UCISA Support Services Conference 2014 – Part 1

2014-07-02 08.29.52-1

The time has come to reflect one last time on this year’s UCISA Support Services Conference – an event that’s given me a lot in terms of new experiences, new contacts and new ideas. I’ll steer clear of the lengthy nanosecond-by-nanosecond breakdowns I’ve done in the past and try focus on the highlights. Try…


As venues go, Crewe Hall is quite impressive. Alas I was in the newer bit of the hotel and quite envious of those in staying in the hall itself. The only downside was the distance from civilisation (i.e.. sources of diet coke – my principle vice), but that was fixable with some forward planning and a sturdy wheely case. For reasons I still haven’t worked out, I decided to walk from the station, which was great for by step count, but did the already sunburned back of my neck no favours given the sun was out.

After a lot of hellos (you forget how many people you meet at these things, even if you don’t connect online afterwards) and a check if I needed anything for my presentation that afternoon (“a sedative?”) it was on with the show, which opened with greetings from Conference Chair Sally Bogg and a formal welcome from UCISA Executive Chair John Cartwright, who gave a very honest summary of the problems he’d been dealing with the same time last year.

For the first plenary session, Carolyn Blunt gave us the low-down on the power and pitfalls of social media, not only for organisations, but for consumers. Carolyn revealed some pretty shocking statistics, including the fact that 82% of complaints received are about customer service – talk about failure-driven demand.

IT Day in Hell - Slide from real-results.co.uk

IT Day in Hell – Slide from real-results.co.uk

Carolyn also cited a Fujitsu survey which revealed that, among other things, 12% of people find PC failure more stressful than being left by a partner. Which I think says something about their relationships and/or their tendency to over-react… I eventually found a source of sorts for those survey results – commissioned by a pre-Fujitsu International Computers Limited in 2000!

Then it was into an interesting Discussion with a Difference on Metrics and Measurement. The debate wandered from BRAG reporting (adding in some Blue) to the importance of customer satisfaction over service desk stats. But my mind kept coming back to the question – why were we producing these numbers? The consensus seemed to be for justification (I’ve used numbers in the past to support a case for more staff) and defence – i.e.. “this is why we do this”.

As someone (in good company, it seemed) who once put a lot of effort into setting up and producing regular reports and then stopped – to no negative effect – it’s seems a particularly pertinent question…

Back to the main hall for a half hour double-act (and my warm up) as John Ireland and FrontRange talked about implementing a consolidated service desk at Oxford. In between moments of wild panic I couldn’t help but instinctively put on my old Oxford Department IT Manager hat and stubbornly (without having really paid attention!) insist that to myself that “it’ll never work” and “we’ll never use it”… Funny how easily old work attitudes can surface, even 7 years on!

Then it was my turn. I fit my 100 slides on Idea Management in around 30 minutes – I’ve still no idea how! My usual self-flagellation aside, I’m pleased with how it went and the feedback since has been brilliant, verging on embarrassing. There’s more on Idea Management here (Part 1) and here (Part 2!) and it’s all stream-able if you feel the need. Looking back over Twitter afterwards it felt like the main points I wanted to get across came through successfully.

And the time tweets went down a storm!

Half way through my arbitrarily assigned wordcount and I’ve not even hit the Pecha Kuchas yet! If you’ve not heard of PK, the idea is you’ve got 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide, with a total of 6m 40s to cover your topic. It makes for a fast paced session, usually with a lot of laughs.

Last year it was a bit dry, but this year more than made up for it with my highlights being MMU’s Martin Putwain telling us how to choose a service management tool (without *actually* telling us!), Oxford’s Tony Brett giving us a fast paced (and rightly award winning) review of principles for good communication and finally Sheffield’s Chris Sexton bowled us over talking about herself – breaking a load of PK rules and referring to her “current husband” into the bargain.

The evening’s entertainment was great fun (especially now I was able to relax), with a BBQ followed by an hilarious game (even if we were convinced the buzzers were rigged) of Family Fortunes, using questions sourced from real HE help desk staff. I’m hoping to get the data from our excellent hosts, Kath Murray and Chris Dixon, to put together an infographic…

Having resisted the urge to drink too much (okay, truth is everyone disappeared to the other bar and I didn’t know where it was) the morning of Day 2 wasn’t quite the struggle for me that it was for some.

Lorraine Brown (St Andrews) kicked the day off talking us through their SDI certification journey, from day one through 1 star, 2 star and eventually 3 star certification – with their eyes now on 4 stars. It was a good case study in Continuous Service Improvement, with some interesting points out the importance of branding for an IT department and some tips on the power of customer feedback. And, as with last year’s story from Leeds, the value that comes from the journey towards SDI certification.

As well as confirming to me what we all already know – I don’t get paid enough – Dean Phillips gave us some insight into how Business Relationship Management works at University of Aberdeen. One of Dean’s points, which many folk picked up on and nodded at, was that you have to be careful that BRMs don’t become the people responsible for all the other stuff that no one else wants to do. Also interesting was the move away from IT skills in favour of engagement and communication and what that delivers.

There were also Smart Bins.

I’m yet to experience a panel session I didn’t enjoy and think wasn’t long enough, and the next session with Kayode Damali (MMU Student’s Union), Rhys Davies (Leeds), Phil Range (MMU), Barclay Rae (that #ITSMGoodness guy off of Twitter) and Sandra Whittleston (Northampton) was no exception.

The theme was “What does a successful relationship look like” and kicked off with Rhys describing it as one you continue through choice, not necessity. Barclay neatly summarised the tensions strict ITSM can cause:

An excellent question about the low uptake of centrally provided IT services among the academic community prompted an honest answer – no one knew! But, along with other comments during the session, it underlined one of the themes I saw through the conference around IT structure and the challenges of academic support and “shadow IT”.

The second Discussion With a Difference for me was BYOD, which was interesting but it felt left us in a similar limbo to the Metrics and Measures talk the day before. We quickly dealt with the low-hanging fruit issue of “devices” and moved onto delivering services, which felt like the right thing. I was surprised at how often Application Jukebox was namechecked (through the conference generally), but it’s fair to say that this has been a boon for us in making software available to our students.

It was clear we all felt a bit stuck on the topic and that we frequently went round and round the same debate and that it was such a far-reaching issue that it needed executive level attention. As I added to the summary at the end of the conference:

My view on the subject hasn’t changed since another UCISA event last year on BYOD when I concluded that BYOD wasn’t a big one-off project or something to consider in isolation – it has to become part of everything you do. Every project, every new service, everything we do has to include consideration of BYOD, just as security, user experience and even the likes of health & safety and equality feature.

That took us to lunchtime… Part 2 to follow shortly!


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