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SAMO was a graffiti tag used by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz in New York in the late ’70s, standing for same old…

Which brings me to the following sponsored  and for me rather frustrating article in the Guardian today: – headline ‘It’s time for CEOs to trust their tech teams’.

I’m not going to comment in detail, just going to quote some of the comments made by participants in the seminar that informed the article:

“We have found that the biggest challenges facing digital transformation are: business culture; ways of working; and ensuring that there is a connection between business and technology”

“there is no such thing as a technology project now they should all be business projects”

“Companies should be asking ‘I want a collaboration platform to do X’ not ‘I want to use Slack'”

“We need a transformation in how companies deal with data…loses count of the number of times people say they can’t work out which data matters because it’s too difficult”

All very laudable, couldn’t agree more – I’ve agreed frequently in the past, sometimes with myself, so why change now – but not exactly what you might expect in a newspaper. I suppose what I’m getting at is – we know what the problems and challenges are; would be nice to see a little more about solutions. Rant over.


It’s the Services, Stupid!

So, time to bang on about this one again! – but it still seems pertinent.

I’ve just been reviewing the draft UCISA ‘Strategic Challenges for IT Services’ document in the light of the developing UCISA Enterprise Architcture Community of Practice, whilst also being in the middle of an internal restructuring, which includes IT Services, and also working on the reintroduction of a revised IT Governance structure which includes revamping the way we manage projects, programmes and our Enterprise Architecture.

In relation to all three areas, it has come home to me very forcefully (again!) that taking an approach that looks at the services the business, the people, require, rather than the systems that ‘might’ support those services, is critical.

So, briefly taking these areas one by one:

  1. UCISA ‘Strategic Challenges for IT Services’. Not published yet, so I won’t say too much, but there are references to senior management – and others – still thinking that if you put in the right systems then job done, without looking at people, processes, data etc. It’s the services, stupid!
  2. Lots of institutions restructure services, and in truth it’s usually a cost-cutting exercise, whatever other guise it may travel under – and if costs need to be cut, there’s nothing wrong with this. What is wrong, though, is to focus on the cost-cutting – and this relates to other services/functions, not just IT; the focus should also be on defining what the critical services are that need to be delivered, and then identifying efficiency gains within that context. Find out which services are essential, which really bring value, and prioritise them. Reminiscent of the days of Business Process Reenegineering, and the limited value to be extracted from perfecting the wrong process…it’s the services, stupid!
  3. In revamping our programme/project management approach, we’re coming across IT project proposals without a clearly defined service that the IT delivered will support. Part of the problem is, of course, that above the infrastructure level, there’s no such thing as an IT project (and maybe not even there); there’s also (see point 1.) also a kind of lingering view that if you get the right system the services (people,processes) will look after themselves. They won’t! I think we’re getting beyond this, but it’s still hanging around…it’s the services, stupid!

Clearly (to me anyway!) an Enterprise Architecture approach is key to addressing all of the three areas referenced above; but the key to an Enterprise Architecture approach is to start with what the business needs – services!



oMbiel & campusM ULCC Senate House 28th January #mobileVLE

Random kind of comments, some from presenters (hope I've understood!) some from me…mine in italics, probably…

1. Mark Stubbs – Enhancing the student experience: Moodle & campusM at MMU. Doing a big transformation. New curriculum – couldn't give the students what they wanted with level of complexity in curriculum. Mobile timetables & stuff just wouldn't work. & everything is connected to everything else – so hard to make incremental change.

Focus: improve satisfaction, retention & success. Great seamless, organised online experience, great learning spaces, great teaching.

So: online experience. Personalised timetable as number 1 student requirement – surprise surprise. Also top of mobile requirements. Wrapping the institution around the learner. SRS: Unit4 good integration on programme & module codes. Didn't like Moodle UI out of box so wrapped around that too. Also Live@edu, Syllabus+. Built 'megamashup' – student/course codes used to join everything together. Launched September 2011: key, included curriculum rationalisation.

Next step: surface in campusM. 20k+ registrations. Access to Moodle & timetable = 2 big things by far. All about services surfaced via megamashup – assignments, reading lists. Requires good partners with good APIs. Joined-up approach for making a step-change improvement in student experience. Consistent programme/module codes for tagging, enabling the megamashup to find all relevant stuff for a student = the core.

3. Richard Horton/oMbiel: Why have an Institutional Mobile Strategy? 79% of students own a smartphone. 92% check their smartphone during lunchbreaks. 93% use while commuting. 77% check before getting out of bed. Dixons sold 5 android tablets per second in run up to Christmas.

Mobile First/BYOD. Brand. Security. Dynamically configured institutional app configured by permission & role. Different configs for different stages: open days; welcome week; etc.

Start small & build – OK, but need to build quickly! If doesn't deliver compelling functionality from the start, will be hard to keep going. Needs an EA model.

Build or buy? Changing so quickly that need good internal resource to keep up which is unlikely…need a group/resource that does nothng else, like an external supplier.

3. Imperial Mobile – our journey. Very uncomfortable, very slow. Contract to live in 12 weeks. Fairly limited go-live requirements. Co-located web team of comms & IT. Went for big rather than soft launch – if don't get them quick, lost for a year. Aimed at new students – not much to bring them back, not sticky enough, needed reasons to return. So: real-time transport info; course evaluation survey developed with AEK. Future: VLE; targetted & personalised.

4. Moodle Integration. moodleM. Uses Moodle web services where available, have written some new ones with ULCC for mobile optimisation – will be Open Source.

5. Richard Havinga/ULCC: The campusM eILP (Individual Learning Plan). Looks good…mobile ePortfolio, might take off.

So, what are we learning here? Essentially & most significantly, for me, that you need an integrated University to present an integrated mobile experience. So ref MMU – to achieve success, the mobile strategy requires a load of other stuff to happen that wouldn't be in the mobile strategy around integrating the University at the data, process & people level, not just the systems.

This Saturday is Groundhog Day.

The Future is Uncertain…

Yes, isn’t it.

I have over the years become increasingly frustrated when listening to various people, pundits, practitioners, whatever, telling me that these days ‘the future is uncertain’ or ‘the future is more uncertain’ or ‘the future is even more uncertain’ – suggesting that at some point in the past, clairvoyance was a science rather than a myth, what with the future having been certain and all.

Obviously there are variations in the pace of change, but if this magical time of certainty had ever existed, our ancestors might perhaps not have expended so much energy on astrology, palmistry, the I Ching, tarot cards and reading entrails.

I also get frustrated listening to ‘people…’ etc. telling me that if we just wait until we’ve finished the latest organisational restructure, or have brought in that new manager, or waited for that pig to fly past the window, then we will achieve some mythical stability that will enable us to engage in some strategic or project or programme planning in a context where what we plan will come to pass. (Notwithstanding one of the main purposes of planning being so that you’re prepared for the plan to fail…)

Hence in my frustrated state, I was very pleased to read the attached post by Roger Martin on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network ‘Strategy and the Uncertainty Excuse’ – well worth a look!

It’s messy and it always will be! So – get over it, and get on with it. Happy New Year!





The Future of Shared Services in HE #fsshe

First: bit of voting – interesting that most attendees (enthusiasts? probably so by definition, otherwise wouldn't be here) think Shared Services will come/bring benefits, but around half think their senior management don't get it. 60% don't think enough being done to implement the recommendations of the Diamond Report.

Second: Steve Butcher/HEFCE. Need to try & move HE to where it doesn't know it needs to be (I paraphrase) – Ford quote about if asked them what they wanted, would have said faster horses. Referenced UMF Cloud projects but didn't mention DARE! Heartbroken, but then he did tell me beforehand, on grounds that couldn't fit it in…all about trying to move sector on.

Third: Andy Shenstone/Capita. What can Capita do for you. Shared services must be based on an outcomes based value proposition; focus on operational outcomes, but must look at educational outcomes as well – contribution to enhancing learning & teaching, student experience. Good points maybe but still a language problem: shared services must be presented jargon free, if they're going to fly, bit like Enterprise Architecture, has to be done.

Fourth: Jayne Rowley/Graduate Prospects. The Higher Education Degree Datacheck – HEDD. An official sector-owned suite of web services around qualification verification. Good articulation of service, model, benefits.

Fifth: Chris Hale/UUK. The Diamond review. General perception out there that HE is inefficient – may well not be the case, need to change the narrative. Focus on back office – IT, Finance, Estates, Procurement, Administration etc. Responsibility of institutional leaders to address efficiency – ref 'bit of voting', are they engaged? Procurement UK: need to recognise strategic value of procurement. Efficiency hub to support ways of working etc, joint JISC/UUK venture. Need to ensure that efficiency & modernisation remains (becomes?) a priority for institutional leaders & HE professionals.

Sixth: Chris Cobb/University of London. Need to look at shared services beyond efficiency – innovation, creativity. Easier to share new things – old things, don't look at high-level function (Registry, Finance), look at components. Evolution, collaboration. UoL: develop a taxonomy of all services; identify candidates; define proposition; assess demand; develop business models; CSG's/”For Profit” partners.

Seventh: Discussion. Need other projects like/as well as the UoL one described above to build up best practice, expertise, culture. Not just about outsourcing! (or creeping privatisation…) Conflict between collaboration & competition – again, component-based: outsource/share what doesn't give competitive advantage, if you can work that one out! Steve Butcher – different institutions hold different things precious. Jayne Rowley: insourcing, share within the sector.

Eighth: another bit of voting. Enthusiasm for Shared Services slightly down; views on senior management support & engagement with the Diamond review more negative…

(Thought: concern that Shared Services not on business/senior management agenda borne out by audience for this event: mostly external or internal 'suppliers'. Morning panel – only 1 out of 6 actually working in an actual University…)

Ninth: Mike Mercer/Manchester. The HEDD. Deployed May 2012. Instant drop in enquiries; turnaround time halved. Estimated savings 100 days over 1 year.

Tenth: Nigel Paul/Edinburgh. APUC. Operate for 60 institutions in Scotland. To obtain more benefit for procurement. Service – to deliver institutional agendas, not top-down project. Culture: 'listening'/partnership, not 'telling'. Key: service approach; recognition of institutional agenda; delivering benefit. Finally: matrix of criteria for shared services succes – can't replicate, but looks very helpful! (which isn't very helpful here & now). & a great centralise/decentralise cycle to finish – sweet spot = reducing costs & promoting excellence – & emphasising that it's all about people.

Eleventh: Mike Roberts/Warwick. Large scale shared services – what will it take? Back to conversations/events 2+ years ago. Not savings but quality! (but savings really). But savings come from quality. Technology isn't enough. Radical look at IT = savings of 0.5-1%, not enough. Savings need scale. We want shared ERP! Entry barriers are high. Scale defeats commitment. Pilot's don't convince. Pilot – evidence – scale – implement – benefit: doesn't seem to work. So: kick-start required. Conclusion: shared services can deliver. Big rewards mean big risks. Pilots don't translate. Intervention – to ease migration – is required. Government push – like APUC?

Twelfth: Final discussion & summing up. How to set up a Cost Sharing Group? (CSG).

Thirteenth: not unlucky, closedown. Very interesting event, if not moving very quickly. Top tips from chair including (good point): people share with people they like. Don't go out with partner next door just because they are next door. Get your own house in order first. Don't imagine you can do it without really having to chnage. Finally: communicate, communicate, communicate. & then communicate again!


Future Proofing Higher Education/Leading transformational change #LTC2012

Hosted at the Royal Society of Medicine, London by The Leadership Foundation for HE and HEFCE.


Innovation, Creativity & Agility – Matthew Taylor, CEO RSA. Great speaker.


Need to think about people & their roles in very different ways. Danger of a social aspiration gap – don’t think or work in the right way to create the desired future. How do we get people to be the people they need to be to create the future they say they want? Universities need to think radically to release their hidden wealth – social innovation. By definition Universities do innovation – would be strange if the average University was not more innovative than the average supermarket. But…Universities may be innovative in what they do, but not in what they are. Innovative in doing, structurally conservative. Comment on his blog: running a Victorian business in a digital world. Doesn’t really believe in the concept of leadership – vastly overstated! Yes! But if anything leaders can help organisation to realise that can’t go on like this anymore, have to change.


Four areas where Universities have opportunity for social innovation:

  1. Core business model. Has to change. Costs, labour intensive, overheads – combine 3 functions, knowledge (research), service delivery (teaching), civic function (BCE) – too much for one organisation? Shared services…example of changed model, Refuse Collection. Used to be council’s responsibility – now moved to individual. Co-production. Couldn’t meet recycling targets with old model. So given threats/changes, how to reconceptualise processes that manage inputs/outputs. Need to include collaboration. Only connect.
  2. Universities as organisations. Collaboration – including internally, shared initiatives are challenging. VC may commit to partnership with Local Authority – Authority can’t understand why then has no power to make the rest of the organisation commit. Innovation springs from bringing people together ref this brilliant video by Stephen Johnson I referenced on the JISC EA Foundation Programme. Only connect.
  3. The student relationship/offer. 2 conflicting paradigms: the learner & the consumer, problem created by reverse hierarchy: learner defers, consumer demands. Need new partnership-type model. US – major cost is providing fripperies for students as consumers: sports etc. Another conflict: content vs. employability. Content is no longer exclusive, but ubiquitous: more mediation, facilitation. Employability: now high priority. Reasonably high quality job placement will increasingly be part of offer. Also, train students too much as individuals, whereas all about teams, relationships, collaboration. Ref Enterprise Architecture: the value is in the relationships. Comment: in the digital, connected, edgeless world, no participant is an island, everything is co-dependent – was probably always becoming true, now even more so. Only connect.
  4. Connectivity. Be part of meeting the challenges of the city they are close to. Creative alliances between local government, business & community, & HE – based on common understanding of challenges & strategy of place. & Universities should lead. So – only connect x 4.

Raises thoughts about applying EA to all kinds of things: as well as relationships within institutions, relationships between institutions & external partners, employers, learners etc.

Some institutions need to make a change as profound as IBM: from computer manufacturer to consultancy. Need to subvert the HE hierarchy as expressed in league tables etc. Don’t reflect capacity for innovation.

Would be great person to address LJMU Senior Management within the strategy formulation process.


Transferable Learning: Durham, Cathedrals Group, Northumbria.

Pecha kucha approach. So, gutta percha again. Not quite…

Durham. Project to identify whether there are leadership, management & governance behaviours that impact on performance, & develop an associated diagnostic toolkit. 8 thematic areas that underpin excellence in high performing departments: approaches to change management, communications, research & teaching. Strategy, culture & leadership. Staffing & rewards. Take a look.

The Cathedrals Group. Distinctiveness & Identity. Led by Ewart Wooldridge, CEO LFHE. Seemed initially to be specific to this grouping of faith-based institutions. So what is more general?

Unmemorable mnemonic: NPVCC (obviously unmemorable as I’ve forgotten the N!)

  • Place
  • Values
  • Community
  • Clusters

5 ways to achieve distinctiveness.

Ewart: gone off visions & missions – hurrah! – more important to have a compelling narrative that ties the whole place together (ref the Big Lubowski). Place there again. Bottle of champagne from Ewart if can send LFHE a better mnemonic.

Northumbria. ROI tool ref staff development activities.

Creating Value: Exeter/Falmouth

To develop resources for managers in HE to create efficiencies. Research & analysis leading to online resource (to be released soon) & workshops. Discussion: how to adopt a bottom-up approach & get input/creativity from the staff involved/affected. Benefits realisation – but need a baseline. Communications!

Not a criticism of individual initiatives, but there seem to be an awful lot of toolkits out there – hard to get round them all! & probably duplication – a lot of similar stuff may already be available on eg the JISCinfoNet site, other JISC resources etc.

University College Falmouth – Enterprise Architecture. EA, PRINCE2 & ITIL to manage change. LEAN – rapid innovation events. Encouraging adoption of a holistic overview, breaking down silos. Output: PEAT, Project Enterprise Architecture Toolkit. Can be seen on Exeter site. Must take a look.

So…a lot of very good/interesting work going on.


Shared Services in HE/Canterbury Christ Church University


Dominic Macdonald-Wallace. Postgraduate certificate in shared services. 4 ways to act when up against the wall:

  1. Tough it out – lower costs, reengineer
  2. Sell to others – if achieve 1.
  3. Outsource – if can’t manage 1.
  4. Share services – when all else fails.

What makes shared services in HE so difficult? The usual suspects…fear of failure, inertia, competition, not invented here, not convinced of benefits. Private sector: 60% fail because of: failure of leadership, too optimistic & under-resourced, lack of skills in practitioners. Cynic in me says: well you would say that if you were flogging training. MSP & PRINCE2 – essential skills. What about EA? Essential tool for understanding services. 


Note: apparently TUPE is going soon, because government view (!) is that safeguarding the rights of workers is too expensive/adversely affects growth & job creation…


Another very interesting session, worth looking into further.


Launch of the Innovation & Transformation Fund – LFHE, HEFCE, UUK et al

Four strands: efficiency benchmarking; procurement (collaboration, efficiency); rethinking academic practice & the student relationship – how do we transform academic culture/practice for the benefit of learners; dissemination & learning – creation of an innovation & efficiency hub.


EOIs by 23rd February; outcomes 16th March; invited full proposals 20th April; results 18th May.


HEFCE: initiatives/proposals need ownership/leadership at VC level. 


UUK: much more emphasis on vfm. Sharing: the most effective way of leading change.


The end…


Session 1: Delivering efficiencies & value for money by sharing services & floating on clods/JISC, Eduserv, DCC, JANET

Spot the typo above – not deliberate, except for the decision to leave it in.

Overview of the JISC Shared Services & the Cloud programme.

JANET Brokerage Service. Discussing the fears & aspirations with institutions & suppliers; ref former, many different perspectives, views, degrees of readiness for cloud services, so no one model. So way forward: working with individual institutions & suppliers to identify appropriate services – sort of against spirit of the Cloud, tailored/customised rather than just out there & generic. Now up & running. Developing framework agreements. Paper to be published soon on email for research students & staff. Working with VLE providers. So JANET doing SaaS – then where does SSPS fit into this? Elephant in the room: sustainability. One stop shop, establish pipeline of brokered deals into FY12/13 – must have financial sustainability model.

Digital Curation Centre. Do your researchers trust IT Services to look after their data? Capacity planning? Post-grant data management? Researchers increasingly keeping stuff longer/externally.

Eduserv. Cloud hosting service. Key thing – pricing to be published on Monday 21st. Broadly pitched below Amazon etc.

Q&A. Eduserv – resilience when only single data centre; second centre tentatively within 18 months. Also looking at preservation centre in the cloud, would require working with other partners. Another comment – single data centre makes it a non-runner. Could be used as backup centre/second site for an institution – but not primary. Maybe bursting, overflow etc. So would you site an operational service there, like, say, DARE? In reality, needs practical approach to resilience in a cloud context – the way backups etc are provided by, say, Amazon will not necessarily conform to the usual expectations.

Session 2: JISC & the Beanstalk/JISC

Flexible service delivery etc presented through the medium of pantomime, coincident with the launch of the new JISC infoNet resource suite ‘Improving Organisational Efficiency‘. I was relieved to hear that guerilla EA doesn’t mean ‘John Townsend jumping on stage in a monkey suit’. Apart from that, you had to be there. & then I got me coat.