Thursday, 27 August 2009

The World is Flat - first reflection

Over the holidays I got around to reading the Thomas L Friedman book. What were the key nuggets of information after 600 pages of well researched information and analysis? The first thing I want to reflect on is the call centre environment - having spent a couple of days involved with our own mini-call centre for clearing as a hands on operator and observer. "This is a high stress environment" said the CEO of Infosys which runs a big call centre. "It is 24x7. You work in the day, then the night, then the morning. But the working environment is not the tension of alienation. It is the tension of success. It is not the challenge of worrying about whether they would have a challenge". These are highly educated folk and relatively wel paid who work these big centres in India. While on holiday I had cause to phone Moneycorp who had supplied me with a pre-paid Euro credit card. I made about half a dozen calls to sort out a security problem. They were dealt with efficiently and accurately and within the timescales they set out and this was an overseas call centre for sure - they had excellent records of every call different person every time. The most mind blowing thing for me was standing by an ATM in a remote part of Northern Spain talking on a mobile phone (UK which had switched automatically to an alternate Spanish carrier) to a call centre operator for a US bank (who was most likely in India), as he reset a security parameter to enable me to withdraw cash at a Telebank operated by a Spanish bank in real time. Our own call centre was staffed by highly educated folk - we didn't manage 24x7 but it was definitely a challenge for many of us. I doubt we did as efficient a job but then it is only a few days every year.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Confirmation and Clearing 2009

So the dust is now begining to settle on another set of A level results and confirmation of new admissions to the University. The call centre approached seems to have worked very well in its new location as a result of all the planning and preparation works and in particular the co-location of all Academic School support staff in close proximity. I worked the clearing helpline on Thursday from 08:00 till about 15:00 and it was non-stop with calls coming in as early as two minutes past midnight. This year many more students seem to have used UCASTrack to seek confirmations online before going to collect their results. We took a record number of calls on the first day. The helpline continued over the weekend and for the two Open Days on Saturday and Sunday and although a little quieter by then was still taking new business. All the indications are that we will be managing the cap on numbers rather than pushing to meet intake targets for Home UG students. Some anecdotal things from my personal experience: nearly all students in clearing seem to have hotmail accounts (would like to check this), the information that students are supplying could be self-service (we could be smarter in processing the clearing enquiries), enquirers in general had excellent grades (is this the famous grade creep), some of us came across a web site call Unistats for the first time (this is well worth a look), it says some good things about our learning resources in the national student survey section (must investigate more). Oh, and Megan got her place confirmed at Sheffield using UCASTrack at about 07:30 and we are very proud of her results collected later in the day.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Annual Leave looking forward to A Level Results

There have been no posts for a fortnight as I have just found it too difficult to find time - the main reason was the time invested in reaching contract closure for a new Finance Business System which was signed off by the Vice Chancellor on behalf of the University at 3pm on Friday July 31st - a mementous day for many reasons. Now on annual leave for the next 20 days so will be back for 07:30 on Thursday August 20th - A Level Results Day, to be a volunteer on the Clearing Helplins. Also an important family day - Megan finds out if she has done well enough to start studying English Literature at Sheffield University.

Retirement bash for Sara Eyre

Yesterday it was a memorable day for many as four key staff in the Library and IT Service retired with a combined service in excess of 100 years. A number of people were unable to be present as they were running services, or involved in an internal exam. There were also people away on annual leave. Very unusually for me I wrote up a few words about Sara and provided some exhibits - they are reproduced here.

I realise that I am now standing between you and the Titus Salt so will attempt to be brief.

So how do you celebrate an illustrious career spanning over 30 years? We may think that times are difficult at the moment – global war on terrorism, banking crisis, millions of unemployed, Higher Education in funding crisis BUT cast yourself back to the start of Sara’s career – the 3 day week, 25% annual inflation, 1970’s pop music. Clearly it was a good foundation for a career in the University of Bradford and a journey to IT senior management.

Over the last few months many colleagues have provided artifacts, anecdotes and stories to try and shed some light on this journey. I only have time for three pieces of evidence so as not to delay you further.

Our first exhibit therefore is this photo of a Department meeting in those early days – a meeting held in the newly constructed amphitheatre – and depicting topless men and women in bikinis. Could we get away with that today? Surely those were more enlightened times?

Then there was the move to the JB Priestley Library and Computer Centre – with the two entrances and the clear separation of the computing and library disciplines. Halcyon days for some no doubt. This was a very controversial move – partly because the building had originally been constructed as a multi-storey staff car park but the money had run out. During the build two contractors went bust and the anticipated duck pond to rival the University of York became a muddy pool for occasional five-a-side football and the very occasional B-B-Q.

So my second exhibit is this picture of Sara’s home for the last thirty years and in particular those memories of the three month Summer break when the University’s mainframe computer (it only had one computer) was transported from Richmond Building to its new home in the bowels of the building and the only thing that could be done was playing pool, drinking in the new bar and enjoying the view. How times have changed!

The third and final exhibit, is this month’s Which magazine – independent expert advice for the thrifty among us (thank you Jill, Andy and others for the copy) – and perhaps most appropriately it is an article on loyalty cards. The title is also highly appropriate “Holidays are the Best Reward” and the feature article is about a certain Sara Eyre and devoted husband Howard. The article describes a two week holiday in Antigua paid for using Tesco Clubcard points. This certainly demonstrates Sara’s financial management, but let me tell you that we are a family of five who shop at Tesco and we spend over £6000 every year and we still have one £100 vouchers in the last year. Perhaps we are shopping in the wrong aisles!

Finally, Sara’s friends have put together two final pieces of advice. The first is an NVQ level one in Retirement and Incompetence from the IT training team. We would like to present this to Sara and highlight that it covers the following areas:

  • Best practice for causing maximum disruption during normal activities
  • Maintaining frustration levels in others
  • Developing your own retirement activities and
  • Enjoying a long , happy and healthy retirement
  • Any optional units are left open for the individual to decide on if they can be bothered.

The second piece of advice is an end of year school report. It covers a number of areas including Art and Design, Geography, Music, Physical Education and ICT. I would like to read from the General comments section at the end:

Sara shows an excellent ability to lead and be part of a team. She is an excellent all round student who should be awarded the prize of early retirement in a year of exceptional students. It is rare that four prizes are handed out in the same year but indeed this is an exceptional cohort. Sara should be highly commended for her part in the Institution’s activities over a long and distinguished career. She will be sadly missed but everyone wishes her all the best for the future.