I’ve started using blipfoto – service that incorporates a daily photograph with the opportunity to write a short piece of pithy prose describing it, or your thoughts associated with the photo. I’ve managed 40 successive blips, which is some achievement for me I feel – a very indisciplined person, but today was going to be a struggle. Grey, wet, windy day with nothing much going on. In addition, I’d driven the car into work which meant that (and this has been rare over the past 40 days) I hadn’t had the chance to just look around and see what I could see that might make a good picture. And then I remembered the title of this draft blogpost which had sat waiting for the right moment since February 22nd earlier this year.
“Is that all there is?”
The older amongst you will remember this as a Peggy Lee song – go and look at the lyrics, or watch this Bette Middler version and you might understand why I thought it could be an appropriate blogpost title to make my retirement date public information. I’m retiring from full-time employment on December 31st. After 37 years of work “is that all there is?” – a stack of shredded paper.
Against a backdrop of reduced funding (for the University and for their IT organisations consequentially), the widespread availability of cloud computing services (SaaS) and the need to examine what is actually core to the service offering, perhaps the moment is opportunely right to consider IT and strategy.
There have been a number of recent blog posts and events that have helped frame my thoughts and I mention these below. The work Joe Nicholls and I did on “Core and Chore” is also relevant and a couple of links to the IWMW09 and EUNIS09 events where we presented our thoughts are provided as well.
Brian Kelly has presented widely on the implications of Web 2.0 to institutions and his talk and post on What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything? provides us with some food for thought on the areas and issues that need to be considered and possibly addressed. His post was the catalyst for a lot of what follows, as were posts from Martin Weller, Andy Powell and Chris Sexton.
Top of my strategic agenda for change is the federalising of web content and services. This is enabling infrastructure that prepares your content and services for wider availability and improved access; for wider use by students and to enable greater collaborative learning. The Horizon Report (already mentioned above) highlights the likelihood of Open Content being a major future trend, we’ve had the CLEX and The Edgeless University reports and quite recently I came across The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. The messages from all of these should be considered and reflected upon in the context of your institution. No web-service, no content, should go out the door into production without it being shibbolised.
The workstation desktop is overdue for review. What is the desktop image? Does everyone need one? (I don’t.) Is there not scope for a hybrid approach that locks down desktops to key administrative areas and desks and open access areas and then delivers applications via thin-client elsewhere. That way we could deliver a corporate “experience” to a wider community of users than our existing Windows based desktop image does. It would enable Mac and Linux users to share in the experience as well as allow researchers (with admin access to their workstations) to have more freedom over their desktop. It would also have a wider reach (indeed web connection would be the pre-requisite) and mean that roaming profiles might not be necessary. Link that to making the desktop image itself skinnier and you might result in a process improvement that would be universally appreciated.
Collaboration software in the enterprise is essential. It doesn’t really matter what it is – ning, jive, connections, sharepoint. Make sure it’s not just behind the firewall though – we do as much collaboration outside the university as we do inside and indeed a hosted solution might be the most effective solution from a licensing and service offering point of view … and try and get it shibbolised, please!
I’ve already referred to SaaS offerings and that’s where we must do some long and hard thinking. Running Google Apps or Live@edu is no longer innovative. It’s becoming common place. Can you make an argument for retaining email in-house? Is it a differentiating application from which your institution gains business benefit – or do we just want it to work. Go one stage further – is it essential to keep supporting the Microsoft suite on all desktop platforms – maybe the imaged workstations – but is it really necessary for students? Office Apps in the cloud would appear a real candidate for out-sourcing as would Google Apps, and one surprisingly (see how the arguments have changed) that hits the transferable skills case for students who will be able to go on using Google Apps or Microsoft Apps in the cloud – with their own filestore (note there as an even more compelling and cost-saving argument here) – after they’ve left us and taken up work somewhere else. Indeed it could be argued that this is the relevant experience we should be giving our under-graduate students now, rather than the bloated desktop application (particularly in its latest incarnation which is so different from its predecessors).
Linked to this is the idea (raised in my blog post) that Open Source could be a Shared Service and could be the thing that re-engages developers in our departments with coding and with this the possibility of providing a new purpose and reason for collaboration. Imagine it. One site specialise in writing the middleware, another site specialises in device drivers and APIs, another produces apps for different platforms or for cross-platform delivery. This is the moment when we (University IT departments) could take back some of the ground we’ve ceded to the large software corporations. What makes this so appealing? Consumer electronics and personally owned computing devices …
The world has changed so rapidly in the last 12 months. Even the CEO now wants an iPhone rather than a BlackBerry. With V4.0 software around the corner, the iPhone moves to a position where corporates may be willing to embrace it. And when the iPad becomes commonplace … What this means is that we, as IT Services organisations, must adapt and adopt a scenario where we don’t own the devices. We need to be able to co-habit with social applications on personal devices. Do I really need to carry my iPhone and a BlackBerry around with me – one for life (which I’ve paid for) and one for work. I think not. The challenge is to have a tiered approach to service delivery. Be right up front and say that AppX can’t be made available on anything less than a DeviceY, which has USB dongle Z provided. If you’re up front and explain the reasons why X can’t be made available – the user should be able to understand if they can see Apps A, B and C being delivered the way they would want them to be. What I’m saying here is that the service offering cannot be offered as “this is what you’ve got, this is what we support”, we must be more flexible and must be able to move rapidly with the user’s requirements and the devices they own.
The question “what kind of IT Service?” also has to be considered. I think the really differentiating feature of the future service offering is the advice and guidance – the education – that we provide. So it’s “engagement, enablement and EDUCATION” – I think the Service Department of the future (not just IT) needs to get much more into this piece – preparing the user for the “brave new world” that they’re possibly stumbling into, iPhone in hand. In this way they (the Service Departments) may be able to envision processes operating across silos and thus return real operational value to the user who is really only interested in completing tasks, not who their service provider is.
Finally the question of lag must be considered. The speed which budgetary cuts will be imposed will be faster than our ability to respond to them, UNLESS we’ve done some prioritisation and have some strategies in place. What are the drivers – cost-cutting or technology co-habitation? Can they be combined in some way. What utility computing do we provide? Can this be implemented quickly by outsourcing it quickly (as many others in the UK and US have done), thus gaining some breathing space to do some “value-generating work”. These are all important questions and a lot more “what if … ?” scenarios have to be worked-up and plans prepared for the inevitable budget-cuts there are to come. Otherwise there will be pain.
I wrote the original of this post on 21st May 2010 for an internal blog, but hope in its slightly different form that it might be of interest more widely. So, a few things to consider as you face an uncertain future; as you prepare to provide an IT Strategy that underpins the strategic vision of your institution. Are you prepared for change? Is now the time to be brave and innovate? I hope so.