Friday, 2 December 2016

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #7

There have been a number of things going on this week.  The “moles” have been hard at it again this week and I have been updating the tracker.  

I had a very useful follow-up with the Marketing Team in which they shared their strategy on web, social and paper-based marketing and recruitment  activity. They are working collaboratively across the Faculties and it was positive to hear about the consistent approach they have developed using the Content Management System (T4) and the progress which has been made on social media presence (top 10 in UK higher Education currently).  A clear strategy of quality over quantity paying off.  We also had a useful discussion about course information and how that is being interfaced from SITS into T4 currently and the linkage that has been picked up with our in-house system (WOLF).  This team's timescales may need to be factored in due to timelines for paper-based prospectus and course related information.  They were constructively critical about a couple of activities which would make life easier for them and have got "stuck".  I will attempt to unblock for my next meeting with them to follow up in two weeks.

There were some really positive meetings this week, including the DAS Leadership Team and the DAS Digital Campus Board.  I  did a little research and provided links to Penn State who are a little ahead of us, but also in the midst of a major Canvas migration.  We are in good company with Canvas.  I also made contact with UWL ref Sharepoint and they are willing to assist us setting up a call next week and also interested in our Canvas experiences.

I completed a Powerpoint report from last week's Data Centre tour.  I took some time to feedback a summary to Ian for the Directorate's Risk Register.  There were some other potential risks that have cropped up which were recorded in the "current state analysis" report so I have also taken the opportunity to raise those as well.

I have kept an eye on the information audit work and tender.  On Thursday, I provided responses to a number of questions which have been raised by interested suppliers.  There was also a request to identify top University suppliers over the last three years.  I now have the analysis and the total investment is significant.  My original objective was seeking out key existing partners to bring together to seek insight into Digital Strategy external to Wolverhampton.  In discussing, I am now also adding in key sector suppliers who we don't currently do business with.

Some really good intra-team discussions taking place this week.  For example putting together some plans for a series of "Tech Talks" starting in the New Year.  The focus is on sharing knowledge, but its not going to be exclusive in any way, and there was a suggestion that there may be interest from colleagues outside of DAS.  There is also consideration being given to Continual Service Improvement ahead of the new Enquiry Management System and that is very encouraging.

Final session of the week was to discuss the Enquiry Management implementation project once we get beyond the standstill period.  It will require effective Project Management, clarity over the scope (incident-focus).   One of the critical success factors will be the technical input from the supplier/integrator with configuring the system.  We are going to set up a conference call with a reference site so that colleagues can explore some of the project-related issues and timescales.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #6

I am assembling a list of “moles” which have surfaced that don’t so far appear in planning and tracking documents that I think I have seen.  My aim is to keep a personal track of this list, how I see them (which I haven’t validated yet), and track any decisions that are made. I am going to keep on digging!

I have had several more introduction meetings during the week.  As a result of one of the discussions, I will be meeting the Marketing team leaders to understand where they are going with digital marketing strategy.

We have continued to progress the systems/data investigation work and provided updates.  The request is now posted to the University contracts system and we are speaking with interested parties.

The Collabco event was very well attended although I only made the morning networking session.  Reports indicated that it had been extremely well received and we have established ourselves as the “reference site” for them in UK HE. There is an excellent testimonial video from staff and students.

On Wednesday evening, I arranged to meet the interim IT Director at the University of Staffordshire.  It was useful to get an understanding of what is happening at another local University, which has some similarities with us.  They are embarked on a new Digital Strategy too.  They are addressing this with a staff review, scaling down of remote and out of hours support and bringing Faculty and Directorate IT satellites into the orbit of IT which has been separated from Library.

On Thursday, I spent several hours on a tour of the Data Centre/Server Rooms and related spaces.  I have taken some photographs and will endeavour to put them together with a commentary.  We also visited the switchboard and security areas in MA building as we were passing.  There were a number of key observations. One of the “interesting” things was coming across another significant sized DAS space outside the MI Server Room with a bunch of test equipment, storage and office space - I understand that this used to be the location of IT back in the days before MX building.

Final meeting of the week a catch up with Faculty IT who were cordially invited to the Christmas Do which was finalised this week.  We booked Slaters with a visit on fireworks night as the Christmas Lights were turned on.  We appear to have at least 30 people who have expressed an interest so hopefully it will work out OK.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #5

During the week I have had further introduction meetings with the team and with Head of Estates and Facilities and Academic Registrar.  Estates are willing to work with us on a workshop with the leadership team across Estates and Facilities to flesh out the Digital Strategy from their perspectives.  This provides an excellent opportunity to keep momentum on the "Estates and IT working together" agenda.  It may also provide a trial run of a proposed workshop approach in other business areas if that is felt to be an appropriate way forward.

I have pushed along the systems/data audit work and provided updates.  The team who are tasked with this have met regularly during the week.  We have concluded with Purchasing that there will be a broader tender process which will allow for some expert external input, while the team ploughs on with getting the information we have already got into one place.

On Tuesday, I travelled up to Lancaster University who were hosting an event with cloud file and storage provider Box.  With other attendees we had a really good opportunity to quiz each other and interact with the guys from Box.  After the event, I met with the Director of ISS and we shared some useful insight into the planning processes which are evolving but working well at Lancaster.

We had a Leadership  Team meeting on Wednesday, and there was a very good discussion about project management frameworks which led into a broader set of areas around resource planning, strategy and so forth. During that session we shared some thoughts on a model for planning based on rocks and pebbles.

On Wednesday, we also discussed service transition. There is a common language for some of the team (around ITIL principles).  Also a number of people who did not attend the training which took place 4 or 5 years ago. This is an area that could be re-booted and create a quick win.  I recommend that we establish an agile continuous improvement team with a little approved resource from the relevant operational teams  This could pay a dividend in terms of the team working but also identify time saving and customer service opportunities. 

I have updated during the week, the draft document on developing the digital strategy - adding some graphical content as an appendix and I hope the basis for future conversations.

Finally, we had a go at getting some momentum behind a Christmas get together after hours. There used to be a social group that organised things which has not been active recently. Its always difficult in a Directorate as large and diverse as this to make things happen outside of work etc, but hopefully this will get the team thinking about that again.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #4

Last week I worked on a number of documents and researched Digital Strategy developments.  These included a write up of my key objectives; a document setting out the why, what, who, how of developing the Digital Strategy together with a number of outputs from desk research (as a scanned set of documents); and finally a current state analysis which included key initial findings, key points identifies so far, and a series of appendices.

I have been thinking about the briefing last week on the software lifecycle and Apps Anywhere next steps.  There were a number of specific recommendations that we worked through.  One of the strategy elements that we need to work on is the risk appetite of the University regarding its software portfolio.  We have a lot of software and it isn’t all running at the latest available release.  With aspirations to operate as a Digital University, we need to embrace and resource an approach which says, for example, “that we will operate our business using the latest available version of software”.  Such a strategy has implications of course which could be worked on in terms of the technology roadmap.  We also picked up in the discussion that we might not be maximising our investment and relationships with suppliers regarding student access to campus software.  We also bumped into another management issue which is how we monitor and manage related service desk activity.

I have arranged a tour of the key Data Centre and comms room spaces.  I was thinking about making a short video tour/photo shoot of what we see.  I wasn’t sure how aware senior management were of the current state and capability.  It’s something that we covered for the first time in the capital plan discussion.

This week we have also talked about the concepts of "moles", "elephants", and "white space" and I think this could potentially be a useful way to characterise some of the issues we face.  The concept of service management as a University provides an opportunity - far more than just a database of record for individual organisational units.

I had further intro meetings this week with more people.  We signed off the week with some really positive meetings on capital planning and the appointment of a permanent Deputy Director.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #3

Although it is a week since the last message, I have only been in the office for three days.  Most of you may not be aware that I am on a part-time contract, so I am in the office on a pattern which remains flexible and is now loaded into my Outlook Calendar up until Christmas.   I will also be setting out of office messages so you know where I am, although I am happy to be contacted at any time via email.  I have found it easy to set up the mobile working environment on smartphone and tablet which was intuitive and effective – and this is also a good point to highly commend my experience of eduroam Wi-Fi which appears to work seamlessly across all the places I have visited so far.  In my opinion, this is a great piece of work from the teams who have put the infrastructure together.

On Tuesday, James and I visited Burton where part of the School of Health is located, teaching about 300 nurses and midwives and aligned with the local hospital next door.  We were very grateful to Claire for the guided tour.  The building is an integrated teaching, learning and academic office space which had a mixture of lecture rooms, computer teaching rooms, library and social space.  It’s not the funkiest space in any of the campus buildings visited so far, but is doing a great job for the next generation of health professionals.  The key takeaways were the various operational practices in a smaller branch location, the remote support requirements for IT, AV, network etc and the enthusiasm of the local team currently supported by DAS teams from other locations.  We also visited the other Library on site which is an NHS facility very close by and it took a while before we realised and were kindly pointed in the right direction – the big Library sign on the side of that building was a distraction.  Somewhat bizarrely, given the hospital so close by, car parking for the building was not a problem, but we had already tried and failed to park in the Hospital and Visitor car park which were full!

Last week, there were several finance meetings which I attended.  On Wednesday it was monthly budget meeting followed by the Agresso Board.  It was very useful to get an impression of how these processes operate.  There were some discussions at the budget meeting about how the budget is currently profiled and a concept called “amortisation” which may take a bit of getting to grips with.  By the end of the first quarter, the budget position becomes a little clearer and budget holders are currently working on the impact of currency changes on the forecast which could be significant for DAS as some important services are procured in dollar/euro and there are potential increases in the pipeline due to Brexit.  The Agresso Board covered both Finance and HR activity, included updates on the imminent system upgrade (to a new version called Milestone 5) and it was good to see an hour of the meeting spent on the 12-18 month future development plan.  This was in Gantt Chart format grouped by areas of system functionality.  The importance of user input was demonstrated by Andrea Pumford’s membership of the Board representing the Agresso User Group, and among other things Andrea provided really useful views on areas such as system training and prioritising new activity.  We also learned from the highlight report about the input from IT infrastructure teams supporting the upgrade to a new storage platform, an emerging project to digitise staff HR records (which would have significant storage implications), new payment card terminals being rolled out (with support from Max on connectivity). We also learned that there have been upgrades to the student system (SITS) which caused overnight data transfers to stop working to specification – it was suggested that this may have been the result of incomplete interface testing.

Finally, I have been continuing to have introductory meetings with various people and have plenty more in the pipeline.  It is helping me to build a picture of our University and I want to thank all those who have already given their valuable time to this induction process.

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #2

I am still a long way off introducing myself around the whole office but I made a little more progress this week including visits to the Walsall and Telford campuses.  No doubt you will have noticed already that my strategy is not to lurk at people’s desks but to accept invites to existing meetings and to take occasional time out in the team room!  Please do not hesitate to come and grab me for a chat or to say hello.  Now I am up and running with Outlook the calendar is up to date if you just want to send me an invite.

I am very grateful to Tahu for the guided tour at Walsall - and to Basil for holding the fort.  The campus was larger than I had expected and about the same size of one half of the City Campus.  Given the number of facilities supported across that Estate including (among other things) desktop, AV and network it is not surprising that the team has concerns about maintaining responsive levels of service across the extended day with a limited physical presence.  The other key takeaways were the need for sustainable investment in technology to support high quality learning spaces, and the completion of the PC upgrade program including thin client facilities in the Learning Centre.  Tahu introduced me to a number of people including the campus operations manager who explained the challenges of managing an evolving physical estate in a relatively suburban environment  especially when spaces are refurbished, replaced or enhanced.  Car parking was high on his list and as I parked about half a mile away I can see why that is important to students and local residents alike.

I am also very grateful to Andy for the guided tour at Telford.  There are major multi-million pound developments to the Engineering facilities which are coming on stream and it was good to meet Prof. Mark Stanford on our travels who explained how much of the investment was also going into laboratory upgrades and new learning facilities.  We also visited the diverse range of other programs on the campus including the international academy, centre for international development and the e-innovation centre.  Of course, we also visited the Learning Centre and the new Engineering workstation laboratories launched successfully this Summer. We also support the wired and wireless networks throughout campus including the Halls of Residence and the extensive conferencing facilities. I learned that DAS also supports learning facilities at the University Centre in Southwater One.  Once again, the key takeaways were the need for sustainable investment in learning spaces, and maintaining responsive levels of services for an expanding campus.

During last week there were several meetings with the Faculty of Science and Engineering.  The Dean, Nazira, emphasised major investment plans across a large Faculty including Springfield redevelopment, relationships with University Technology Colleges and the significant overseas programs including Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Oman.   Nazira is also seeking further investment to grow biosciences, and also emphasised new appointments to lead the Schools which are in progress.  The many positives for DAS included advances in digital lecture capture, ability to broadcast lectures internationally such as Sri Lanka, and the amazing upgrades to IT and learning facilities in the Alan Turing building.  We also have some work to do on what I call hygiene factors (doing the day-to-day business effectively) and we have a few long-running snags which I will be following up in the spirit of continual improvement.  I had a very useful meeting with the Faculty IT team and we have agreed to review communications channels resulting from my new role, and how we can feed student and customer requirements at Faculty and School into the Digital Strategy.

One of the very useful pieces of feedback from the first newsletter was feedback from James Keatley on communications initiatives.  James also provided a copy of the extensive piece of work undertaken into DAS Communications led by Matthew Green and Joss Granger.  I will be reading up on existing work and looking again with Fiona and James Anthony-Edwards to review those recommendations with the team who participated in this comprehensive review.

Finally, in my first catch up meeting with James and Fiona since arriving I mentioned the three things that have already emerged as potential priorities:
(1)  Communications about changes – ensuring that we continue to have a joined up approach across DAS going forward, but also considering external communications beyond the Directorate itself and also out into the City, Region and Key Partnerships.
(2)  Fixing some hygiene factors that are emerging and also working this through as a continual improvement process – not just a quick fix approach
(3)  Ongoing induction so that I can better understand the student and organisation key priorities – with a particular focus of course on the process regarding development of the Digital Strategy and roadmap.

Wolverhampton weekly newsletter #1

It has been a pleasure to begin meeting such a friendly team with so much experience of the University and its operations.  Thank you for making me feel so welcome.

I was really fortunate to have been able to attend the UCISA Infrastructure Group national conference two weeks ago which showcased Wolverhampton's capability.  The presentations by the team involved with two of the Digital Campus projects were outstanding.  The project representatives (Nici, Matt, Dean, Kate, Mo and Jerry) did a really great job and also acknowledged the involvement of so many other contributors from the team.  Truly one of the conference highlights.

During the first week there have been a number of formal and informal opportunities to meet with people and begin to understand the pressure points, challenges and strengths of the various services and teams.  It was very useful to attend the second level team meeting and weekly CAB for example, which also led to follow up discussions.  I have arranged visits next week to tour the services we provide at the Telford and Walsall campuses.  The importance of a joined up approach to services was emphasised and a good example provided of investment and support for critical student-facing AV services.

My primary objectives for the next six months are going to be delivering:
(1) A roadmap for IT across the University which has a working title of "Digital Strategy".
(2) A resourcing approach to deliver the strategy with a future Target Operating Model for sustainable delivery.

My next piece of work will be putting together and communicating a process to deliver this which will build on the success of the Digital Campus programme.  It will be based on what we know of the current leading thinking in the sector and beyond, and will harness student views, supplier insight and industry experts.  I would like to reach out for your help in this endeavour - we all have an important role to play in shaping the future.

It was great to meet James Anthony-Edwards during the week (also newly appointed as Deputy Director in Academic Services).  One of the things that we agreed is that our arrival provides an opportunity to review communications approaches and make sure we are even more joined up across the Directorate.  We already had ideas about taking a "digital" approach to the communications which builds and strengthens existing channels. Perhaps you have ideas about how we could further improve communications?

Finally, I am arranging to meet the Student Union CEO and sabs who are going to be important contributors to the development of a digital strategy which puts students first.