A fresh start… a fresh semester

turn-it-off-and-back-on-again-2If you follow the @RGU_Helpdesk on Twitter you will have seen their big welcome back this week to students new and old.

A new semester is an opportunity to make a fresh start; reorient yourself with your course, and the campus. Having been through the stress of exams and assessments, it’s time to re-establish a routine through your studies and get some welcome stability back to your life.

The IT department are pretty grateful for some stability this week too having dealt with some unwelcome and significant network issues last week and a campus power cut.

As part of our fresh semester start we’re trying to focus a bit more on communicating information to you through all the channels we have available, and hopefully learn a bit about how we can best engage with staff and students, but also to raise a general awareness of our services and the value we add to ensure stability and a high degree of availability. This week the IT Helpdesk are featuring in the winter edition of RGU Nexus magazine, and in particular you’ll meet the helpdesk and learn a bit about the sheer scale of support they are involved in.

It’s a standing joke that technical helpdesks will ask you “switch it off and back on again” to fix the problem or, as cynics would suggest, make you(r problem) go away. The TV series the IT Crowd took it to new levels with their repeated “have you tried turning it off and on again” turning it into a catchphrase…

It’s not just a standing joke though, there is some science behind this approach. We really aren’t trying to make you go away with the least effort on our part. A large percentage of errors are quite genuinely resolved by rebooting computers, and if not then it can generate errors that are more meaningful to technicians to help with diagnosis, or eliminate causes.

When a PC restarts it’s really just making a fresh start. It clears out any old data or processes and makes fresh connections to its resources and its network, restarts essential background processes and does it in a set logical sequence to ensure optimum performance.

Most importantly for a helpdesk call, if there are any hung processes these will be stopped and started a fresh too, and your PC will more than likely be running better with any “glitch” you had encountered, more than likely have gone.

So like all of us, a reboot is sometimes the best course of action. With the start of a new semester and a relatively new year, you’d do no harm trying a wee reboot from time to time, for your health and that of your electronics.

If it doesn’t work, then you can always call the Helpdesk but unless it’s a technology induced headache, don’t expect them to fix your health troubles too…. … they’re good, but not that good!

ITHelpdesk

email: ithelpdesk@rgu.ac.uk

telephone: +44 1224 26 2777

 

 

Seven IT Related “Themes” for RGU

RGU has just finished the main stages of its annual University planning process. The major activity in this process is that all Schools and Departments lay out their forward action areas in the context of the overall University strategic aims and priorities. This year’s context includes a revision to the University strategy and an incremental update to the IT Strategy which I’ll share soon.

I then reviewed all the School and Departmental plans for anything that related to the use of IT and after discussion with IT Managers and colleagues on SPARG  we’ve all agreed to approach these IT requirements under seven overall major themes. These are key to delivering the IT Strategy, support the individual school and departmental plans, but do so in the context of a longer term approach which will bring greater consolidation and integration across key parts of the University’s IT estate.

At this stage we have not finalised how these will be led across the University but we have agreed that most of them should be led as key institutional change projects, with significant technology enablement support from IT, but not as “IT” projects per se. As we start to firm up on how these themes will be taken forward, I’ll provide ongoing updates and also  go into more detail in relation to each theme.

Here are the 7 themes:

Engagement Life Cycle – Student, Staff and other stakeholders.

  • Optimising key administrative processes across the University to create the best stakeholder experience
  • Ensuring that collated information about all interaction with each stakeholder can be brought together and effectively used to enhance the stakeholder experience

Technology in Teaching and Learning

  • Ensuring that the deployment and use of technology across the Campus effectively supports enhancement to teaching learning and assessment

Information and Knowledge

  • A coherent approach to where information is located and presented across web based information environments
  • Research data management
  • Document management
  • Provision of management information

Communication

  • How the range of technology supported communication can support the overall communication strategy of the University, both internally and externally

Identity Management

  • As the University activities and user community becomes increasingly diverse, an identity management solution is key to ensuring that we are able to effectively provide each person with access to the resources to which they are entitled and can manage their relationship with the University as it changes and evolves.

Use of University Services

  • This theme will expand the use of technology to make it easier for users to access to a whole range of University services using, for example, smart cards online and mobile solutions as appropriate.

Infrastructure

  • Underpinning all the above themes, there is a substantial programme of work taking place to upgrade many aspects of the underlying IT intrastructure. This will include ongoing server upgrades, network fitout of the new buildings, new wireless network, and moving into new datacentres.

 

IT Strategy – Governance

This can sound like a dry subject, but it’s really important – and it concerns all of us!

IT Governance Extract from Strategy Map

Many will know from experience or from reports in the news how transforming IT can be when it hits the right spot, but also how IT projects and services can go wrong. Across the University, if you add up all the people costs, software licences, IT Equipment (servers, PC’s, printers, network, gadgets), support contracts etc – we spend at least £4m per annum on IT one way or another. In this new strategy, we are putting a stronger emphasis on Governance. Put simply, we need to make sure that we get the best value out of that annual £4m, that this spend supports the strategic aims of the University, and that we successfully manage risks and security in an ever more complex world.

Adopting the “ITIL” standard (IT infrastructure Library) will be a key foundation of this. ITIL is a widely adopted approach to IT Service Management, used across the world in the public and private sectors, as a tool for successfully identifying, planning, delivering and supporting IT Services to meet the aims of the organisation. It’s not just a tool for IT Services, it’s a broad framework that will allow us to drive continuous improvement and make effective decisions for the University.

We will pay particular attention on the proper authorisation routes for commissioning new IT developments. Many IT services are available externally – sometimes at low cost or “free”. But, they all can carry risks, none are truly “free” and they all need to be stitched together so that our staff and students have a coherent IT experience and we don’t accidentally duplicate anything. Sometimes, it is as important to say “no” as it is to say “yes”!

We also want to constantly remember the business case for each development so that we keep at the forefront the overall University objectives and make sure we know that these have been met.

In relation to IT – the management of risks has never been more important. It is anything but a box ticking exercise – we face real and constantly evolving threats on a daily basis to our existing infrastructure, and there are always potentially significant risks to consider when embarking on new IT developments. There are risks that our systems may fail. There are risks that may prevent IT developments from achieving their objectives. And there are wider risks that can be exacerbated by weaknesses on IT controls. As I write this, I see that a hospital trust has been fined £325,000 after confidential patient records were stolen from old computer drives that were not properly disposed of. IT Security rules and procedures can feel like a pain but when something goes wrong we realise their importance, so let’s not learn the hard way.