UCISA Management Conference 2010

It’s March, so it must be the UCISA Management Conference, which this year means Harrogate.

For various reasons, arrived late, so  can’t comment on first days content although I do hear that Larry Hinckner from Virginia Tech was rather good. To reiterate what one of the later speakers  said – I think it was Andrew Abboud – great thing about people tweeting on the conference & using the hashtag is that you can get a feel for what’s going on/tune in when you’re not there yet, which is really useful.

So what  did I think of what I did attend? – only commenting on the good/useful bits here. The rest will go unremarked.

World Cafe. Enjoyed this – very interesting discussion on Organisational Change & Process Improvement led by John Cartwright from Liverpool. I’ve been in a similar event as part of the HEA Change Academy stuff – what was different there was that the tables had paper tablecloths, the idea being that as well as discussing the theme on a particular table, you can write down ideas/draw pictures etc. Worked well for moving around between tables – I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of that  – as it minimised the risk of coming in half way through a discussion as you could just read some of what had been going on. Also meant you could do a whistle stop tour & just write stuff down as you went around, if you felt like it. Good session though, should be repeated.

Tim Marshall/JANET -“The difficult is done at once…the impossible takes a little longer!”. Certainly entertaining, which was only to be expected. Most interesting thing for me was the discussion afterwards which suggested that thinking around shared/flexible services has moved on which can only be a good thing – seems to have gone from ‘this is bad, we must stop it’ through ‘if we ignore it it’ll go away’ & ended up at ‘we know we’ve got to do it, now we want to know how’. Good news for the JISC Flexible Services Delivery Programme –  will we need to hire bigger venues? – but does mean that what is now needed – & needed now, before the head of steam evaporates – is a tangible, significant & visible demonstration of an actual shared service involving HEIs & suppliers – could be a tricky one to pull off, but if this stuff is real, it has to be done. Quite liked the idea tweeted by Ajay Burlingham-Bohr (I quote) “So come on #ucisa10 let’s have an HE shared services summit, invite HEFCE, and together commit to some real shared services targets”.

The Leadership and Management Award Winner 2009 Outstanding ICT Team. What we did to win to it Paul Dean, Edinburgh Napier University. Excellent articulation of a whole team approach to delivering a comprehensive service to a high standard of quality. Interesting comment from Paul (something like, I think I’ve got the gist) – we’d rather be consistently number 2 at everything, than number 1 at only some things – & the value of this approach was evidenced by the customer feedback.

Reaching out and reaching in: Examples of using IT for both at the University of Oxford – Stuart Lee, University of Oxford. Outreach & inreach – using IT to engage externally & internally. Very interesting stuff, around iTunes U, the Oxford mobile application, & using social networking to promote external engagement in research projects – Galaxy Zoo/crowdsourcing type approach. Most significant comment – Oxford Computer Services now seen as leading light in outreach/inreach activities – which is quite a result!

Professionalising university IT – Ajay Burlingham-Bohr, Director of Information Systems and Media Services, Anglia Ruskin University, & Andrew Abboud, CIO, City University London. Another excellent presentation, not bad for 09:30 on a Friday morning after the night before. Both relatively new to HE – Ajay 4 years, Andrew 17 months (I think he said). Ajay gave a very  comprehensive articulation of practical approaches to change, including references to some useful tools/approaches like using timesheets to find out what your people are doing (I wonder if we know what our people are doing?); using the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) for skills analysis; cost benefit analysis of the services delivered. Very useful analysis of services/systems as to whether – in each specific area – you needed to be pioneer, mainstream or follower; then added an extra column = cloud. Andrew also gave comprehensive coverage of approaches to change, was particularly struck by articulation of their Goverance structure – quite similar to the one we’ve put in at LJMU – with the rider that it didn’t all necessarily work quite as it should, but it was better to have imperfect governance than none at all.

Hot leadership & chilled relationships: lessons for IS leaders – Linda Carter, the Leadership Foundation, & Susannah Quinsee, City University. Final session for me. Very reminiscent of some of the content in the HEA Change Academy process, which is hardly surprising. Suggested that needed to change the negative to positive – back to the Change Academy again, Appreciative Inquiry could be a good approach to this – Edinburgh University have done some very good work using the approach in relation to restructuring the IS function. Interesting incorporation of Twitter into the session – could probably have made more of this/structured it a bit better – wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be a presentation or an interaction, latter part was better.

Final session was to be a motivational speech from James Cracknell – sure he was very good, but I skipped it – motivational speakers tend to demotivate me.

So – overall great conference as almost always – & I’ve made no mention of the really important part which is the opportunity to talk to a lot of great people about all kinds of interesting/important stuff, an opportunity that doesn’t arise that often – thanks to UCISA, the conference organisers, everybody else involved, & looking forward to next year.


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