Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Challenges at the University of Manchester arising from Project UNITY

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Challenges at the University of Manchester arising from Project UNITY

This is going to cover more than just web – as it is the whole picture which is important.

Victoria University of Manchester merged with UMIST to form the new ‘University of Manchester’. Obviously a huge project, and extremely expensive.

Information services is central to the university – but much of the infrastructure etc is hidden from the university – and the technology is obviously subject to continual change. So far, all pretty straightforward – general IT and UK HE context stuff – Lifelong learning, Globalisation, etc.

A question for the new institution was ‘what is world class’. One aspect of this is ‘smart’ IT systems. Also facing the ‘virtual challenge’ – dealing with the ‘virtual university’ phenomenon. This is an interesting area because everyone is aware of the potential, but realising that potential is obviously extremely difficult – as few, or no, institutions have managed this.

Speaker is racing through this – finding it difficult to keep up.

Manchester were looking at providing a ‘Gateway’ to information – basically a portal (although the speaker doesn’t like this term, as he feels it is ambiguous)

For the web – the web has become the vehicle which facilitates access. In 5 years the speaker is predicting that:

everyone will be working with a ‘A5-ish’ (sized) device/PDA
Wireless (highspeed)
Simple interfaces (keyboard/mouse paradigm)
Scribble pad/voice command recognising

He suggests that 5 years is the limit on realistic predictions. This is interesting, as I’m not convinced by these predictions – everything he describes is feasible in terms of technology and cost – but will people use it? I’m not completely convinced that we are going to see a move from the small mobile phone/pda type device to a larger type of device that he is suggesting.

Now he has moved onto ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) – about integrating key business and management processes. Meant to solve the problem of integrating best of breed systems. The challenge of ERP is that it usually means reworking the business processes – which means changing peoples jobs – which is difficult.

ERP takes 1-3 years to apply in the corporate sector – but this is likely to be much longer (3-5 years?) in the HE environment, as they are very different in terms of management structure.

This is all very interesting, but the speed of delivery and the jumping from one thing to another is making it a bit hard to follow.

The speaker is suggesting that portal technology is changing very rapidly, so those institutions with ‘portal’ technology will be going through constant change.

Some stuff about the ‘information society’ – nothing out of the ordinary – born digital stuff, cost of information, finding information.

Some stuff about semantic web and metatdata. MS adopting xml as a standard for Office documents.

Mentioning ‘blinkx’ – desktop knowledge management

Back to Manchester context:
Web is too expensive and too ‘static’ – needs to be driven from data and information systems, must be knowledge enabled, must deliver to the user expectations.

A quote from the speaker – “The web is an enabler and must be owned strategically by the Institution”

Is this realistic? Or even sensible? I accept that institutions have to ‘own’ their publications – but this seems to be independent of the medium? I can’t see that you are going to stop individuals publishing in the web medium. In fact, based on the Warwick experience you can leverage the fact that this is going to happen. On reflection, perhaps this is part of the ‘ownership’ – by providing systems that work and are easy to use, you gain some level of control? No one will do it the hard way if the easy way is easy enough?

IWMW 2005 – Day 2

Bit tired this morning (too much time spent in the ‘Lass of Gowrie’ and the conference centre bar) – but a good breakfast, and now ready (hopefully) for this morning’s talks. Starting with a talk on ‘Project UNITY’ – which is not actually some bid for world peace, but (I think) about the merger of the University of Manchester and UMIST IT Infrastructures

Parallel Session A – Hey! You! Get Offa My Web! Hidden Desires and Unforeseen Circumstances in Web Management

No wireless network up here – so have to post this later.

So – first question – who are we, and who/what annoys you in relation to the web…

The answer to the first seems to be – mainly people are from ‘web teams’, but a few marketing people as well – and to the second – other people who edit web content – and think they know better than ‘us’.

There are actually quite a variety of ‘gripes’ coming out:
Content producers – getting content and getting appropriate content
Techies ‘fiddling’
‘rogue’ web authors
Marketing department
Imposed ‘systems’
Lack of support/investment from ‘senior management’
Unrealistic expectation of content producer
Lack of communication

So – basically everyone is an expert and feels that they should ‘own’ the web presence.

The first question for me is – why is the ‘web’ regarded as a single thing? We don’t talk about ‘print’ and expect one owner etc. – or do we?

Onto a case study – the launch of a staff portal – which will:
Manage HR Records
Manage publications
Manage research administration
Produce automatic staff web profiles (for external facing website)

The stakeholders were:
Coporate systems / portal team
Web team (mostly external facing web sites, provision of tools etc to web publishers)
Academic IT Services
Admin depts: HR, Finance, etc.

So essentially the drive seemed to come from Management wanting a way of dealing RAE requirements, driving a publications database (taking it from Academic depts, and giving to Corporate systems), and then the Web team using the data in this database to drive staff profiles).

Now into a group exercise – I’m in group ‘C’ (whoo hoo). The ‘break out’ room is a lot more comfortable than the presentation room – comfy sofas.

So – a number of tasks – we are acting as the ‘web team’ – and have novelty pirate hats (to lighten the tone apparently)

We now have to negotiate with the ‘marketing team’ and then present to ‘senior management’ about the solution we have up with.

So – basically we presented to Senior Management the following points:
Firstly – market research – both teams agreed… Objective research on what the end user wants
Pilot for overall standard of web content across institution
Suggestion to Senior Management for financial support
Content – generation etc. ease of updating.
Work together for central strategy

Interestingly in our group, we came to this kind of compromise – making an argument for an institutional strategy. The other group actually seemed to be a bit dominated by the web team – with marketing paying out £12,000 for the web team to do the work – and were looking at the very specific outcomes.

OK – so it all ended up being a bit of a love-in – in reality there are lots of other factors – history, personality, refusal to engage etc. Also, the question for our group is what happens if the ‘senior management’ team actually don’t have the political will to go through with trying to establish a corporate web presence?

The case study presented in the session seems to hinge quite a bit on ‘management’ saying that ‘this is going to happen’.

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Discussion Groups

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Discussion Groups

OK – first discussion group – about the challenge of a CMS (Content Management System). Never blogged a discussion group before – don’t know how this will go.

Currently seem to be some problem – we don’t have a chair for the discussion. OK – so we have a volunteer from City University – Tim Matschak. I since I’m blogging this anyway – I might as well be the ‘reporter’.

So – we need to have 3 ‘challenges’ for further discussion tomorrow.

Firstly – who uses a CMS? Under half – but basically everyone seems to have the intention of using a CMS in the future, if they aren’t already. So – we start with a brainstorm:

Choosing – getting the right CMS
Timescales – don’t spend too long on choosing this
Platform independence (with Editor)
How to use it
Buy-in – institutional/user
Delegated rights management
Cost – captial and recurrent
Ongoing support/training
Managing (users) expectations
Web standards
Future proofing
Dynamic content
Ownership – IT, Communications
Accessibility (Output)
Usability (Editor)
Seeing through marketing
Realistic about Open Source developments
Length of trial – longer the better
Visiting successful implementations

So – drawing out 3 themes/issues for further discussion tomorrow:

  • Cultural buy-in – CMS as a lever for buy in, organisational issues, how do you persuade people to use the CMS and templates…
  • Selection – how do you choose one – criteria/cost/institutional support, open source vs commercial
  • Implementation – flexibility, platform (infrastructure and supported for end user), accessibility

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Talks

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Customers, Suppliers and the Need for Partnerships

That was a bit of a mammoth post – don’t know if I can keep that up for the next 2 days!

Anyway, on to talk 2.

First talk I’ve ever been to where we have the number of slides and the expected delivery time put up for our information!

So – starting with Customer focus – some key questions about who our customers are and what they want.

So – the speaker is just describing some ‘dimensions’ of customer server:
Tangibles – physical facilties and equipment
Assurance – confidence/trust

The speaker is now talking about ‘Customer Chains’ – but I’m afraid I’m not really getting to grips with what he means. He has obviously found it a useful way of thinking about the customers and their needs, but so far I don’t understand how it works.

OK – starting to make a bit more sense here – an example for the Academic Staff Publications Catalogue – basically seems to be mapping out a business process that looks at how information was flowing across the organisation from the content owners to the final publication on the web.

This analysis allowed them to think about how they would make it a ‘web first’ publication instead. It all sounds pretty good – but as he has just said – making the change in the work flow – especially changing behaviour of the content owners (academic staff) was incredibly difficult and painful.

In this sense the customer chain tool is not, for me, is not really doing the hard work – in this case, the analysis seems relatively straightforward – it’s how you change the workflow that is the difficult bit.

Just looking at a more complex customer chain – the publishing of the LSE website – perhaps this starts to show why you might do this type of analysis. The ‘customer chain’ way of looking things is simply a way of looking at the problem – essentially it is an analysis of the workflow, packages and people/groups involved in the process.

It might be interesting to compare our own print ‘customer chain’ versus our web ‘customer chain’ – I wonder how different these are – and whether they should be different?

Overall the idea of customer chains seems fine – there are plenty of ways of describing these concepts, and it is really just bringing some discipline to the analysis of your workflows – in this case specifically within publication processes.

A key point now being made – over the last 10 years we have seen the move from the systems being the important thing, and the focus, whereas now the basic technology problems seem to have been solved – so now the processes and people are the important things. This may be obvious but essentially web provision in HE institutions has generally (in my view) grown up around the technical problems and solutions – this movement to concentrating on processes and people is a very slow process.

What is interesting is that this workshop still seems to have an attendance which is predominantly technical – if the above paragraph is true, then shouldn’t we, at this point, be seeing many more people interested in the processes and the people? This is obviously happening some extent – but again, it is something that seems to be happening slowly… (just dropped in on some of the online chat – it is pretty much as geeky as it gets)

OK – some summarising the speaker is saying that the web teams should be at the end of the customer chain – not within the chain. However, not clear what a ‘web team’ is in his view.

2nd speaker – and both have apologized for ‘awful marketing speak/jargon’ – why? Neither have apologized for using ‘tech speak’ – so far xslt, java, cocoon, xml, blogging etc.

Just referencing as a tool kit for helping effect change in HE institutions – sounds interesting.

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: University Blogging

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: University Blogging

This is an area of real interest to me. Obviously I’m interested in blogs in general (hence this blog of course), but also we’ve had requests from a very few academics (2 or 3) via our Educational Development Centre to support some blogging software.

I actually went as far as installing Moveable Type last week on a test box – although haven’t had time to play with this at all yet.

So – to the talk…

This is about the decision of University of Warwick to provide all students with blogs.

The first question being – Why?
Well – they’ve always provided the ability for students to have personal web pages on Warwick space. So it isn’t so revolutionary to introduce a system to support this. However, previously publishing on the web has been something only a few, technically able, students could do, and all the pages are unconnected.

So – they were looking for something that lowered the barriers on self-publication on the web – it should be easy – something that any student could do.

They also wanted to encourage creativity and also to foster a community.

Interestingly, they also saw a link to PDP (Personal Development Planning). Not that blogging would be a complete solution, but possibly a channel through which students can reflect on their personal development.

The speaker is suggesting that ‘you would be nuts’ to invest in blogging if you haven’t already solved the corporate/departmental publishing problems. This seems like a conflation of two problems. I can see why you want to sort the coporate/departmental publishing – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want to solve the ‘personal’ publishing problem.

Of course – Warwick felt they had already solved the ‘CMS’ – i.e. corporate publishing – problem – and had, in fact, already built they’re CMS from scratch – so they were confident that they could move on to the ‘personal’ publishing model.

Interestingly Warwick decided to build their own blogging s/w. The argument being put forward was that the commerical packages out there weren’t scalable – although the UThink project at the University of Minnesota uses Moveable Type to do this – so I’m not convinced by this.

However, some of the other arguments make more sense – they could build something with sophisticated publishing models (publish to people on my course, publish to people in my hall etc.)

However, overall, the decision to build seems like a real luxury to me. I know we definitely couldn’t do this at my institution – we just don’t have the staff resource to do this. I also think that there are ongoing support problems (as is common with University systems). [this section had factual inaccuracies – see comments – which have now been removed] It would be interesting to know […] if the key developers left they would have problems supporting the product?

Interestingly the design for the interface was done with paper diagrams – low cost development. They would put together layouts – get students to look at them, shuffle them round – and video them doing it – and use this to then develop the final interface.

Marketing the blogs was a challenge – but interestingly this seems to have been done ‘in house’ rather than actually using marketing expertise (not entirely sure about this, may have misunderstood). Anyway – there were slogans and posters (including one in Chinese), and fridge magnets (apparently very popular).

They went live in Sept 2004 – and now have 3,425 blogs, and 10,890 readers and 86,664 comments – which is interesting – very high compared to the number of posts, blogs and readers. If fact – the speaker has just said that they think that this is a real indication of the success of the initiative – and a very low level of blogs disappearing compared to the web in general.

Also interestingly 47,000 photos – which again is high. This chimes with the use of mine and Damyanti’s personal blog – we put photos on there much more (much much more) than we post any written content – a picture is worth a thousand words perhaps (well, at lot easier to upload a photo than write 1000 words anyway)

Usage shows an increasing trend in readership which is continuing at the moment. A lot of this are external readers – 10,000 page views a day come from people without any obvious connection to Warwick (could be family and friends?)

Just showing some examples now:

blog for a groupwork project (collaborative authorship)

students contemplating what modules to pick – loads of feedback from other students making suggestions

blog for teacher training to record ‘trigger’ information – this is actually a blog formed of posts to individual blogs which have a specific category assigned to them.

Also some challenges to the Acceptable Use Policy. E.g. criticism of the institution, or even individuals within the institution. There is a great deal of support from the institutions management supporting the right of students to express these views.

Also some instances where a possibly racist posting was then commented on by other students which balanced the argument. This all seems fine, but I’m not clear that the decision about this should be a decision that the IT dept makes – just because it is published on the web – if a student was standing on the corner of the street handing out fliers with the same view who would decide whether this was ‘acceptable’ or not – obviously not the IT dept.

Again – we are coming back to the question in my mind – why does the IT dept have anything to do with web publishing except providing the platform?

So finally – what have Warwick learned from this?

Some good student comments here – but my personal favourite:
"It’s Me in paper form – except digital"

It sounds like there is a real community feel from those who use them. Interestingly one saying that the fact they could keep the blog when they graduated was the thing that made them join the graduate society – although it would be interesting to know whether there is any substantial uptake here.

There have obviously been some challenges to the AUP and also some questions in my mind about how much ‘policing’ is going on. For example, the speaker commented on the re-use of copyright material – I can’t see how this can be monitored effectively. Loads of issues around this, but a real question about how much responsibility the university has in these areas – we should really looking at ISP models here to inform how we manage this type of thing.

There was a Guardian article about the Warwick blogging which was quite interesting.

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Welcome

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Welcome

Brian Kelly is just welcoming us all to the workshop. Brian is very keen on the use of new technologies for communication and collaboration, and we have an abundance of toys to help us communication. These include this blog, online chat and the ability to annotate the workshop web pages using something called ‘wikalong’.

I’m also interested in this, but wonder if it is a bit ambitious to have them all running at once – my previous experience was that only one or two channels of communication really got used.

Anyway, Brian is now introducing the workshop and outlining the them (Whose web is it anyway?)

Brian has just singled me out as the workshop blogger – now the pressure is on!

Brian is just highlighting that all the technologies that are being provided for this workshop are things that students are going to start using – and they can be disruptive.

Also looks like I’ve encountered the first issue with the technology – my mail client doesn’t seem to be able to negotiate the wireless network correctly, so only access to webmail – although this may stop me being too distracted by stuff going on at home base.

IWMW 2005

OK – well I’ve arrive and online – now starts the hard work… Just had quite an interesting discussion over lunch about the tension between the ‘corporate’ web presence and central control over content and design, and the responsibility for content etc which often lies with individuals in departments and units. It’s a theme which I expect to recur during the conference.

Whose Web is it Anyway?

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005

I’m going to this next week, and looking forward to it. The areas being covered in the workshop cover many of the questions that we are tackling at RHUL. These include:

  • Content Management
  • Cooperation between content owners, technical experts and marketing/communication professionals
  • Web publishing for all

I’ve been asked by Brian Kelly to act as the ‘official’ blogger for the event – although I’m hoping that others will also be blogging, as it is good to have other perspectives. Anyway, I expect to be blogging live as long as the wireless network and my laptop battery hold out.

‘See’ you there from the 6th to the 8th July…

Whose Web is it Anyway?

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005

I’m going to this next week, and looking forward to it. The areas being covered in the workshop cover many of the questions that we are tackling at RHUL. These include:

  • Content Management
  • Cooperation between content owners, technical experts and marketing/communication professionals
  • Web publishing for all

I’ve been asked by Brian Kelly to act as the ‘official’ blogger for the event – although I’m hoping that others will also be blogging, as it is good to have other perspectives. Anyway, I expect to be blogging live as long as the wireless network and my laptop battery hold out.

‘See’ you there from the 6th to the 8th July…