OOPS! – Working from Home

There is a cracking article in a recent edition of “The Economist”, which is available online and in which Yahoo’s new Chief Executive, Marissa Mayer, appears to be driving Yahoo employees to come in to the office unless they have a very good reason to work from home. The memo from the Human Resources Manager is addressed to “Yahoos”. If you are cringing already, read the article!

This is contrary to the direction that most enlightened organisations are travelling in – the ability to work from home or anywhere else off Campus for that matter is increasingly one aspect of a more flexible approach to working life. Of course, there are occasions where face to face contact and participation cannot be easily replaced, but equally there are many activities which can be easily carried out anywhere.  An important aspect of our IT Strategy is to ensure that access to our core IT services can be provided easily to any location, on any device, whilst maintaining security of information and access. A key part of that is the MyApps service, which I have mentioned before and which gives  you access to your University IT resources from anywhere – at work, at home, on the move, on a Pc, on an iPad – even on your phone if you can cope with the small screen size.

The great thing about MyApps is that information and data never leaves the University servers. This is important if you are working from home and relieves you of many responsibilities. Did you know that if you use your personal e-mail account for work then these e-mails are covered by the Freedom of Information Act? Likewise, if you store University documents on your home computer, or take paper documents home, you could be personally liable for any breaches under the data protection act? There are a few things to think about if you are working from home – have a look at the page on the Staff Portal if you want a very comprehensive guide:

We’ve also published an interactive guide to data security for mobile devices under the banner of “OOPS” – “Out Of Protected Spaces” and if you are a member of staff you will already have received that guide in hard copy as well as interactively. We’ve had really good feedback from that – with many people making positive suggestions and asking very relevant questions about particular situations and also requests for additional copies. We did have one person who returned the printed cards with an anonymous note saying “waste of money”. That’s a real disappointment and completely out of step with all the other feedback we have received. Given the amount of press coverage of authorities being fined 6 figure sums of money for data protection breaches, and given the fact that this whole issue is important enough to grab the attention of the University’s Audit Committee, I hope that person has a change of heart on further reflection.

Here is the “OOPS” guide:


Wireless Coverage at RGU

We’ve had a few issues with our wireless network over the past few weeks – apologies for that to our staff and students. Without going into the details, there were a number of unexpected issues with the central controllers and we’ve been in regular contact with the supplier and manufacturer to get these sorted. We still have some background work to do in order to get to the root cause of the issues, but we have an interim solution in place now and the service itself is much more stable for our users. We are, as it happens, shortly going to install a new Wireless Network Infrastructure anyway to meet the requirements of the new Riverside East building down at Garthdee, and to meet the growth in demand for coverage across the whole of the Garthdee Campus.

Use of wireless networks, as we all know, has exploded over the last few years to the point where we increasingly take it for granted that we will have wireless access in many public spaces and places of work. In designing our “Riverside East” new building down at the Garthdee Campus, we were clear from the outset that we wished to see wireless coverage available within the entire building. Our current wireless infrastructure varies across the Campus. When it was first implemented, the intention was to make sure that the key “public” areas were wireless enabled, including the core committee rooms, library and teaching areas. But, it was not designed to be a complete solution – especially in our older buildings it did not at the time make sense to attempt to put wireless coverage into every single room.

Requirements change, however, and with the range of mobile devices in use today complete wireless coverage is now a growing expectation, and we are receiving requests for the wireless service to be extended to areas that currently have poor coverage. As mentioned above, we are starting the process of refreshing our wireless network with the new Riverside East building in the first instance. We need to get that building commissioned as our first priority, but whatever solution we procure for that will be sized so that it can be expanded across to the rest of the Campus.

Installing a wireless network in a large building with thousands of users is a complex task. Wireless signals are broadcast by what we call “wireless access points” – you’ve probably seen them on the wall around the campus. Each access point can only handle a limited number of connections without losing performance, and it must not be too close to another access point using the same radio frequency, and there is a limited number of radio frequencies that by law we are allowed to use. So, we have to position the access points across the building (vertically as well as horizontally) to match what we think the demand will be in each area and configure them so that they don’t interfere with each other. To achieve that, we need to calculate how far each signal will broadcast and that depends on the construction materials used in the building. Early on in the design of the building, we put the CAD drawings through a software programme which calculates how the wireless signal will behave theoretically and we use that to estimate where the access points should go. That is only an approximate guide, however, and once the building is complete engineers have to physically walk through the building to measure the actual signal loss in each area before they can finalise where all the access points should go.

Even having done all of that, there are still some limitations on wireless technology. If you are doing heavy downloads of large files, and particularly if there are a number of people doing that in the same physical location, you may find that the wireless network will slow down – that’s just the laws of physics and how much traffic can be carried across one radio signal in one location. That said, we are looking at newer wireless technologies that will improve performance even in areas of dense use. So, while there might still be some occasions where it is better to “plug in”, for most everyday tasks – email, web browsing, Facebook usage etc the new wireless network will be fine.

What kind of paper should we use in our printers?

Last summer, I wrote a post about our planned print strategy. This is now well underway – most staff areas now have multifunction devices (i.e. MFD’s, i.e. combined photocopiers/printers/scanners) which are networked and which they can now access using the “PrintAtRGU” print queue. Students at the moment use a separate fleet of printers, but largely the same system. Over the summer the University will move to a single fleet of printers for both staff and students – anyone will be able to print to any printer anywhere on the campus. We are just now at the point of looking at how this print fleet will be supported across the organisation.

One issue that has come up is our choice of paper. Throughout 2012 and into 2013 the Waste Management Group has worked with Departments to trial the use of 100% recycled paper.  As well as being 100% recycled, the paper is not bleached, nor does it contain optical brightening. This means that its natural colour is off-white (similar to paperback books) which makes a visual statement that the University is making a commitment to the environment.

This paper is being promoted throughout the public sector for its environmental credentials and other users include the NHS and some Scottish Government departments. Feedback during the trial was both positive and negative but in overall terms concluded that the grade of paper trialled was suitable for internal use but might not be suitable for official documents, some external correspondence, or colour prints where high quality colour definition is important. Documents printed on this paper are reported to be easier to read for those with, for example, Dyslexia.

Some of the feedback also raised interesting questions. One person observed that “Tipp-ex” correcting fluid showed up starkly on the off white paper. Others found that when photocopying the paper, because it is off-white the photocopier tries to copy the darker background copy of the paper as well as the text – using more toner. I have no idea why we are still using “Tipp-ex” or photocopying documents that can more easily be reprinted from the electronic original (or better, not printed at all!) but that’s for another day.

This recycled paper is already widely used across the University and as we are now moving to one shared printer fleet across all staff and students, it will be important to minimise the different types of paper in use across the organisation. At present, some staff areas use the recycled paper but student printers still use regular white paper. It will be confusing in future if staff or students have to think which printer or printer tray to use in order to get which type of paper. There will always be a need to keep stocks of regular white and headed paper, but it will be less confusing if other than that the paper choice can be standardised as much as possible across the University. That discussion is about to start and any comments or suggestions would be very welcome!