Posts Tagged annual planning

Access the Core

So, to the Core Planning Group today.

Although I’ve attended one of these meetings in the past, I don’t normally do so as it’s usually led by the Director of SLS alone except for the support of the Head of Business Services .

This time it was the remaining SLS Exec portfolio members and the Head of Business Services. However, we were not quite sure what would be expected of us. In the event, it was quite straightforward.

The three of us gave an individual summary of the key strategic priorities in our plan (the planning group had of course already received that) and were asked about different aspects of that. It seemed to go well enough and there weren’t any questions I found particularly problematic. Perhaps the main issue was getting across, in a succinct manner, a sense of the breadth of the way in which IT works across the near totality of the University’s activities.

Now planning moves on to the more detailed aspects of what we will be doing in the coming year and the budgets we are requesting to achieve those things. The final plan and budgets needs to be completed by the end of March and we need to have gathered information from all our key stakeholders to ensure our plans support theirs appropriately.

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What’s in the plan

Half my focus has been on planning this week as we canter towards the Core Planning Group meeting on the 20th. The other half has been on finding an interim Head of Corporate Systems following Laurie’s news.

Concentrating on the first of those items here, the work is in two areas; being clear about the strategic priorities for SLS and then how to present these in a way that makes it clearer where the responsibilities for delivery lie. Or, more briefly, how to make sure that objectives from the constituent areas of SLS are recognised and recognisable whilst still being a coherent plan for SLS.

Another challenge is to set a strategic direction for SLS when, at the moment, SLS is without a Head.

In the end, we had determined to write objectives that are specific to the portfolio areas and to identify them as such. That risks presenting a view that’s focused on the portfolios rather than SLS but unavoidable at present perhaps.

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A change of pace

After another few days wiped out being detective but today a welcome – if short-lived – change of pace.

Annual planning is in full swing and we have found out that the budgets we thought we had another 1-2 weeks to finalise have in fact to be finished for Monday.

Cue several discussions on pulling things together. We will need to sense check things but hopefully we will have enough information to enable Chris to create an overall SLS budget so the SLS Exec  can see what it looks like.

Of course, annual planning is about more than budgets. This year, whilst the Corporate Review remains important (delivering on those objectives and making the service work) there are other objectives that will, if we achieve them, underpin a number of things that the University wants to do.

One important strand of that is doing more to enable location-independent working and studying. Or more simply making it possible, as far as is practical, for people to work in different locations including off-campus. We already do some of this of course and a number of our key services are available now off-campus. However, we could and should do more and a number of key University strategies would be helped if we could do this better.

What has been particularly interesting this year has been taking an early draft of the IS&T objectives to the IS&T Portfolio Strategy Group and getting their input. The enthusiasm for several themes in this gives some confidence that we’re on the right track.

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Time flies

Well, it really has been some time since I last blogged. However, an attempted blog entry was lost when the application I was using bombed out without saving the work in progress. Quite frustrating.

The last week and a half have almost entirely been taken up with things to do with the implementation of the new IS&T Service. Some of that has been quite visible, such as the individual consultation meetings or the informal discussions with people just wanting guidance or clarification. Some of it has been less visible around preparations for the process once it gets underway.

This week, whilst still dominated by implementation, things began to look a little more ‘normal’.

Monday saw me mostly get my overdue tasks under control and my inbox semi-tamed (for now) alongside a number of informal meetings with staff with queries about implementation.

Tuesday included a phone discussion with the internal auditors to plan the next audit. This one, around policy and compliance, should be timely as it will inform both the Information Security project and the start-up of the new IS&T Service.

Also on Tuesday, the IS&T Senior Management Team met with Ian Heath to discuss accommodation requirements now the structures are confirmed. There will need to be some more discussions around this and no doubt some compromise in the short and possibly medium term.

Discussion at SLS Exec on Wednesday really got business planning underway, and is particularly interesting given this will be the 1st year we are planning IT spend on behalf of the whole University. That throws up as many questions as it does answers but a positive approach was characterised by one faculty colleague who has said we need to take a pragmatic view – it may not  be perfect in this first year of operation, but the intention is there and working together we can make sure everything that needs to happen does happen.

Today after a morning at HBP, I went to a special meeting of YHMAN and Janet UK. As I’ve blogged before, changes planned by Janet in how services are provided could have a profound impact on YHMAN and this meeting was to discuss at what the future was likely to look like. It was a very constructive discussion and there seemed to be general agreement on the options available and everybody’s preferred route forward. More on that later no doubt.

Tomorrow is another day where the review and implementation will be almost entirely the subject of what I’m involved in. Looking ahead to next week, there’s an interesting UCISA event on ‘shared services’, and another YHMAN meeting to talk about strategy, helped by today’s discussion.

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Of suppliers, planning, and recognition

A mixed morning before heading of for the UCISA Director’s Forum later today.

Another supplier meeting (unusual for me to have more than one in any one week), this time the start of what I hope will be regular meetings with our account manager from Blackboard. He was giving me some background information on what Blackboard offers other than the tools we already take from them. Some interesting things in that I wasn’t aware of so helpful for me.

Then, the IS&T Management Team meeting where we were finalising business planning and budgets. Everything seems on track. Then Linda Headford came to update us on work she and colleagues are doing on measuring the power usage of various aspects of our IT provision. A very interesting aside about printing and the potential to save money by simply shifting to a different ‘corporate’ font reminds me that often its these smaller ideas that help make the difference, rather than some of the big-scale big-bang change programmes. A really interesting piece of work all round which raises some interesting questions.

We are applying to take part in a Jisc-funded project on sustainable IT later this year and the work Linda and co have done will, with the inclusion of work done by Dave Thornley and others in ITI, will help us complete the application. The aim of the project is to consider how sustainable we are now and to look for ways to improve that, measuring our performance over a year. The management team agreed that they would like us to take part because it will help recognise all the good work that has been done as well as help us see what other potential there may be to do more.

And then a final meeting of the day, about a way to potentially recognise the work of individuals and teams in SLS. I think this is an excellent idea, especially the idea of recognising those people who work in areas that don’t traditionally get all the bouquets, perhaps because they are more ‘behind the scenes’ but still critical to delivering what we do. It’s going to be interesting to see that evolve.

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Welcome to my office – the Atrium

An unusually early start this morning as I ended up having a couple of impromptu mini-meetings and discussions on my way in, primarily on Level 2 of the Atrium. Actually very useful, I can see why there’s apparently a technique to do meetings standing up. It concentrates the mind wonderfully!

So, having covered major change programmes, communications, web strategy, information security, and a number of other topics, I’d had a full mental workout before I got to my desk. Actually, it was a really good opportunity for some short discussions that probably would have turned into scheduled meetings or perhaps simply never happened without the serendipity of bumping into people arriving at work.

My morning covered a similar broad and rich vein of subjects, including information security, information management, web strategy (sensing a recurring theme here), major change programmes, etc.

The in the afternoon a change of pace with a meeting with our external auditors (yes, it’s nearly that time again) who are preparing for the audit next month. And I’m really getting deja vue here – we talked about major strategic change projects, information management, information security, and, just to be different, cost containment.

However, one long running theme is now complete (I hope) in terms of annual planning. Our 10-year Capital plan was submitted, although we had a couple of queries which we’ve resolved now.

Thank goodness it’s Friday.

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What happened to "this is a quiet week for once"?

So, it’s Thursday and the only reason I’m able to blog this is because I’m at HBP today and not in endless meetings.

This week was supposed to be a quiet one, where I could do some thinking following the consultation closing last week, and to catch up on all the things that were held over whilst the consulation was happening.

However, it doesn’t seem to have quite worked like that.

Two major areas absorbing time are annual planning, and preparing for Executive Group: Information Strategy (EGIS).

We’ve been working through our Revenue non-pay budget to ensure we can meet all our needs and cover our costs. That’s gone well but has been a lot of work particularly for Mark Lee, Laurie Nicholls, Nigel Williamson, as well as their respective teams, Kath Burgess and Bernie Marshall (previously Senior) in Finance, who have had to pick through all the figures.

We were also asked to pull together a 10-year Capital plan, which has been very worthwhile but again a huge amount of work for all concerned. Mark and Nigel have reasonably mature capital plans for their areas of spend already so it was mostly about ensuring it was up to date, that new capital lifecycles (such as the move to 5-years for PCs) are factored in, and to build Faculty and Departmental requirements in as well. For Laurie it was more complex as she has had to attempt for the 1st time ever, so far as I am aware, to chart where we might be doing reviews of major corporate applications. A very interesting picture emerging and it will be refined year on year of course.

The EGIS work is about presenting the group with sufficient information for them to have a picture of all that’s going through the Portfolio Strategy groups at the moment, and then to build on that with requests that are coming up in other areas of the University’s business planning. Tracey Holland and her team have been doing some interesting work to produce diagrams to map projects underway comparative to each other based on timescales, priority (as set by the relevant Portfolio Strategy Group) and resourcing. They look deceptively simple but we’re hoping EGIS will find the diagram approach helpful in begining to rank projects.

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Quiet end to the week

Consultation closes today, and I’m hoping to take home everything received by then tonight so I can do a 1st read through over the weekend.

Other than that, it was a relatively quiet day. ISMG members were in attendance as we kicked off a group to help take service management forward on ISMG’s behalf. This follows some long running discussions at ISMG about reporting, priorities and embedding service management across the whole of our services. The Service Management group is made up of nominees from all the areas represented on ISMG, and they will report to ISMG.

Then some much-needed time to catch up on emails, authorisations, other paperwork etc. before lunch. This has really been the 1st time this week I’ve had chance to catch up from my leave and there were too many outstanding things waiting for my liking.

I’d also had a few external invitations waiting that needed resolving, including sitting on the interview panel for the Head of Computer Services at another University, and an invitation to sit on an educational user advisory board from a major hardware manufacturer. I don’t do many things like this as they take time away and I’m simply very busy at the moment so don’t have the spare capacity. However, of the few I do do, I’m always reminded of the value of getting out more. It gives you a broader perspective and a chance to look at how others approach similar issues, all of which helps the thinking and planning back in the University.

The afternoon was largely around planning as we reach a key milestone in annual planning, and a major procurement decision. Then a brief meeting with D&S to talk about some of their planning for the new building. We need to ensure their information is built into our planning assumptions for the next few years, even if the detail is still somewhat sketchy.

Then home with my reading pack.

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A Trio Day

A day in three today – SLS Exec, the review web chat, and the YHMAN Board meeting.

The SLS Exec was largely around the finalising of the 5-year strategic plan, and the annual plan. In IS&T we’re just finalising our Capital 10-year plan, which will be updated annually from now one, and the plans for revenue to ensure we can cover everything on the stand-still basis we’ve been told we must. Accruals raise their heads again here (theme of the week?) as we clearly have to meet any accrual commitments in next year’s revenue and need to be sure what these are.

Then off to prepare for the web chat. It’s only the 2nd time I’ve ever done one of these and they feel a little manic at the time. There seemed to be a good few people in the ‘room’ (around 90+ at the peak I believe) and I got lots of questions. In fact, it was hard to keep up sometimes as people may have been able to tell if they were watching. Whilst it was only an hour, there were plenty of questions and there were no real quiet moments. From the few comments I’ve had afterwards, people seemed to generally find it a useful session.

Then off to Leeds for the YHMAN Board meeting. Made a nice change to be looking at someone else’s budget to date/variance information. Some discussion about meetings with suppliers, and with Janet UK, and about how to take forward a key project.

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Meetings meetings everywhere…

And not a spot to think.

Back to back meetings, mostly relating to business planning and/or budgets today. With the deadline for annual planning fast approaching, the IS&T Management Team were meeting to discuss the near-final draft of the revenue and capital plan.

The revenue planning this time around was made more challenging in that we have been asked to plan for a stand-still budget – that is, that we will get the same as we got this year with no allowances for inflation or other cost increases. That’s been challenging in terms of finding ways to absorb the very real increases we know we will have, either because suppliers (and inflation) do increase costs, or because we may now be incurring revenue costs from previous capital expenditure, for example in paying maintenance for hardware bought last year.

A related challenge for our revenue planning has been in how Finance accounts for revenue purchases that have a specific time or life, such as annual or multi-year maintenance agreements. Finance accrue (that is, simplified, carry over) part of the costs of such items where the benefit is across more than one financial year. For example, if we buy a one year maintenance licence for some software in March, the benefit runs March to February and therefore the cost is split between the current financial year and the next (a split of 4 months plus 8 months perhaps). [With apologies to any accountants I may offend with my limited and no doubt overly-simplified, possibly even not completely correct, explanation - I am still getting my head around this]

If that paragraph above made your head hurt, imagine trying to identify your actual costs and any real savings you hope to make from not paying for something when you’re not entirely sure what is being accrued where.

With help from our colleagues in Management Accounts we will resolve that but I think it shows how complex budget planning sometimes is – a lot more than simply writing a list of things we want to purchase.

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