Quick update on IT

Wow, where does the time go? I haven’t posted on the Blog since February – that’s bad, sorry about that. There has been lots happening since then, so here is a quick general update.

On Wireless, we still had a few problems with the new system but we have had great feedback from students through Facebook and face-to-face and this has really helped IT Services to identify and work through some of the problems. As I said in January, we can see from our logs that large numbers of people have been able to connect and use the system successfully, but we knew from feedback that quite a few were still having problems. We’ve worked with the manufacturer and have made a number of changes to the controllers and feedback from students now is that it is greatly improved. We still have to extend the coverage to ensure that all areas on the Campus are covered, and that is now planned for the summer.

We have been looking at the “old Library” area in the Aberdeen Business School and are right now finalising plans to put in more IT workstations, a help point, AV facilities, and better group work areas for students to use. IT Services along with Estates are just in the process of finalising cost estimates, and hopefully that will be approved and the work will commence in the near future.

Behind the scenes, IT Services are working hard on preparations to move our St Andrew Street datacentre. We moved one of our datacentres last year to the shared datacentre at University of Aberdeen and now we are moving the other one. It’s going into a new facility which we are also sharing with the University of Aberdeen so by the summer we will have all of our server kit in two new state of the art datacentres, each with environmentally friendly cooling and generator backup. We are moving ourselves too – once we get the datacentre out of St Andrew St the three remaining departments will move out of there and we will have to disconnect all the IT and remove the building from our Campus network. St Andrew St has been one of our main “hubs” for IT since IT began, so this is very much going to be the end of an era!

This is the time of year when Schools and Departments submit their planning statements for the forthcoming year and we are also looking at all of the IT related project requests so that we can update our forward plans. These are all going through the approval process as I write, and once things are finalised I’ll put a summary on the blog. Some of the key areas we are likely to be looking at are:

– A major investment in our storage and server infrastructure to replace end of life equipment and increase capacity and performance;
– Improvements to our Learning tools, including an upgrade to Moodle and improvements to access to Library e-resources
– Enhancements to our portfolio of communication tools to provide new video conference facilities across the Campus, more flexible access to telephony services and integrated access to Skype communications;
– Enhancements to the Staff and Student portal (RGyoU), particularly looking at the provision of more information for students in one place, and better document management and collaborative tools for staff;
– A new system for managing student placements
– Preparation for the opening of the new Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Riverside East

These are just a few highlights – just as importantly we plan to spend some considerable time on preparatory work for initiatives which will start the following year, but more of that later.

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RGU Web – Inside and Outside

Go back 12 years or so, and RGU’s web presence was pretty much a static web site, with some core information on there but many parts of the University largely unrepresented. Around 2002, a major web redesign project created a simple content editor, a relatively straight forward overall design and the ability of a wide cross section of the University community to create and populate web pages within the overall web site. I remember clearly that our biggest concern at the time was how to galvanise the effort across the University to create the level of web presence that we were looking for. I needn’t have worried – we had made the process of putting information on the web so easy that everybody jumped on very quickly and we actually ended up with the opposite problem. We had too much information, it was not all co-ordinated across departments, there was some duplication and much content was not being kept up to date following the initial enthusiasm. If I remember correctly we had over 12,000 pages on our web site, of which probably 11,500 were rarely accessed.

Anyway, we set about a major redesign of our web site back in 2007/8, put a web content team in place and control of content and over a continuous process since then created the web site that you see today for RGU. That web site is deliberately focussed on the external world – prospective students, parents, business partners, the community and so on. Whilst creating it, we moved across / redesigned content on the old web site. However, a great deal of the content on the old web site had been created with our internal University community in mind and this remained on the old web site which was now affectionately called “www4” as it had been renamed to distinguish it from the main web site.

The next stage in our journey was to create a staff and student portal which would, amongst other things, be the new home for the internal content marooned on www4. I wrote about that portal previously.

We’ve made good progress in moving that content across – if you are a member of staff or a student, go and have a look {web link to RGyoU}. Now we are undertaking the final push to get all the remaining content areas removed from www4 and replaced with something on the Portal. After that, www4 will be turned off in the next 2 to 3 months – and that will be the end of an era.

Once www4 has been turned off, we will have externally facing web content on our main web site, and internally facing web content accessed through the Portal via your RGU username and password. We also have web based content on Moodle, but that is information that is primarily associated with our teaching and learning programmes. It’s important to avoid confusion that the right information is in the right environment (web site, Portal, Moodle), and I will be working with colleagues to make sure we have effective arrangements to oversee this.

If you want a nostalgic look at one of our www4 pages – here (ironically) is the old web page for the web redevelopment project.  But be quick – it will disappear soon!

 

On the Move

 

Modern video and voice communication technology is now very powerful and increasingly commonplace. For some time now, there have been predictions that the need to travel for business meetings etc will diminish greatly – and there is some evidence that this is happening. But we still travel – a lot.

Like many organisations, RGU has a staff travel policy and of course there is a form to fill in (which at the moment is paper based), and a process to follow. It’s an important process to ensure that staff travel in the most economic way, that absences are properly authorised, that an appropriate risk assessment is carried out for travel to international destinations and that staff have adequate guidance and information for their travel.

It is not, however, the most loved process in the University and it is generally felt that it could be streamlined and improved. A key goal of the new staff portal, which will launch in a few weeks, is to be able to “e-enable” our important administrative processes – and the travel process has been picked as our first one.

The worst thing that we could do would be simply to e-enable the existing process as it stands. This is an opportunity to look at the whole process from the ground up and redesign it. We are planning to do this with a “Kaizen Blitz”, as part of “Lean Kaizen” thinking. You can find more about the Lean Kaizen process here.

Essentially, it involves bringing a team together from across the University – people who travel, people who book travel, people who authorise travel, and people who can challenge existing ways – for about a week. Against a set of clear objectives, they will look at the current process, the issues, what we are trying to achieve and by the end of the week will have proposed a new way for us to manage business travel. Some of the key objectives will be:

  • Minimising the number of steps – challenge each stage and the approval routes
  • Easing the user experience – make travel booking a straight forward process
  • Ensure that risk assessment and other health and safety considerations are nonetheless robustly carried out and audit trail kept
  • Ensure that the process is likely to minimise cost of travel
  • Enhance the availability of information to travellers, and allow feedback to enhance the experience for future travellers to same destination
  • Ensure that the University can quickly identify and respond effectively to unforeseen events and emergencies

Once we have that, we can then start to configure the new online process on the Portal.

We’re just at the stage of identifying the Lean Kaizen team – watch this space.

 

“RGYou” – our new Staff and Student Portal

Our staff and student portal will bring together a whole range of services and information into one place. We’ve been thinking about this for over a year and have spent a great deal of time planning our overall approach and being clear on the priorities. We’ve had good feedback from workshops and discussions with staff and students – some of their top requests were:

• Better access to information
• The ability to personalise
• A more seamless access to services
• Areas for collaborative work
• Electronic workflow and document management

The first stage of the new Portal will launch this summer. This will allow students to see information on their timetable, e-mail, appointments, library books, exam results, twitter etc to name but a few services. They will also be able to access web based information about University Schools and Departments. This is all built around the “5 minute” concept – bringing the key items together in one place so that students can check their key information in 5 minutes. Staff likewise will be able to link in their calendar, e-mail, many other services and have access to web based information from other University schools and Departments.

The second stage of the project will be to start to use key features like online forms and workflows and the facilities that will allow people, for example, to collaborate online on projects. That will be our focus during 2012-13.

The third stage will be to hook up the Portal to other University systems so that these can be accessed directly from within the Portal without people having to remember where to go.

Ultimately, we want this to be the “go to” place – somewhere that you can log into and from there pretty much get everything you need from our online IT services.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this new portal will be one part of our total web environment:
1) Our main Web Site – http://www.rgu.ac.uk for our “external users” – visitors, prospective students, parents, organisations looking to work with the University, and other stakeholders;
2) RGYou – the Staff and Student Portal. The information environment for staff and students;
3) Our Virtual Learning Environment – http://campusmoodle.rgu.ac.uk/ where on Campus and distance learners access their online learning resources.