UCISA Support Services Conference 2013: Day One

This is the (now) annual UCISA SSC, attended by around 150 staff working in IT support from across UK HE. This year’s conference ran from Tuesday 2nd July – Thursday 4th July, at the John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh.

Day 1, Tuesday 2nd July:

Arrivals and registration led onto meeting up with colleagues (new and old) from other institutions. Common themes soon emerged, with discussion around service desk KPIs and metrics, questions around whether AV support is a service desk responsibility or something for a specialist team, and developments (mainly around the use of virtualisation) in desktop provision. Data security concerns also featured, but with the focus varying between confidentiality (e.g. in the case of lost / stolen laptops) and availability (e.g. in the case of device failure when the only copy was stored locally).

I had an interesting chat with Sheffield University’s Service Improvement Coordinator. At Sheffield they felt that ITIL’s Problem Management process only addressed part of a broader picture of (reactive and proactive) feedback on service quality. Their SIC role encompasses a set of responsibilities covering customer satisfaction and feedback, service reviews (including interviews), Incident patterns, and more. This role also overlaps with ITIL’s Business Relationship Management and Availability Management, but doesn’t have any resources or authority to make changes – this happens through influence on service strategy boards. Sheffield has c. 165 services in their Service Catalog.

Ian MacDonald (Co-operative Group IT at Manchester) presented a the subject of Assessing and Benchmarking to Drive Continuous Service Improvement. Some of the key points of this talk were:

  • Real value is derived when assessment and benchmarking is integrated into a strategic intent to continuously improve capabilities and deliver improved services;
  • It needs to be ongoing.

A Jack Welch quotation (“Face reality as it is, not as it was or how you wish it would be“) captured the idea that we might have the view that we’re doing a good job, but our users might have quite a different perception – we can’t get awat with just believing that we are “good” at what we do – we need to get some external references on this.

An interesting model was discussed, where Value for Money (seen by the user/customer) is generated through a combination of costs and value. Costs arise from the hardware, software, premises, and staff used to deliver services, whilst Value is derived from the products, services, people, and image that we offer. Importantly then, Value is perceived – and can be influenced, whereas Costs are tangible – and cannot be influenced (they are what they are).

In terms of understanding how we are doing then, there are some options. Self-assessment, available through several free structured questionnaires, can give us a score that can be compared against an industry norm. Certification provides independent assurance that a certain standard has been met or exceeded. Benchmarking enables measurement of the time, cost, and quality of our activities, which can then be compared against best practice or peer results (e.g. from the same industry sector) – this provides the best understanding around the costs of delivering IT. Finally, Awards are another way in which excellence can be recognised – and has a strong link back to the image aspect of Value.

The next plenary was a group discussion of support models in different HEIs. Although there was a lot of variation in the details, broadly speaking most people seemed to have a central IT function providing commodity services, and some form of devolved local/specialised IT function in departments / schools / colleges. Those who represented central IT took a general view that they wanted more centralisation, but few had found ways to overcome the objections (or rejection of the idea) by local IT. Oxford’s position of recognising distributed IT as a key asset, and wishing to strengthen the support interactions between local and central IT was fairly unique.

Our first business showcase of the conference was a joint presentation by Cherwell and the University of Wolverhampton. The UoW undertook a project to replace its service desk toolset. The project timeline was something like:

  • Early 2011: desire recognised, project kicked-off
  • Oct 2011: vendor demos
  • Dec 2011: PQQ responses and tender process
  • Mar 2012: 3 suppliers shortlisted, scenario-based proof-of-concept sessions with vendors (13 scenarios used, focussing on previous or predicted situations), vendors varied in approach and preparedness
  • Apr 2012: Order placed with Cherwell
  • Jul 2012: Implementation finalised, dual-systems run in parallel
  • Aug 2012: Go live

The talk looked at how the relationship developed between Cherwell and UoW, and touched on a number of lessons learned during the project. The key messages were that the full extent of project impact needs to be considered – training for all staff and key users, awareness of the change across the broader university, and not expecting perfection after a single run through.

Next we heard from Manchester Metropolitan University, who have been undergoing a programme of cultural change. This had some interesting overlap with Oxford’s central IT reorganisation. They had faced the question of “Are we there yet” – and decided that with organisational change you can rarely say “yes” as the endpoint is really hard to define or measure. They had used Myers-Briggs personality assessments, 360 degree feedback, changes in language (e.g. the area where infrastructure work is now called “the office” rather than “the bunker”), and they have introduced social events, recognitionschemes, and “Make A Difference (MAD) Day” where managers all reported on something acheived by their team in the last few months that had made a difference to someone or some part of the organisation.

The final event of the day was a series of 3 PechaKucha (20×20) talks. In one (John Grannan, Leeds) looked their OneIT Transformation Programme – another organisational change! He described the goal of this using a phrase that would be persuasive anywhere: “Showing users that IT is something they want, not something they have to fight with”. One of their focusses has been on Service Definition – providing a clear list for users so they know what is available, who it is provided by, and how/where to get it. They are using ITIL and CSIP, but have hit the issue that in terms of process maturity models, the business needs to match IT in order that the “more mature” conversations can take place. The final session was given by Peter Tinson (UCISA) on the subject of Leadership. He made several interesting points: (1) everyone working in IT is a leader – which we can only do well if we are respected (for doing a good job), professional, understanding of the business’ needs, and advocates for IT. He noted that decision making is often based only marginally (2%) on fact, and heavily (98%) on opinion, which is based on perceptions, interpretations, beliefs, and aspirations.If we take the time to listen to our stakeholders, talk to them in terms they understand, and are consistent in our message, then we will become valued and trusted partners.

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