EduTech Australia 2015, Day 1, Session 2, Higher Education IT Leaders #edutechau

I jumped streams (GASP) to attend Mark Gregory’s talk on “Building customer-centric IT services.” Mark is the CIO from my home institutions, the University of Adelaide, and I work closely with him on a couple of projects. There’s an old saying that if you really want to know what’s going on in your IT branch, go and watch the CIO give a presentation away from home, which may also explain why I’m here. (Yes, I’m a dreadful cynic.)

Seven years ago, we had the worst customer-centric IT ratings in Australia and New Zealand, now we have some of the highest. That’s pretty impressive and, for what it’s worth, it reflects my experiences inside the institution.

Mark showed a picture of the ENIAC team, noting that the picture had been mocked up a bit, as additional men had been staged in the picture, which was a bit strange even the ENIAC team were six women to one man. (Yes, this has been going on for a long time.) His point was that we’ve come a long way from he computer attended by acolytes as a central resource to computers everywhere that everyone can access and we have specifically chosen. Technology is now something that you choose rather than what you put up with.

For Adelaide, on a typical day we see about 56,000 devices on the campus networks, only a quarter of which are University-provided. Over time, the customer requirement for centralised skills is shrinking as their own skills and the availability of outside (often cloud-based) resources increase. In 2020-2025, fewer and fewer of people on campus will need centralised IT.

Is ERP important? Mark thinks ‘Meh’ because it’s being skinned with Apps and websites, the actual ERP running in the background. What about networks? Well, everyone’s got them. What about security? That’s more of an imposition and it’s used by design issues. Security requirements are not a crowd pleaser.

So how will our IT services change over time?

A lot of us are moving from SOE to BYOD but this means saying farewell to the Standard Operating Environment (SOE). It’s really not desirable to be in this role, but it also drives a new financial model. We see 56,000 devices for 25,000 people – the mobility ship has sailed. How will we deal with it?

We’re moving from a portal model to an app model. The one stop shop is going and the new model is the build-it-yourself app store model where every device is effectively customised. The new user will not hang out in the portal environment.

Mark thinks we really, really need to increase the level of Self Help. A year ago, he put up 16 pages of PDFs and discovered that, over the year, 35,000 people went through self help compared to 70,000 on traditional help-desk. (I question that the average person in the street knows that an IP address given most of what I see in movies. 😉 )

The newer operating systems require less help but student self-help use is outnumbered 5 times by staff usage. Students go somewhere else to get help. Interesting. Our approaches to VPN have to change – it’s not like your bank requires one. Our approaches to support have to change – students and staff work 24×7, so why were we only supporting them 8-6? Adelaide now has a contract service outside of those hours to take the 100 important calls that would have been terrible had they not been fixed.

Mark thinks that IDM and access need to be fixed, it makes up 24% of their reported problems: password broken, I can’t get on and so on.

Security used to be on the device that the Uni owned. This has changed. Now it has to be data security, as you can’t guarantee that you own the device. Virtual desktops and virtual apps can offer data containerisation among their other benefits.

Let’s change the thinking from setting a perimeter to the person themselves. The boundaries are shifting and, let’s be honest, the inside of any network with 30,000 people is going to be swampy anyway.

Project management thinking is shifting from traditional to agile, which gets closer to the customer on shorter and smaller projects. But you have to change how you think about projects.

A lot of tools used to get built that worked with data but now people want to make this part of their decision infrastructure. Data quality is now very important.

The massive shift is from “provide and control” to “advise and enable”. (Sorry, auditors.) Another massive shift is from automation of a process that existed to support a business to help in designing the processes that will support the business. This is a driver back into policy space. (Sorry, central admin branch.) At the same time, Mark believes that they’re transitioning from a functional approach to a customer-centric focus. A common services layer will serve the student, L&T, research and admin groups but those common services may not be developed or even hosted inside the institution.

It’s not a surprise to anyone who’s been following what Mark has been doing, but he believes that the role is shifting from IT operations to University strategy.

Some customers are going to struggle. Some people will always need help. But what about those highly capable individuals who could help you? This is where innovation and co-creation can take place, with specific people across the University.

Mark wants Uni IT organisations to disrupt themselves. (The Go8 are rather conservative and are not prone to discussing disruption, let alone disrupting.)

Basically, if customers can do it, make themselves happy and get what they want working, why are you in their way? If they can do it themselves, then get out of the way except for those things where you add value and make the experience better.  We’re helping people who are desperate but we’re not putting as much effort into the innovators and more radical thinkers. Mark’s belief is that investing more effort into collaboration, co-creation and innovation is the way to go.

It looks risky but is it? What happens if you put technology out there? How do you get things happening?

Mark wants us to move beyond Service Level Agreements, which he describes as the bottom bar. No great athlete performs at the top level because of an SLA. This requires a move to meaningful metrics. (Very similar to student assessment, of course! Same problem!) Just because we measure something doesn’t make it meaningful!

We tended to hire skills to provide IT support. Mark believes that we should now be hiring attributes: leaders, drivers, innovators. The customer wants to get somewhere. How can we help them?

Lots to think about – thanks, Mark!

ITiCSE 2014: Working Groups Reports #ITiCSE2014 #ITiCSE

Unfortunately, there are too many working groups, reporting at too high a speed, for me to capture it here. All of the working groups are going to release reports and I suggest that you have a look into some of the areas covered. The topics reported on today were:

  • Methodology and Technology for In-Flow Peer Review

    In-flow peer review is the review of an exercise as it is going on. Providing elements to review can be difficult as it may encourage plagiarism but there are many benefits to this, which generally justifies the decision to do review. Picking who can review what for maximum benefit is also very difficult.

    We’ve tried to do a lot of work here but it’s really challenging because there are so many possibly right ways.

  • Computational Thinking in K-9 Education

    Given that there are national, and localised, definitions of what “Computational Thinking” is, this is challenging to identify. Many K-12 teachers are actually using CT techniques but wouldn’t know to answer “yes” if asked if they were. Many issues in play here but the working group are a multi-national and thoughtful group who have lots of ideas.

    As a note, K-9 refers to Kindergarten to Year 9, not dogs. Just to be clear.

  • Increasing Accessibility and Adoption of Smart Technologies for Computer Science Education

    How can you integrate all of the whizz-bang stuff into the existing courses and things that we already use everyday? The working group have proposed an architecture to help with the adoption. It’s a really impressive, if scary, slide but I’ll be interested to see where this goes. (Unsurprisingly, it’s a three-tier model that will look familiar to anyone with a networking or distributed systems background.) Basically, let’s not re-invent the wheel when it comes to using smarter technologies but let’s also find out the best ways to build these systems and then share that, as well as good content and content delivery. Identity management is, of course, a very difficult problem for any system so this is a core concern.

    There’s a survey you can take to share your knowledge with this workgroup. (The feared and dreaded Simon noted that it would be nice if their survey was smarter.) A question from the floor was that, while the architecture was nice and standards were good, what impact would this have on the chalkface? (This is a neologism I’ve recently learned about, the equivalent of the coalface for the educational teaching edge.) This is a good question. You only have to look at how many standards there are to realise that standard construction and standard adoption are two very different beasts. Cultural change is something that has to be managed on top of technical superiority. The working group seems to be on top of this so it will be interesting to see where it goes.

  • Strengthening Methodology Education in Computing

    Unsurprisingly, computing is a very broad field and is methodologically diverse. There’s a lot of ‘borrowing’ from other fields, which is a nice way of saying ‘theft’. (Sorry, philosophers, but ontologies are way happier with us.) Our curricular have very few concrete references to methodology, with a couple of minor exceptions. The working group had a number of objectives, which they reduced down to fewer and remove the term methodology. Literature reviews on methodology education are sparse but there is more on teaching research methods. Embarrassingly, the paper that shows up for this is a 2006 report from a working group from this very conference. Oops. As Matti asked, are we really this disinterested in this topic that we forget that we were previously interested in it? The group voted to change direction to get some useful work out of the group. They voted not to produce a report as it was too challenging to repurpose things at this late stage. All their work would be toward annotating the existing paper rather than creating a new one.

    One of the questions was why the previous paper had so few citations, cited 5 times out of 3000 downloads, despite the topic being obviously important. One aspect mentioned is that CS researchers are a separate community and I reiterated some early observations that we have made on the pathway that knowledge takes to get from the CS Ed community into the CS ‘research’ community. (This summarises as “Do CS Ed research, get it into pop psychology, get it into the industrial focus and then it will sneak into CS as a curricular requirement, at which stage it will be taken seriously.” Only slightly tongue-in-cheek.)

  • A Sustainable Gamification Strategy for Education

    Sadly, this group didn’t show up, so this was disbanded. I imagine that they must have had a very good reason.

Interesting set of groups – watch for the reports and, if you use one, CITE IT! 🙂