Archive for September, 2009

Making Decisions

So after a dinner with most of today’s attendees, a not too early start for the workshop.

Of about 15 attendees, 2 others were from Universities, 1 from a Charity, 1 from a national museum, and the rest were corporates (some national, some global). With such a variety of experiences I might have expected more differences but actually there was a lot of common ground between us.

Some of the decisions facing us might be quite different; a semi-state run organisation that has to split part of its operations to comply with EU legislation, a major international corporate looking to outsource in the face of a history of employees as ‘family’, etc. What was common were those things that make decisions difficult, the things that we have to all work hard at.

The main area was the organisational politics we find ourselves operating in. All different, some possibly easier than others, but something most of us identified. Related, the challenge of responding to what stakeholders are interested in (in my terms, what they are motivated by) is in recognising that appeals to logic might not be sufficient to carry the day.

What I found particularly useful was listening to this group of professionals, and hearing how they do things, what’s worked (and not) for them.

I’ve already briefly said on Twitter what my main two learning points were from the session.

The 1st is to be clear and consistent in setting out for my immediate team what kinds of values will drive my thinking, and what kinds of questions I expect them to have considered in bringing proposals to me. In that way, they are clear what kinds of decision drivers I consider important and will therefore support when they make decisions. Related to that is my being clear which decisions are mine to make, even if they and others contribute to and make recommendation on decisions. That then means that they should be clearer what decisions are therefore for them to make but within the framework of the drivers mentioned above.

The 2nd learning point was about being more aware of and taking time to work with the stakeholder issues and the political dimensions, recognising that these are ever-shifting. I think this last point is something that’s particulalry relevant for me at the moment in explaining some of the ways things happen.

My final point isn’t a learning point at all but a reminder to myself that I am able to be confident in my decisions (even the ones that prove to be ‘wrong’), so long as I apply the same tests to them as I would to other people’s.

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Off to Egham

A morning of meetings and then back home to collect my bag before setting off for Egham.

Had a quick catchup with Matt for diary and related things. Then off to the Cutting Edge to meet Louise Thorpe for a regular KIT, and we discussed Enhance, assessment, SI and web strategy. A pretty full agenda for 30 minutes.

Next stop my regular KIT with Clive Macdonald. I’d drafting him a document on data security and we talked through that and what will happen with it next. We discussed a couple of other things and I briefed him on the YHMAN Board meeting last week.

Then into a really interesting and important discussion on the SAN Strategy that will shape our procurement of the replacement SAN this financial year. Some interesting options and it’s not necessarily that straightforward. We want to gain some benefits from the new SAN, particularly anything that allows us to better provision the expensive, fast disk. The work that Nik Sellars and Dave Thornley have done is really helpful in picking out those factors that are probably most important to us, and that we can use to prepare any requirements documents for potential suppliers.

Then a swift trip home to collect my overnight bag before catching the train to London and then on to Egham. I’m attending a Gartner Women CIO event tomorrow and there was a networking dinner tonight.

At the dinner I got chance to talk to the CIOs of Avon UK, BP in the UK, the V&A, and Ireland’s equivalent to British Gas, amongst others. It’s fascinating hearing about their experiences and what’s keeping them awake at night. We’re so different in some ways, as a University, and similar in some striking ways too. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, where the topic of the day is “Making and Surviving Difficult CIO Decisions”.

Anyway, off to bed now.

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That Monday Feeling

Not so much the day itself, just how it sets up the week.

An hour plus on a chilly railway platform isn’t my ideal way to begin my week, but at least I had some company in the shape of Biddy Fisher. Biddy was stranded by the same cancelled train as me, on her way to Birmingham. It was great to catch up, and made the wait bearable.

Having my morning plans somewhat thrown out, I didn’t manage to quite get through what I’d expected so I’ve still responses to do on Flu Pandemic Planning for this week.

I met with Mike Smith to set the EGIS agenda for the meeting in October. I’d been asked to produce an annual cycle to help members understand what we’ll be talking about when and Mike wanted to improvements to that, to make it clearer what would happen in the meetings and what would be activity outside, probably in the portfolio groups and other places.

I was late for my meeting with Jonny Feldman who was courteous and generous as ever, despite the wait. We talked about the Corporate Review of IT and I explained what I’d be coming to talk to his team about.

Then on to meet with someone I’m mentoring. I’ve talked before about why I enjoy mentoring so much, in terms of what I get out of it as well as it being a “good thing” to do. Hopefully, they are finding it useful though I think it is quite a different experience for them. Not everyone is used to reflecting on things, behaviours, things they might have done differently and it can be quite challenging.

Then a quick meeting with Paul Helm to talk about systems-related matters in projects he is involved in. He was, rightly, assuming any work would need to come through the governance process but wanted to check.

Walked down to the station together and both our trains were delayed. So the day ended much as it started, in a railway station waiting for a delayed train.

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Best laid plans

Despite my best intentions, I’ve not managed to keep to an entry per day this week again. Here’s Wednesday-Friday.

Wednesday

Every meeting I’ve had today seems to have run over, some more badly than others.

Started the day catching up with Matt on diary, planning meetings and workshop dates, emails and papers. Then Sylvia Johnson arrived for our regular KIT. We talked about how to make the work of USG more visible in terms of University Exec understanding the totality of what they are doing and therefore the capacity available to do strategic projects in the time people might wish.

Just time to get up to Collegiate for the Corporate Review meeting with Martin Cooper’s team. Some really interesting questions, and one I need to follow up around people linked to the Nursing and Midwifery contract. Went well but overran and I was late getting back down to City again.

Quick catch-up with Mark Charlesworth around staffing and the Network Refresh. Then an afternoon of KITS. Firstly met with Philip Wain, in one of our regular meetings. We talked about a number of things but he was particularly interested in how the GoogleApps work on student email was going and what our plans are around linking timetable info into Google Calendars. His faculty have a SMS service for student alerts on timetables (not sure if it is used just for that) and he was interested in whether the Google alerts might provide an alternative way to deliver that service. However, as the timetable information will be on on the basis of a calendar students subscribe to it would be at the discretion of the individual, as would the mobile alerts. Philip wants something that all students would get, so this might not give him what he needs. On the other hand, people will probably sign up for  a service if they see the benefits to them in terms of timely information that saved them inconvenience and that was accessible and alerted them to changes. We will need to promote the calendar options once the work’s done of course, and then see what take-up is like.

A quick and final KIT with Gary Maw, who will report to Laurie Nicholls in her acting role now. It was a good meeting, and I’ve really enjoyed working with Gary and the rest of the USG management team. Then one of my regular bi-monthly meetings with Liz Winders. We had quite a long agenda; flu pandemic planning, information security, and a project on supporting disabled students into placements, amongst other things. We overran but with such an amount to get through that’s not really surprising. Useful discussions though and it’s clear that there are a number of linkages between our roles and responsibilities.

Thursday

A couple of cancellations left me with some clear desk time, which inevitably got absorbed by lots of loose ends. Then met with Dave Thornley and Dave Ainscow to talk about the roll-out of the new password policy, part of the Electronic Information Security Framework (EISF). The 1st set of password changes happened last week and went fairly smoothly. There were a few points that need to be worked through to make sure they are resolved before the next set of changes happen but then that’s what we expected and why we planned a phased change as we have. Dave A updated us on his plans for communicating the EISF, including a potential presentation for staff explaining the rationale for the framework and how it affects them. The framework itself is quite long and dense so something that makes it easier for staff to understand what it means for them will be helpful I think.

Then Dave T updated me on the preparations for providing IT business continuity services. Although we are planning the work in support of contingency plans for flu pandemic, it will be a general business continuity provision, allowing the University to have key people working away from their normal locations if needed in the event of some declared major incident. The work involves a number of people from across IS&T and Advisory, and is well in hand I’m told.

Then an hour to finish off the Principles paper and September email update for the Corporate Review of IT. I needed to get it out today as I’d promised I would – it was later than planned even then. The Principles paper is a draft, and I’m asking for comments on it, and specifically the principles in the document, by the end of October. I’ll re-issue the final version after that. The principles are important as they will be what I use to help consider potential proposals and, if those are accepted, any subsequent design and delivery of services.

Then off to Leeds for  YHMAN Board meeting. The meeting had a considerable agenda but really spent almost all its time on two items; the JANET consultation, and the Proof of Concept trial between the University of Leeds and ourselves.

The JANET consultation and proposed change in operating, which effectively appears to remove the role regional network operators (like YHMAN) have in the delivery of network services, is clearly of interest to the board. We had a long conversation about what our obligations were, both to our stakeholder Universities and to those other institutions that receive services from YHMAN. The main action was that the Chair will arrange a meeting with JANET to discuss this and specifically the ‘additional’ services YHMAN provide that are above and beyond those that the JANET contract requires, such as the 2nd campus connection.

The proof of concept trial was a technical mini-project looking at the possibilities of a virtualised data centre service. The report for the Board notes that many of the technical questions were successfully answered but that some questions couldn’t be as they required a real load on services. The proposal was to roll that work into any subsequent project to take the ideas forward into a potential service. Again, there was a considerable discussion, both in relation to the potential impact of the JANET changes and the ability of 2 or 3 Universities to provide resources to support any further work. What’s clear is that we need to see what is proposed in the work, and that any University looking to take part needs to know what will be required before committing to it. At the moment, we don’t have that clarity so can’t make any decisions on taking it forward.

Couldn’t then get back to Sheffield for Carmel Kennedy’s leaving do as although I left the meeting just after 6pm, I got stuck in unusually heavy traffic in Leeds city centre.

Friday

After catching up with Matt, I met Edward Oyston for our regular meeting. It’s one of the few opportunities we get to meet now we’re based in different buildings, as we only really see each other in SLS Exec meetings. We talked about the Corporate Review of IT, as I wanted him to know what was happening given Advisory are within his area, and also the draft Information Management Strategy that I’d like input on from his area. We also talked about the National Student Survey (NSS) results and the breakdown one of his team has done, which he offered to send me. That will be very interesting and I’ll share some of the headlines at least more widely once I’ve had chance to read it.

Then met with Graham Jarman for our bi-monthly scheduled meeting, before catching up on emails. One suggests that we may need to revert to our original planning around flu pandemic contingencies being needed in October rather than later, as had been suggested recently. Emailed the management team to update them and also Dave Thornley, to ensure people pull forward any actions if needed, just so we are prepared.

Then met with Mark Lee and Lee Bower to talk about timescales and planning for the move of the secondary data centre. Looks like, assuming the contractors don’t overrun, that we will have a reasonable period in which to do the move that shouldn’t cause problems for services. There will be some ‘at risk’ periods but the impacts should be relatively small. The real risk is if the contractors overrun as we are then faced with either doing the move (which isn’t risk-free) during term or waiting until Easter. I need to write this up and alert Liz Winders given the potential business continuity risks too. However, the plans Mark and Lee have put together with their team sound well thought out and should allow us to take advantage of one of the only 2 ‘quiet’ spells we have in the year to do something like this.

Then, a short meeting with Clive to talk about a report he’s asked me to provide. Final email flurry before heading home for the weekend. Unfortunately, I’ll have to do some work on flu pandemic planning and data security for Monday though.

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A Long Tuesday

My morning was spent at Collegiate in staff meetings before walking to HBP to for lunchtime meeting to talk to USG staff about the Head of USG role. Then I caught the free city bus back to City with Laurie Nicholls, grabbed lunch and then straight into a special agenda IS&T Management Team meeting.

Rachel Mellalieu from Secretariat and Chris Walton were there. Chris of course has business continuity responsibilities across SLS and Rachel wanted to specifically talk about the flu pandemic contingency plans from across the University and to understand any dependencies on our services. We covered quite a lot but the conversation threw up some questions too about relative priorities across the University and assumptions people might have used to plan their contingencies.

The meeting finished a little earlier than planned so I was able to catch up on a few things before I went to meet Chris Care. Chris wanted to discuss how changes in budget authorisation and planning might affect his area. Although I think he was reassured at least in the immediate term, clearly there is a need to make sure any future planning process we might devise takes account of the needs of research and consultancy work as well as teaching, and this can be much more fluid.

Just time for a couple of phone calls then, the 1st to Danny Hannah to catchup on the Corporate Review workshops. We’ve agreed that we will schedule some more of these for October and we are planning to have something available that people can use outside the workshops if they can’t attend or prefer not to. We need to ensure that the documents work in terms of enabling people to provide useful information though so we’ll think about that on Wednesday once I’ve seen the kinds of feedback we’ve received since the format of the workshops was changed. If the revised forms have worked then these can simply be posted on the IS site for use. If not, we may need to modify them. All that means that the monthly email update will be a little later out than I’d planned, either the end of Wednesday or 1st thing Thursday perhaps.

Then Mark Lee and I were off out to Meadowhall to meet a company we do quite a lot of work with, who were introducing us to a potential supplier. A very interesting discussion, which somewhat overran making it a very long day.

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Busy Buzz

You can tell the year’s really underway now, loads of students and lots of events aimed at new students. Summer’s really quiet and it’s great to have the noise and buzz of having the students back. Last year there was a really noticeable increase, we just seemed so much busier. It’s too soon to tell so far but there was certainly lots of noisy stuff happening on Hallam Square this afternoon.

What should have been a reasonably quiet day meetings-wise didn’t feel that way. Lots of little things (small rather than unimportant) ate up the couple of hours I had clear in my diary this morning. Then a regular catchup with Alan Frost to talk about procurement and some of the changes happening in Finance around the teams that process purchase orders. We’ve had excellent service from the team supporting the departments to date, not to say that there haven’t been things we needed to discuss and improve (on both sides) but the knowledge and experience of working with the same people has been really valuable. So long as we don’t lose that I can see that it makes sense to bring the two teams together.

Next a meeting with Clive Macdonald to catch up on a few things, including how I can improve the profile and perception of IS&T at University Exec. Not that there are specific concerns but just to make sure we are presenting ourselves well and giving people the information they want in the kinds of accessible ways that work best for them.

A quick meeting with Terri Gibson, who is kindly doing a presentation at the Web Strategy workshop David Williams and Keith McCormac are planning for me. Terri wanted to discuss her thoughts on the content of the presentation, which aims to show some of the possibilities for the web and examples of good practice elsewhere.

Then most of the afternoon was set aside to meet one of our suppliers. They’ve worked with us for some years but it’s the 1st time I’ve really met them. It was interesting hearing about the company and talking about aspects of the ‘IS&T Strategy’ that they may be able to help us with. I think we identified at least three other conversations we need with people there to see what they may be able to do for us.

Last meeting of the day was with the small group helping me with the communications and planning for the Corporate Review of IT process. I’m due to send one of my monthly updates out to IT-related staff on Wednesday and so we were discussing some of the content of that, and particularly the Principles paper that will be circulated with it. Some very useful feedback on wording, and making it clear and accessible for people. The Principles are important as they will guide my thinking on the review and designing any new proposals. It’s crucial therefore that they are clear and understandable.

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End of the Week

Back from Cardiff and a varied mix of stuff for the rest of the week.

Thursday

A quick catch-up with Edward Oyston, amongst other things discussing how people in his area might contribute to the draft Information Management paper (and implementation). Then we went on to the SLS Exec, with a mix of items including Clive’s report back from University Exec, which is helpful in understanding what’s happening there and how it might then affect us. Chris presented the final version of the SLS People Principles, and also the action plan. We will need to look at what we need to do in IS&T to implement this and whether there are specific local actions we need to take specifically in relation to the Employee Wellbeing survey.

Straight from there into a meeting with Denise Nelson and the consultant working with her on pulling together a business case/strategy for IP Telephony. It was a broad discussion but useful in terms of getting some key queries out of the table on both parts I think.

Mark Lee grabbed me on my way to buy a sandwich, to catch up on a couple of things including a possible meeting with a potential supplier next week. Just as he was finishing, Sylvia Johnson caught me to ask for a nominee from USG to contribute to some of the thinking for the Employability and Graduate Employment work that Sylvia is leading on behalf of the Exec.

Just time to eat the sandwich and check in on a few emails before a KIT with Gary Maw, mostly discussing his objectives for the next few months. Then Laurie Nicholls and the consultants from Hays arrived to go through the planned recruitment to the Systems Manager ASIS post. Hays do quite a lot of the early legwork on the recruitment campaign but they were also advising us on possible activities to test the candidates who get shortlisted.

That meeting overran somewhat and I had to apologise to the person I was due to meet. I hate being late or missing scheduled meetings like this, it’s something I find quite rude but sometimes it is impossible to avoid.

Last meeting of the day, a catchup with Maurice Teasdale on the HBP tenders. All seems to be progressing OK at this stage, with tenders back and (I believe) within the budget set. Hopefully, we’ll now be able to get down to some proper planning for the moves.

Friday

Had some clear time 1st thing Friday morning so used it to prepare an exercise for my management team in the afternoon looking at how we might express our services and get a sense of the perceptions of value, effectiveness and efficiency of them.

Rich Nelms called in to update me on some IT arrangements for a member of staff that I’m involved in. Then I headed over to Adsetts for a meeting with Dave Thornley’s team (mostly, plus a guest from ACES). The meeting was one of a series small team meetings updating people on the Corporate Review of IT. I’m holding quite a lot of these this month. So far, the two I’ve done seem to have gone quite well but it would be useful to get any feedback.

Met with Kay Higgins, a scheduled monthly meeting, and we spent most of the time discussing how to make the HR policies, procedures, and other information more accessible to staff and to better support managers.

Another grabbed lunch before meeting with Maurice Teasdale, Mark Lee, and Laurie Nicholls to discuss car parking at HBP. Some progress but we need to sort out whether we can operate some form of system to allow ad hoc parking (for example, where someone is going to be working late because of a systems change but who wouldn’t normally want a parking spot).

The bulk of the afternoon was then with my management team, looking at how to describe our services in a meaningful but concise way. That’s harder than it sounds when you’re trying to articulate the breadth of what we do in only 10-20 individual services. It was a healthy discussion with some strong opinions and some different views but as a 1st attempt I think it was very productive. We ended up with a candidate list of about 15 services to review. Then, using a simple method, we had a go at rating one of the services. That threw up some interesting views and thoughts as well (despite us thinking we’d picked one of the easy services to look at). In the course of it we decided that 2 of the services shouldn’t be included. Whilst the activity does happen, the services were more about how we’ve chosen to do the activity and we didn’t think an audience outside IS&T would possibly recognise them as services at all.

We all agreed that the exercise had been useful, even though of course simply rating services ourselves isn’t sufficiently robust to use as evidence of the relative value or importance of particular services. I think we’ll return to the list in the short-term though, to see if continuing the rating weeds out any more of the candidate services (or indeed highlights some ones we’ve missed).

Finally, a quick discussion with Mark Lee and Mark Charlesworth about options for maintenance contracts for the network infrastructure. We’re being offered some reasonably attractive pricing over more than one year but we need to be sure that (particularly in the current climate) the service we might pay for today is still honoured and delivered in 1 or more years time. It’s probably not something we would have been as worried about in the past, depending on the history of the supplier, but with even blue chips vulnerable it’s a risk we need to consider fully.

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CISG at Cardiff University

Today I was at the CISG (Corporate Information Systems Group, I believe) event in Cardiff. It was a whole day briefing on Enterprise Architecture, and Service Orientated Architecture (SOA). I was there with Laurie Nicholls, and we spoke to people from York, Exeter, Royal Holloway and Cranfield in the various breaks. It was interesting getting some views from other institutions on whether SOA really will save the world.

The best summary of the day was captured in my Twitter comments throughout the event, so I’m probably best not repeating myself here.

A long day and a lot to take in especially with apparently conflicting presentations in the afternoon.

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Cardiff-bound

A day mostly travelling today. After catching up with Matt I set off for a meeting at Collegiate. Then rushed straight back to meet the IT staff in ACES technical services as part of the team meetings I’m doing this month. Whilst the principles and process paper isn’t out yet I was able to verbally update people enough for us to have a good discussion I thought. It was also useful getting some immediate feedback on the principles and some potentially tricky wording ahead of finalising the draft.

Then a quick lunch before working to finalise the draft paper. I’m intending on sending the final version out mid week next week and have shared the draft with TU colleagues, HR, Corporate Comms and SLS Comms to check that the paper is clear. Sharing papers like this with TU colleagues is really good practice and they can be very helpful in spotting things that may confuse or cause unintended concern.

Just had time to get that off in email before Laurie Nicholls came to meet me to catch the train to Cardiff. There’s a UCISA CISG (Corporate Information Systems Group) briefing on SOA and Enterprise Architecture tomorrow. Quite a varied set of presenters including some private sector as well as HE. Will be interesting to hear how others have got on with this.

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Business as Usual

A day of mostly standard discussions, pretty business as usual today.

Apart from checking my briefing note on data security to Clive for accuracy, the morning was largely taken up with the IS&T Management Team meeting. We should meet fortnightly but what with leave and other things, we’ve not managed to keep to a routine over the summer.

The meeting allowed us to catch up on a few things such as budgets, allocations, HR procedures, and other business as usual matters. We had a longer and I felt very useful discussion on how we support Remedy as a corporate application and what’s needed to take it forward. I think we finally have an agreed route now for this, which is some real progress.

Then I had a meeting with Dave Thornley, Mark Charlesworth and Lee Bower to take them through the IS&T Annual Operating Plan. This is so that they understand the content of the plan, given that they will need to develop team and individual objectives for appraisals. We’ve agreed that it is useful to have some formal meetings, infrequently, especially once they have moved to HBP and no longer have the chance to catch me whilst I or they are passing.

Lunch and emails before a quick catchup with a member of staff, before preparing for an appraisal for one of my team. Appraisals are a really useful meeting, even if you have regular KITs with people, as it really allows you to reflect on what’s been done as well as the necessary focus ahead to what needs to be done. It should mean that both parties are clear what’s expected of them and what support will be available to them to help them achieve their objectives.

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