UCISA Support Services Conference 2013 – Part 3

So it’s been a while…

(Continuing my notes on the UCISA Support Services Conference 2013. Check out the Prologue and Parts 1 & 2)

We pick up at the start of day 2 – where I was able to eat actual food! Exciting times.

The first session (Druva slides, Warwick Business School slides and University of Warwick slides) was a chop-and-change affair introducing Druva and a couple of their implementations done at University of Warwick.

Quite what Druva offer wasn’t terribly clear to me on the day as there wasn’t much talk of a “product”, only the solution. On reflection my frustration was misplaced and unreasonable – after all, we frequently find ourselves pushing users to let go of their favoured products and focus on the whole solution… The final slide from Druva’s Mark Radford probably comes closest to encompassing what they do, although they offer a surprising level of flexibility in terms of how you want to control and protect your “endpoint” devices.



One of the things that impressed me about Druva’s presentation was that it approached data management the right way around – supporting needs, then offering compliance. Too often it seems to happen the other way around and compliance is pushed on users without too much thought given to how people want (and sometimes need) to work, the result being no guarantee of compliance (after all, Dropbox is free) and an enraged user base.

Storage and endpoint data protection is a hot topic for us at the moment as we’ve just put out an ITT for an endpoint backup/cloud solution for our users’ personal filestore. It felt originally like we were exploring interesting new territory – on reflection Warwick have been there for a while.

There were a few concerns about Druva, particularly about the pricing – it very much felt like we were hearing about small-scale deployments (i.e. departments within a University) because it was quite expensive. There were also raised eyebrows about the ability to track devices!

Next, Cherwell had the podium again, with Steve Beavis talking about the challenges of measuring how happy our staff and students are with IT (slides).


Obviously Steve had a product to sell, so the focus was on metrics and dashboards (cue lots of screenshots!) but it raised valid questions (perhaps not always intentionally) about the value of hard metrics (MTTR, first-time fix etc. etc.) in working out whether or not the users of our services are happy.

Or yes, satisfied at least. It has been a constant in my career that IT rarely makes people “happy” and that a good service is marked by a lack of complaint, rather than a flood of compliments. And really, that’s absolutely fine. 98% of what we’re doing in IT we want to be as transparent as possible – it should do what folk need to do and do it with minimal fuss. Being able to connect to the wireless network consistently shouldn’t excite – if any of us received a message saying they were able to browse the web all day without any interruption we’d think they were bonkers or taking the micky…

Surveys were pitched as an answer to the puzzle of assessing satisfaction (cue more screenshots of Cherwell functionality!), although as I pointed out on Twitter, we already survey staff and students (especially students!) from here to eternity.

The thrust of the message was (in common with so many other aspects of IT) to make your performance reporting appropriate to the “business” (apologies for using that word).

In an ideal world I think we’d all be surveying our users every week on how they’re feeling – it’s the only way to pick up on those niggling things that only get discussed at coffee breaks and never reported to IT. But that’s neither practical nor desirable. We have existing surveys in place for students (NSS, Student Barometer, PRES etc.) and staff (we run one internally each year) and there isn’t much space to go beyond that without risking survey fatigue. What’s left is what you can glean from business relationship work (being at the coffee breaks –high ‘cost’ and often not really measurable) and your metrics (low ‘cost’ , measurable, but divorced from the business. The secret is taking your metrics, matching it to the unmeasurable bits and turning it all into a narrative that reflects what the “business” is seeing. This feels like a subject for a future rambling and disjointed blog…

All this aside:

Cherwell Dashboards

Cherwell Dashboards

Dashboards caught people’s imaginations – we’re techie managers, there was no chance they wouldn’t.

I have mixed feelings about the merits of dashboards. As realtime displays they’re of use to 1st/2nd line staff, but even management dashboards which show trends lack the detail required for good decision making. Still, cue screenshots of Cherwell’s dashboard functionality!

This gave me a chance to show off the dashboards we developed in-house (credit to Alex). Our internal dashboard offers an important at-a-glance idea for the guys as to what’s come in, along with the few numbers we really care about.

Our “public” dashboard shows pretty much the same content and is really there because we could do it (as well as performance numbers there’s news and campus maps).

One of Steve’s final slides prompts “Remember, at the end of the day, who are you trying to please?” and the reality is that users don’t want to see dashboards and metrics, something that is confirmed by the fact that the only person who ever uses the public dashboard is me!

After a quick break Edinburgh’s Simon Marsden took us on another journey (slides), this time charting the conception and evolution of  UniDesk, a shared ITSM tool (TopDesk) used by Edinburgh, St Andrews, Abertay and now Sheffield Hallam. Shown to a room full of support managers this was bound to create some interest and this was borne out by the jump in the number of people I encountered at TopDesk’s stand at lunchtime.

While the collaborative approach, community of practice and ease of implementation (based on Hallam’s impressive 6 week rollout) sounded attractive what caught my eye (as the user of a system that’s due for review, or at least a good sound beating) was the cost for us to buy in to the service. £18k signup and £14k/yr subscription is a much easier sell than a £150k capitalised project…

One thing I was interested to note throughout the event, but which particularly caught my attention during Simon’s presentation, was how much we are still talking about ITIL. For a while I followed several ITSM “experts” on Twitter and found a recurring theme that ITIL was no more and the time had come for “something new”. I stopped following these people once I realised that the “something new” either involved buying their time as a consultant, or was a new framework/schema of their own creation (“find out more in my book! [with obligatory Amazon link]”)…

Last up before lunch was the second Discussion with a Difference session, this time on Innovative Communications. The conversation took in a lot more than just the traditional (and slightly more recent – i.e. social media) methods for “getting the message out there” to students, also covering communicating with staff, each other (within IT) and getting feedback from the user base.

The session didn’t have a flow/narrative to it and it looks like I did most of the tweeting, so I’ll resort to bullet points:

  • Bribery/payment in return for feedback (through surveys, focus groups etc.) is a common theme.
  • Someone (my notes and tweets don’t reveal who) is using mystery shoppers to  check how support is being delivered – an interesting idea that works well in areas like retail.
  • There’s a mix of approaches to staffing communication, with some having a dedicated team, some using mixed role posts (e.g. we have a combined training/comms post) and others doing things ad-hoc. My experience is your results really do depend on investment and resourcing…
  • MMU ran a survey through their VLE and got over 20,000 comments.
  • Question answering robots are coming.
  • Gamification is coming… Check out Huddersfield’s Lemontree

Next time (hopefully not in another 3 months) – merging support teams, the student voice and Hippo Time…


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