Archive for September, 2010

Talking Security

Two discussions around information security today, specifically electronic information. First with one of the security specialists from the internal auditors. This was following up some work he had done for us around reviewing our internal processes for assessing risks in our systems and infrastructure.

The second discussion was with the University’s Audit Committee. Quite a daunting meeting to attend for the 1st time, I was quite pleased to be there just for timed business although they were all very pleasant. The committee consists of internal and external auditors, governors, and members of the University Executive. Its purpose is to be assured that the organisation is being properly managed and run – a more accurate and detailed explanation is available here

I was presenting my paper on information security improvements we plan to make over the next 12 months, following the review we’ve carried out on where we currently stand. The paper seemed well received with some specific questions around communication and compliance. Now we just have to deliver it.

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What IT issues keep retail CIOs awake

I was asked yesterday what was the most interesting discussion I had at the Google Atmosphere 2010 event.

I think it was probably the discussion with someone from a major High Street retailer talking about the challenges facing their sector. Amongst greater technology coming into the store (tills, self-service) there’s the online services (online stores particularly) and mobile application support.

One that sounded familiar was around customer expectations and connectivity. Some retailers are already providing wifi in store and there’s an assumption that customers may want to link to the online store in-store (comparing prices, looking at specifications).

However, customers are also expecting connectivity beyond those linked transactions, and the retailers are now coming across some of the same challenges we face in terms of a diverse group of users. What is slightly different is that there is only a very limited relationship between the users and the retailer.

Not only does this raise some interesting questions about ensuring acceptable use of facilities (particularly given the Digital Economy Act), but there’s also a question about what services retailers are willing to offer and how they manage customers expecting to be ‘always on’.

This may mean that retailers scale back what they are prepared to provide, or some may embrace being part of the ‘web’ of general mobile connectivity.

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Professional Identity

After a day off ill yesterday, it was back to normal.

One of my more interesting discussions was with an external visitor from what was formerly the British Computer Society, now the Chartered Institute for IT.

I’m particularly interested in how they might be able to work with us in terms of helping to ensure IT staff are recognised as being part of a formal profession.

Once we have completed the Corporate Review of IT I want us to be looking at the professional standing of staff, and how we develop them for the future. Part of of that is by looking at development that is transferable and valued beyond their immediate role or indeed beyond this organisation.

I’d be very interested in people’s views on this – is it something worth investing in?

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Google Atmosphere 2010 – links and extra info

Thought this might be of interest to anyone who read my posts from earlier in the week.


Don Tapscott – author and public speaker

The Impending Demise of  the University

Wikinomics and the new book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and The World

The Gold Corp example of crowd-sourcing information

Werner Vogels – CTO at


On the idea of ‘private clouds‘ (on which Werner offered strong opinions)

And on ‘cloud‘ security (which of course the reputation of both Amazon and Google’s cloud offerings are built on)

Vint Cerf – Chief Internet Evangelist, Google

On the challenges facing the design of the Internet, partly as a result of limitations in its design and partly because of the changing ways people expect access to it (always connected, mobile)

On the need for standards for cloud computing (so clouds interface with one another, so we don’t find ourselves locked into yet another ‘old computing’ paradigm)

On the challenges of preserving information in a digital age (compare a first folio of Shakespeare, and the contents of a DVD – which is likely to still be here, and readable, in 100 or 200 years?)


Google say they expect to upload video and other stuff from the event next week. I’ll update here with the link when I have it.

YouTube and Picasa


Hope you found the posts interesting, I certainly found the event very interesting and thought-provoking.

[Edited to insert links to video and photos 9/12/10]

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Originally uploaded by Haysie1

And one of the more lighthearted moments from Google Atmosphere 2010, a robot that can solve the Rubix Cube in under 15 seconds.

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Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf

Originally uploaded by Haysie1

One of the highlights of the Google Atmosphere 2010 event was a discussion with Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet and now Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist.

One of the other memorable and entertaining speakers was Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics.

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Shortlisting of a different kind

A challenging morning this morning but in a good way.

I’d been asked to act as the external member of the panel for the Facilities Directorate Staff Awards. Having read all the nominations the panel gathered in 20 Furnival Street to shortlist and then decide the outcomes.

The nominations were really interesting, coming from co-workers, managers, customers, teams who work with the nominees. The achievements were really varied too; from small to big, from front line to back office. What was clear was how the awards give people chance to say thank you to individuals and teams for their work.

I’m not allowed to say much more – the shortlist and the eventual winners will be known on the night, so I wouldn’t want to spoil the excitement.

People are sometimes quite cynical about these kinds of schemes but from the number, range, and quality of the nominations I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would feel other than honoured and proud to be nominated, let alone to win one.


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Blackboard Mobile

Sunshine and mobile in Manchester this afternoon. Time for another ‘stream of consciousness’ blog post. Bit long if you have little or no interest in Blackboard or delivering information and interactive content to mobile.

Manchester have Mobile Learn live and in the App store already, beating us to it!

(The sunshine didn’t last long, thunder storm and stair-rod rain)

The original Mobile team set up by two friends from elementary school. Acquired by Blackboard.

Kayvon, VP Blackboard Mobile, presentation.

Mobile Central – was a the original product created to aggregate data from various sources and make available to mobile devices, in one place. Deployed 1st 2 years ago (!) at Standford. Initial focus on iPhone but needed to be broader.

Mobile Learn

Blackboard made mobile. Not sufficient to just shrink it down, needed to consider the characteristics of the specific devices.

Why is Mobile important? Lots of services, lots of sources and may all be useful in the mobile environment. Not just Android, iPhone Blackberry – a variety of smartphones, and now increasing tablet/pad mobile devices.

Discussion on the worth/value of providing content to mobile. What content, what services, push/pull, do students want to separate personal and university life?

Duke looked at which modules within Central were most popular. Upcoming events, and maps.

Device independent future rather than apps for phones? If mobile website, risk of lowest common denominator. Wouldn’t be taking advantage of the device specific characteristics. Instead develop apps that take advantage of iPhone, Android, Blackberry. Alongside that, also have mobile device ‘friendly’ sites.

What about the speed of change in mobile hardware? If invest in platform, do we lose that investment when the hardware manufacturer moves on. Benefit of Blackboard Mobile doing this, they do the. Investment so you have your app ready for the new platform, new iOS update, etc.

Each new incoming year will bring new/latest devices. Need to know Blackboard keeping up with this otherwise the University will get the blame not Blackboard.

Economic diversity and accessibility. Will all our students have connectivity, but not get hung up as increasingly yes they probably will. (we see a high percentage of PC/laptop ownership). Android and iPhone accessibility settings on devices can be used by both Blackboard Central and Learn. This is one of the advantages of using the device specific capabilities.

Mobile Learn, can browse all content including attachments within the application. Interactions such in real time to Blackboard. Things like threads displayed just as they are currently organised in Blackboard. Thinking about whether this is the right approach.

Only uses the core tools in Blackboard, building block tools aren’t used as don’t have access to APIs. The iPad version allows elements to be opened in different ‘windows’ so can open many elements at the same time to make it easier to move between different information. Example of taking advantage of the device specific characteristics.

Can you annotate attachments via iPad application? No, though it was something that was thought about in some detail. Will this be helped once the iOS update brings multi-tasking to the iPad in November. Perhaps this should be part of Learn rather than mobile learn. Will we start to see iPads in lecture theatres, given their portability?

Updates to Mobile Learn in next 6 weeks to allow attachments to be opened in app of choice.

If allow annotation then need to make sure it syncs with Blackboard.

How quickly with Mobile Learn keep frack of changes of functionality in Learn. Given the relative speed, shouldn’t be an issue but we don’t guarantee to do changes in tandem. Will do where it makes sense to.

Those institutions who have had this in place, does it lead to a drop-off of use of the normal Learn interface? Too early to tell but good feedback so far.

Isn’t the functionality just the same as can be achieved via the browser? Interface design, and push notifications are something that is more than the browser experience. Future enhancements will include the ability to create content and upload to Learn, not just interact with existing content. A slow browser response may also create an unacceptable user experience, rather than the more fluid app experience

Is there an issue with hits on the servers. Performance testing showed no detrimental impact. Rarely get more usage – won’t be on the browser and on their iPhone, usually! May get more people accessing more frequently but perhaps for shorter bursts.

Mobile Central

Main motivations; sources of information varied and variable, mobile- friendly “wrapper”. A university branded one-stop-shop. 70 institutions in over 7 countries 2 years after 1st launch.

Blackboard able to supply usage information about trends of what modules of Central are used, when.

If an HEI implements Mobile Learn and Central, then Learn is embedded in the Central app.

Why does it add value to include images in app instead of just via browser? Use in email, etc. (not sure that sells it to me – I can see the point of making a collection available rather than just a bunch of images.

Is there a risk of ‘community’ information (which is public but not highly visible) being accessible to anyone who downloads the app? Has it been an issue anywhere this has been rolled out. Has been discussed but hasn’t led to information being ‘locked’ away. Important to think about what information is being made available. Balancing privacy, authentication, and usability.

Usage stats – popular kinds of information. Some differences between institutions but some common points. Non students are using the apps – 12000 students, 60000 downloads for Stamford for example. Maps most commonly used, spikes in usage depending on time of week, year, term.

Importance of advertising the app for your institution.

Is it OK to get something up there and see how it gets used rather than having the fully finished polished article. Average time to implement 3.5 months but depends on having the information available (actually it’s about having the information available in the right format).

Two ways to source data – through existing university web services, or by data extract to create local databases held by Blackboard. For authenticated services, it will be directly via university web service. No DPA issues as the data is already publicly available.

If we already have all our web services why would we use Mobile Central? Good for business continuity, have normalized format of different functions, able to reuse the data for new platforms without further development time.

Can you exploit any overlap between Mobile Central and Mobile Learn? Not much overlap identified. Haven’t yet done any developments with institutions like this yet.

University of Manchester as one of the UKs earliest adopters. Prof Colin Sterling, Vice-President for Teaching and Learning talked about their thoughts and experience.

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The inbox of doom

After two days out and only cursory inbox checking, it’s the less than delightful return to see how big the backlog is. 198. Should I feel relieved?

An appraisal this morning, one of the remaining IS&T ones. Then a meeting on communications with the new SLG. Final meeting with one of the Faculty key leads and a chance to catch up with them on what’s happening in their run up to the year.

Another fragmented day tomorrow, with a couple of meetings before going to Manchester to a Blackboard event.

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Google Atmosphere 2010 Day2

Another ‘stream of consciousness’ live blog of events.

(Given we’ve not even started yet and I have to leave at 1200 for the airport, I may not get to cover the full remainder of the event.)

So, scheduled – opening remarks and then a couple of workshops. Am particularly looking forward to the session on security and privacy.

Chrome OS with Jeff Keltner – overview and demo

Extreme videos Chrome Browser versus various speedy things. Probably on YouTube if you want to find it.

Overview of Chrome build. JavaScript, multi-process architecture. More than 80M users after 2 yrs, Mac, Linux, Windows, 6000 extensions, HTML5. Importance of HTML for richer web experience and web services, and improved offline working.

Converging trends – cloud/Internet services, ubiquitous connectivity, mobile/richer/portable devices. Benefits of an OS as a web browser – about connecting devices to web/cloud services. Reduced TCO for hardware reduced (if that’s going to be all you use it for – usual ‘thin client’ issues apply?).

Always on the latest version, as updates as you boot. Unable to install anything on the platform (so yes, the usual thin client issues do apply). This means that there is improved security as a modified version won’t boot, and will be updated/replaced on boot if needed. Auto updates in background. If web is primary platform, this may be an ideal platform.

Demo – built on Friday (!)

(Can download and compile at home) Boot time was around 10s, visible 6s. If remove post time can be even quicker. Cached data is encrypted to highest legal level.

(It wouldn’t be a live demo if there wasn’t a part that didn’t work as expected!). Allows user personalisation/profiles on any hardware.

Six workshops – in 2 hours. I’m interested in security and privacy, and collaboration using GoogleApps.

Workshop One – Trust: Cloud Security and Privacy

Can’t blog some of this apparently, so will not blog any just so I don’t accidentally reveal something I shouldn’t! Interesting discussion with the usual “myths” in evidence.

Workshop Two – Collaboration using Google Apps

Nothing much I’ve not seen before as a consumer user but the first time I’ve really seen the point of GoogleSites. Some lovely integration. Also some things we aren’t supposed to repeat, so I won’t.

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