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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