Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Launching Independent IT Consultancy

It has been three years since my last blog post.  Goodness.  I feel that probably reflects the fact that other social media channels have taken attention away from musings in this format.  Nevertheless I am going to try and pick this up again as a way to highlight the activities that I am working on as well as the other things that I enjoy in the rest of our family lives. This initial post allows me to update my profile to indicate that I am no longer working at the University of Bradford and that I am beginning the process of launching as an independent IT consultant from September 2016.  Looking forward to exciting times ahead.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

IT Services Newsletter #47

To:  All in IT Services

The start of a new academic year is an immensely busy time as we welcome thousands of new and returning students back to the University.  This year has been no exception with lots of great events and welcoming activities.  For the first time IT Services had a very visible presence in the “front of house” enrolment operations based in the Richmond Atrium.  This was a success dealing with lots of questions and providing help and reassurance about a wide range of technical and not so technical requests.  We have held a follow-up event to collect all of the feedback together and make further improvements next time.  We also had a team of people in Richmond F42 providing the University enrolment helpline and this was an incredibly busy operation starting as telephone support in the earlier weeks and becoming face-to-face support during enrolment with the Hub.  In amongst, we also launched the new attendance monitoring system and students began “checking in” at all the teaching locations on campus (with a capacity of more than 10) in all the timetabled activities.  Students appear to have adapted well to the new “check in” process and management information is now flowing about attendance reporting, although much work remains to embed the system fully.

As always, comments, feedback and input for next time is always welcome.


A Level Results, Clearing and Confirmation

We have received a letter from Prof. Barry Winn in which he asks me to convey his thanks to all those involved.

Compliments on the new LSS and IT Services website

There has been a great deal of work in preparing the launch of the new LSS and IT services web presence. During September 2013 the amount of web traffic to the site doubled versus September 2012.  Sara Marsh commented:  “I see the new websites (LSS and IT) are up and running - congratulations, it's all looking very nice and new (just like Student Central!).  Thanks for all the hard work on getting this ready in time for the new term”.

New state of the art student PC facility

We have re-launched our premium PC cluster facility for general teaching use in the JBP Building (room 01.53).  It was further improved over the Summer with a deep clean like brand new (it had new carpets and lighting last year anyway), a fresh paint job, 72 brand new computers and our colleagues in AV services have installed over a dozen large screen TVs to enable the room to be available for teaching purposes with both music, video, and screen display capabilities.  Take a look – it has a bit of a “wow” factor.

School of Social and International Studies invests in student PC upgrades

IT Support has reported the following Summer improvements in one of our Facility Managed schools:

Pemberton 2.12 (cluster/teaching room) has 20 PCs which have been upgraded from 5 year old Viglens.

Pemberton 2.08 (postgraduate room) with 7 PCs has been upgraded from 6/7 year old Nec VL360s.

Pemberton 0.04b (postgraduate room) with 6 PCs has been upgraded from a mixture of Viglens and NEC VL360s

Ashfield T0.02 (postgraduate room) is also being upgraded from 5 year old Viglens .

Student Printer Credit

Once again the new students received a print/copy credit on their accounts at the start of the new year.  There were just over 3,500 on campus students (by October 4th) who were each credited with £2.

Performance Recognition Scheme

I am currently meeting with all of the recipients of awards which were presented to the LSS committee for consideration.  This committee is constituted to look at all cases across LSS and includes external and HR representations etc.  There were a number of successful submissions.  Congratulations to all those who received an award – Sara has already sent a separate message.

Wi-Fi improvements (Heaton Mount)

Over the Summer the wi-fi upgrades to Heaton Mount Old Building, Extensions and Bedrooms for universal wi-fi coverage at an estimated cost circa £15-20k were completed.  The School of management has pretty much universal wi-fi coverage in this space.

It has been a long journey through several Deans and years to get to this point.  Delays were caused by a lack of budget/funding rather than any technical or other issue – although we did encounter a number of Estates challenges along the way given the nature of the buildings. The funding issue was finally resolved when we had agreement from Finance to commit the monies from central budgets.

Alison Thickett (Senior Operations Manager for Sodexho at Heaton Mount) commented:  “I do want to add that Drew and the team have been brilliant, they have worked around our schedules and business within Heaton Mount”

Examinations Feedback

During the late Summer, we were involved in supporting a wide range of supplementary assessments which were co-ordinated within IT Support team and of course others assisted with the computer aided assessments in the infrastructure team.  This email was received from the exams office:

“I wanted to let you know personally that the service we have received from all the IT Services Team during the August examination period has been excellent.  All the team have been prompt, helpful and responsive to the needs of the candidates.  They conducted their business in a professional and polite manner at all time.” Julie Hodgson (Examinations Team Leader)

IT Services Annual Report 2012-13 (Draft)

We have been working on a document which summarises the department’s work over the last academic session.  Annual reports for the last four years are published here.  We will be producing a shorter copy which we are working on at the moment as well as a student summary.  In the meantime, the current working draft is attached and I would welcome comments and feedback in the next week, before we move to a final circulation.  Please let me know if we have (inadvertently) missed something important that you have been working on in 2012-13.

Until next time

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

IT Services Newsletter #45

A massive thank you to everyone who has been involved either directly or indirectly in the run up to A Level Results, Clearing and Confirmation.  It has been a great team effort.  We can now look forward to the start of a new term and the enrolment of all our new and existing students. No time to breathe (yet again!).  I hope that in amongst you are finding time to take some well deserved annual leave.  I have had the good fortune of a mountain biking trip to the French Alps with my youngest son (including visits to various excellent hospitals!), and a fantastic week touring around the Lake District to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. 

A Level Results, Clearing and Confirmation
Attached to this newsletter is the technology status report produced for the second of the daily management meetings which are reviewing the whole clearing and confirmation process.  You will see that there is a significant amount of technology being used in lots of different ways to connect with potential students and assist the information and administration involved in securing a place at University. I have been here long enough to remember the days when we used to have a motorbike courier drive down to Cheltenham to pick up a “music paper” listing of A level results.

Overall the University went into Clearing with places which it needed to fill in order to meet its HEFCE targets.  By lunchtime today, the University had sent out 18% more offers compared with the same point in 2012, and had received broadly the same number of telephone calls although a massive increase in the number of visitors to websites, social media interactions etc.  Currently the top referrer on the marketing analysis is Facebook.  Academic Schools are currently positive about the final out-turn - forecasting that we will be either on target or possibly above, and this includes a current increase in the average tariff (grades) of incoming students.  We have also had a number of positive  comments e.g. from Life Sciences:  “It has been pretty stressful for us and having the technology work well has made it much easier”, and from Head of Admissions Particularly wanted to thank the team for the outstanding work on the telephony systems and service which appear to have made a significant difference to operations this year”

Staffing news
There have been quite a few staff announcements in the last month.  I hope you are keeping track of the moves and changes which have now reached 55 in the last five years (Staff Newsletter #1 was back in August 2008).  There have been an awful lot of staff changes over this period!  The latest organisation chart for IT Services is always available here.

We have continued to work with some great students in 2013 and as you know Kash and Dan have continued working full time with us over the Summer.  We have managed to make such a good job of Kash’s education and career development that he has now landed a consultancy role with Microsoft UK.  Congratulations to Kash on a fantastic opportunity.  We have also enjoyed working with Alex who is nearing the end of his internship and Salar who has just joined us for cluster checking.  We have also been pleased to work with Khaled who is a first year Pharmacy undergraduate who has helped developed AboutUoB and assisted with our student storage discussions.  One of our highest priorities is to improve the student experience, and getting input from students helps inform our future direction.  Khaled responded in an email:  “It is a tremendous pleasure to be able to work with people where the opinions of students are valued and taken in to consideration.”

Wi-Fi Update (The Cloud)
The Cloud is the free Wi-Fi service we provide primarily for our visitors and external guests to the University.  It is the same service you will find in some pubs (e.g. Weatherspoons), retail sites (e.g. Superdrug), leisure facilities (e.g. Lords Cricket Ground) etc with thousands of hotspots and millions of UK registered users already.  We have a connection to the service via the academic network JANET.  The annual stats for Bradford University for May 2012 to May 2013 have just been released.

There were a total of 21,000 Users who between them opened up a total of 120,000 Sessions.
There were a total of 7.3 Million Mbytes used over a total of almost 11 Million Minutes.
The average dwell time was 90 Minutes per Session.
User Activity in May 2013 was, on average, over 104% up when compared to User activity in May 2012
iPhone and Smartphone users on average spend 80 minutes online per session - Laptop users spend on average 134 minutes online per session                                                       
Mobile Phones accounted for 66% of all the sessions opened in May 2013

Wi-Fi Update (Eduroam)
A team has been reviewing the Eduroam documentation.  A mobile web page has been designed with links to the new automatic configuration files (aka CAT files) which will be available as well as the main web pages.

More detailed instructions have now been provided for Windows 7 ( and we are in the process of doing windows 8).  If you haven’t already switched across to Eduroam for your Wi-Fi service on campus this would be a good time to try out the documentation and provide feedback if you encounter any issues.  There are also various suggestions about updating the Wi-Fi signage around campus to reflect Eduroam and so we will be looking at replace the existing signage.  In a related development we are working on signage which incorporates both QR codes and Near Field Communications (NFC) for our PC cluster facilities in the first instance, with a plan to roll-out the new technology to a range of signage and facilities in due course once we  have a proven solution.

Wi-Fi Update (New Wi-Fi Installations)
Here's a roundup of various wireless installation jobs.
1) JBP Building: Installation of extra units to take account of unexpected concentration of usage on floor 2 is complete. There are now 31 basestations covering JBPB.
2) Pemberton Building: As a result of survey work an extra five units have been procured and installed, taking the total for that building to eight. There are no longer any known blank spots.
3) Heaton Mount:  As a result of survey work on both parts of Heaton Mount. The bedroom installation is complete;  we put 12 extra units in taking the overall total to 15. In the other part of Heaton Mount (the 'house') there are five extra units.
4) Student Central:  An extra nine units which takes the overall total to 16.
5) Norcroft Conference Centre:  This will be the location of the latest Team Based Learning (TBL) room and has taken the total to five basestations.
6) STEM and the re:centre:  There are 12 basestations to cover both of those buildings.

Microsoft Office365 successfully upgraded
Blink a few times and we find that the Microsoft service has been upgraded again.  This is becoming more “business as usual” as we also had an upgrade in May.  At the end of  July the service was further enhanced to the very latest software releases incorporating further Exchange 2013 features.  Further details are posted here.

Re-implementation of the Student Information System
A SITS (Development) Programme Board has now been formed and met for the first time to take forward the development and improvement programme for the Student Information System (SAINT).  The sponsor is going to be me (at least until someone more worthy comes along).  The first meeting focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Board and considered a comprehensive programme workbook which had been prepared for sign off.  We discussed the initial project activities and setting in place a process to deal with pre-requisites and enablers identified during the system review.  It is likely that this project will involve many of us in IT Services over its development cycle.

Hold the Date - Microsoft Windows 8 Tour
Here is a date for your 2014 diaries.  We are jointly hosting with the Student Union a week-long event on campus which is based around Microsoft technologies.  Microsoft will be on campus from Sunday February 9th (setting up) and for the following week through February 14th in both the Richmond Atrium and the Student Central where they will be showcasing latest technology, software, games, tablets etc. branded bikes roaming campus to publicise etc.  We are investigating whether alongside this we can promote and support/advise on a range of Microsoft technologies which IT Services provide including Office365 and the Microsoft Academy learning support.  It may also be combined with a student-led GameJam which is a week-long gaming development event that the students are organising in conjunction with SCIM and the Video Games Society.  One of the key mobile development platforms which we use in SCIM (Unity) supports the Windows 8 platform.

Technology Submissions to the Investment Plan
Thank you to those of you who took time out to attend one of the three internal briefings on our IT/Technology submissions to the investment plan.  We completed the necessary planning template and submitted into the process.  If you would like to see the latest version of the investment plan with respect to technology or missed the briefings let me know and I will circulate.

And finally….
As usual, this is just a quick snapshot of some of the projects and activity which might be of interest. There is, as always, lots of other activity happening, so apologies if your work wasn’t included – please let me know for the next newsletter.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Hebden Bridge strikes again

We just returned from a jaunt around the wonderful Lake District revisiting some of lovely destinations from 25 years ago. Along the way we came across one of those travel magazines promoting places to visit. As usual our home town was getting plenty of positive press.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

IT Services Newsletter #44

A massive thank you to everyone who has been involved either directly or indirectly in the end of year student assessments. It has been tremendously busy all over campus and especially in our building and also on the network with a peak of over 1000 concurrent connections to Blackboard. We have been invisibly shipping Terabytes of information to help our students get their well-deserved qualifications. We have also helped them in our PC clinics when things have broken, on our advice desk when assignment deadlines have loomed, on our phones through ICT servicedesk when passwords have been forgotten, and on hand to support the growing amount of computer aided assessment that is now taking place. We have done lots of other less visible things to keep all our services and networks available and online throughout. It has been a great team effort. Now we can get ready for the Summer onslaught starting with assessment committees and exam boards and then it will be degree ceremonies. No time to breathe!
Small Successes
At the start of our monthly IT Board we begin by sharing small successes. Since the last newsletter:
  • We launched a student technology survey led by Julie Wilson – over 300 students participated in the last few weeks of the session and a full report is now being prepared. Julie is now going to conduct a similar survey with academic staff.
  • We have completed another well planned IT “at risk” period.
  • A new self-service facility for students to change personal Library PIN numbers has been launched. This is now a “real time” update across a number of systems including e-Vision, Pharos and Millennium. The Library PIN is used for the borrower record on the catalogue, placing reservations, booking group study rooms on the catalogue, issuing books via the self-issue units, crediting money to Pharos via UPay and the Kiosks, and releasing print jobs at Print Release stations.
  • You can now see your training record on MyView (have to scroll down “below the fold”).
  • MyView performance has been improved and HR now promoting off campus access to MyView – with changes to email, website etc. One of our customers commented: “I just authorised someone's leave and it was really quick. This will make a huge difference to a lot of people - thank you!” 
Project News
Microsoft Office365 successfully launched
We were pleased to announce that the upgrade of student email from Outlook Live to Office 365 was completed on time, on budget and the conversion itself was finished ahead of schedule. The upgrade process has been relatively smooth with support calls and student comment still being followed up. Thanks go to everyone involved in making the transition happen. There are one or two loose ends that are being sorted out and the final project board will meet to review lessons learned for the next stage of the project. More information about the upgrade is available here.
This project is making good progress with academic schools maintaining a deadline of end of May for production of the initial timetable so that rooms can be allocated during June/July. There is a tremendous amount of work going on across the University to make this happen and there are going to be lots of benefits once the “one off” job of entering all the necessary data and parameters has been completed. Our team in IT Services has made an invaluable contribution so far, our thanks to all those involved.
New e-recruitment system successfully launched
This new service was “soft launched” in late April with the first jobs now working their way through the new system supplied by Stonefish. The new service aims to improve the applicant experience with a cleaner and more professional web front end to the application process. It also changes the way that the back-end process works for managers and HR staff, with an ambition to speed up the administrative aspect of the activity by moving to on-line processes. 
Retirement of Majordomo
During the IT “at risk” period, the e-mailing list management service Majordomo was retired after years of sterling service. It has been replaced with Sympa for a wide range of University mailing lists. With thanks to the IT Infrastructure Team for making this happen.
Re-implementation of the Student Information System
The Project Board made its recommendations to the Senior Management Team that a development and improvement program should be undertaken with the existing SAINT system. Various project work streams identified over 20 development areas which have been prioritised into essential and desirable. Development areas include work previously being considered by separate project activity (e.g. XCRi). The total investment is significant in excess of £2 Million total costs and this has now been submitted for approval by the University ASPC committee. The Project Board for this phase has now completed its work and will be handing over to an implementation team.  
Cashless Cards Project
A project to implement a cashless card system for bursary students has now become an initial investigation into the various uses of smartcards and related interface systems. This piece of work will report the initial investigations shortly. In a separate development the plans for a bookshop retail outlet in the Richmond Atrium (to replace the Waterstones branch which closed down) are well under way and both short-listed companies have cashless card solutions.
Mobile Apps
The prospectus profile has now been developed and released into the AboutUoB mobile app. This is another targeted improvement to the application which will be showcased at the next Open Day event in early July, when IT Services will be joining the Library and other LSS teams to promote student support at Bradford to potential applicants.
Supporting Room 101
For a long time we have provided a facility management support service to the Student Union. With the transfer of certain functions from SLED to the Student Union, we also formally inherited the support of the facilities in room 101 Richmond Building. These facilities were due an upgrade and are particularly heavily used by our international students. The room has therefore been updated with latest kit and software. The team has been very pleased with the transformation: ”it is just great, such a difference, thank you, thank you to you and the guys who installed. Great job. This will make 101 even better so good times ahead.”
Customer Feedback
We do get lots of positive customer feedback which often includes useful and constructive feedback – we publish this on our web site and also feedback on “you said…we did” whenever appropriate. One recent email from the Dean’s office at the School of Management highlights the quality of our service desk team. 
Technology Submissions to the Investment Plan
 I have organised two one-hour briefing sessions this week and this is an open invitation to come along and contribute to the emerging technology development plan. There will be a presentation of the essential and desirable projects that have been identified through the process so far. The two sessions are on Wednesday June 12th 15:30-16:30 and on Thursday June 13th 16:00-17:00 both sessions will be held in the Learn Higher Room 01.58 and everyone is welcome.
As usual, this is just a quick snapshot of some of the projects and activity which might be of interest. There is, as always, lots of other activity happening, so apologies if your work wasn’t included – please let me know for the next newsletter. And don’t forget that the full IT rolling plan, account management information, organisation charts and other department information are all regularly updated on the IT Services web pages.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A girl called Jack

On the BBC morning news there was an interview with a food writer on how to prepare family meals for under £1.  I googled her site and recommend it.  There is a massive difference between having a choice about cooking a £1 meal for your family and it being a necessity.

IT Services Newsletter #43

Small Successes

At the start of our monthly IT Board we begin by sharing small successes over the last month. At today’s meeting:
  • There were no service interruptions to report (hurrah!)
  • The IT “at risk” period was successful with a number of important changes taking place. The upgrade to the Novell ZEN infrastructure, which directly affects all of the student PC cluster provision, was a particular success.
  • A high priority request to re-write Board of Examiners reports for the new assessment rules was completed.
  • The Student Union sabbatical elections were a great success in terms of student engagement – the largest turnout ever – and supported by an electronic voting system.
  • There were lots of other small successes that weren’t reported!
Project News
At IT Board we reported on the latest rolling plan for IT Services. A reminder that this document and others (like our organisation chart, account management documents, lessons learned and plans etc) are all published here. The overall scorecard of projects is largely the same but it makes a change to report that we had no new “panic projects”. There are 72 items we are tracking on the plan (down from 78 last time) and 35 of these are live activity (versus suspended or waiting for approvals etc). There were 3 items that were reported as completed and/or now business as usual since the last meeting.

 Windows 7/Office 2010 roll-out continues

The migration of the Hub back office to PC’s/Win 7/Office 2010 has now commenced and the IT Support team is aiming to complete this by the end of April. Preparations are now being made for School of Life Sciences rollout (email already gone out to all School staff) to commence in June and to be completed by the beginning of 13/14 academic year.

Upgrade to the Solidus Contact Centre Service
An upgrade to the Solidus system went ahead as planned in late February. The IT Support team can now begin to look into additional functionality such as SMS, chat and social media feeds – Twitter and Facebook. We will be pursuing that with the supplier (Telent).

XCRi Project concluded
This JISC-funded project has allowed us to undertake a thorough analysis phase with many stakeholders and create a full specification of what a new Module/Course Approval system needs to do. Such a system would essentially replace ModCat and a series of largely manual processes. The XCRi Project Board now has a series of options for how progress a new system (ie. buy, build, defer).

SAINT Review
The Project Board for the SAINT/SITS Review was presented with a series of options and took the decision to keep the SITS system, and invest in a development programme to fix current issues and also enhance the usability and usefulness of the system. Next stage is to consider a series of costed options which would lead to formation of the development plan. Tribal have now presented a costed plan and this will be considered at the next Project Board.

Attendance Monitoring
The Attendance Monitoring solution has had its initial software load onto the servers, there is much IT and Estates work to complete between now and student arrival in September. The first fifteen power/network installations were successfully completed over the Easter vacation period.

Upgrade to HR/Payroll Systems

The HR/Payroll system Resource Link was upgraded to allow Tax Year-End processing. It's associated web view, called MyView has also been upgraded, though is currently running slow. There is a plan in place to address this in the short term and a longer term proposal on future support from Northgate (our supplier) at the end of April.

Mobile Apps

The first phase of the Prospectus profile on the About UoB mobile app has been completed. Please take the time to have a look at the app and provide any feedback that you have. If you haven’t already downloaded the App and you have a “smartphone” then why not give it a go?
When the University is closed
A self-subscribe SMS group has been set up for staff and students that want to receive notices about the University closing. Almost 500 people have subscribed so far. The Details are:

To Subscribe, txt “closed” to +447950080705
To unsubscribe at any time, txt “no.closed” to the same number. The full stop is important.

Okay so this happens extremely infrequently, but when it does folk can be inconvenienced with un-necessary travel etc. The service can be used for other things maybe. Something to think about perhaps. Who knows when Spring will begin!

New IT Services Website
We are planning to launch the new IT Services website in August and would be grateful if you could spare some time to have a look at it and let us know what you think.

Please could Jacqui Cuthbert have all responses back by the end of May, to allow for enough time for amendments etc. You can either complete the attached form electronically and attach it in an email to Jacqui (, or print it and return it in the internal mail.

Art Work Changes

The artwork that was previously displayed in the corridors and foyer on Level 01 JBP Building has been taken down in order for a new piece of work to be displayed. The new work has recently been on display in the Richmond Atrium and is called “Leap Year”. It will hopefully make you smile. You may spot a number of people and places in and around Bradford in the work. We have also put some work on display in the foyer area (by Bradford students) and will be displaying some photographic pieces that were previously on display in the Richmond Refectory area. My thanks to our Fellow in Arts for making this happen.

This is just a quick snapshot of some of the projects and activity which might be of interest. There is, as always, lots of other activity happening, so apologies if your work wasn’t included – please let me know for the next newsletter. 
Until next time