Category Archives: UCISA-SSG

GDPR and IT support community day

Lots of work has been put in across the sector understanding the impact of GDPR on areas such as staff/student records, alumni relations, fundraising and marketing/communications – but little thought has been put into what it means for the provision of IT support. Gareth Edwards, Head of IT, Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Rachel Fligelstone, Head of Service Strategy and Communications, Lancaster University and Jenny Jordan, Customer Services Manager, Edge Hill University ran a community day for UCISA members.


GDPR is everywhere at the moment. As we’re now less than a month until the 25th May implementation date the topic is almost inescapable – the dire warnings about fines we’ve been hearing for so long (€20 million or 4% of the company’s global annual turnover!) are now being complimented by a steady stream of emails from suppliers and services informing us about updates to their privacy policies.
Outside of FE/HE much of the focus has been on marketing activity (and perhaps Facebook!) – but inside the sector how much time was being dedicated to understanding and acting on what GDPR means to how we provide IT support in our Universities and Colleges?
On Friday 13th April over 40 IT and Data Governance staff from Universities across the UK gathered at Edge Hill University’s central Manchester campus for a Community Day to explore the topic further, with the goal of taking back a greater understanding of the regulations’ impact and their responsibilities under the new legal framework.
The day featured a number of workshops, first looking at what we already understood about GDPR and its impact through brainstorming Stakeholders, Services, Data and Dangers.

This was an interesting exercise, revealing a good grasp of not just data protection “fundamentals” such as Data Protection Impact Analysis, Consent and Privacy Notices, but also of where this data might exist and the ways in which it could all go horribly wrong.
This was followed by a GDPR Refresher course provided by Alex Daybank of University of Manchester (very kindly stepping in at the last minute), a useful high-level reminder of the fundamentals of GDPR.
Delegates then took part in an affinity mapping exercise – an opportunity to brainstorm their worries, concerns and questions around GDPR and IT Support, followed by discussing and grouping into topics we would vote on and discuss later in the day. James Bull of ITSM tool supplier Wendia then joined us to give a suppliers eye view of the topic.
After lunch we had the opportunity to hear from representatives from Keele University, University of Glasgow and University of Oxford on their preparations for GDPR, giving some useful insight into some of the issues that have already been considered.
For the closing session of the day we returned to the list of questions we came up with earlier in the day, which delegates had voted on over lunch.

We had the time to discuss the top 4 voted topics:
  • Understanding what GDPR might mean for using and retaining data in an ITSM tool;
  • IT’s role in helping with GDPR
  • Staff and Students – New Starters, Moving Around and Leaving
  • Data Management – Retention Policies and Minimising data gathering
The discussions are documented in more detail here, but the two key themes that emerged are listed below
We wrapped up a full but enjoyable day with one last opportunity to catch up with colleagues, before heading home.
We’d like to say a big thank you to the representatives from Keele, Glasgow, Oxford and Manchester Universities who very kindly offered their time and expertise and gave excellent presentations, as well as Wendia for their input.
Thank you also to Edge Hill University for once again hosting a Support Services Community Day and making us feel welcome.
And a final thank you to the delegates, from Strathclyde to London, who took part and made the day a success.
Presentations, photos and notes from the day are available from the resources page.

Key take-outs:

  • The importance of having, understanding and enforcing data retention policies – this came up initially in discussions about ITSM tools, but was a recurring topic.

  • The need to work closely with other parts of the organisation, particularly where they might be sources of information (e.g. identity and access management, staff/student records) for systems like an ITSM tool.


UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via


The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA

ITSM Tools

Sally Bogg, winner of Business Role Model of the Year in the 2018 Women in IT Awards, offers her insights on breaking the cycle of ITSM tool frustration. Head of end-user services at Leeds Beckett University, Sally is Chair of the  UCISA’s Support Services Group and holds the award for Inspirational Leader 2017 from the IT Service & Support Awards.



It’s not me – it’s you? From conversations with other UCISA members and colleagues across the HE and FE education sectors, there seems to be a great deal of dissatisfaction with our IT Service Management tools.
Is that just because ITSM tools tend to be pricey so our expectations of what they will deliver are sky high? Or is it that we’re simply failing to fully leverage the significant investment we make in them?
My take is that they are often purchased as an unrealistic silver bullet and seen as a catch-all solution for implementing ITIL-related processes and creating a service culture.
The problem as I see it is that a tool is still just a tool. It can’t change embedded behaviours or culture and it can’t fix broken support processes.
And because of that, we often get stuck in a non-productive cycle. We buy a new tool, go through the pain of implementation and then walk away with very little investment in development.
A year or two down the line, we’re frustrated and disappointed that it has failed to meet our needs. What does it seem we typically do? We start thinking about buying a new one.
Some organisations have got dedicated development resource for their ITSM tool. But many don’t. Is it any wonder that they are not meeting our requirements and delivering return on investment?
It seems time for a new approach. Time to get the most from the ITSM products we’re using by working more closely with vendors and suppliers. Most ITSM tools have very similar functionality so my advice is to find a vendor that you want to work with — someone you can build and develop a long-term strategic partnership with.
Start by spending lots of time mapping the processes and understanding where the tool can be best used and, if possible, where activities and tasks can be automated, for example password resets.
I know starting with the processes rather than the product isn’t very IT. But while we may want to get our hands on the system as soon as we can, I think first deciding how, where and why we can maximise its use is a prerequisite for ending the cycle of ITSM fatigue.
For example, trying to retrofit and tack on reporting after implementation can be a costly, time-consuming mistake that may require a complete redesign — easily avoided if you think about what reports you want early on in your process-mapping.
And remember that success usually is about people, not things. Spending time and investing in training will result in the tool being used cohesively and consistently.
Finally, look ahead and keep that forward momentum. Implementing a continual service improvement roadmap for your ITSM tool means development activities can be recorded, developed, prioritised and implemented.

Key take-outs:

  • Develop a strategic relationship with your ITSM tool supplier

  • Start by considering processes, not products

  • Look ahead. Invest time into a continual service improvement roadmap for your ITSM tool


UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via


The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA.

Benefits of a steep learning curve by a UCISA bursary winner

Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion)
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield



Sara Henderson was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

Being awarded a UCISA bursary to attend the UCISA Support Services Group (SSG) 2017 conference was a highlight of my working year. Although SSG was not my initial choice, I felt privileged to be accommodated by the scheme nonetheless. Below is an account of how my attendance has positively shaped my professional development, institution and how this interacts with the wider HE IT sector.

For context, I am no longer working at Student Lifecycle Project at the University of Sheffield (formerly Student Systems Project), but the experience of UCISA-SSG has still had a lasting effect on my experience of the sector, as I will detail in the following paragraphs.

Professional development

Many aspects of the conference were a steep learning curve. Although I had attended conferences before, these were alongside my peers as an undergraduate, whereas UCISA-SSG17 allowed me to network with established and influential people in the sector. In some ways this was challenging – introducing myself and my involvement in the Project made me feel slightly vulnerable, but everyone I spoke to was interested and encouraging in equal measure.

Most notably, I was asked to speak on the Panel session – the headline event of the conference. Members of the panel were James Smith, Director of IT Services, Birkbeck, University of London; Adam Kearns, Students’ Union Postgraduate Office, University of Bath; Sebastian Barnes, IT Support Specialist, Leeds Beckett University, and myself. Although I was taken aback by the offer, I’m glad it was given relatively last minute, as it didn’t leave much time for the nerves to kick in. I had given presentations and spoken on a panel and in front of moderately-sized groups of people before, but never on this scale. I was accompanied by confident and competent speakers who luckily had most of the spotlight, and despite the topic areas being somewhat unfamiliar I was still able to draw on my experience as a student and university staff member. I was extremely proud of myself for accepting such a daunting but exciting opportunity, and grateful to UCISA for the experience.

Institutional benefit

Unfortunately, I was unable to present my experience of UCISA to student representatives at the University of Sheffield as I had hoped to, because the recruitment of said students was delayed for the duration of my contract on the Project. The time-scales and priorities of such a major business change project are extremely variable, so this is to be somewhat expected. However, I did share my experience with colleagues, conversationally rather than formally, and believe my attendance at the conference had a genuine impact on Student Lifecycle Project.

Firstly, I’m reminded of the ‘Adding Value with Values’ talk given by Alistair Reid-Pearson, IT Manager at the University of Huddersfield. I was heavily involved in the communication and marketing of the Project to stakeholders, and contributed to the development of our ‘Vision’, including our core values and principles. We acknowledged the importance of gaining buy-in from our team by inviting everyone to participate in the process of developing this piece.

Secondly, the electric discussion by Paul Boag, ‎User Experience Strategic Designer, Boagworks about User Experience How to start a user experience revolution’ carried through all the work I’ve done since hearing it. Being heavily involved in the prospective student enquiry management element of the project, I helped design enquiry categories in the new system, and formulate FAQs for student support and guidance. From content to layout, I began every consideration from the user’s perspective, as championed by Paul.

Lastly, Francesca Spencer’sTechnophobe Testing – an experience of providing a service to those who fear, dislike or avoid technology’ put accessibility at the forefront of my mind when supporting the development of software and services. I made it my priority to advocate for the needs of all staff and students, be it ‘technophobes’, disabled or differently-abled people, by urging their inclusion in the room.

Wider sector

It was a pleasure to contribute my dissemination to UCISA’s website (Part 1: Fresh meat and learning about user involvement and Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing) ), and I hope this was well-received. I connected on LinkedIn with some of the people I met at the conference, which has since provided plenty of reading material and food for thought, and allows me to learn from the hard-work and perseverance of others in the sector.

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

UCISA Exec member Sally Bogg wins top Business Role Model award

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services at Leeds Beckett University, Chair of UCISA’s Support Services Group and a member of UCISA’s Executive Committee, has been named Business Role Model of The Year at the 2018 Women in IT Awards.











“I was proud and humbled to attend the awards but I never expected to win,” said Sally. “It just goes to show the power of education and the transformational impact universities can have.”

“I have been very fortunate over my career to have had so many inspirational role models to look up to and it is nice to be able to give something back.”

She continued: “Women have been responsible for some of the greatest technology inventions and yet there are still not enough women working in tech roles within our sector.  IT has an image problem and much work still needs to be done to demonstrate that this is an attractive and exciting industry to work in. The Women in IT Awards are a great way of helping address this image problem, celebrating our female tech talent and hopefully inspiring others.”











Sally Bogg (centre) receives her award from TV presenter and TeenTech CEO,
Maggie Philbin (left) and Monika Fahlbusch, Senior Vice President of category sponsors BMC software. (Image courtesy Women in IT)


Sally dropped out of school after becoming pregnant at 17 but later returned to education and graduated from Leeds Beckett in 2006 with a degree in computing. At the time, she was one of only a dozen women among the 200 students on the course. After gaining further experience in the IT sector, Sally returned to the Leeds Beckett University in 2015 as Head of End User Services, Client Services, and is now responsible for the University’s IT Services Desk, Desktop Support and IT training as well as managing 45 staff.

Women in IT Award judges said of Sally: “Her non-traditional career trajectory shows anyone can succeed in IT if they have the passion and drive. Her work in higher education IT is really making a difference.”

Commenting on her success, Sally said that joining UCISA’s Support Services Group had played an essential role in her career progression.

“It has enabled me to grow and strengthen my network, and has given me access to strategic and leadership exchanges outside of my own organisation. I have received so much support from the UCISA community and it has been a source of great inspiration and motivation to me.”

This is the second year running that Sally has been honoured for her approach to her work.

In 2017, she was presented with the Service Desk Institute’s Inspirational Leader of the Year award at the  IT Service and Support Awards in recognition of the positive and sustainable impact she has had on staff across Leeds Beckett University and the wider service desk industry.

The Women in IT Awards, run by business technology magazine Information Age in London and New York, are now in their fourth year and showcase the achievements and innovation of women in technology, identifying new role models and promoting further dialogue around diversity among industry influencers.

Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)



Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

Sara Henderson was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

This is the moment of truth.  I take to the stage to speak on my first ever conference panel session, an extremely popular fixture at UCISA-SSG .  As I meet my fellow panellists, I’m half-waiting for someone to yell “INTRUDER” and haul me off the stage, but before I know it my name flashes up on the screen and all eyes are on us.

The questions roll in, some wackier than others, and I do my best to answer them honestly, but with many falling outside of my remit, I find it difficult to feel completely at ease.  I’m in the strange position of being a recent student and new staff member, meaning I have a slightly diluted experience of both roles.

Nevertheless, the panel really coloured my reflections of the conference and beyond.  It also tied together some themes which came out of the week – that people come before technology, services need to be user-focused and the tech industry ought to be a collaborative space.

To borrow Francesca Spencer’s poignant acronym DISC (Dave, Ian, Steve and Chris), alluding to the lack of diversity in IT (which she affectionately Room 101-ed), it was difficult not to contemplate this reality as the only woman panel member at a conference of mostly men.  This is not to bash the conference or its attendees, but simply to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.

So if you’re yet to be a believer in the power of diversifying IT, let’s call this my manifesto.

  1. It’s good for business

Beyond a moral impetus, crudely speaking, a diverse team is a more effective one.  Looking at the demography of the industry, we are only making use of a limited cross-section of society within our teams, leading to a major skill-shortage despite growing demand.  So – diversify, or get left behind.

  1. Challenge is good

A homogenous group is less likely to be critical of each other because of their shared experiences. Imagine asking two identical job candidates to critique each other – it would be a bit like playing spot the difference.  But by broadening your team’s demography, you embed the opportunity for challenge in its make-up.  The right kind of challenge drives success.

  1. Stop! in the name of users

Perhaps you’re with me so far, and you’re wondering “what does this have to do with me and my team’s work”?  But there is another, more nuanced point to be made for the case of diversity within IT, regarding the diversity of users’ experiences with technology.  Asking an IT expert about an IT question is going to get you a professional answer.  But asking a “layman” might get you a more interesting one. Take the example of me sitting onstage at the panel session and feeling like an imposter – maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have someone there who was agnostic to the cause.

  1. Students know what they want (and they’re not afraid to say it)

 That the panel got such a positive and enthusiastic reception is just a reminder of how keen university staff are to hear the “student voice”.  So if you’re aching to hear how to provide the best support services to students – just ask them!  You can only ‘put yourself in their shoes’ so many times before you hit a dead end, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  As Kerry Pinny so passionately expressed, there is no such thing as a digital native: being a millennial doesn’t mean you come out of the womb holding an iPhone, and students have a diverse range of experiences to offer you.  So maybe I wasn’t the best user for that panel, or maybe there isn’t such a thing.

Follow me on LinkedIn

(Presentations and video catalogue are available on the conference website)

(Further information on Sheffield’s Graduate internship scheme, can be found at:

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Part 1: Fresh meat and learning about user involvement



Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

Sara Henderson was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

I should start by introducing myself.  I’m Sara and I work as Student Engagement Officer on a major business change project at the University of Sheffield.  I began in January on the University’s Graduate Internship Scheme, before being extended in my role.  A colleague encouraged me to apply to UCISA’s bursary scheme as a junior member of staff, so that I did.

I am interested in technology but motivated by people, so SSG17 presented the perfect opportunity to learn from others in the sector and gain a wider perspective on the work I’m doing.  Now that’s out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.  I present to you my diary (of sorts) from the conference, showcasing some of my thoughts and favourite moments.

Day 1


Fuelled by coffee and adrenaline, I find myself in the conference exhibition space, perusing the exhibition but avoiding eye contact.  I glance around the room to see pockets of conversation forming; for some this is an opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues, whereas the rest of us are fresh meat.


Neil Morris from the University of Leeds captures the delegates’ imagination with his presentation ‘Reimagining Traditional Higher Education in the Digital Age’ , focused on how to embed technology-enhanced learning in partnership with students.  “We don’t involve students in projects, we don’t seek their feedback in ways they are interested in giving it, or make use of their intelligence and creativity”.

Neil’s talk affirms why I wanted to come to this conference, challenging the status so often assigned to students – as being passive receivers of knowledge and services, rather than intelligent consumers.  We ought to be involving students in project work, fundamentally and authentically.


Room 101 proves a fantastic way to end the first day, with an all-female panel and some very funny moments.  Did someone say Apple Genius Bar?


The day kicks off to an unnerving start when I find out that the panel I am shortly appearing on is one of the most popular sessions of the conference.  To find out more about my experience, head over to my second post – ‘Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)’.


Now for perhaps my favourite talk of the conference: ‘Technophobe Testing’ by Francesca Spencer (Leeds Beckett University).  The basic premise is that in IT of all places, we ought to be involving technophobes, because they can actually be a help rather than a hindrance to our work.  Francesca had the brainwave of recruiting some self-confessed technophobes, and observing their use of AV equipment in a judgement-free zone to determine how to make it more user-friendly.  We need to embed our users in the process of implementing technology (before it’s too late).

Day 3


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to climb down from my pedestal during breakfast, on what is affectionately known as “fuzzy Friday”. Unlike some of the conference-goers making a beeline for a fry-up, I opted to for a sensible night in after a case of conference-fatigue…


Paul Boag closes SSG17 by informing us ‘How to Create a User Experience Revolution’ .  His insistence that “if you don’t speak to your users once every six weeks, you don’t get to be a stakeholder in a project” certainly rung true, and he comfortably drew together some key themes from the conference, about collaborative working, establishing shared values and cultural change.

So there we have it – my experience in a nutshell.  Thank you to UCISA for having me, and if you want to hear more from me, head over to my second post ‘Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)’, or follow me on LinkedIn:

(Presentations and video streaming available at the conference website)

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Is Jill Watson after your job?

She began work as a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech in January 2016, helping students on a masters level artificial intelligence course. At first, she needed help from her colleagues but she soon learnt and it wasn’t long before she was providing support to all students without assistance. Human assistance that is. “Jill” was the creation of course leader Ashok Goel – an artificial intelligence tutor developed using IBM’s Watson platform.

The course was entirely online and questions were submitted via an online forum. Initially the AI derived answers weren’t so good so the human tutors responded. But as time went on “Jill”’s answers improved so the tutors took the answers and posted them to the forum. Within a short space of time, the answers were near perfect and the AI instance was responding directly to the students. The students were not aware that they weren’t dealing with a real person – but then, do they really care if they are getting good advice?

This isn’t the only form of AI that I have seen applied in the education environment. At EDUCAUSE last year, I saw a demonstration of an AI based chat bot that guided an applicant through the process of identifying a suitable course at university and ultimately the application process itself. I was driving the questions, playing the role of the applicant – the responses were reassuring and at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had been given good advice.

In both instances, the AI instance will have had to learn from real life examples to build up its knowledge bank in order to make informed decisions. In the case of Jill Watson, that learning took little time; with the AI applications assistance there was more initial programming which was underpinned by some clear rules and expectations. But given that in both examples, the AI instance learnt from patterns of behaviour exhibited by real people, is there scope for using artificial intelligence at the service desk?

The answer has to be yes. The service desk system has a wealth of information about problems and their solutions that can be drawn upon and used to address submitted problems. There are many repetitive questions that get asked of a service desk which could easily be handled by an AI instance. Many service desks have identified these – password resets being an obvious example – and have sought to reduce the impact of these through FAQ sections and similar channels. But how effective are these mechanisms? Do they help deliver a one stop shop?

Could AI further aid service desk staff? It could – dealing with repetitive queries is one thing but artificial intelligence could be deployed to recognise similar questions from the bank of queries in the service management system and identify solutions. The service desk staff would then be able to give a quicker response rather than having to re-learn how to deal with a problem or seek out the expert that dealt with it last time around. Alternatively, the AI system might identify the person with the most expertise and route the query accordingly.

AI is far quicker at identifying patterns than people. As a result an artificial intelligence based system would give an earlier indication of an incident or bug and so help the service desk respond more quickly (perhaps before some realised there was a problem).

So where will that leave the service desk? Will the use of AI allow service desk staff to focus on the really meaty problems that are more satisfying to solve or will it give staff the opportunity to focus on new areas? Alternatively, will it lead to a deskilling of staff, an unrewarding role reduced to passing on solutions that are drawn down from a vast body of previous experience? Is Jill Watson going to take your job?

Windows 10 community day


On Wednesday 12th April over 50 IT staff from Universities all over the UK, from Glasgow to Brighton, met at Edge Hill University’s central Manchester campus to discuss the shared challenge posed by the move to Windows 10.

The event began with presentations from four organisations ahead of the curve on the migration – Leeds Beckett University, University of Liverpool, Lancaster University and York St John University – all of whom shared the approach they’d taken, the keys decisions they’d made and the lessons they’d learned.

During the Q&A that followed, we were able to dig a little more into shared concerns like admin rights for users, project resourcing and managing applications.

After lunch, we were joined by representatives from IT service provider Softcat, who shared some of their experience and tips in planning a move to Windows 10, delving into some of the more technical questions that need answering such as choosing a branch and the challenges posed by Microsoft’s new update and support model for the operating system.

The day ended with a workshop structured to help delegates think about, discuss and record the key points picked up during the day. Considering questions around planning, infrastructure and ongoing support, small groups produced prioritised lists of the issues that they wanted to take back to the office and consider while plotting their own migrations.

We’d like to say a big thank you to the representatives of Leeds Beckett, Liverpool, Lancaster and York St John who gave excellent presentations during the morning session and continued to offer their expertise throughout the day. Without their input the day would not have been possible.

Thank you also to Softcat for their input and support for the day and to the staff at Edge Hill University for hosting us and making us feel welcome.

Recordings, presentations and photos from the day are available from the Resources page

Gareth Edwards
Head of IT, Engineering Science
University of Oxford
Member of UCISA-SSG committee

Business Relationship Management

My Director and line manager, John Ireland, and I completed the Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP) foundation course last month. We worked together and used a course delivered entirely online with lots of videos, course notes and quizzes at the end of each module. The course was extremely interesting and it was valuable completing it with another member of our organisation as we had good opportunity to reflect on how its content was relevant and resonated in our own University and IT Services department.

The course syllabus is devised by the Business Relationship Management Institute and is accredited by APMG International. It is a modular course and starts with an introduction then closer consideration of the six main competencies of the BRM role. We looked at definitions and how the BRM role is about managing the relationship between Service Units (e.g. IT Services, HR, Finance etc.) and Business Units (e.g. academic departments, faculties and colleges in the Oxford context). BRM is different to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as that manages the relationship between customer and business unit (e.g. students, research councils etc. in an HEI context).BRM-CRM

We were introduced to the metaphors of Connector, Orchestrator and Navigator for the Business Relationship Manager and this certainly makes sense to me in my role as Head of IT Support Staff Services in IT Services in Oxford. Local IT Support Staff are our service delivery partners but they are also part of Oxford’s business units rather than its service units.

We noted that there is not yet a BRM standard but that ITIL mentions and describes BRM; COBIT5 recognises the important of BRM and recommends appointing one; and SFIA includes some of the required expertise for a BRM in some of the responsibilities for roles it describes.

We also learned about the core disciplines of BRM – Demand Shaping; Exploring; Servicing; and Value Harvesting. These are underpinned by the six core competencies: Strategic Partnering; Business IQ; Portfolio Management; Provider Domain Knowledge; Powerful Communications; and Business Transformation Management.

The next six modules looked at each of these competencies in more detail

Strategic Partnering
The core components of this module are
a. Business-Provider alignment: where we considered Strategic context, Environment, IT Strategy and IT Portfolio and their interactions.
b. Strategic Relationship Management: where process, business drivers, customer value hierarchy, diagnosing relationship quality, relationship value mapping are all used to work towards building an improvement plan.
c. Relationship Vision and Strategy and Building a relationship strategy on a page.

Business IQ

This is all about understanding capability of the business, road mapping it and determining the right enabling IT capabilities to enable the business capability at the right time.

We learned about value management and I was particularly interested in the causes of value leakage, namely: Misaligned values of service unit and business unit, missed opportunities, suboptimal design, and suboptimal deployment and implementation.

This unit also looked at the discipline of business value optimisation, recognising that in any organisation value is delivered by the business unit, with the enabling capabilities of the service unit.

Portfolio Management

This module looked at how portfolio management is the essential discipline of balancing investment mix and policy to ensure that objectives are met and that performance is balanced against risk. It is the key way that value is managed by a BRM.

We learned how portfolio management balances resource use in activities that are retireable, transactional, informational, strategic, and discovery-enabling. We looked at the Boston Square Model and the Weill-Broadbent portfolio management frameworks.

Portfolio Management is the process of balancing the selection of programs that are ongoing in the service provider and Programme Management manage groups of projects. In the order Portfolio Management – Programme Management – Project Management planning information flows left to right and executive information flows right to left.  We noted that programs deliver business outcomes, projects deliver services or capabilities and portfolios deliver central business strategy.RACI

This module also looked at Business-IT governance – a framework that ensures rights
and responsibilities are correctly assigned to support business outcomes. We looked at the Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed(RACI) model and noted that a common failure of IT Governance is just to consider new resource expending proposals and to fail to keep ongoing resource use under review.

Business Transition Management

I think this was the most interesting module for me as it looks at the people-centred side of business changes, something I think a lot of technical providers could do a lot better. It’s about understanding the drivers for change and overcoming some of the myths about change like the “if it makes sense to do it then people will do it” misconception. We learned about the need to build urgency for change and the need to build an effective business transition network consisting of stakeholders, an instigating change leader, sustaining change leaders, change agents and advocates. We learned about change black holes caused by gaps in the change leadership chain and the risk of change leaders not being visible enough to be perceived as supporting the change. I was struck by the importance of leaders needing to visibly support the journey as well as the goal involved in a change as the former is often the harder bit.

Provider Domain Knowledge

This unit is all about understanding the services available from the service unit and understanding how service management works. We reinforced the important difference between products and services in that products are “things” that have intrinsic value (think car, house, computer, television) whereas services only yield value as they are used to achieve business outcomes for the customer.

We reminded ourselves that services have to have both utility (i.e. being fit for purpose) and warranty (being fit for use) before they can create value for customers. We noted that while value can be measured in terms of business outcomes it is also important to consider the value as perceived by the customer. BRM can address this second aspect by being an advocate for the service and adjusting the customers’ expectations so they are satisfied.
We considered the eight key questions that a service definition needs to answer and they are: What is it? How do I get it? How is it delivered? How do I use it? How do I get help with it? What does it cost? How is it supported? What does support cost?

Powerful Communications

This module was another one I particularly enjoyed because it relates closely to a lot of my current work. We firstly reminded ourselves of how important good communication is and then considered the art of listening and learned six aspects to that including: be present; shut up; notice tone; validate; empathise; spot ideas behind words. All great techniques that I think we all use to a lesser or greater extent at least some of the time.

Persuasion was also an important aspect of this unit and we considered how a good persuasive argument needs to appeal to ethos, pathos and logos for people. That is we need to have credibility, appeal to emotions and make logical and reasonable points that the person(s) being persuaded will share.

I liked the method of framing a proposal that we looked at. It includes agreeing shared goals or concerns, establishing the current facts, stating each side’s point of view and recognising constraints and limitations.

Practice and exam

brmp cert redactedThe final module of the course was preparation for the exam. In addition to the quizzes, one at the end of most sections of each module, there was a mock exam paper which we both sat. This enabled us to complete the course.
Last week we both spent some hours revising the material and then did the real exam, provided by the APM group and done through the ProctorU service. This enables exams to be taken anywhere and needs a webcam and microphone so that exams can be properly invigilated online. Doing an exam this way was a good experience and enabled immediate provisional results to be delivered immediately and verified results and certificates after just a few days.

I think the BRMP qualification is an excellent thing for IT professionals in HEIs to gain as it effectively and efficiently crystallises and categorises how the relationship between IT Services units and academic units in Universities should work and how staff can strive to keep it on a path of continuous improvement to maximise value realised in return for investments made.

While it was good to train with someone directly related to my work it was quite hard work using videos as there was a lot of information to gather and it would be fair to say we both spent three days furiously making notes. A real person would slow down their speaking a bit if they observed an audience doing this, and would speed up if the audience was looking like it knew the particular part of the material. Videos don’t do this so we did have to do quite a lot of pausing and rewinding. That said, it was an efficient way to learn a large amount of material over quite a short time and without any need for travel or hotel accommodation and with the ability to do it at a time that suited both of us.

tony presenting


Post by Tony Brett
Head of IT Support Staff Services
IT Services, University of Oxford
September 2015

Plate spinning and other things: Your assistance is urgently requested!

plate spinningMy life has a tendency to feel like I’m balancing a series of plates on sticks, and day to day I run between each plate to keep it from falling off its peg. Generally if I work hard and smart enough they all stay up, and I go to sleep congratulating myself on a well-planned, organised and successful day. However some days, and usually more than I would like to admit to, I have to make a choice over which plates are going to hit the floor, and those that get to stay up. And in reality it’s down to luck if one breaks or one bounces. It is however always about my choice over which to prioritise and which to let slip.

One of my big plates spinning this month is the research phase of my PhD, and I’m asking you all for your help in order to keep this plate spinning for the time being. Featured below is a very short survey which I would ask you to:

1. Fill in if relevant
2. Pass on to any relevant managers

The survey will be out for next 2 weeks, after which I am hoping to start organising a small number of interviews with institutions that would like to participate in the follow up research.

This is moving toward the culmination of a 4 year part-time Professional Doctorate. I would firmly recommend doctoral study to anyone thinking about further development. However, I would firmly recommend learning the art of Plate Spinning prior to commencement to ensure other aspects of life and work can continue!

Post by Sonya Campbell
Customer Services Development Manager
Glasgow Caledonian University

photo credit: IMGP1962 via photopin (license)