UCISA Support Services Conference 2013: Day Two

Day 2: Wednesday 3rd July

Breakfast, and time for the first meeting of the day, with colleagues from Plymouth and Liverpool John Moores. Do we have security training for all our staff (IT or otherwise)? At Oxford we have policies, a toolkit, lots of guidance, and some systems, but the only routine training with periodic “refreshers” is on DSE assessment and recruitment (although some security training is on the way as I type). The pattern seems good – initial training, followed by periodic updates (frequency as appropriate), via a self-service interface with some means of checking that the user has taken on board key aspects of the learning. At LJM all IT staff go through a similar programme for DPA, anti-bribery, and diversity training. Sounds like it has potential for Oxford, and the quid pro quo is that our ISBP toolkit is of interest to Plymouth and LJM.

The first plenary was from Druva, who have provided a “dropbox alternative that meets corporate data storage and security requirements” to the Economics Dept and Business School at Warwick. I spoke to Druva the day before, and the solution sounded interesting – compliance (policy) driven storage with refresh and commit to/from a local copy from multiple clients. The talk also had some interesting points – our users are shouting for “style”, “freedom”, “productivity”, and “convenience”, whilst our employers are demanding “managed risk”, “privacy”, “security” and “protection” – the ever present availability vs. security tension. Unfortunately the rest of the talk didn’t reassure me. “Druva is NOT a backup company” we were told, but then “…and we can deliver all of these core features because, at its heart, Druva is a backup company”. Later on “We configured it to use port 22 as we already had a hole in the firewall and didn’t want to open any more holes up for obvious security reasons”. As configured at Warwick, users can restore to any 12hr snapshot in the last two weeks, from any device (and there is a web interface for retrieval too). One other note, from Warwick’s Economics Dept, was that they had abandoned whole disk encryption due to (a) direct cost, (b) support and productivity cost through lost passwords, and (c) impact on imaging and desktop management.

Plenary 2, and Steven Beavis (Cherwell) talked about measuring customer satisfaction. His key point was that at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. He suggested that customer satisfaction follows primarily from two areas – perception of value, and ease of access to desired services. Metrics should be balanced across four main areas: Productivity, Efficiency, Satisfaction, and (as a result) Satisfaction. Deriving metrics is a cycle – you set Goals, define Critical Success Factors that reflect acheivement of the Goal, set Key Performance Indicators to tell you when the CSFs are hit, record Metrics which can be used to derive KPIs, and generate feedback as a result, which then helps to set next year’s Goals. Users are increasingly requesting a focus on satisfaction – “I want it fixed, now” – rather than operational targets (we had 10,000 calls last month). Further, reports should be actionable – there is no point in reporting a figure unless it leads to actions for improvement.

This led into a lightning talk about surveying. Lots of people had anecdotal evidence of high levels of apathy – low response rates, mid-range scores, etc. A few success stories were related though. Noel Bruton’s “Random 5” – 5 callbacks per week to users who had tickets closed to gauge their satisfaction in 3 questions or so – this had worked well for one person. Another got a 30% response rate by sending all callers a “Less-than-one-minute” survey. The idea of an email with (two or) three HTML buttons – Poor, OK, Good – to all callers won some favour. One University IT department had sent staff out with bright t-shirts and a list of 12 (yes or no style) questions; these staff then took up post near doors to campus cafe’s etc and asked just one question of anyone walking through – of course most people gave up the answer before they realised that they were being surveyed, and a very high rate of data collection was acheived.

The morning closed with a talk from Edinburgh University about UniDesk. Edinburgh, St Andrews, and the University of Abertay had all been looking to buy new ITSM tools, and thought that doing this together would get better leverage. This led to thinking about sharing the cost of developing ITSM processes, and then the whole hog – a shared service desk. TOPdesk came in as a fourth partner, bringing their ITSM tool and commercial knowledge. From kick-off in June 2008 the whole thing was done in c. 30 months (Nov 2010).

The initial shared service had Incident Management and Request Fulfilment, and extension to incorporate Problem Management, Change & Release Management, and Configuration Management (or at least a CMDB) followed. Sheffield Hallam University have taken this up for their service desk.

UniDesk’s life had not been without lessons to be learned – and many of these seemed to be good advice for our own service desk project. Five things came though:

  1. Keep it simple – no customisations for the initial partnerships makes it easy to maintain, avoids politics, keeps costs down, and makes it much simpler when potential new partners come along. You need to decide not to overengineer it from the outset!
  2. This isn’t going to save the bank – although efficiencies may lead to small savings, these are not generally substantial, especially for the initial group who set it up.
  3. A simple business model is critical. UniDesk agreed a cost per annum, based on JISC bandings of instituation size – but then usage was unlimited (i.e. cost is absolutely defined for the service period ahead – “fill y’r boots!”).
  4. Trust is very important. Each insitution had to make compromises, adopt aspects of the others, give up customisations of their own. This can only be done successfully if you trust that everyone is in this for mutual benefit.
  5. You need to be rigorous in accounting for costs (e.g. staff time) in the shared service – as resources come from the partner organisations, but people will want to question how much the are being charged (the transparency aids building of trust).

Edinburgh are also using the shared service desk for their Finance and Registry teams. They are getting on well with using the tool, but don’t have the ITIL knowledge to “get” the processes – especially the two-part closure (resolve first, then close with data cleansing).

Innovative Communications was the topic of conversation before lunch. Most people seemed to be focussing on how to engage with students (“lose the suit, grab a hoodie” was the key to success here). Ideas that broke out of the usual molds included:

  • Poster promenades – IT and Library advertising their wares in departments (cake made these events popular);
  • Open Days – a sort of IT conference for academics and researchers – a tour of the data centre had proven particularly alluring!
  • A roadshow, going round the University to show off new/exciting developments. Short talks were recorded and delivered by video to save key staff from spending loads of time on this;
  • The use of 90-second videos to showcase services and projects had been well received. Several Universities used video as a core part of their communications, and had their own YouTube channel;
  • One University had a robot at their freshers fair – you could ask the robot a question and somehow it would try to provide an answer.

Over lunch I met up with two Relationship Managers from Hull University. This is not part of the student welfare scheme, but the bit of IT that links out across the University to do Business Relationship Management (a bit like Internal Account Management). Their role is to speak to departments about current issues, wishlists, strategies, plans etc, arrange for specialist staff to be available for suitable discussions, and advise on new developments / IT strategy. All engagements / contacts are recorded and reviewed, and the information collected is made widely available across the IT department. `The role is tightly integrated with Communications – although Hull are yet to get staff for this. More than one person is needed for this, although with BRM activities spread over several staff, one person could coordinate several relationships. It was seen as key to success that relationships are trunked – i.e. one person oversees / handles relationships with a group of related customers. This helps to join up the customer needs, and fosters sharing / peer support. In terms of internal links and dependencies needed to deliver in this area, Relationship Management falls cleanly into the Customer Services area of IT, but depends a lot on Application and Web Development as these are the areas where most issues seem to crop up.

The afternoon kicked off with a discussion of Herriot Watts’ reorganisation and merger of IT and Libraries. One of their larger issues was a 10 minute walk between the library and the data centre, and several people who had merged library and IT help desks a few years ago are now separating these functions out again – it seems that students want library help from libraries and IT help from IT.

Next we heard from Dan Batchelor (University of Wolverhampton) who is the outgoing president(?) of the Student Union there. The union had been failing, and he led them to ditch the bar/club/table-footy culture and become a support body for students. Part of this saw them become “the Student Voice” in IT decision making, and they really did seem to have great engagement through formal and informal channels at both individual and organisational levels. This meant that strengths established in one year were not lost when the executive was re-elected for the next. His story was very persuasive and I, amongst others, plan to investigate the potential of our own unions (OUSU in Oxford’s case) to help link with students.

The last formal session of the day was a talk about surviving in changing and challenging times. Paul McGee was certainly an animated and engaging speaker, and many people will doubtless remember some of his sound bites: “The future does not belong to the strongest, but to those most able to adapt (Darwin)”, “Shut Up, Move On”, the receptionist whose name card read “Director of First Impressions”, and the fact that “change makes us uncomfortable”.

Thus ended the second day, giving way to the second evening, the conference dinner, the after dinner talks, and the discussions of service desk and managed desktop issues into the wee hours.


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