Back after a while away

I’d kind of forgotten about this blog and although still affiliated to IT Services, my IT duties in Oxford University are now as Director of MSD IT Services within the Medical Sciences Division.

Here is the current team.

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UAS Conference

The_Mathematical_Institute_at_Oxford_UniversityI attended one of the series of conferences that the University Administration and Services (UAS) division of our University puts on three times per year today.  The event was at the Andrew Wiles Building, Mathematical Institute, a great venue for conferences.

The UAS conference is a chance for members of Oxford University, particularly those in administrative and support roles to get together, learn from each other, engage in netowkring and generally galvanise for Michaelmas term ahead.  The event is organised by UAS Communications and I think they did a pretty good job this year.

The opening plenary session was by Sir Jonathan Phillips, Warden of Keble College.  He spoke about leadership in large and complex organisations and focused on four aspects – Communication, Ambiguity, Resilience and People.  CARP was the acronym Jonathan taught us and he reminded us to beware of others for this particular four-letter combination!  My take-away point were that:

  1.  It is important for leaders regularly to take time to visit their workforce in person and explain their thinking, vision and plans to them.  Failure to communicate early, regularly and clearly from the start of any process or change risks a catastrophic loss of trust.  Be visible and present, regularly. It will pay huge dividends. Engage with people both together and individually.
  2. The front line (in our case – academics delivering research and teaching) are rarely enthusiastic about administrative support.  I think that includes IT.
  3. Your own intention is always obvious to you, but if you fail to communicate it to others and ensure they have understood you risk loss of trust and confidence.
  4. Ambiguity is not always bad.  Perception of ambiguity can be negative but it is sometimes much better than being perceived as having not made a decision at all.
  5. Leaders must remain resilient and optimistic even in the face of awful knocks and events that make progress look impossible.  It’s important for leaders to look after themselves in this respect so they can show that resilience.  A leader’s glass should always be half-full, never half-empty!
  6. Your co-workers may share your ambition and enthusiasm but may not.  You need to recognise which is which and work with each in appropriately different styles.
  7. Set clear goals, communicate well, create climate of trust and respect. Set boundaries and thresholds and stick to them.
  8. Difficult conversations (about performance, behaviour) etc. become more difficult the longer you leave them.
  9. Top performance is only achieved by a people-centric and consistent leadership style.

After a brief break my next session was about website redesign, given by Mikal Ann Mast, PR and Comms Officer at COMPAS.  It was a short session but showed some of the good work COMPAS is doing with its website.  It was a good reminder that lots of time and effort must be put into thinking about and optimising every stage of the user journey when redesigning a website.  Use of mobile phones and tablet devices is growing more and more to access websites so it is more important than ever that designs are responsive, look nice and work well on any size and type of web browser.  It’s also interesting to note that people often visit academic departments’ websites to find specific people – so COMPAS is trying highlight them and use their locations on the site cleverly to direct browsing.

My next session was given by Anne Currie of the Blavatnik School of Government and gave a fascinating insight into the Master of Public Policy Programme’s summer placement scheme.  It was an eye opener to realise how much work goes into making such schemes work and it was good to hear how much those offering placements value the students that are placed with them.  The placements are like having a skilled consultant in to work on a specific issue, rather than just being work experience opportunities.


A longer break enabled a bit more networking and was augmented by the welcome addition of popcorn to the other refreshments.


My next session was about working effectively and efficiently by understanding the University’s performance objectives and being able to measure them.  It was given by Loren Griffith, from International Strategy; and Helen Watson and Pamela Flood from Planning and Resource Allocation.  My take-away was that while Oxford is leading the world in its research and teaching, it is not necessarily doing so with its monitoring and continuous improvement.  Being the best is not necessarily as good as being the best we can be.  Networking, communications and interdiscipliniarity are important to measure and it was good to hear that University is striving to achieve more college affiliation for research-only staff and encouraging interdisciplinary centres in colleges.

I took a break from the conference for lunch as the Maths Café was very busy and I needed to pop back to the office to keep on top of day to day operations.

After lunch my first session was an extremely informative talk about the coming changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme and it was a bit depressing to hear about the end of being able to accrue final salary rights and various other technicalities that those of us who are mid-career will have far less comfortable retirements than our colleagues coming to the end of theirs.  It will be even worse for our early-career colleagues though.  I was impressed at the openness and the knowledgeability of the presenter, Alan Cunningham from the Pensions Office.

I delivered a session in the next slot and share some of my gathered experience of many meetings in many contexts, hoping to enable people to organise, run and chair better meetings in the future.  I considered things people often overlook right from initial planning to pre-meetings, chairing, follow-up and minutes.  My take away was that if you plan carefully to optimise time use then people will respect you for not wasting their time and will come to more of your meetings in the future.

After a teabreak, at which I sadly missed the warm cookies, I went to an interesting session by Rebecca Horley from Estates Services about the new Town Planner role that she has recently taken up in that department.  It was good to hear how it aims to help the University take a more holistic view on the built environment and how the expenses, time-scales, political and social impacts, and risks of the Planning Application process will affect the Estates Services Master Plan for ongoing developments to enable the university to continue to grow, fulfil its core mission and retain its world-leading status.  It was also good to hear about the Headington Neighbourhood Plan and how it is leading the way in Oxford and working well with the University, with careful input from Rebecca.

chest2_smallMy final session was an enjoyable and brief whistle-stop tour of the history of Finance in Oxford University, given able by Rob Williams, Deputy Director of Finance in the Finance Division.  Did you know that the University Chest is where the finances all started and that the Chest of the Five Keys is one of the earliest examples of financial operations needing shared responsibly for reasons of probity, or that the Proctors were caught fiddling the books in the 16th Century?!

The day rounded off with a reception where it was good to have conversations with colleagues from around the University who I don’t see on a day to day basis.  The value of Networking can never be underestimated in a large and complex organisation like Oxford so I’m hugely grateful to UAS Communications, particularly Tara and Susannah for making this event happen and happen so effectively.

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UCISA Support Services Conference

Last week I attended the 2014 UCISA Support Services Conference.    The conference was chaired by Sally Bogg of Leeds University and ably supported by the UCISA admin team.  The event was at Crewe Hall, an excellent venue for conferencing with first-class facilities, great food and good accommodation.  We even had functional eduroam networking for the vast majority of the time.  If you like twitter then you can get a really good feel for the conference on #ussc14  There was also a conference “wall” set up on padlet which also worked rather well as a free-form way to share views, links, pictures and more.   It was good to see people putting links on it that were mentioned in talks.

cabaretDay 1

We kicked off with registration and lunch at the exhibition.  This year’s exhibitors/sponsors where Bomgar, Cherwell Software,  Fuse Collaboration, FrontRange, Lenovo, RMS, Sonic Foundry and TOPdesk and all are grateful for their continued support that makes the conference possible.

bluntThe plenaries started with a welcome from John Cartwright, the chair of UCISA and was followed by an inspiring talk from Carolyn Blunt of Real Results Training about how everyone is now in customer service.  There were some really good points made about how good customer service is everyone’s responsibility in any organisation and how that culture needs to be properly embedded in any organisation.  Amen to that!  Good customer service in the 21st Century is really a game-changer when customers can so easily broadcast their experiences and views about you on social media!  The slide to the right is Carolyn’s and used with her permission.

After each plenary we had a “lightning strike”, which is just a 5 minute gap to allow those around each table to discuss important points they had noted during the session and to query anything with each other that needed clarification or thought.  I like the “Cabaret” layout of these events as it does encourage delegates to interact more than if they were in a “theatre”-style arrangement.  It has the disadvantage of taking up more space though so I’m not sure it would work for the 400 we have at the Oxford ICT Forum Conference!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the afternoon we moved into group “discussions with a difference”.   I had the pleasure of chairing the one about managing customer expectation.  I had a group of around 40-50 people and I was so pleased that everyone contributed to the discussion.  I think the point that stuck most in my mind was the person who said that their (outsourced) out of hours support provision was so good that it had over-inflated expectation from customers on the working hours support provision and that some expectation management had needed doing. The other discussions with a difference were:  BYOD, Metrics and measurements; and Service Portfolio

We moved on then to a session jointly with FrontRange as a supplier and John Ireland, Director of Customer Services from Oxford University’s IT Services, talking about the service desk consolidation project (You should read its blog – very interesting) in Oxford and how it is working out as a partnership between Oxford University and Front Range.

Following a presentation about innovation, ideas and engagement from the University of Surrey we moved on to the Pecha-Kucha 20×20 session where each speaker had 20 slides and 20 seconds to speak on each one.  The sessions were:

  • Times they are a-changing, Jim Higham, University of Kent
  • How to buy service management software, Martin Putwain, Manchester Metropolitan
  • The challenges of federated staff development, Paul Mazumdar, University of Cambridge
  • Incident management for distributed staff, John Ireland, University of Oxford
  • Good communication and assertiveness, Tony Brett, University of Oxford
  • My way, Chris Sexton, University of Sheffield

I thought they were all excellent and particularly enjoyed the recorded one by Paul Mazumdar from Cambridge.

Our evening entertainment was a Barbecue, followed by a “family fortunes” style quiz very ably run by Chris Dixon and Kath Murray from the UCISA Support Services Group.  The questions were all about IT matters so it was both fun and relevant.

Day 2

Our second day started with a presentation from The University of St Andrews about continuous service improvement and was followed by a really interesting and useful session from Dean Phillips of the University of Aberdeen about Business Relationship Management.  There was a lot there for me to learn from and build on in Oxford and it certainly has encouraged me to do so.

Following another lightning strike and a coffee break we moved on to a panel session exploring what a successful relationship looks like.  I liked the comment that a successful relationship is one that both sides want to stay in voluntarily.  The panel members were (listed left to right below):


  • Rhys Davies − IT Director, University of Leeds
  • Barclay Rae – Independent IT Service Management Consultant
  • Kayode Damali − Vice-President of Cheshire, Manchester Metropolitan University Students’ Union
  • Sandra Whittleston − Senior Lecturer in ITSM, University of Northampton
  • Phil Range − Director of LRIS, Manchester Metropolitan University

I personally found it extremely useful to have a student on the panel to give the all-important student perspective that we long-time professionals so often forget to take into account.  I love how students give views without baggage and without politics and help us make clear decisions about how to improve their experience at University based on direct evidence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe repeated the discussions with a difference after lunch and then moved onto another excellent session about One IT from Rhys Davies at the University of Leeds – Rhys talked well and clearly about creating an integrated approach to the delivery of information and technology.  Good tips were that service is a journey and that the best service comes from those continually challenging themselves.  I really like the slide on the right here and love Rhys’ excellent representations of IT Strategy he uses at Leeds Uni.

flowAnother lightning strike was followed by a talk about gamification and about it can improve productivity and learning by keeping things fun for those involved.  I found the comments about good work flowing when challenge and skill are well-balanced very interesting.

Following a lightning strike and another break we moved onto another supplier showcase from Bomgar and Cardiff University about Improving the customer experience with remote support + chat.  Again there was some really useful material here that we could learn from and implement in Oxford to the great advantage of our customer service offering.

The final session of the afternoon I’m afraid was rather too heavy for me (and about half the delegates).  I felt sorry for the speaker but just had no more headspace or energy to engage with Potential, passion, purpose and people; establishing utility and warranty for service collaboration.  I hope that that did found it useful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe conference dinner was provided by Crewe Hall and was an excellent meal.  I hugely enjoyed sitting with people from other Universities and getting to know them a bit better.  I think our table probably would have won the laughter award if there had been one too!  The after dinner speaker was actually more of a singer than a speaker, being  Mitch Benn of “The Now Show” fame.  He was very funny and clearly had researched his IT people well before coming.

Day 3

Friday’s sessions started at a respectably late time of 10am, which was very welcome after an excellent conference dinner and much useful networking into the small hours.  The first sessions was by Sally Bogg, the conference chair, and it gave us many reasons to think about why we all need to love our service desks.  There was some helpful presentation of the results of a recent UK service desks benchmarking exercise.  Sally spoke really knowledgeably about her material and that was most helpful.

Next up was a presentation from a member of Glasgow Caledonian University Students’ Association talking about how student input can be useful in helping IT providers to help students better with their IT needs.  I have to say I found the presentation and session a little presumptive of things being perhaps worse than they actually are  but it was nonetheless useful to hear another student view.


After a lightning strike we moved on to the last plenary of the conference, a fascinating session from Jonathan Munn, who in his early twenties had decided to live with only 100 things (including items of clothing) and how it had changed his life and refreshed his outlook on the world.  I think there was something in the talk for everyone to learn and it was certainly an eye-opening way to finish off the conference presentations.  It made the audience smile too, as you can see!

Nici Cooper from Wolverhampton University followed this with a very expertly-delivered summary of all the excellent material that had been discussed and input at the discussions with a difference

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final part of proceedings was the general thanks given by the chair of SSG, James Woodward.  I narrowly missed the top tweeter award but as I said, was delighted to win the best Pecha Kucha award.  The best newcomer award went to a new acquaintance, Mark Jacot, IT leader at the Open University (with whom I hope to work much more in the future) and Alex Szymanski from Manchester University very much deserved the lifetime achievement award that he won after many years of service to UCISA, UCISA events and to the Support Services Group.  Mark, me and Alex are pictured with our Nemo awards – nobody told us to stand in height order 🙂

I say it often but I really can’t recommend these types of event enough.  I see far too many colleagues saying that they are too busy to attend such things but really, it is three days out of many and a fantastic opportunity to learn from and bounce ideas off colleagues in other Universities and to get to know suppliers.  I always learn a huge amount at these events and come away inspired and energised.  I reckon the three days it costs to do that are very easily made up in increased productivity over a very short time.  Why not go to the next one yourself?

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Inaugural meeting of the College IT Managers Committee

Colleges IT ManagersFollowing a rearrangement of how IT is included within the Conference of Colleges a number of new committees have been formed. As Head of IT Support Staff Services I am invited to this, and to the Colleges IT Strategy Committee.

We started with a welcome – Simon Mortimore (Exeter) as chair welcomed everyone and explained the role and structure of the CITMC. Christopher Hoskin (St Antony’s)  then led us through a discussion of groups represented within CITMC, partly by getting everyone present to introduce themselves and say what committees and project boards/groups they were on.  In my ITS3 role I have worked hard to get College IT staff on the boards of important IT Services projects.  Those present were also on groups such as the Divisional Software Licensing Group and the Network Advisory Group.

Simon Thomson (Pembroke) then gave us an update on the Integrated Communications Project.  It was useful to hear about the plans, what network requirements will be, how soft clients will be usable, and how there will be some parallel running with the current analogue system.  There was discussion about support for the current Cisco kit and investment at this stage of the project.

Next Christopher Thompson (New & Balliol) gave an update on Tribal:SITS for Colleges, the Student Systems Replacement Project.  It was good to note the Mark Dyson (LMH & New) is working with the project to ensure that interfaces to college systems are appropriately provisioned.

Simon Mortimore (Exeter) then spoke about College Sittings  of University Examinations.  This happens in special cases where Proctorial dispensation has been given for a student with special needs to sit an exam on a computer and in college.  There was a very sensible proposal to work closely with exam schools so that the IT experience of those sitting exams using computers in colleges is consistent with the experience of those sitting exams using computers in the exam schools.

Chris Bamber (Somerville) then talked about opening SSO Authentication for authenticating to Wireless Access Points.  At the moment this is possible via central radius (from IT Services) and he is asking for a central radius server that uses SSO credentials.  It is possible to do this on a per-college basis but has security issues.   The CITMC will formally ask its NAG reps to take this to next NAG.  There was general support for this, particularly as users are very confused about having a different remote access account and different password.  Agreed to take this to NAG and to IAM if necessary.  Virtually everyone supported this.

Ben Bridle (LMH and St Hugh’s) then updated the meeting on Information Security Policy.  He talked about the online Information Security awareness module.  Ben has done the modules and found them very useful.  You should too:  There are no clear dictats in Oxford as that’s not how our University works so colleges all have to take responsibility for this and deal with it seriously and comprehensively – it is much more than an IT issue!  An information policy is not the same as an IT policy.

Items of Other Business were a talk about NSMS from Brian Hicks (St Peters) and about The Cloud from Simon Thomson (Pembroke).  Brian thanked all college IT Staff for their support while he has been working in colleges and did a bit of a pitch for NSMS service, inviting input and feedback. Simon gave a brief update on “The Cloud” guest/conference access to the internet.  Negotiations are in place and progress is being made.

The meeting then broke off into open discussions and networking.  I was impressed at how well it was organised and how effective it was both at information sharing and decision/recommendation-making.

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Winning the War on Windows XP

tombThis post is to tell the wider community what an amazing job the project team in IT Services here in Oxford have been doing on Windows 7 migrations.  I suspect Oxford is not alone in being very complex and having myriad 16-bit applications that people were running on Windows XP as well as all sorts of complex drivers and critical dependencies that were put in and never documented by staff who left the University years ago.

We’ve spent a huge amount of time consulting and planning the move to Windows 7 for the Bodleian Libraries’ staff and the Central “University Administration and Services” division of our University.  oai This included a lot of thinking about and planning what we would do with the myriad apps and versions floating around.  A few weeks ago we finally kicked off phase 1 of the work, having decided to categorise people into green, amber or red where green means they only use standard apps, amber means there is some work to do to deploy other apps and red means delivering what is needed will be a real nightmare!  We had an excellent team of technicians and floors-walkers as well as fantastic back-end project management, communications and administration keeping things flowing and keeping the reports coming.  I am also impressed at the work our servers and deployments experts did as well as all the quick and efficient application packaging that emerged as necessary as we went along.   One of my favourite parts of the new set up is the very ingenious Oxford Applications Installer that allows users to self-service deploy lots of applications that they might need but means that systems are not unnecessarily over-complex for individuals.

The project team chose to spend four weeks doing upgrades intensively, mostly on the green category computers, Monday-Thursday and then using Fridays to mop up issues.   This period has now come to an end. At risk of boring you with stats I am delighted to say that 1204 computers (an average of 75 per day) have been upgraded to Windows 7, including 82 laptops.  200 new machines have been deployed and this has all been done by four engineers and two floor-walkers.  I think that’s pretty impressive stuff!


I am told that  some of the most satisfying aspects of this work have been the help and cooperation given to engineers on the ground in enabling the team to upgrade so many PCs in such a short space of time,  the general appreciation shown by users for what is being done despite them being busy with their day to day jobs and that they have told the team they like Windows 7.  It was good that users were so patient with initial teething problems too.

The challenges have been getting the latest versions of additional applications upgraded on Windows 7 PCs, but the team has implemented a good process that works and the Oxford Applications Installer helps a lot.  The work of deploying apps is speeding up and will improve further as they move into the next phase.  The team’s knowledge of new applications and their deployment is increasing all the time. Identifying and finding shared PCs has also improved as the project has progressed and processes have been defined. Helpful and willing feedback from users has been invaluable in all this work.


I attended a celebratory staff meeting and lunch yesterday where Maggie Howe, the head of the User Support Team, presented some award certificates and made a great speech thanking everyone for their hard work.  I think everyone enjoyed the lunch and the chance to reflect on and celebrate such a fantastic amount of progress in such a short time.

I think this work is a wonderful achievement and it makes me very proud to be one of the managers in the Customer Services Group in IT Services.

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Oxbridge College IT Management Conference 2014

IMG_20140321_071556It’s been a long time since I have posted here so I thought I’d tell you about the excellent conference I attended last month.  It was the annual get-together of Oxford and Cambridge College IT Staff and was a great success as ever.  Our venue was the Tower of London and it included a tour of the site including the Crown Jewels and the day was rounded off with a very good dinner at the Tower Hotel.  Oxford College IT Staff plus hangers-on like me all left central Oxford in a coach at 7.10am!

The day was kicked off with a fascinating plenary talk from Andy Harter, the CEO of RealVNC.  He gave us a fascinating run down of the history of what started as a simple piece of code in Cambridge to enable people share each other’s screens over coffee so they could collaborate on computing work.

VNC started internal use 1994 and became open source and cross platform in 1998.  The RealVNC company was founded in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength.  I didn’t know that VNC is used very extensively in medical equipment both for remote repair and routine maintenance as well as for remote diagnosis for patients.  VNC is also the technology embedded in i5 and i7 processors for remote management and mobile phone networks are starting to use it in handsets – this has resulted in a huge drop in the return rate of “defective” handsets by just helping user problems.  Facebook and RealVNC integration is interesting.  Most non-work IT Support comes from friends and family and these are of course connected on facebook.  Deskhop is starting to spread and is free, powered by VNC.  Have a look in the Facebook app centre!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My next session was a fascinating outline from Brian Hicks and Richard Carpenter of St. Peter’s College Oxford showing us how they have deployed Microsoft 365 in many parts of the college both for staff and students.  The provided a very honest and in-depth explanation of what had worked well and what had not.  They are clearly impressed with a lot of the cloud provision but it’s clear that the Skydrive Pro product is a long way behind its competitors like Dropbox and Google drive.  Advice to use SSDs in workstations was also given as it makes them much, much faster and more responsive when dealing with Microsoft cloud provision

tolFollowing this was a fascinating session from James Davis of Janet CSIRT about the Dark Web.  I can’t tell you too much about this as I’d have to shoot you but I can say that he gave a useful overview of the TOR network and some of the more sinister ways things like crypto-currencies (e.g Bitcoin) and other anonymising technologies are used.  There was also a rather strong “Don’t try anything illegal at home” warning!

It was good that there was plenty of time for networking, catching up with old friends and speaking to the exhibitors over lunch.  After lunch and the tours of the Tower of London we moved on to more sessions.  My next was one with James Dore of New College Oxford telling us about his work with Thinstation and how he had got lots more life out of old computers by using them as dumb terminals.  it’s amazing what a new keyboard, mouse and monitor can do to make a PC in a student computer room look new again!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy final session was one given by me about communication and assertiveness in the workplace.  I talked about the importance of clear and concise written communication and about the need to use appropriate language both in written and spoken communication.  We looked a bit about assertiveness as a balance between aggressive over-emphasis of our own needs and passive over-emphasis of others’ needs.  Finally we looked at how things can easily go wrong in emails and how email is not always the best way to have a difficult conversation.  I was grateful to Hannah Boschen of the Oxford Learning Institute for letting me use some of her material about assertiveness during this talk.

We finished the evening with a nice meal at the Tower Hotel followed by a great talk by Dr Russ Strand from the United Kingdom Rocketry Association about amateur rocketry and a somewhat messy coach journey back to Oxford!

This conference is definitely one of the highlights of the year for me as Cambridge is a very similar University to Oxford so there is a really good amount of sharing of excellent ideas.

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ICT Forum Conference 2013

Today was the annual ICT Forum conference for Oxford’s IT Staff with some from Cambridge, and a few others too.  It was held at the Kassam Stadium as usual and started with an introduction from Anne Trefethen, our CIO, reminding people how far the IT Services formation had come in the last year and expressing her gratitude for all that Oxford’s distributed IT Staff do for the University in delivering a coherent and joined up service.  I was touched that she thanked my team, ITS3, for all we do too.  It is really good that IT Services is continuing to support the ICTF conference by allowing lots of resources (not least ITS3’s time) to be put towards it.  It must be remembered that the ICTF Conference Committee also does a huge amount of work to make the conference happen, particularly its leader Sarah Lawson.

Following the introduction we heard two plenaries, one about a robotic car by Prof Paul Newman and one about cyber security and insider threats, by Prof Sadie Creese.  We had the usual 24 workshops running in four parallel sessions of six and there were some fascinating topics and a great variety of technical and less technical subjects.  Five were by Cambridge people and we had an IT director (Séan Duffy) from Birmingham talking about informations security as well as James Davis from Janet CSIRT on evidence-based security.  Following all that we normally have a plenary session but this year opted to get everyone together in the last hour for a Pecha-Kucha session.  The format is that each speaker has 20 slides to talk about their topic and each slide lasts 20 seconds so the talk is over in 400 seconds, i.e. 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  I was really delighted that 9 people came forward to give sessions and that they all went extremely well with people rising incredibly well to the challenge.  They were so good that I list them all here, note also the gratuitous cupcakes picture, another new innovation for this year.

Pecha Kucha
20 slides, 20 seconds each. The Pecha Kucha format ensures a fast moving and invigorating pace as we take a brief look at:

  • Tom Anstey: One year in – where are we with information security?
  • Carl Marshall: Rapidly developing a secure data collection environment.
  • Penny Schenk: Using Creative Commons images.
  • Lyn Waddington: eSSO and other IAM developments. The current IAM strategy and the road map and projects for the next three years.
  • Jeremy Rowntree: A novel remote live lecture broadcast technique.
  • David King: Building the new mobile Oxford.
  • Sarah Lawson: Stuffing your Digital Safe.
  • Peter Smith: Using telecommunications data to fight crime legally and effectively.
  • Mark Duller: OpenBSD Desktop: More than a firewall, OpenBSD as a secure Desktop.

Pecha Kucha is a real joy at the end of the day as it completely re-invigorates everyone and gets a huge amount of information across in a very short time.

Following announcement of the ICTF election results by me (Riaz Khimji – IT Services, and Ross Wackett – Linacre College, were elected) and general thanks by Jeremy Worth, the ICTF chair, we moved out to the football stadium for another group photo (as we did last year) and then there was the pre-dinner drinks reception.  It would be fair to say the Kassam Stadium staff did a quick and efficient job of turning round the main plenary session room and turning it into a dining room this year.  Dinner was good and served efficiently.  Our after-dinner speaker this year was Tomasz Schafernaker – BBC weatherman and meteorologist.  He shared some interesting anecdotes and facts about the new BBC centre on Oxford Street.  He kindly drew the prize draw for us  to round off the evening.  This year’s prize draw money is going to Sobell House, an Oxford hospice for adults.

The could-do-better points of the day for me were the lunch – it’s very hard to get that right for so many people but the food was not great (soggy rolls) and it was not ready when it should have been. That isn’t good when 300+ people are waiting.  The other problem was the Wi-Fi – last year the issue was lack of address space and that was fixed this year but the underlying network was just not coping properly with so many people even though we’d made it clear that it needed to cater for 500 concurrent users.  Many people however experienced not being able to connect at all and those that could connect were experiencing slow connections with regular drop-out.  This is not the service I want to be delivering to Oxford and Cambridge’s  IT Staff.  I hope we can use eduroam next year.

There were around 330 delegates and six companies sponsored the event and had exhibition stands – they were Dell, Nouveau Solutions, CAE, Misco, Khipu and OCF.  I am very grateful to all of the sponsors because the event wouldn’t be able to happen without them.  Do visit their sites and have look – they’ll love us if you do!

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UCISA Support Services Group Meeting

We met today at Liverpool John Moores University and had another productive meeting. Attendance was good and I’m pleased that we now have a vice chair in Mandy Phillips, from Liverpool John Moores University, our host for today, as James (chair) is a busy man and can’t always get to meetings. SSG had mistakenly believed that UCISA had a policy that deputies are not allowed to attend UCISA Executive meetings if their chairs cannot attend.  This has turned out not to be the case, which is great  as chairs are normally busy people with busy jobs and busy lives, often with children to look after particularly in school holidays.  Mandy will be able to go to Exec meetings if James is unavailable.

We had a good look at the SSG engagement plan and did some tweaking of it as well as assigning tasks to individual committee members or groups of committee members. The principal aims of the engagement plan are to create physical and virtual communities of networking and collaboration, to organise events to encourage networking across member institutions and companies, to showcase and integrate the use of technologies including social media for better communications and networking and to stimulate the whole UCISA community to think about and respond to shared issues in a participative way. We considered lots of practical ways in which we would do that, and I was charged with having a look at the SSG web pages on the UCISA site with a small group to see how they could be improved and I will also take on responsibility for a new SSG blog on the UCISA site as well as forming a rota of SSG members to contribute to it so we have weekly posts about items of interest. That’s the hope, anyway!

After this we had a good look through the upcoming Support Services Conference which is taking place this year in Edinburgh under the capable chairmanship of my friend and colleague Steve Gough, Assistant Director (Customer Services) at the University of Reading. The conference is shaping up to be another excellent UCISA event with some great speakers lined up and plenty of opportunities for delegates to network with like-minded colleagues from other UK Universities and to contribute to the conference themselves. If you’ve not been before I’ll really encourage you to give it a try. It’s great value at £395 for two night’s accommodation, one full and two half days of networking and learning that could really change the way you work, increase your value to your University and do wonders for your own personal development. There is lots more about the conference, including booking information, on the UCISA website.

Learning and Resource CentreAfter a lovely cold buffet lunch (thanks Liverpool JMU!) we had a tour of some facilities at this University. I was impressed by the Aldham Roberts Learning and Resource Centre – particularly the displays of how many student PCs are available at any given time, the self-service laptop loan scheme and the hours of availability of that (9am-10.45pm Mon-Fri and 10am-7.45pm at the weekend).

In the afternoon we talked more about the upcoming conference making sure roles were filled and that we knew how organisation would happen. It promises to be an exciting event although I’m afraid I probably won’t be able to attend as it is just before our Oxford ICT Forum Conference and I’ve already been to the UCISA management conference this year. It seems only fair to step aside so one or more others from our Customer Services Group can attend the conference.
We had a brief update from the Executive committee and then set the date of our next meeting as 5th September 2013 when we will meet in Leeds.

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UCISA 2013 Conference day 3 – Our Future

Today started with a presentation about mobile learning in the classroom and student wireless expectations.  Hardly any surprises!  I thought I’d share here also a caricature of me that was done by one of the exhibitors (Salford Software).

Next were two presentations by people from the Department for Work and Pensions, one about Idea Street – encouraging a culture of change, and the other about “digital by default” transformation of public sector services of UK government.

After coffee a presentation from BBC research about what technology should be looking HE’s IT professionals should be looking out for was very informative.

The final presentation was a really inspiring round-off to the conference by Mark Ormrod, an ex-Royal Marine who has the dubious honour of being the first triple amputee from the Afghanistan conflict.  He told a moving story of recovery from the most incredible knock backs in like and of sheer determination to prove the surgeons wrong and walk again after losing both legs and an arm.  It was great to hear such honest talk about how achievements that seem really massive can be made if they are tackled as more approachable sets of goals.  I think the audience was genuinely moved.

The UCISA 2013 conference was again a good event with lots of things to learn, experiences to share and suppliers to catch up with in the exhibition.  For me it was a little marred by very poor WiFi both in the conference venue (the BT Convention Centre) and in the Hotel (poor in the sense that it was not free and very expensive).  A few people said to me they wished UCISA spent less on expensive hotels, expensive food and expensive wine and rather more on basic facilities for IT professionals of which decent WiF must be one!  In these days of financial cuts and redundancies as well as very high tuition fees I think the time has come to question whether this conference really does need to use a four start hotel.  Many other academic sector conferences manage perfectly well using student accommodation.

All that said though, I want to thank the UCISA team and the Conference Committee for all their hard work in making the event happen. As an organiser of a slightly larger, if shorter, conference in Oxford I know how much work it entails even just for one day!

You can read lots more from UCISA about the conference at and there are links to videos of the plenary presentations.

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UCISA 2013 Conference day 2 – Our Service

Today started with an excellent presentation about students as producers and partners as well as customers.  It was given by the student engagement officer in the University of Lincoln and I was interested to hear that the student engagement function is part of the Vice Chancellor’s office there rather than being in student admissions or anywhere else.  I think the engagement work really enables students to realise maximum value out of their time at University and also enables a much richer and beneficial experience for the University with the students.

We moved on then to another offering from Sheffield with an on stage discussion between the Chief Financial Officer and the IT Director.  It was interesting to hear a plain-speaking CFO make so much sense about how money works in our sector and how it enables IT.

After coffee we had a talk from the British Computer Society which was frankly little more than a sales pitch although it did give a useful reminder of the SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age) materials that are available for use through the BCS.

The last talk before lunch was a fascinating insight from the CEO of Harvey Nash management consultants about how to transfer from being an IT Director to a CFO.  Comments about how skills of articulation and anticipation are more important than ever were useful.

After lunch in the exhibition we moved onto a good presentation from the University of Birmingham about redesigning learning spaces.  There were some amusing picture of the old spaces (which I have to say look like today’s secondary schools!) and some innovative ideas in the new ones.  It was interesting to hear how sizes and hence capacities of the distinct spaces were different but that they all had the same IT and AV facilities so lecturers didn’t have to think about which room they were going to be teaching in.

We moved on then to the supplier showcases which I think were a little dry.  I heard from Meru networks about high density wireless and the emerging 802.1ac protocol as well as hearing IBM talking about optimising the student experience by personalising it using harvested social media information.  There was some debate about whether this was cutting edge innovation or just creepy.  The speaker was excellent and full of passion, however.

Next was the UCISA AGM which I didn’t bother to attend as I am not an institutional rep so wouldn’t have a vote anyway.  In fact I learned later in the evening that institutions only get two votes each in any case, even if they have the maximum of five reps.

We were picked up from the hotel by buses to take us to the Lutyens Crypt below the Catholic Cathedral “Paddy’s Wigwam” for the conference dinner.  After rather a lot of champagne we were treated to a really lovely meal and I had a fascinating conversation with an old friend about Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the development called MBTI 2 that digs further into temperament and preference.  It was a shame the evening was rather marred by an after dinner speech that some enjoyed but others, including me, found rather inappropriate.  You win some you lose some, I guess.

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