Archive for June, 2010


A pressured day for a number of staff today – none more so than for our students though.

Today results were available online for a couple of faculties but we began to experience problems in the morning when the web service began to show signs of serious overloading. As that got worse we found connections timing out so it was almost impossible for anyone to login.

A team of people in Infrastructure and in Systems worked on diagnosis but we also had to bring the supplier in as the problem wasn’t obvious or simple to fix.

Mid afternoon, we had managed to get the service back working but still have to do some work to understand what happened and why. With more results due tomorrow we’re monitoring how the system copes overnight and tomorrow.

We’re also looking at contingency plans in the event that we start to see the kinds of calls on systems resources we saw today. There’s no obvious reason for the problems, which makes it harder to be sure we won’t get a repeat. However, with plans in place we should be able to respond quickly if needed.

Later, we’ll need to look at what did happen and how we dealt with it for any lessons but right now the priority is about the service being up and available.

A lot of people helped today – both in IS&T and elsewhere – it was a real team effort.

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Working with Facilities

Met Mark Swales today for a discussion on IP Telephony and other matters of joint interest.

We already work quite closely with FD around learning spaces and infrastructure but there are other areas where we can see that there are benefits we could achieve from jointly working on some other areas such as printing.

It’s an important relationship to us so I’m pleased Mark is keen to work closely with us too. Should be some interesting potential in the future.

I’m also keen to understand more about their service standard model and costing as it’s well developed and been tested against external benchmarks. We may find some very helpful examples there in terms of developing our own service standards over the coming months.


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Which phase is it anyway?

A day of Corporate Review-related matters.

Somewhat confusingly (for me) focussed on Phase 2 in the morning with discussions in faculties about transition arrangements, followed by a return to Phase 1 in the afternoon.

The deadline for submissions of applications and options for the Phase 1 senior leadership posts was noon and so we’re well into that process now.

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Getting lift off

Whilst I *still* can’t talk about the new service we’re developing, the core team who will keep an overview of the project through its life met for the 1st time to discuss some basic principles.

We needed to be clear what the priorities are for determining where we should focus our energies. I was pleased that everyone agreed that whilst there were interesting opportunities the main focus should be on things that would make a difference to our students.

We think there’s considerable potential and part of the project is to identify what is real potential and what will really matter to those who use the service. It’s a long term commitment to the project as there will be several stages to it as we explore what we can and should do with it and how people use the service, what they like or don’t like and what they’d want to see us develop in it.

So work is underway, sort of, although it’s still not something I can share. That’s frustrating but won’t be for much longer I hope.

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Variety show

A day of contrast and variety.

A presentation from Geoff Smith at SLS Executive about equality impact assessments and where we may need to review existing policies and processes.

Then a review of the service standard and AQR process for SLS, with an update from David Elliott on improvement to the process and paperwork this time around.

Then a meeting with Facilities to discuss accommodation planning. I’m hopeful now that the ITLS team will be able to move into Howard 4 in the next month, which is long overdue. Still some challenges around other accommodation but good news that this is finally moving anyway.

Then a phone call with the Marketing Director for a supplier we’re working with. There will be a press release soon on some innovative work we’re doing and I’ll be pleased when that’s out of the way so we can talk about what we are doing. It’s frustrating when we can’t even discuss it internally but we will be able to soon.

Then discussions about final spending plans for this year’s budget and the IS&T management team agreeing where the priorities were.

An update meeting with Chris Walton on accommodation, and then a final phone call with the external PR company working for the supplier and preparing the press release I’d discussed earlier.

In between, preparing for next week when I’ll be holding meetings on arrangements for phase 2 of the review with IT staff.

It’s been a busy day and next week looks even more hectic.

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Spend to save

We’re in a curious – good but curious – position at the moment. We’ve the possibility of some cash this year that we might invest in order to save money in the coming year or more.

Today, I was setting about compiling a list and outline business case for some investment proposals. The constraints are interesting though – time (the money won’t hang about for long) and that there must be real and realisable benefits in terms of saving money or avoiding expenditure in the coming year or longer.

That’s harder than it sounds – a substantial part of my time is taken identifying how to save money, especially recurrent revenue non-pay, rather than looking for opportunities to spend. In the end I have a 7-page list, some of which aren’t possible in the time allowed (I assume) and others would be taking a bit of a jump in the dark in terms of not having spent a lot of time researching whether things are the best tool or just good enough given the time allowed.

Whether any or none of these make it any further than on that 7-page report is another matter. If nothing else though, it shows where we may look if there is opportunity – and time – in the future.

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When will there be good news?

With the year end nearing, thoughts turn to both end of year outturn positions and what next year will look like.

In the context of today’s budget and expected tighter finances, this could be a crucial period for us.

The biggest impact immediately for us in IT will be the VAT increase – 2.5% extra on almost everything we buy alongside often above-inflation level rises and a stand-still revenue budget this coming year. That’s going to be challenging to say the least. It’s not going to just affect us of course – the learning resources in the learning centres are similarly affected and similarly routinely see price increases running in double figures rather than inflationary levels.

So, the good news? Well, the University has been managing its finances carefully for some time and we’re in a good position. That isn’t sustainable long-term without some action in the current climate, but then there are a number of planned changes underway already that aim to keep us in a healthy position. We simply aren’t in the position of some, who are having to take significant costs out and, it seems to me, having to do so in a less planned manner because of the urgency of it all.

It is going to be tough over the next few years though – not just for us, or the HE sector but all the publicly funded sectors and organisations. That may give us a double-whammy in that some of our money may come from such sources, either in CPD or research and consultancy.

However, the critical part is that we are in a position now to take stock and plan how we will weather this, rather than having to do things that may actually harm the long term health of the University.

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A personal first

A day I’m struggling to work out how to blog since pretty much all of it is not suitable for wider consumption for one reason or another… Not something I’ve really had before, even when there are sensitive things going on I’ve been able to say something.

Oh well, nothing to see here, move along…

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What a difference a day makes…

So this week provided an excellent example of the rough and the smooth of the role of a University IT Director.

The start of the week saw some tense times but ultimately it was about how, in the role, it’s possible to make things happen that can really move things or make a difference. I felt on Wednesday a great deal of satisfaction – that I’d done something that would make a difference and that’s what – ultimately – I’m in the job for.

Then after that a couple of contrasting examples about the responsibilities of the job not just the enjoyable bits.

Firstly when there are difficult decisions that can have serious implications for the organisation. The buck stops here and the weight of that can be hard to carry at times.

Secondly when you want to do your best for people and sometimes process makes it feel quite dislocated and abstracted. It’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing certain things, what you’re trying to achieve.

The single biggest point I’ve learned in the role has been about being able and willing to take on that level of responsibility.

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Marking progress

Met with Rhian Emery this morning for the quarterly update on progress with implementing the ‘Information Systems and Technology Strategy’.

Rhian ‘owns’ the master copy of the plan and routinely updates it with changes, amendments and completed tasks with information from the key leads for different strategy elements.

A year and a half or so in it’s reassuring to see so many ticks on the Gantt Chart. The update also allows us to reschedule activities as we develop a fuller understanding of what’s involved. In that sense it isn’t like a project plan where we’d be hopefully sticking more to agreed deliverables and timescales. The Gantt Chart is more a way of capturing and sharing the various strands of the strategy and tracking progress.

When we’d been through those areas down to me, and the queries other people had raised I asked Rhian to do some overall assessment of the percentage of the strategy completed to date, for me to report to EGIS at the next meeting. However, so far I think we’re on track.

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