4. OUCS Departmental Developments
NSMS provides and develops cost effective services that departments and colleges need, but are unable to offer from within their own resources. The service typically works in close collaboration with local IT support staff, but in a number of cases NSMS is the only source of IT support. New services will be developed, based on an understanding of the needs of the University environment. An example of this is a fixed price, comprehensive IT support package for research projects, which is currently being market researched.
An emphasis on security, resilience and continuity is an essential ingredient of all the services that are managed by the section, and a significant training budget is set aside to maintain high skill levels.
- Web based credit card payment service. The University has signed a contract with Barclays Merchant Services for internet credit card services and there is interest in exploiting this facility from a number of University departments, including OUCS. The NSMS is planning a service that makes it very simple for any University organisation to take advantage of the facility.
- Conference web registration service. This service has been prototyped and will be developed to incorporate web based credit card payments and payment management options.
- Database consultancy, frequently related to the development of web sites. It is intended to develop a support service for these types of needs in due course, possibly by further recruitment.
- ‘Added value’ backup service with a robot tape backup system, commissioned for use by NSMS customers which will complement the TSM backup service.
- Video-audio streaming service, will complement the existing comprehensive web server service.
- Macintosh Management Service based on Mac OSX Server.
The OUCS Help Centre was created in order to provide a single integrated interface for users of all OUCS services. Its mission is to complement and assist the IT support services provided by individual colleges and departments, providing both a safety net for University members without local help, and a fast track to specialist advice for local IT support staff.
The rôle and scope for a complementary central provision of this kind is likely to continue to change. The OUCS Help Centre provides both a computing help desk and a centre for computing and learning resources. It provides a single location and point of contact for all of OUCS's front-line user support services; access to experienced staff able to deal with a wide range of commonly encountered problems immediately; a reliable way of routing more specialist queries to appropriate experts and tracking the progress of queries; friendly and informal advice for University members needing orientation amongst the many sources of information available to them; and hands-on access to reference documentation and instructional material.
The University distributed IT support model places direct support of users where it is most needed, within the departments and colleges. It also provides a market-driven mechanism to scale support activity up, or down, dependent on the priorities and resources identified by individual units. This distributed model has proved to be successful over the last few years, and OUCS is keen to help ensure its continued success.
- providing support staff with a dedicated ‘fast-track’ helpdesk service;
- encouraging and facilitating the sharing of expertise amongst IT support staff;
- forming strategic partnerships with other local HE/FE institutions, particularly in the area of training and career development;
- seeking accreditation for IT-focussed professional development courses in collaboration with IAUL;
- providing a channel of communication between IT support staff and IT policy makers, with a view to building strategies on such matters as minimum support levels and standards into the University's IT support policies.
The hardware, software, and supporting networks for advanced multimedia work are not affordable and accessible to most academics. The steady demand for courses in Digital Video and similar will increase and it is foreseen that there will be an increase in the use of DV, streamed DV material, and videoconferencing.
OUCS will continue to promote the uptake and awareness of its services to the wider user community within Oxford University. OUCS will be presented at the Freshers' Fair, an annual Open Day will run at the start of Trinity term, and paper-based reports and circulars will be used, in addition to email, web pages and other electronic means, to promote new services. Use will be made of entries in the University official documents such as the Gazette and Blueprint, as well as the diary features of these magazines. The Learning Technologies Group will focus on academics in particular, as through them the use of the services can best be promoted to students.
Whilst the IT service provision market can be seen as internal in the economic sense, OUCS is in full market competition with other service providers, particularly with regard to the paying customer base who are themselves seeking a value for money solution to their computing needs. It is anticipated that in order to remain competitive the need to recruit suitably technically qualified staff will increase.
Over the past 2-3 years OUCS has faced fierce competition from the private sector for technically qualified personnel, while to some extent this has eased recently. The problem may be compounded by changes in employment legislation and ‘best practice’ guidelines applicable to the University, particularly those affecting working time. It is important, therefore, to develop a ‘culture’ of working for OUCS, which overrides salary considerations (at least partially), and this may well be assisted by the department's aim to remain at the ‘cutting edge’ of technological advancement.
The introduction of the Oracle Financial Accounting packages signals a fundamental change in the way the University will handle its finances. In order to comply with HEFCE transparent accounting methodologies, and to comply with the external auditors recommendations for greater clarity and control of these funds, the emphasis will switch to a more pro-active financial planning regime. A greater depth of budget proposal and financial forecasting will be demanded as the University wide historical accounting records achieve an acceptable level of compliance.
The buildings in Banbury Road must provide the facilities in which the OUCS Mission can be achieved. Not only will OUCS plan to maintain these facilities in accordance with this mandate, but to accommodate planned expansions and opportunities. This may include the upgrade of public facilities such as teaching & other user area facilities, but also as a core service provider OUCS must be mindful of the back office needs.
OUCS is reviewing whether the building in its current state meets all its needs. One particular issue is whether it is possible to integrate the need for more out-of-hours access with the need to maintain security. OUCS will address the issue of building security and in particular with how it will comply with BS7799, the new security standard.