UCISA Support Services Conference 2014 – Part 2

2014-07-02 21.44.58

Before I kick off Part 2, it’s worth flagging up some of the other great conference resources that are out there.

We came back from lunch to Rhys Davies talking through the OneIT transformation programme he is leading at University of Leeds, following up on a Pecha Kucha he delivered at the conference last year. Through a series of “content rich” slides (i.e. rammed full!) Rhys described the approach and challenges he and the team are working through – while getting a much appreciated reference in about his helpdesk’s SDI certification success!

This was yet another tale of the practical and political challenges of service and support rationalisation in a distributed (I wouldn’t say federated as that implies structure!) IT environment presented at the conference. Are we, as a sector, still working through these exercises individually for the first time, or is it cyclical?

Centralise –> concentrate efforts –> Shadow IT –> Local IT –> Repeat?

As John Ireland picked up in his blog, this was the first time I’d heard mention of the UniVault service managed by YHMAN, a very interesting looking service that looks very much like DropBox, but in an academic context. And judging by the website, they’ve been around for a while!

In a presentation I’d been looking forward to, having mentioned it myself the day before, Brian Smith (Edge Hill / HEA) took a look at Gamification. Brian began with a look at the psychology behind gamification, including the excellent Flow concept by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which caught people’s imaginations, along with diversions into bladder capacity and “gaming faces” (I’m told mine is one of studied boredom?!).

Before getting into how Gamification might have a role to play in HE, Brian shared a particularly terrifying view of the future…

Speaking of terrifying videos, we also saw a promotional video (which I refuse to share) for a helpdesk product (which I refuse to name) highlighting its Gamification features. My problem with it was that it was so over the top I spent the whole time cringing. I’ve done my time on 1st and 2nd line support and can appreciate the value of Gamification as a motivational tool, but it needs to be only part of your toolkit –this pretty much rammed it down our throats!

Next, Ben Faire and Lindsay Roberts (Cardiff University) presented their experiences delivering an online chat service for library and IT support. On paper this looks like a winner, providing increased productivity, improvement to first call resolution and incident resolution time, as well as better customer satisfaction. And it’s not hard to see this being popular not only with younger “customers”, but also with technical staff who are terrified of personal contact…

Some of the key lessons I took for the talk was around resourcing – principally that this isn’t something you can tag on to existing work; it needs to be resourced appropriately so it’s done right!

The final session of the day was Sandra Whittleston (Northampton), whose presentation promised much, but couldn’t quite carry it off. As Oxford’s Tony Brett noted in his blog, it was a difficult topic for the end of the 2nd day. When I found the supporting material it helped a little, but by that point it felt a bit late. We still managed an interesting discussion on our table about change management and handling expectations (including some devious tips on releasing exam results early to try reduce the impact on infrastructure of thousands of students hitting a website at once…

Running an interactive session like that always feels like a bit of a gamble. I know I spent a lot of time trying to think of a hook for my session, either an interactive activity, or something online (without resorting to the painful “everybody tweet a comment/question/something/please-anything” that I’ve seen previously) and in the end gave up as it didn’t feel I could deliver something with a good chance of success!

The evening’s activities gave me the chance to see more of the hotel…

…eat some lovely food while having some interesting conversations about everything from Fitbits to getting more involved with UCISA…

…participate in a forced selfie…

…and enjoy some comedians.

Despite a 4am finish for some (*cough* & *cough*), I was up bright an early and ready for the final morning’s sessions. Which was lucky, as James Woodward was chairing and was ready with a register!

I’d seen Sally Bogg (Leeds) do her presentation on the results of the joint SDI / UCISA / Cherwell Service Desk Service Desk Benchmarking exercise in Brighton to a room that, I felt, didn’t have enough Director-level people in it. Here however Sally was preaching to the converted with her message that our Service Desks deserve a little love.

Why do I feel what Sally had to say deserved more attention? Among the results she shared, she told us that 10% of Service Desks spend “most of their time justifying their existence” – something I just can’t get my head around… The full report is worth a read.

I have a confession to make and apology to give to Glasgow Caledonian’s Neill Clark. While I’m sure (and Twitter/Blogs confirm this) it was a good talk, I kind of zoned out. Sorry.

One more break and the final session was from Jonathan Munn on “How to be Radical” – a tale which started with a warning about using the word Radical on the web in the current climate! Also, another selfie:

While some aspects of the changes he made to his life (such as eating the same things every day – we all like our food too much!) didn’t sit quite so well with some of the audience, other parts of his message had the audience nodding. It was interesting to see an observation about how opportunity (or as Jonathan puts it, the “Awesome stuff”) lies well outside our comfort zones repeated from the closing session at last year’s conference! Overall it was a different take on a motivational speaker.

Poor Nici Cooper (Wolverhampton) had the unenviable task of piecing together the takeaway from 8 Discussions with a Difference sessions and presenting some kind of summary. The slides do as good a job as I could at listing the main points. It was interesting to see occasional overlaps between topics, such as using metrics and measures to help with managing expectations!

Then, finally, the thank yous and awards. By virtue of my following instructions and *not* tweeting during Jonathan’s presentation (and apparently because the slides had been written earlier that morning) I retained my Best Tweeter title for a 2nd year (or as I proudly claim on LinkedIn “Outstanding contribution to the Conference through Social Media”) and as a reward (punishment?) I had to find a new home for Nemo. Sadly the video streams for the 3rd day aren’t working, or I’d treat you to a screengrab of me hugging an inflatable fish in front of a room filled with my peers.

Conference freshman Mark Jacot (Open University) made quite an impression on many –not least because he’s about 180ft tall – and was accordingly named Best Newcomer. Tony Brett’s excellently delivered Pecha Kucha won a further little Nemo award, while Alex Szymanski was given a Lifetime Achievement award for his years of work with UCISA.

And that, as they say, was that. In addition to a blow up clown fish, what did I take away from the conference?

  • A sense of satisfaction following my session, definitely! It lead to some great discussions afterwards and now I’ve had the conference feedback where a number of people commented that they were putting some of what I discussed into action I’m feeling quite good about the whole thing
  • A lot of new connections – I spoke to people from institutions as diverse as The Open University, University of Oxford and University of The Highlands and Islands (who, I learnt, cover 1/6th of the UK!)
  • Further conviction of the idea that the “journey” – be it innovation, certification, award submission, whatever – will always have value
  • A list of things to follow-up on:
    • Online chat support
    • Bashing people over the heads about supporting our service desk
    • Suggest a broader awards scheme at the University – other HEIs are much better at celebrating success
    • How can we frame or structure CSI in a way that institutionalises it?
  • A commitment to implement Personal Kanban within 3 months (already started!)
  • An aversion to Laphroaig…

There were a couple of themes that stuck out for me. One I’ve already mentioned is about Organisational Change. Quite a few places are going through structural changes, with a trend being consolidation of IT across the whole organisation and the tricky balancing act of bringing academic IT support into some kind of over-arching setup. And, as Rhys Davies was told at Leeds, doing all this and not upsetting anybody.

The phrase “managing expectations” kept cropping up, even outside the Discussions with a Difference sessions, with mentions on all 3 days while discussing Service Desks, BYOD, Relationship Management, working with students, customer services… I couldn’t help thinking (with my motivated conference hat on) that focusing on just “managing” expectations was like settling, making do. Shouldn’t we be out there trying to exceed them?

Another word that appeared frequently was “customers”. I’ll admit, after 13 years in HE I’m yet to come up with a word that I’m comfortable with to describe what I usually refer to (awkwardly, but wherever possible) as the “staff and students we support”. Words like customer and user don’t sit well in a University environment, even in the days of big fees for students.

So there we go, another year, another great conference! Thanks again to all involved in setting it up. Looking forward to 2015!


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