - a crazy tree house. Just a shame you had to be a friend of his to go up it!

Anyway, back to work related matters. Service Strategy Board last Friday had a good look at the recommendations coming out of our awayday about how we could make it work better. We'll be developing much better service descriptions, developing service level agreements with measureable things that we can use to monitor how well we're performing, and developing a strategy for each appropriate service area.  We're also going to carry out a revie of how work comes into the department, which currently is through many channels, including requests from Service Advisory groups, through our SER (service enhancement request ) system, throgh the helpdesk, and through ad hc meetings, conversations and telephone calls. the intention will be to streamline the process and funnel as many requests as possible through one route so thay can be properly prioritised and have resources allocated to them where necessary.

We also had a strategic liaison meeting with the Faculty of Science, where we had an interesting discussion about creating apprenticeships and training schemes for technical staff - something we're keen to work with them on.

I've also been to a catch up meeting on our new portal project where we've changed direction somewhat and are developing something in house which will achieve a lot of what we need to, and we will be looking to combine it with iGoogle to provide access to our services. More on that later, but it's looking very exciting.

Finally last week, I recorded a 10 minute presentation for a JISC webcast on cloud computing. I was asked to speak at it but couldn't make it, so we've combined a recording of me talking to a camera in my office with an Echo360 audio and slide recording, which I hope they'll be able to edit and show as part of the day. Always a bit weird being recorded, but was quite pleased that I took a 20 minute presentation and in one take got it down to 9 minutes 58 seconds!

This week so far has been mainly catching up, going to Chelsea, and  walking round our new building getting used to where everyone is now. I think it's great that so many us are together, and you can bump into so many people just walking to the kitchen or printer.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dynamic Purchasing

Spent an interesting day today down at the JANET HQ in Didcot with the Janet Brokerage, talking about purchasing and procurement. And it was interesting!

We were specifically talking about Dynamic Purchasing Systems, (DPS), which are part of the European Procurement Directives and have been around for nearly 10 years, but are really only just starting to be used. They're totally electronic and designed to be used for commonly used or commodity purchases.

So, you start with an indicative specification, in which you don't have to be specific, so it lends itself to output based specs, such as "we want to achieve this". Suppliers then respond with an indicative bid which is evaluated for compliance and competence. At any point during the process you must allow new entrants to put bids in, and allow existing suppliers to make improvements to their bids.

This seems to be a very good process for the technology area - I like the idea of output specifications, and that vendors can change their submissions over time to take account of changes to technologies etc. so the framework is kept current. The competition stage is shortened, and new entrants will keep pricing keen. Seems to me to be a good alternative to some of the procurement routes we currently take.

We then had a good brainstorm about how DPS might be used by the Brokerage to benefit HEIs - lots of good ideas. So, next stage is to come up with some criteria for what areas we might choose to take forward.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How should CIOs deal with Shadow IT?

What is shadow IT? IT devices, software, IT advice and services outside the ownership or control of the IT department. Funded, procured, owned and management outside the IT department. Not listed in formal asset registers, and not maintained, backed up or secured according to central standards and policies. It frequently includes consumer IT and social technologies. Often only comes to light when it breaks, or causes a security issue, or when someone leaves. It is neither inherently bad or good, but it's a growing issue that needs action to ensure the integrity and efficiency of enterprise technology and to prevent fragmentation of information and processes.

We need to look at shadow IT in relation to how vulnerable are our core systems, how much does our organisation depend on this shadow IT, and the potential of external and reputational damage from failure or malfunction of shadow IT systems. To the outside world, it's the University's IT, even if it's a server under a desk. And the CIO will get the blame.

How can we find out what there is out there? Look at procurement records, talk to heads of department ( assumes a level of trust of CIO), look at support requests through helpdesk, looking around when visiting departments, a formal assessment.

We had a workshop format discussing the issues, positive and negative. Our group's main issues were:

Data centres under desks (or in labs etc)
Positive impact
Flexibility, proximity, control, provides specialist services
Negative impact
Security, Risk of reputational damage, green IT (power, space), waste of resources

Cloud based services eg Dropbox
Positive impact
Easy to use, convenient, reduced printing
Negative impact
Making sure users understand the risks especially around security

Consumerisation of IT, BYOD etc
Positive impact
Decreased central,costs, drives central systems to improve, to be delivers to standards, different devices etc
Negative impact

Duplication of effort and inappropriate use of resources
Eg maintenance of servers, professors acting as web managers

So, what should we as CIOs do about it?

Know about it. Be aware. Make visible the risks

Acknowledge existence, but choose battles carefully. Create policies for minimising the risks. Provide support services.

Regular, active monitoring. Provide advice and enable safe, effective, efficient connected deployment of IT irrespective of organisational boundaries. Careful scrutiny and control of how shadow IT can affect critical aspects of the University's performance.

More round table discussion.
What doesn't work in managing shadow IT?
Control, banning, big sticks.
What works?
Talking to people, selling the benefits, offering a service, making it easy for people to use our services, finding out what people want, flexibility.

IT will always exist in multiple places across the organisation, inside and outside of the IT department. It's not always negative. Good shadow IT can drive innovation. We as CIOs need to take a constructive role and ensure everyone is aligned to a common plan, encouraging flexibility and innovation.

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The Learning Stack

First session this morning is on the Learning Stack, what's happening in the learning management space, and what's the future of the learning environment.

Currently we have lots of assets that aren't necessarily focused in a LMS, eg desktop and collaboration tools. At the same time, the industry is changing. There have been very few providers of point solutions eg Blackboard. But, new players are emerging. Also, there are "unknown" IT assets, things being used in departments that we in central IT often know nothing about including free, cloud based applications and social media applications.

Email, content management, productivity tools are common admin applications. Often, an LMS will have similar and overlapping functionality. Can we rationalise some of this redundancy?

Need to build a learning stack on a context platform. Underlying this is the student system, identity management etc. But, on top of this are many other applications.

We need to manage these in an agile way. Pieces can be taken out, and others added in. Management needs to be flexible to allow you to make quick decisions.

The big players, Blackboard, Desire to Learn, Moodle, Sakai, will look to be the underlying platform, or as many elements as they can get in the stack. The platform does not need to be one of these, could be Google, Microsoft for example.

Seem Universities have already gone down this route, and not used a traditional LMS, eg the Open University of Catalonia, which I visited last year. They have a very flexible system which uses many tools and can be delivered to all devices.

We must encourage and promote student involvement in the design of our eLearning systems. In most current models, it's a top down decision making process where academic staff decide how and what they use. We need to facilitate student choice. Learning stack environments should allow for student use, even if the academic staff do not set it up.

Learning stack challenges:
No top level view of the emerging education ecosystem
Governance budgets and campus politics
Resistance to change
No awareness of vendor roadmaps and how they match future trends
No assessment of current learning environment redundancies

Interesting session.

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Monday, 14 May 2012

How to develop a social media strategy

In a workshop now about social media strategy. Already people asking whether we need one, can we have one, should we institutionalise anything around social media, or let it happen.

Issues in HE IT forcing us to change:
Social media
User expectations

A few things to watch:
As a consequence of the consumerisation of IT, individuals will increasingly control their own complex infrastructure. We need do find ways to accommodate this.
Social media is the new collaboration environment of choice.
The LMS (Learning Management System) is evolving into a social learning platform with new options from a broader base of providers.
In many environments, we're moving from providers being in charge, to consumers being in charge.

Social software can fill the gap between the inflexible environment (corporate) and the chaotic (personal).

In a recent survey, the biggest barrier to adopting social media in Education, was lack of strategy or understanding.

Many of the issues are not about IT, but because it's on a computer, people come to us. Our university policies should cover misuse, whether or not it's about social media. Eg harassment, bullying, bringing University into disrepute. Shouldn't be IT policies.

Red flags that you institutional management don't get social:
They tell you how their kid uses social media
They ban access to social media in case someone says something bad
They put a student in charge of social media projects
They agree to do social, but run everything by PR and legal first
Every communication must be approved before its posted
They think that's creating a Facebook page is a social media strategy

Keep the following principles in mind when developing social media strategies and policies:
Focus beyond Facebook
Clarify difference between institutional and individual use
Tailor the strategy for different roles
Provide a choice of tools
Establish purpose and scope
Distinguish between transient and permanent presence
Develop metrics, guidelines and warnings

Discussion group talked about above. Interesting points raised about whether you need social media policies, or whether issues should be covered by all other policies, eg HR, teaching and learning.
Also, whether there should be a difference between policies for administrative staff that is different to academic?
Should we monitor what students are saying about us on social media?
Shock horror, should we monitor prospective students social media profiles? Definitively not!
Should we let academics use social media, eg Facebook for teaching and learning activities? What about assessment or accreditation?

Measure use of social media to see how successful you are
Lots of things you can measure including:
Number of page views
Number of registered users
Number of visitors
Rate of return visitors
Number of posts, comments etc

An interesting session with lots of differnet views, and I had a chat with the analyst who presented it afterwards to go through some of the issues in more detail. Most of the discussion was disappointedly about policies, rather than strategy.

In terms of policies about the use of social media, I think it all boils down to something very simple. Don't be a dick. Strategy is a lot harder.

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Business Process Management Practices in Education

Gartner's definition of BPM is a management discipline that treats processes as assets that directly contribute to enterprise performance by driving operational excellence and agility.

Businesses tend to look at markets, products and functions, and often miss processes. But, that is the main work that we do. Processes create value. Often taken for granted. Often not seen end to end. Often hidden in applications, tasks or overlapping practices. Increasingly unstructured and unautomated. Often no ownership end to end.

Many barriers, functional barriers, and hierarchical barriers, lead to management blind spots.

We're not very mature as a sector in dealing with BPM.

Some benefits from BPM include increased agility, faster delivery time ( good BPM projects are less than 4 months) and increased customer satisfaction. BPM is also a source of competitive advantage. In IT, BPM can reduce the "running the business" costs.

How to get started in BPM. Consider the 3 Cs.
Competence, (eg have to be good at change management)

Most BPM projects driven out of IT departments because we already look across different departmental silos, and we're used to thinking about processes.

Start with small proof of concept. Then do another, and another. Each time, you're building a business case for your next BPM project. Keep staff numbers small. Projects should be low impact and low risk to start with, and not in IT in order to get credibility. Has to be something the business cares about, eg staff recruitment or induction. Stopping doing stuff is a valid part of the process.

Then, step up to high impact, high visibility projects. Eg Customer facing, large scope.

BPM is about change management, a core element of which is communication. So, you need to communicate what you're doing. Has to be relevant, compelling and repeatable. Make it business focused. Communicate your success. If you can't do it, the BPM programme will die. Has to be at least quarterly. Tailor the comms to different audiences. Make sure you get the "what's in it for me" messages. These will be different for different staff. Eg for execs, will it improve business performance?
For line manager, will it help me achieve management goals?
For workers, will it make my job better?

Develop your key objectives. Eg, improve customer satisfaction to 90% by September 2013. Must be hard, tactical and impactful. Need metrics, and the most important of these is a baseline.

Some common failures:
BPM project costs are more than the benefits
Endless analysis and no results, mapping current processes instead of improving anything
Rushing to a solution, deploying a technical solution that increased transaction time.

Successful implementations require:
Business driven projects
Visible projects, killer processes
Projects with strong cost savings element.
Ongoing engagement of subject matter experts
Gain trust of employees
Strong partnership with IT
Frequent reviews of quality
Iterative and rapid process development process
Utilising trial and error approach. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Excellent session, and lots for our new LEAN unit to think about.

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Benchmarking - why do we do it? It should help change the conversation from IT cost, to IT value. It should also help the organisation decide what service it wants and needs, and to have meaningful discussions between service levels and price. Low cost and high service levels tend not to match!

So, how best to do it? Starting point is usually, we're unique, can't compare us to others. But, have to start somewhere. Select a peer group. Choose a reference group close to your volume and complexity. Gartner has a model for doing this, taking into account various drivers and using statistical techniques to remove outliers etc.

Can use just key metrics, eg how much do I spend compared to others? But, get more value if you go deeper, and look at specific areas and analyse data more.

But, this is still concentrating on cost, and there is more to benchmarking than cost. I'm interested in things like satisfaction, innovation, quality etc.
Should we start with cost, and then look at quality? But how do we measure quality? Picking the right KPIs can be difficult. I remember talking to the CEO of JANET about this, and he made the point that he could measure up time of the JANET network and get it to 99.99%. Very good. It can fail for 1 hour, to 1 institution and be well within those figures. But, if that hour was at the beginning of Clearing, it could seriously affect that institution's satisfaction.

If you just look at spend, you have to take into account all of the differentiating factors. Eg spend per student would depend on what services you offer, whether you're a research University, what your mix of courses was.

So, benchmarking is a big challenge, the trick is to get meaningful data. And meaningful data to compare it to.

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European Education Forum

I'm in Amsterdam for the Gartner European Higher Education Forum at the moment. Blogging may be in note form!

We started off looking with a plenary session giving an overview of things affecting IT in HE at the moment. Lots of different things covered, so this might look a bit disjointed.

1 Started by looking at what is termed the education ecosystem, all the things going on around us that affect us. Summed up in a nice diagram, if you can read it!

Some good discussion of the big players and their different strategies and where they fit in this complex set of interactions.

Then we had a new word, digitalisation. Digitisation is about digitising resources. Digitalisation is about creating new business models and getting added value from digitised assets. So, we have to work it how to come up with innovative ways to use our digital assets to deliver our institutional mission in a competitive environment.

2 As part of this session we also had a look at the latest results from the CIO survey which Gartner carries out every year.
Biggest message was that technology has to underpin everything, including the way customers engage with us, the way we get ideas and make decisions, and the way we offer services. It's much more than just the technology. IT has to be delightful! Or does it? Some debate about whether it has to be delightful for all of our customers. For staff for example, or should they just get IT that works, but we should be delighting our students and prospective students.

Some other key things to come out of survey:
Top technology priority was mobile, second was cloud. Analytics and business intelligence also very high, and increasing in importance.
Skills shortage in some areas, particularly in enterprise architecture and vendor management, is worrying many CIOs
IT budgets and governance still there as barriers to benefits realisation.

3 We might have done anyplace, any device etc, but next revolution in education is anypace. More personally defined, more inclusive education. Will
be quite disruptive to get there. Will need more flexibility, and more digitalisation.

Flexibility in where and when learning can happen.
Can you invite ad hoc, remote students or professors to class?
Can you ad hoc record and replay at a later time?

Flexibility in how learning can be done
Can you present the same topic in different styles to find a better fit to students different learning styles?
Can you adapt to students learning styles and allow anypace learning without the interaction of a teacher at all steps?

4 Strategic Technology Periscope
A way of looking at where our focus should be. Look at excellence vs expedience, and efficiency vs effectiveness. So, you map your different projects on this map:

to see what sort of advantage you're looking for. Nice sound bite from this bit, don't do pilots, do experiments.

5 Then a bit about the learning stack. Has to be flexible. We have to find out about the unknowns, ie what are staff using that we don't know about. Not so that we can control or take way, but support. Traditional concept of an LMS is changing. Rise of other technologies including social media, free and cloud applications will radically change how we deliver learning materials.

6 Finally, outsourcing. We as CIOs need to be strategic about what services we deliver, and how they are delivered. The important thing always to consider is how can central IT add value to however services are delivered. Education is very low in outsourcing compared to other sectors. We need to outsource more, and put our limited resources into adding value to services and delighting our customers.
Outsourcing is not just about cost saving, but very importantly about quality enhancement and speed of delivery and pace of innovation.

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Friday, 11 May 2012

Influencing, horse whispering and segways

Must be the season for awaydays - this week is was our Executive Team - me and the 3 Assistant Directors. We try and get away together once a year for some quality time. This year we took forward some of the things raised last week at our SSB awayday, especially around governance, prioritisation and feedback loops. The other big area we looked at was influencing skills - how can we use different techniques to increase our influence in the University, and how can we improve our relationships with our key stakeholders. Lots of work done, a very useful time and more importantly, lots to do now we're back.

Yesterday evening, as part of looking at different skill sets, we watched a film, Buck. It was a documentary about a horse trainer, Buck Brannaman who was the inspiration behind the film the Horse Whisperer.  A survivor of serious child abuse, he is now a horse trainer, using techniques based on an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horse to accept humans and work confidently and responsively with them. It was a brilliant, very moving film, and we used it as a basis for lots of discussion on rapport, empathy, negotiation, feedback and other skills. Well worth a watch. Have the hankies ready!

We also try and do something a bit fun, as we encourage other teams to do on their awaydays. This time we had a go on Segways. A couple of us had tried them before, but these were off road ones, and we spent an hour at lunchtime today in the pouring rain speeding round the hotel grounds going through potholes, puddles, woodland.  Interesting the amount of protective clothing they made us wear - overalls, kneepads, elbowpads, body protection jacket, full helmet - compared to the simple bicycle helmet we wore last time! A little OTT I think, but great fun anyway. I know I've said this before, but they really are amazing feats of engineering


So, my office is all packed into three crates, my furniture has labels on it, and my iMac is wrapped in bubble wrap. In a day or so we begin the move which will have the majority of the department in the same building since we were formed 15 years ago. The end of one era, and the beginning of a new one.

It was quite nostalgic emptying cupboards, and I found a set of diaries from when I first started work in "the administration" back in 1983. I was a committee secretary then. Working as part of the Academic Secretary's Office, a group of 4 of us looked after all University Committees, from Council and Senate to Estates Committees, Staffing ( we didn't even have a Personnel/HR department then), Safety, Student related etc. You name it, if it was a committee we put the agenda together, assembled the papers and probably wrote most of them, wrote the minutes, and reports, followed up the actions, briefed the chairmen and most importantly, booked the rooms and ordered the refreshments (always coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon).

As I was reading the diary I remembered so many things about those days and it dawned on me that I'm almost the only person left from that era. So, in no particular order, some things that might amuse you:

The first fax machine in the rotunda, real amazement that you could draw a picture on a piece of paper and send it somewhere

Seeing a post-it note for the first time and hearing my colleague say they'll never catch on, what could possibly replace a piece of paper and a paper clip

When cut and paste really did refer to a pair of scissors and sticky tape, and that's how we made changes to documents that had been typed, we had no word processors

Discovering when I moved to a new job that the previous post holder didn't believe in paper clips (!!!!) so used dressmaking pins to fasten files of paper together. But she was left handed, so the pins faced upwards so every time I put my hand in the filing cabinet it came out covered in blood.

When the only computer we had in the office, a green screen terminal, was kept behind a locked door, in case someone used it

When we had an order of prospectuses delivered and nowhere to store them, and the admissions officer was on holiday. So we built full size furniture in his office out of prospectuses, a sofa, coffee table, easy chair. We even had a toy cat asleep on the sofa.

The ritual of sorting the post in the morning when 3 or 4 of us would sort everything that came in to "the Registrar" by opening it and deciding who could deal,with it. We did find out some interesting stuff!

The enormous Christmas tree we had in the centre of the rotunda which fell over, so we had to put 3 hooks high up in the walls to fasten it up with wire. Over 25 years later, and several redecorations, and those hooks are still there. I suspect no-one wants to remove them as they don't know what they're for.

And finally, the ritual of sending Senate papers out, when 4 or 5 of us would gather in the basement round the giant collating machine, which only one person knew how to work and persuade it to take the hundred or so pages of paper which had come off the photocopier and collate them into several bundles. We then had a ritual. Two people took the bundles and collated them into a full set of papers. One person worked the drill, and made a hole in the top left, one put a treasury tag through, one stuffed the envelopes, one stuck the labels on. Then they went in sacks to the porters lodge. Once we realised we'd missed a page out, so about 5pm we had to retrieve and empty the sacks, open the envelopes, take the treasury tags out, etc, etc.

Thank goodness we don't have to do any of that now. I wonder what our current young staff will look back at in 30 years with amusement?

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Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Last week we had an awayday with all members of our SSB (Service Strategy Board) which is made up of the Executive team, the Service Managers and the Head of PPU (Programme and Projects Unit). The Board has been in place for 18 months now, so a good time to review how it's been operating, what's gone well, and what could we improve on. It was also the first time we'd met as a group. not tin an actual meeting.  A good day, well facilitated, and some lively  - and in some cases full and frank :-) discussions. We all agreed that in general the SSB had been very successful in raising awareness of all work in the department not just projects, improving information flows, surfacing issues, and looking at new projects. The whole change management process and change advisory board was also seen as a success of the introduction of service management. There were other areas we need to improve on, especially around prioritisation and resource allocation, and we've developed an action plan that we'll be discussing and refining over the next few weeks.

This week I've had another awayday. This time with the architects of the new building that the University is developing on the Jessop East side. There's been some local press coverage of it here. An exciting development, and we're working with the Faculty of Engineering to develop the student-led learning part of it. It's the same architect who designed the Information Commons, so it's really great being part of a design team again. Lots of discussion today abut the sorts of space we need to satisfy student demand, the way teaching and learning might develop and change over the next few years, and urinals. Yes, we always get round at some point to discussing toilets....

The other thing that's keeping me occupied at the moment is packing for the move to our new building. My office, like many others, is full of packing crates and bin liners. The trick is remembering the right one to put things in!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Miscellaneous meetings....

Yesterday I spent some time catching up with colleagues from other departments - I'm a great believer in networking which to me is essential for team work. Lots of things to talk about, including bringing some colleagues from the Recruitment Equality Objectives Focus group up to speed with the focus group and workshop from last week. The middle of the day was spent seeing a physiotherapist for my injured knee, which was very helpful and very painful in almost equal measures.

Later in the afternoon we had an incident review as one of the changes we'd approved at last week's Change Advisory Board hadn't gone entirely to plan! We use these as learning exercises in the expectation that we can reduce the risk of similar things happening again.

Today began with a meeting between all Heads of Department and the University Executive Board where the main topic for our round table discussion was the recent letter sent by Michael Gove to Ofqual suggesting changes to A levels. In it he asserted that the main purpose of A levels was progression to higher education and that existing A levels were not adequately preparing students for University. He wants closer involvement from HEIs, especially Russell Group Universities to restore credibility to A levels. His suggestion is that new A levels with revised content, assessment and grading are introduced in 2014.

Some lively discussions took place, and there was some agreement on our table that in some areas  there's an emphasis on assessment and learning how to pas exams, rather than learning critical and problem solving skills. As someone put it, "Students are being taught to give perfect answers to simple questions. We'd prefer they gave imperfect answers to complex ones.

From then on I was in back to back meetings, including a discussion on a new policy on Research Data Management which three Professional Service departments (us, the Library and Research and Innovation Services) have cooperated on and will be going forward to Research and Innovation Committee next week.