Monthly Archives: September 2015

Prevent duty – getting the background

I’m sure many of you have been following the twists and turns of the Prevent Duty through to the 18th September when it came into force.

Andrew Cormack has discussed the Prevent Duty guidance within his Regulatory Developments blog  over the last 18 months. I have been keen to understand the implications specifically for Loughborough University, especially with the scaremongering by some that we would be forced to implement comprehensive content filtering; an impartial, fact-based viewpoint from Andrew has been well received.

I am pleased to see Andrew’s blog referencing our ‘proportionate and appropriate’ understanding in his recent post, the “Government again stressed that measures should be proportionate and appropriate to the risks faced by individual institutions.”

The work surrounding the Prevent Duty has a number of stakeholders within a University; and has been driven by Student Services at Loughborough. Clearly there is a place for the IT business unit to have an input to this policy, but I wanted to ensure I had a background knowledge when contributing.

A really helpful resource, and the main purpose of this blog post, is to raise awareness of the Jisc WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent) Training.  I attended the two hour training course a couple of weeks ago to provide a background to the Prevent Duty and this training course fulfilled my learning objectives entirely.

The course is delivered using the online Adobe Connect software, all you need are headphones and a microphone (most computers now have a microphone built it, so a pair of headphones just helps minimise audio feedback). The beauty of this course is you can attend from anywhere, from your office, a quiet room, from home etc…

It was really interesting to hear the view points of other delegates who were from a very diverse background, in fact I was the only person from HE IT. To manage expectations, the course is not designed to inform IT departments about IT controls; however to provide “… an understanding of the Prevent strategy and your role within it.”

I found the course extremely helpful as background to engage with our Student Services department; it was very well delivered using a variety of engagement tools: video, polls, chat, discussion forums etc

If you are looking for a background into the Prevent Duty, this course from Jisc Training Technologies is excellent, comprehensive; and in my perspective, an exemplar in how to deliver online learning.

I would also encourage colleagues to let other areas of their institution know about the course: Student Services, Academic Registry, Students Union, Physical Security etc.

Matthew Cook
Assistant Director of IT
Loughborough University

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

The Aurora Programme – a Director’s view

In the second of our posts on the Aurora programme Kathy McCabe, University Librarian and Director of Information Services at the University of Stirling, talks about her involvement in the Programme and the benefits of having your staff participate.

As a member of the founding team back in 2013, I didn’t need much persuasion to get on board with Aurora, the LFHE programme designed to enable a wide range of women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as future leaders. The evidence was all around – women make up 50% of the workplace; the proportion of female students (55%) and graduates (59%) in the EU exceeds that of male students but only 20% of professors and 14% at head of institution level in the UK in 2010/11 (18% in the EU). The latest figures from the 2015 Women in IT Scorecard research, published last week by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and the Tech Partnership, show that just one in ten IT Directors are women. The Scorecard also reveals that only 17% of the 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK in 2014 are women.

There are no specific figures available for IT staff in HE in the UK – but I’d hazard a guess it is even less favourable than the statistics above. As I peruse UCISA’s membership directory, the list is overwhelmingly male at director and deputy level. Are we content with this? Is it sustainable? Where are the role models for our female staff and for our female students – how can they envisage themselves in an IT role if they can’t see a successful future for themselves?

Now, as a director, I have had the opportunity to encourage women in IT at Stirling to participate in Aurora and the benefits are multiple. I see skilled and confident women emerging, stepping up and contributing even more to the organisation, often bringing a fresh approach to problems. I see the results of the mentoring process which provides a platform for the participant to reflect on their style and their progress and often benefits the mentor as much as the mentee by providing a view of the organisation from a fresh perspective. I see positive outcomes from the opportunity to network both within and outside the institution and the raised profile of (and respect for) the IT function as a result of this networking. I see women go on to promoted positions which have eluded them for some time. A past “Auroran” commented recently that “being nominated and supported to attend the Aurora programme made me realise that I am valued and that the University has confidence in me.”

BUT – the number of IT participants in Aurora remains low. This surprises me as the programme represents excellent value for money and is flexible and accessible. It is much more than attendance at a number of delivery days, albeit these days are core to the programme – it is the whole package of learning, skills development, reflection, mentoring, networking, stepping up and, in my experience, the positive outcomes have manifested pretty quickly.

If any IT director would like to know more about this, then please feel free to get in touch.

Kathy McCabe
University Librarian and Director of Information Services
University of Stirling

T: (01786) 467203

The Aurora Programme – a participant’s experience

The Aurora programme is a leadership skills development programme run by the Leadership Foundation aimed at women working in higher education. Their aim is to get women thinking about what skills are required to take on leadership roles way before they are in a position to do so and subsequently identify the skills and behaviours they will need in order to progress their careers. However, so far the Programme has had a low participation rate from women working in IT departments. In the first of two posts on the Programme, Eileen MacDonald, Head of Business Systems at the University of Stirling, describes her experience of participating in the Aurora Programme.

This initiative was launched in 2013 and I was very keen to secure a place on it. From 1999 until 2013 I had worked at the University of Stirling as a Programmer/Analyst and then as a Senior Programmer/Support Coordinator. I applied for and was successful in being appointed as Deputy Head of Business Systems in 2013 initially for a 3 month secondment. This coincided with starting on the Aurora programme and although I knew it would be tough scheduling time to devote to a personal development programme I felt it would be worth it.

The Aurora programme asks participants to actively take part in 5 training days which are spaced over one year. There is also an element of self-learning through recommended reading material and video clips. All participants are allocated a mentor as part of the programme and encouraged to meet with them frequently throughout the course. This aspect of Aurora was invaluable. The mentor relationship gave me the opportunity to talk through aspects of my job that I found difficult. It gave me the space to analyse and to talk through strategies that could be used in future situations.

Additionally Aurora has helped me build my confidence and ability to contribute at a higher level, and to deal with staff matters and conflicts. I recognised quite early on that there is not always a right answer or way of doing things – you have to develop and trust your judgement.

When I joined the Aurora programme I was surprised at how few IT professionals were taking part in it. Perhaps it is because IT is a very results driven environment where technical expertise and knowledge is what we are judged on by others as well as by ourselves. However the skills required to move through the levels in an IT business environment are no different from the skills you need in other professional areas. Working in IT you can spend a significant amount of time devising strategies for change whether this is in persuading others to adopt a new technology, use a new system, follow a new procedure etc. – implementing any of these changes requires leadership skills, understanding the organisation you work in, building networks and so on.

This Aurora programme covered many of these areas and participating in it gave me the opportunity to step back and reflect on what my approach, and that of those around me had been up until that point.

An aspect of Aurora that cannot be underestimated is the opportunity to network internally and externally, and the benefits that this brings. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new user base and in gaining a wider understanding of the business that I was part of.

Over the two years I have taken on significantly different roles to the ones I held previously. Aurora has helped me identify the skills I needed to carry out these roles and has helped prepare me to move towards fulfilling my career ambitions. In fact in August 2015 I was appointed as the Head of Business Systems at the University of Stirling.

What I learned and relationships I developed as an Aurora participant continue to contribute to my personal growth and understanding of the HE business and the people who operate within it.

Eileen MacDonald
Head of Business Systems
University of Stirling

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)

How can a mid-life crisis support you in delivering an excellent service?

Apparently mid-life crises are still alive and well, according to the Telegraph Article I read earlier in the year . It occurs because ‘happiness’ dips after turning 40. And rather than being just a loose term to account for slightly mad behaviour during this decade, the midlife crisis it is a recognised condition. As a society we are living longer lives, and as a result there is a challenge to prove that our bodies are still vital and able to compete. So what are the consequences? Both men and women over the age of 40 are now throwing themselves at triathlons, marathons and various hard core sporting challenges. A prime example is Tough Mudder, an extreme sports event that has a massive worldwide following and sees participants slog through mud, drop into icy water, and be electrocuted at regular intervals.

mudI read this article with mixed emotions. Why?

I turned 40 this year
I signed up and completed my first triathlon this year
I completed my first Tough Mudder
I completed my first Spartan Challenge

Mmmm, so have I had my first mid-life crisis? Who really cares because what I realised after re-reading the article and reflecting on these challenges was all the new transferable skills I now had. Like what?

• The triathlon requires an athlete to compete and complete 3 separate sports, and the key here is consistency. You need to be good at all the disciplines, not just a specialist in just one. A good service delivers a consistently high level of service which has a wider range of knowledge and ability to answer more types of questions. A focus on the end goal assists in the successful completion of separate challenges. This is similar to the task setting we deliver day to day, and reminds me to keep the end goal more transparent for all concerned.

• Tough mudder showed the importance of team work. 10 people started the 12 mile obstacle course, all with differing skills, fitness levels, motivations and goals. 10 people finished the course together. It wasn’t about being first, or being better than anyone else, it was about getting the best out of each and every one of your team. On a service desk you want to bring all your available skills to the table, endeavour to get the best out of all your team, to motivate and bring them along on the same journey.

• Spartan challenged me to climb several hills, both physically and mentally. On your journey to a better service you will continuously find yourself back at the bottom of the next hill. The view from the top however is always superb, and tends to make up for the effort of the climb!

So in conclusion, don’t wait until you are 40 to face up to a challenge, you don’t need to use a mid-life crisis to justify developing your own skills and that of your teams!

Post by Sonya Campbell
Customer Services Development Manager
Glasgow Caledonian University

Technology in Higher Education – best practice, skills and the student offer

Earlier this year, I attended the Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on best practice of using technology in higher education and for future employment. The forum has members from both Houses of Parliament as well as representatives from universities and colleges. This short half-day seminar included 5 minute presentations from a number of speakers with time for questions.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

One of the discussions, chaired by Baroness Morgan of Huyton, centred on the effective use of a social networking in teaching and highlighted the successful use of Facebook for new students. I think the important factor was the use of a student as one of the administrators looking after the closed group and videos made by students for students. This partnership proved invaluable – Professor Peter Strike, Vice Chancellor of University of Cumbria, said conversations were encouraged, in contrast to staff preaching to students, and this approach improved engagement. Another project discussed by Dr Laura Ritchie from the University of Chichester identified the use of informal learning spaces using social networks as a platform for collaboration and learning. She likened students’ experience with technology as tea and toast – they are exposed to it on a daily basis but the question is do they know how to use it effectively?

Digital tattoo

Awareness of personal content shared online was discussed at length in the questions and comments from the floor and is still a factor that could affect a student’s employability if they are sharing images and conversations with the world that are not appropriate for future employers to view. Whose responsibilty is it for students to be aware of what they share online? Currently posts cannot be removed permanently and there is concern the social networking sites have access to personal data even after it has been deleted by the user. Dr Richard Harvey, University of East Anglia said a colleague had suggested to him the use of Twitter should be taught and found this comment outrageous. I think students may not require being taught how to use Twitter but many will need guidance on how to use it effectively and the consequences of not. Mark Kerrigan pointed out that the different levels of digital capabilities will mean that some students will need to spend time learning a new technology before they can engage with their study. The amount of time students spend mastering a new technology before studying the subject they were at university to learn can vary greatly.

MOOCs vs Face-to face

MOOCs seems to still be a buzz-word between HE professionals and the media with mixed opinions. MOOCs were suggested as a good approach for new students to measure their engagement before attending university to identify who does not engage and will need extra help. Face-to-face teaching is still recognised as a preferred approach by some students, as confirmed by Lawrie Phipps from Jisc. MOOCs have caused some heartache to staff when students have used the forum inappropriately. Michael Kerrison’s example of a student using the MOOC forum as a platform to air their own personal views of the US consititutional law was interesting. I think it can be tricky giving students free reign and terms of use should be put in place. But is this restricting their artistic licence?


Peter Tinson, UCISA’s Executive Director, mentioned the digital capabilities survey deployed by UCISA digital capabilities sub group identified the wide range of support provided for staff and students across the sector. I think there is a plethora of experience to be shared between practitioners. I am not sold on the idea that students can be taught digital skills per se but agree with findings from the survey – digital skills should be embedded within existing curriculum without being labelled as learning technology. It is important that the use of technology is just as important as how to use the tool itself and the impact of the web in everyday life, learning and the workplace. York St John University is currently auditing the digital skills training offered to staff and students and I am looking forward to a Digital Capabilities Framework being put in place to streamline the provision of digital skills teaching. I hope this will help improve the students’ experience and provide a good choice of what is on offer from the university as a whole in contrast to being provided from separate departments. I think adaptability and willingness to learn new things should be encouraged in this ever-changing digital world.

For the twitter conversation go to:

About Annette Webb
Edited westminster

I have been an IT Trainer at York St John University since 2005 and am a Fellow of the HEA. I support staff and students at all levels on digital systems. I have recently completed a Masters degree and benefited from the experience of being a student in the 21st century. I have a keen interest in helping staff and students to use technology effectively.
This post was written by Annette Webb, Academic Technologies Trainer, York St John University and a member of the UCISA Digital Capabilities Group