UCISA Support Services Conference 2013 – Part 2

(Continuing my notes on the UCISA Support Services Conference 2013. Check out the Prologue and Part 1)

After a quick comfort (or discomfort, in my case, as my laptop started playing up) break it was on to the second part of the first afternoon’s sessions, beginning with a presentation (slides) from Cherwell’s Peter Andrew and Nici Cooper from Wolverhampton that somehow ended like this:

Peter Andrew and Nici Cooper at the end of their presentation. Not sure which one is which.

Peter Andrew and Nici Cooper at the end of their presentation. Not sure which one is which.

How did it come to wigs? By way of foam hands and “pleasant kicks”. Of course.

Nici and Peter channelled The Two Ronnies to talk us through their shared experiences sourcing/implementing and providing, respectively, a new servicedesk package (or ITSM suite, as they all like to be known now). Theirs was a tale of a customer-supplier relationship that’s gone well, with what sounded like a healthy amount of give and take. And scenes of mild violence.

There were a few things I noted from the presentation. First up, Wolverhampton took an approach to tender evaluation I hadn’t considered before – scenario based assessments. I liked the sound of this, as it moves you away from a tickbox-based assessment (last time we looked at the “ITSM tool” market we used an assessment spreadsheet with more than 290 lines!) to something more likely to be representative of what you really need, as well as giving you a good idea for the feel of the package.

Secondly, they ran an online issues log to make it straightforward for their staff to report problems and suggest changes. Such a simple idea (as good ideas often are) – too often new services, even the ones with broad use/impact, are just rolled out with little opportunity for users to feed back in the early days.

Thirdly, it is possible to have a strong working relationship with a supplier, though it takes worth on both sides. Although evidently, given the kicking, that doesn’t mean they aren’t occasionally abusive relationships…

And finally:

The main thing I took from James Woodward and Dave Hanlon’s presentation (slides) on cultural change was the power of awards (when done right), but to fixate on that would mean skipping quite a bit of the shared experience of leading MMU’s IT team (a group who I hear a lot about) through something of a cultural shift.


Language plays a big part in organisational culture. You just have to look at the significance of names and (often implied) hierarchies in organisations to realise its power. Check out Nominative Determinism. So for MMU changing established terminology like “The Bunker” and “Droppings” was an important step along the way.

Leadership is also key – as Ghandi  said (or probably didn’t say) “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. And of course leadership comes in different forms and the importance of having champions for change outside the management structure should not be understated. Although I thought Nici Cooper went a bit far when she described James’ advice as godlike!

All this textbook stuff on change was all right, but what I found most interesting (in common with several other presentations) was the “journey”. MMU introduced Make a Difference (MAD) days which went down a storm with everyone watching:

Well almost everyone – some of those watching back in Manchester were less keen to see themselves up on the big screen! Alas I can’t find a link/embeddable video, so you’ll have to make do with a picture of absent (if reluctant) USSC13 star Martin Putwain about to break into song:

All together now: You put an IT pro in, an IT pro out!

All together now: You put an IT pro in, an IT pro out!

Meyers Briggs and the dreaded “away day” made an appearance, but they all felt like they fitted in with a well led approach to change, rather than being randomly dropped into people’s calendars, as they so often are, in the hope that something will result from them. Purple shirts, then hoodies, gave staff at all levels a sense of common identity.

Mostly I got the impression, both from the presentation, talking to folk afterwards and from my previous interactions with MMU staff, that the majority of people have had fun. When I contrast this to my previous experiences of being led through cultural change, I feel more than a little jealous.

We heard quite a bit about their awards scheme, particularly how carefully it’s put together to ensure it remains fair. Tips such as having a transparent and standardised process, timeliness (positive reinforcement closure to the event is more powerful), engagement before introducing awards, the importance of communication and the power of recognition as a motivator (even above money!) were enlightening. The aim for MMU is to acknowledge and reward individual’s contributions in a meaningful way (and, based on the number of times he appeared in the presentation, spread photos of Mo Din far and wide!).

This led neatly into James announcing three awards would be given out at the end of the conference – for most tweets, best “takeaway” and one secret – which had several people very excited!

Re-watching the presentation online it reminded me that I’d forgotten (and it didn’t seem to get noted on Twitter either) that at the start of the presentation James stressed the support given to them by their HR and Staff Development teams. I wonder if sometimes we forget that HR can be there for more than just hiring, firing and tracking sickness and that if we made an effort to involve them more, exercises like this would see greater success.

I also rediscovered a reference to a subject close to my heart at the moment – knowledge sharing. MMU had their “knowledge” spread all over the place, on shared drives, sharepoint etc. They bought together all their knowledge into what they call their “Service Operating Manual”, a structured part of their shared drive with answers to such questions as how to get access to a shared drive on the iPad (there’s a chicken-and-egg thing here somewhere…)

To support a rationalisation of support at Surrey I’m trying to pull together exactly that kind of resource using Atlassian Confluence. It’s not live yet, but through some team use we already have 610 articles, so I’m hopeful of great things.

Surrey Knowledge

Surrey Knowledge

Actually, MAD days, t-shirts for a sense of identity, takeaways, the science of organisational change, award and recognition, a fish called Nemo, the importance of terminology, real ale, team building, Meyers-Briggs, rope courses… there’s a lot to pick up from the presentation and I recommend everyone watch it all the way through.

The last session of the day was the PechaKucha 20×20 presentations. If you’re not familiar with the idea, presenters have 20 slides of content to present, with each slide automatically moving on after 20 seconds. It sounds easy, but unless you’re an accomplished public speaker and really know and practice your presentation it can be quite tough. It’s difficult to summarise these presentations as they were rattled through with little time to expand or dwell on particular points, so I apologise to anyone reading this if I’ve missed the point!

I considered putting something together based on my “Living a quieter life through ITIL” blog, but at the time it didn’t really feel like it fit the brief. In the end only 3 people stepped up, so perhaps I should have gone ahead anyway…

First John Grannan (quickly) took us through Leeds’ OneIT Transformation programme. The aim of the programme is to help people understand that IT is something they want, not something they just find painful. John introduced this epic slide summarising the the programme:

Epic Slide

Epic Slide

Fortunately he then broke it down a bit for us (and didn’t, as threatened, make us do an exam on it afterwards).

Benchmarking (and quibbling about benchmarking), ITIL, white chargers, SDI certification, service catalogues, the value of consultancy and maturity levels all made an appearance in a quick run through how Leeds are addressing just one part of their programme. John fit a lot into 6 minutes.

Vince Woodley’s presentation, complete with music, was about his long years of service as part of the UCISA Support Services Group. It was, in the end, a great sales pitch to tempt people to get involved with the group as Vince was stepping down. It’s great to find that quality control is taken seriously when selecting venues. Especially the beverage provision.

“[Leadership] is not a one person role, it’s not even senior management team role, it is everybody’s role in computing services” is how Peter Tinson opened his session on Your Role as Leaders. He went on to comment that 20 seconds is longer than you think – an unexpected peril of PechaKucha!

Important points – the value of reputation, be seen as being professional, responding well to problems (something I’m known to preach on), understanding the business and getting people to be your advocates, the power of relationships (formal and informal), tailoring the message and sharing successes.

Decision making: 2% fact, 98% opinion. Engaging with people is vital to shifting that 98%. I tried to find a source for that line and failed (Peter is on his holidays as I write this, so I can’t check) – but I did discover this interesting piece on decision making which summarises some of the writings of Management Consultant Peter Drucker.

From there, for many, it was off to the bar before dinner. For me, it was off to bed! Food would have to wait for day 2…

To sign off, because I can, The Two Ronnies:


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