IT Strategy – The “Personal Environment”

In February 2012 we prepared a revised IT Strategy for the University, and since then we have been consulting with Schools, Departments and Students. It has still to be formally approved, but it has been well received and I’d like to start sharing it more openly. I’ve put a copy here if you want to look at the whole thing, but I thought I would do a few blog entries on specific topics. The strategy is based on 3 “drivers” – (i) The University’s strategy “A Clear Future” and key priorities from that (ii) External public sector drivers and (iii) technology drivers. From these, we have defined 4 key areas of priority for IT: 

1. The Personal Environment

2. Key Elements of the Service Portfolio

3. Infrastructure

4. Governance

 The “personal environment” is a new concept for us. By this we mean the whole technology environment that our staff and students will directly interact with in their day to day lives. This includes the University provided workstations, services and infrastructure, but also devices owned by our staff and students and the services they run on these. “Consumerisation” of IT means that for many people, their personally owned environment is important to them and they would like to be able to use this at work. So, like many organisations, we will be looking at ways of helping our users to do this, and to do it safely within clear guidelines that protect our information and services. 

We’ll develop a “bring your own device” policy, or “BYOD” as it is referred to. This takes us into some interesting territory – what should the University provide and what should we expect staff and students to provide for themselves? More about that in a future blog, but I am thinking along the lines that for many people if you want to use an iPad or similar, it should really be your own one and our job is to make it as easy as possible for you to connect to our services on it. I say that because inevitably, anyone with an iPad, or Android tablet computer will almost certainly end up using it extensively in their personal lives anyway. However, there will be some situations where a tablet computer might be an essential tool and we’ll have to look at a University provision to some extent. Your views are welcome! 

As well as personal devices, there are personal services. Staff and students are using facilities such as Dropbox, Google Apps, Evernote and many other widely available facilities. We don’t want to ban their use – the opposite in fact, but there are some important issues to think through and we will be issuing guidance on these – probably along the following lines: 

  • Personal data should never be stored in these services no matter how secure they appear. This might break the law and expose you and/or the University to penalties; 
  • We should not use these services to deliver facilities that duplicate what the University provides – that should be unnecessary and will confuse our staff and students; 
  • Important University documents, records and other information resources should always be kept on University provided storage where they are secure; 
  • But if you want to use these services for your own work or study that’s fine.


Feedback from Students

We had a great meeting with some student representatives last week over coke and pizza to get their feedback on the draft of a new IT Strategy, and I thought I’d share some of their feedback. We covered a lot of ground so I’ve picked out some key areas – if I haven’t mentioned something below, don’t worry – I haven’t forgotten!

We discussed the role of mobile devices – iPads and Android tablet computers and how these might be used by students in the future. Everybody seemed to agree these were great for accessing and checking information and services off Campus or on the move, and that their use would grow. There was some caution that we should not “force” the use of tablets but take advantage of them as they become more widespread in the student population. 

Wireless printing was in high demand – we are working on that and plan to make that available from this Summer – students will be able to print from their laptops and mobile devices. They asked if we could also make it easier for them to use the University photocopier fleet for scanning – we’ll look at that. There was also a strong request to expand the wireless coverage across the Campus – that’s on the forward plan. 

Students are frustrated at some people “hogging” University workstations for lengthy periods – one idea we discussed is to provide some workstations as “hot desks” with a time limit of 15 minutes – perhaps standing room only to discourage anything longer. 

Students get too many e-mails from the University – this has been raised elsewhere and we are looking at how to cut this down. IT Services are using Twitter wherever possible – we’ve had good feedback on this. We will also look at the new Student Portal as a better way to push out important messages. 

Some people felt that our “web blocking” was too restrictive – they recognise that some controls have to be in place for objectionable material, but our current controls seem to be too restrictive – we’ll look at that. 

We talked about how we can do better to communicate with students and help with training on use of our software and services. There was an offer to get students more involved in providing some of this training and help. We’ve done that before and it worked well, so we’ll follow up on that one. 

We did acknowledge some frustrations – slow performance and logins in some areas, web browsers out of date, some out of order PC’s and printers to be fixed more quickly. These issues were also raised in some other student feedback sessions recently so we’re on the case. 

Finally, it was a good discussion – we all enjoyed it, hope the student reps did as well, and look forward to doing this again.

Unified Communication – bringing it together

As part of the refurbishment of the University Estate, we are replacing the University telephone system.

The first task, which we will do over the summer this year, will be to concentrate on the basics – just the new telephone system. Those of you who already have one of the new phones will notice little difference, those with older phones will get a new phone and immediately some better features on call forwarding, voicemail etc. You will also be able to use software phones to access the University phone system when you are on the move or at home. Behind the scenes, we will be installing the equipment to run the new system which incidentally will also make our whole system more resilient as part of our disaster recovery plans.

Once this is installed this system can become the hub for allowing much greater video communication, internally and externally. It will be possible to run video links from your desktop, iPad, iPhone or Android and link to Skype. We will equip a range of meeting and teaching rooms with video conferencing ability. A key aim is to make it easy for you to start a video link by looking up somebody from the Outlook address book. The equipment in the main video conferencing room in the Faculty of Health and Social care will also be upgraded. 

We will also be integrating Outlook with the new system. You will be able to pick up your voicemail messages directly from Outlook. We will also be deploying an instant messaging system. More about that nearer the time, but very simply it allows you to see instantly if someone is available and fire off a quick message or start a phone call. It keeps email traffic down, and avoids you wasting time phoning someone if they are not available. 

All this represents quite a big change in the ways in which we can communicate, and other organisations which have adopted this have welcomed the flexibility that this brings. We’ll send out more information nearer the time as we are ready to start making this available for use.