JISC Flexible Service Delivery (FSD) Programme STG Workshop

Attending the JISC Flexible Service Delivery (FSD) Programme Strategic Technologies Group workshop, Congress Centre, London.

First impressions: great turnout, over 20 different suppliers/over 20 different institutions represented,former including big (Oracle, IBM) & small(er) (oMbiel, WPM), latter mostly HE but including some FE; plus various people from JISC, UCISA, CETIS etc. Evidence that one of the main objectives of the Programme – raising awareness of/engagement with flexible service thinking, EA etc – is already having some success; I don’t think we’d have got this kind of participation if we’d tried this event 12 months ago (but of course, the  huge amount of preparatory effort that’s taken place wouldn’t have happened back then, which is what has really made this work).

Plus of course the issues raised by Chris Cobb/Roehampton in his introductory remarks – & informed by the Chancellor’s pre-budget speech yesterday – are pushing institutions in this direction, if they think about it: doing more with less, making the best of what you’ve got, developing speed, agility, flexibility – these are what FSD & EA are all about.

First two case study type presentations on a couple of FSD/STG consortia pilots, one on sharing finance functions in HE, the other student tracking & engagement with De Montfort & Southampton Solent. Both very much works in progress that look like they will bring some benefits. Interesting comments from Paul Hopkins/De Montfort on issues around DPA placing severe restrictions on personal data being held in hosted services offshore/in the US.

Next from Peter Tinson, UCISA Executive Secretary, on Supplier Engagement – a group activity to discuss the requirements of the Suppliers Forum. Key objectives:

  • Greater agility. Best of breed at the module level, with standard interfaces.
  • More efficient processes – an institutional issue.
  • Improved business intelligence. Need for improved data quality.
  • Shared services. Previous 3 bullet points are the precursor.

& I would of course add that EA is the essential means of articulating all of the above.

So – how to promote the customer/supplier dialogue that is essential to support moving forward? The Online Supplier Forum – possible structure/content demonstrated. Point from Simon Tindall/Desire2Learn – the FSD needs to persuade/convince suppliers that there is HEFCE/Government/Institutional backing for the approach to sell work that needs doing internally. Question – given that this is all about service-enablement, standards, SOA, and disaggregation/modularisation, why wouldn’t suppliers be doing it anyway, & if a supplier needs to sell the business case to do the ‘extra’  kind of work required to participate, then maybe they shouldn’t – or we don’t want them to – bother!

Then into a discussion session with suppliers & other institutions about barriers/enablers. Interesting comments from Barrie Hoban/Blackboard – surprised that we’re not starting from process definition – good point, we are looking at this too much from the technical end & there is a desire (need!) to go beyond shared technology to real shared services. This may lead to more of a rant on this blog later – & again emphasises the need to maintain the EA aspects. Certainly doesn’t look to me as if enough effort is going into EA/process definition & preparing senior management in institutions for the prospect of shared business processes, rather than just the technical systems that sit behind them – albeit this is where the real value lies.

Also, having just been in two days of LJMU internal strategic development type stuff, as soon as shared services are discussed – & they were, & were plainly on the table, which is good – all the arguments about not sharing/outsourcing strategic advantage start coming out of the woodwork, suggesting that there is still some work to be done on defining what gives strategic advantage & what doesn’t. All about operating models & value chains, stuff that institutions maybe haven’t given a lot of thought to – does sharing/outsourcing part of the value chain give away the value? Do we know what the value chain is? & back we come to EA – if we’re going to think about what services we can share, we need to know what services we’ve got (& how they work) in the first place.

Question: what is different about the supplier relationships the FSD wants to promote, as opposed to the relationships that institutions already have with suppliers? Answer – latter is traditionally/mostly one-to-one, former wants to be many-to-many. Where suppliers do collaborate, institutions are not generally party to the conversation – perhaps FSD could facilitate this. Final point – what we need from suppliers is practical evidence of engagement with the agenda, not just saying the right things – perhaps suppliers could be invited to demonstrate what they could bring to pilot activity? – & coincidentally, latter was exactly what Peter Tinson/Alex Hawker suggested at the end of the session.

Last morning session – David Rose on the EA in HE Practice Group. EA = a way of managing change, bridging the gap between business/strategy development & ICTs, as an integrated whole. Sounds good to me!

First thing after lunch – general roundup from John Slater/ALT reflecting on barriers/enablers from STG questionnaire/the morning session. Discussion: what do we want suppliers to do differently to engage? We want practical demonstrations of input to FSD pilots. Question that suppliers might ask: if you want this disaggregation/modularisation of our products, to what level do you want it done? If (using John Slater’s analogy) you don’t want us to glue all the lego together for you in advance, do you want any bits glued together? How big do you want the bits to be? Do you want freeform bits, or do you want them in kitform? (Probably not the latter, no point buying the pieces if you can only make a pirate ship out of them). (Unless you want a pirate ship). If you want a pirate ship, & we can sell you a pirate ship, why do you want to build your own? – the answer to the latter is obviously that you might give up piracy & go into the oil tanker business…this analogy has now gone far enough.

Last session: Luke Taylor/Bristol – Building The Business Case For FSD. Discussion groups – looking at change management. Very early on identified need for Governance, & EA as an essential precursor to FSD. If only I can get Programme Management in there we’ll score the holy trinity again! Seriously, lack of effective Goverance structures did seem to be a serious impediment to EA/FSD-type work – which of course it would be, as if you don’t have a transparent decision-making structure, how can you define & deploy EA? Usual familiar things as well – speak English, sell benefits not methodologies/technology, think/speak/act as if the business/IT ‘disconnect’ doesn’t exist (it shouldn’t & is in any event unfortunate if not spurious). Change the language – change the world.


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