Sunday, 30 March 2014

New rules of engagement!

Alarm bells ring for me when I hear you talk about 'IT projects'. Presumably an 'IT project' is something you can safely leave to the geeks. The geeks will work their magic and tell you when they are done.

This is magical thinking and dangerous.  It leads to familiar headlines - 'yet another IT project fails' - the ones that give politicians bad press days.  Those headlines make me shout, 'There's no such thing as an IT project!'

All projects are business projects. Ultimately, in our case, they must benefit learning or research else what's the point? None of them are just about new technology. None of them can be left to the geeks alone.

Technology means 'tool' and tools are useless until someone sees their potential and applies them with skill and purpose.  Most people are happy enough with the tool they have already.  It's familiar. Life is predictable and safe.  Why would they change? It's hard to convince them to adapt, and adopt the new.  In fact, this is nearly always the hardest part of any project.

This is where you need to lead and play the starring role. Yet, time and again, this is the part which is forgotten or underplayed. Time and again, this absence turns out to the be the truth behind the headline.

So here are our new rules of engagement....

  1. There's no such thing as an IT project
  2. Don't ask us for new technology. Tell us the business challenge you are trying to meet.
  3. You play your role and we'll play ours. This is a double act

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The 'e' should stand for 'excitement' not 'experience'

We talk endlessly about the 'student experience'.  We know this matters.  By coming to Nottingham students are investing in a life changing, challenging 'experience' through which they aim to discover their potential, become the best possible version of themselves and maximise their chances of a fulfilling life and career.  This is our product and it had better be different and special.  Why else would students choose our 'experience'.

For me, learning is exciting.  When I'm facing fears and learning fast, I feel energised, excited and happy.  These are the words I'd like our students to use about learning and being at Nottingham.  Excited and engaged students are more likely to be successful, more likely to speak affectionately about their University, more likely to remain part of a life long alumni community, and more likely to come back for more.

So here's the exciting thing for our IT geeks and creative geniuses - the University needs you!  You know how to put the 'e' factor into online learning and being.  You know that students  need no encouragement to use mobile apps and YouTube and Facebook and iPlayer and Netflix and Spotify…. Start thinking now and help us figure out how to build 'student excitement' in our digital University of Nottingham.  

Sunday, 4 August 2013

I want a car not a list of parts for self-assembly

There's only one chance to be a 'new starter'. What a golden opportunity this has been - to experience what it is like to roll up as a new employee and be introduced to IT at Nottingham.

I ask for the standard.  What do you normally give the mobile professional?  What do you recommend?  I have simple needs …..I want one device.  I want to move around from wired to wireless, and get to my data wherever I am.  I work at home a lot. Please let me take my office home with me.  (I'm in my kitchen now.) I want to know my data is backed up and safely encrypted.  I want to be able to work off-line on the train sometimes and know that my email and data will synchronise again as soon as I'm reconnected.   I need a core set of applications.

But there are no standard services it seems.

I feel like someone who went to a garage to buy a car - something to get me quickly and safely from A to B.  What I'm given disappoints.  It is a long list of engine, a few wheels, a gear box.  I'm sure it's a great engine but I don't want to assemble the parts myself,  not even if there is a great instruction book.  (There isn't an instruction book.)

When I talk about service, I mean "a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks".  I just want a safe, convenient and comfortable way of getting from A to B.  You are the experts guys.  Walk tall and tell me the best way to do that.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

New job, so many new people...

Started my new role as CIO at the University of Nottingham this week.  So here's the first challenge… to meet 210 people, remember their names, know what they do and where they sit across more than 25 locations.   This is my team and I need to know them all as individuals and by reputation as quickly as possible.  My diary's packed with introductory meetings but I can't meet everyone that way.  So I've sent everyone some introductory stuff about me and asked them to reciprocate  - an electronic business card, with a picture, and a personal profile, as well as hints and tips for me on what I need to know quickly about this place.  Fantastic response!  I have had 36 back so far - all really informative and interesting .  Now I have my pointers to some of the rich information I need.   It's always good to know what's growing in the garden before you start digging!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Can we afford choice?

How often do we find ourselves in conflict? Someone wants something slimmer, lighter or prettier than the standard HP PC.  The argument has been rehearsed for more than ten years and is getting boring.  It's the total life time cost that matters.  Let's not squander our money on being different just for the hell of it.  

Here’s the data to show why standardisation is so much cheaper for the University in terms of total life time cost of running a PC, based on the most recent, very detailed, data from Gartner.

All these numbers are in dollars, but they make the point.

Key assumptions:

·         Desktop costs $972 with monitor
·         All PCs are replaced every four years
·         ‘Managed PC’ means there are tools, processes and policies for centralised management and the users cannot install software or change settings without involvement from IT
·         ‘Unmanaged PC’ means there are little or no management tools and the users can install their own software

Total four year direct cost of running a unmanaged PC: is $8,152 or 8.3 * initial purchase cost
Total four year direct cost of running a managed PC:- $6,896 or 7 * initial purchase cost

Saving per year per user is $296.  On an, estate of 3000 PCs this represents a saving of $888K per year for the organisation.

Gartner also has data for the additional ‘indirect’ costs of the time spent by users fiddling with their own computers in unproductive ways in these two scenarios. (Don’t pretend you haven’t done this!) The numbers are simply boggling then, with estimated total savings per year per user of $2,485 or $7,450,000 for 3000 PCs.

These are based on US labour rates so we’d come out a bit lower.  Nonetheless, the point is made.  We have to pursue the savings when we can, so that we can afford to do things differently for researchers when necessary, as it so often is. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Please can we have a new home?

We just completed a useful experiment.  For two weeks we tracked the hours spent by my team walking back and forth between the five locations that now house us.   It turns out that we are spending 1.5 FTE staff time, or £80K per year, walking.  No doubt this has consequential health benefits  but the University didn't budget for this.  I'm more concerned about other losses - all the waste effort, missed opportunity and general dysfunction that occurs  when teams can't work naturally together.

We are about to reorganise ourselves with the express aims of breaking down silos, reducing handoffs, improving teamwork, improving the first time fix rate, reducing waste effort and, above all, getting better at innovation and problem solving.  We categorically know that we can't do this without a new, properly designed space in which to operate.

Great meeting today with Estates, turning these ideas into a proper business case for investing in a new open plan environment - one in which people can work fluidly together, choosing where they want to work based on the task at hand.  Spaces need to be designed accordingly,  some being appropriate for quiet concentrated work, others more for project or problem solving teams.  And please can we have some social spaces in which to have the kind of relaxed conversations which make for accidental genius?  Good things happen when people can talk to each other without appointment or agenda.    

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

What's the value currency in a University?

Why is a University such a confusing place for someone who served their professional apprenticeship in the private sector? It should be easy.  Senior executives are simple creatures aren't they?  They only care about three things: the top line (are we generating revenue?) the bottom line (are we managing costs?), risks (what bad things might happen?). Not in a University it seems. Here no one knows what anything costs, or whether anything is profitable and they certainly don't want to hear bad news.

So what do they care about? Finally it dawns. Knowledge, not money, is the value currency around here.  A university is a knowledge factory, its job to create, share and breed wisdom.  And this isn't a zero sum game either.  We can all have more of it.

What a surprise then, that so many attempts to prioritise one investment over another have ended in dissonance.  How stupid to ask the venture capitalist which project will give the best return when we can't quantify this knowledge currency.

Strangely though, we often witness remarkable consensus.  Many will have the same gut feel that something is a good idea. I guess we are going to have to carry on following these hunches. If the purpose is true, and we have a way to serve it, let's JFDI and hope.