UCISA Conference - the debate!

I attended part of the UCISA User Support Conference in Oxford yesterday to lead a workshop on the development of LogMeIn Rescue that I was a part of when working at LSE. I was at the conference for the whole day and as usual there was some really interesting and thought provoking content.

Chris Sexton gave an interesting presentation on Web 2.0 and mobile devices and how these are converging. It's no longer good enough to simply say "we don't support that" in a world where people are using their own mobile devices to access cloud based content. I think Chris is right and the days of central IT as the "gatekeepers" are gone.

Of course the backdrop to the conference is the uncertainty about future HE funding. However as Chris Sexton Director of IT at Sheffield pointed out the one thing we are certain of is that funding will be less. Probably much less.

This leaves central IT departments with a challenge and this was the topic of the debate that concluded the second day of the conference.

Two IT Directors led the debate on each "side" Mike Roch from Reading and Ajay Burlingham-Bohr from Anglia Ruskin. The debate was particularly interesting when it got to the area of academic freedom especially in research centered universities. This freedom to purchase and use (and demand support for) pretty much any device, service and software has long been a problem and as Ajay pointed out to much agreement and laughter that central IT departments "should spend more time understanding our customers' needs than playing with complex LDAP systems or open-source VLEs". Oh how true!

However it is clear the solution to this isn't simply to simplify and standardise central services and then tell users they have to use them. We do need to simplify and standardise services and then we need to sell them to the users and be clear of the advantages and show how they meet their needs. This needs a cultural shift as Ajay pointed out from central IT being seen (and seeing itself) as hobbyists to us being demonstrably professionals running a professional service.

What was interesting was that the two positions moved closer to each other as the debate went on. Mike Roch advocating more shared services and selective outsourcing and Ajay responding that this was fine in the longer term but we need to begin by getting our own houses in order. For many Universities services aren't "shared" within the institution never mind between different universities!

So there is much to do and whilst nobody welcomes the cuts they at least provide an big incentive to us all to up our game.

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