Now Chris Sexton, director of IT at the University of Sheffield (where IWMW is being hosted). Chris blogs at http://cicsdir.blogspot.com/ and tweets as cloggingchris.
It is a certainty that ‘we’ (Universities I guess) are going to get less money – the question is how much less. Cuts are going to bite next year, and the year after – not this year.
Letter from David Willets and Vince Cable to University VCs included a line describing IT projects as “discretionary” – and suggestion they should be cut.
Why IT projects? Vince Cable as shadow chancellor identified many failing and very expensive public sector IT projects. Web sites also a target for cuts – example of Business Link website – cost an incredible £105million!
Government committed to getting government web back under control. Martha Lane Fox (Digital Champion) looking at how resources can be shared and use of open source software etc. can save money.
It is very easy to see IT as a cost. Chris gets frustrated by the view of ‘IT’ as something separate from the ‘business’ – she says, we shouldn’t have IT projects, we should only have business projects.
Shared services being pushed by government and HEFCE – there are examples of massive savings in parts of public sector especially the NHS. Part of the shared services agenda is around back office systems – e.g. Finance, HR, Payroll.
Chris suggests we already have very good examples of shared services – JANET, UCAS, HESA.
Chris highlighting example from Charity sector – ‘Just Giving’ website – all charities need to need people to give money – and Just Giving website gives a shared service they can all use to achieve that.
Chris describing how things have changed for IT departments – have to provide access to services on any device – IT don’t control the user platform anymore (if they ever did). Need to provide services to multiple devices/browsers/platforms etc.
User expectations are changing – increasing demand for services and increase in student expectations – especially if student fee cap is lifted. Students used to easy access to services (e.g. dropbox), via high quality interfaces (e.g. don’t need training to use the Tesco website?).
Generation of students who grew up with the internet. Not interested in ‘software’ but services. Also big contrast between attitude from students and often senior staff who get PAs to print off emails for them to read. Students often describe university systems/services as ‘clunky’.
Lots of overlapping services – everything does everything. Count how many services/software in your institution lets you store a document – Sheffield got into double figures for this looking at institutional services.
24/7 expectations – at Sheffield Information Commons operates 24/7 – and if printers go down on a Saturday afternoon users expect them to be fixed. How can you support services 24/7 when staff generally employed on 9-5 contracts. Resilience is key.
Survey by University of Edinburgh – 100% of students had phones, and 50% had what they would have called a ‘smartphone’. Biggest challenge for mobile devices is diversity of devices and platforms – anecdote that to develop app to achieve 70% penetration of mobile market had to test on over 300 devices. Starting to see universities developing apps… University of Sheffield app – 2000 downloads in weeks after launch – two thirds to iPod touch…
Chris relating how they are having to increase their wireless provision to cope with the profusion of devices – many students now connecting with 2 devices – phone and laptop – when they use the network.
Chris now talking about data security – only a matter of time before a laptop with large amounts of student data or university finance data left on a train/cab/bus?
Moving on to legislation – Chris believes Digital Economy Act full of problems – and worries that unless OFCOM consultation clarifies some of this, there are going to be huge problems.
Green IT – IT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions (possibly – Chris isn’t sure how accurate this is) – same as airline industry. Lots can and needs to be done in universities – in areas like:
- Data centres
- Video conferencing
- Reduce Power
Sheffield has dropped from 130 servers to 4 servers – with approximately 75% reduction in energy bill!
Need to be much more flexible and agile. Days of 2 year projects are gone – if we can’t deliver in 6 months, we shouldn’t be doing it. Chris quotes ‘Keep it Simple Stupid’. Noting ‘shared services’ – haven’t even got consistency across institutions nevermind between institutions. In some institutions there are distributed IT services – lots of servers in departments/labs/offices, people don’t get best value because don’t use central procurement, security issues on those servers that aren’t centrally managed, etc. etc.
Chris stresses – it’s about processes not technology – technology does not solve anything. If the process doesn’t work, no amount of IT will make it work. Responsibility has to be taken by individuals – people have to take responsibility for their own (efficient) use of IT.
Different delivery models:
- Self service
- Managed services
- Out hosting
Have to focus IT department resources on key tasks in University – teaching and research. There are going to be hard choices outsources services may not be as good as in-house – but which is more important a good calendar or a good vle? If Google docs offer a collaborative environment, why should the University provide one? These are the hard decisions that will need to be made.
IT department will no longer be ‘gatekeepers’ – help people use systems – going to be facilitators and educators instead.
Chris does not believe we can afford to ‘just keep the lights on’ – we have to keep innovation – otherwise we will die as IT departments. Innovation carries a risk – but it is a risk that you need to take. Need to get balance right – need to get resourcing right. Chris very clear need to continue to invest in innovation.
Q & A
Q: Ben Coulthard – University of Leicester. Lots of changes at Leicester – but not sure feeling the benefit of that. This year no money for innovation – and no money to web team this year. What about at Sheffield?
A: May not have funded more – but have protected them. Money tends to go into projects as opposed to teams – so flexible. Some comments on split between marketing and IT – at Sheffield Marketing and IT work together on web team (2 from marketing, 2 from IT and 1 across the two)
Sorry – missed the other Q & A, but interesting stat from Chris – review at Sheffield suggests on 2% of IT budget goes specifically to support research – that needs to change in Chris’s view. Question about how much iPhone app cost to develop – Chris says she can’t give a proper figure as it was first time company they worked with had done that, but she’d estimate £10k