11. Meeting Strategic Objectives VI: Academic and Student Services

This section is of direct relevance to OUCS as it focuses on service provision. We have already noted earlier that a key priority of OUCS is to maintain its core service provision and to expand (wherever possible). Here we look at specific targets for the next five years.

As a result of the ICT Strategy, and discussions at the SFWG meetings, OUCS has identified three key projects that will directly enhance the services offered to staff and students:

  • Roll-out of a Groupware solution – this is a suite of applications that provide a collaborative working environment for users, e.g. email, calendaring, scheduling, etc.
  • Roll-out of wireless across key areas of ‘campus’
  • Development of a Core User Identity scheme as part of a wider initiative to tackle ID Management (including Group information)

Requests for funding have now been submitted to PICT as part of the Capital ‘envelope’.

With reference initially to the Corporate Plan, sections §101 and §102 outline some key objectives for OUCS:

Corporate Plan Objectives Comment
Assist in the development of the University’s ICT Strategy This is now complete and the Strategy has been ratified.
Contributing towards the establishment of a common computing environment (now termed the ‘enhanced computing environment’) OUCS is assisting in this project (aka the ECE project) which is now being led by a team separate from OUCS, the ICT Support Team.
Develop and support high quality infrastructure services (especially the network backbone, e-mail, web servers, backup, security, and training) Ongoing – see specific objectives below.
Developing new services Ongoing – see specific objectives below.
Improving network connection Ongoing – see specific objectives below. This was also facilitated by the agreement to fund an extra post in the Network Support Team from 2007-2010, and a request to the ICT Capital envelope to support key network enhancements.
Working on wireless and mobile access, Ongoing – a key request under the Capital envelope.
Working in a federated environment with the distributed IT Staff Ongoing. OUCS will also be working closely with the new ICT Forum.
Foster effective use of IT in all disciplines Ongoing, especially through our Learning Technologies Group and Research Technologies Service (see above, 6 and 7).
Provide training and tailored courses Ongoing. OUCS courses currently attract over 13,000 attendees per annum.
Support and promote the Virtual Learning Environment Ongoing. Funding for the development to Weblearn 2.0 has now been secured until 2010.
Develop reusable and centralised e-learning resources Ongoing. Focus has also shifted to repositories to hold this material.
Promote research e-infrastructure (VREs, escience, etc) Ongoing, see especially section 6 above.

In addition there is an overriding need to make sure that developments in these areas, and others, meet the needs of academics and students (§104, §105, and IIf), and form a coherent structure. To do this OUCS has taken forward the key recommendations of the SFWG, has set up a central client relations team, and a series of formal and informal links with colleges and departments via our OUCS Reps system.

Undoubtedly over the next five years the landscape of IT will change dramatically. We constantly strive to be aware of the changes in underlying technology, the changes in the demographics of the user base, and the changes in the patterns of use. We note, for example, the rise in IT literacy across staff and students, and at the same time an integration of computing technology and access to information across a range of easy-to-use devices (such as the new generation of mobile phones). We have also observed that the number of Macintosh computers at the University is growing steadily with a recorded 20% ownership amongst first-year students, and wholesale shifts to Macs by some departments. OUCS needs to respond to this by offering increased support for Macs, but also exploit the opportunities offered by such things as dual-boot Macs, OS 10.5, and the iPhone and iTouch.

OUCS will aim to be in a position to tap into these new opportunities, but also recognises that this may shift the balance of IT support from user help to areas such as integration and interoperability.

In terms of underlying infrastructure we note above the demands for wireless technology, roving access, and mobile learning. With the near completion of the FroDo project, and the network potential offered by SuperJanet 5, the University is in an excellent position to take forward all of this provided sufficient funding is made available. Changes are also taking place with telecoms, and OUCS (now in charge of Telecoms) is gradually rolling out such initiatives as Voice over IP.

We also note the drive to combat spiralling power costs by investigating key issues on reducing electricity consumption, and also the carbon footprint of IT.

Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to achieve the objectives listed in the next section8. These will be the responsibility of several groups across the department, notably the:

  • Information and Support Group which contains the Information Systems team, Registration Services, the Research Technologies Services, and the IT Support Staff Service;
  • the Infrastructure Systems and Services Group which includes System Development, the Operators, and the HFS;
  • the Networks and Telecommunications Group which includes Networks, Security, and Telecoms;
  • our Technical Support Ser vices, which contains our Network Systems and Services Team (NSMS);
  • and our Learning Technologies Group, in charge of training, the VLE, and e-learning research and development.

All of the following specifically target VIc and VId of the Corporate Plan.

Select and launch Groupware service MT 2008 (pilot version). Part of a major bid to the ICT Capital fund.
Roll out wireless service. 2008/2009. Part of a major bid to the ICT Capital fund.
Assist in completion of Core User Data service. 2008-2009.
Refurbish lecture rooms and basement areas. Part of a major bid to the ICT Capital fund. Need to create a fifth lecture room, and refurbish OUCS basements to release storage capacity.
To mitigate risks associated with the OUCS Computer Room 2008 - 2010£1M. Part of a major bid to the ICT Capital fund. In 2007/08 recruit a Computer Room Operations Manager at reasonably senior level. Initiate a project proposal for the refurbishment of the OUCS Computer Room. Continue to make a significant contribution to any project for an alternative, shared, University computer room.
To deploy a group management service as part of the suite of OUCS access management services available to the collegiate University 2008 - 2009 OUCS will deploy a series of authorisation services, beginning with a read-only LDAP service, to complement the webauth/kerberos authentication service, from March 2008. The development of a groups management service, beginning with a read-only service, is required by the Weblearn Sakai project, the groupware deployment, and other services provided by the wider University. It is planned to deploy a pilot read-only groups service by Sept 2008 and a full groups management service by Sept 2009.
To ensure the backup and archiving service (HFS) meets both capacity and University requirements. 2007 - 2009 OUCS is reviewing the HFS archiving policy in order to raise the profile of the service; ensure that where appropriate costs are recovered from grant-funded research projects; and integrate the HFS with other long-term file storage activities within the University. In order to meet capacity and ensure resilience, it will be necessary to replace end-of-life servers and, in due course, the tape library (which is over ten years old).
Investigate how server virtualisation technology can best be exploited for the provision of services from OUCS, and tie into the reduction of energy costs. 2008 OUCS has set up a Virtualisation SIG and has considerable experience of virtualisation via its NSMS service.
Further develop a Podcasting solution for the wider University 2008 Currently looking at Apple’s Podcast Producer and iTunesU to supplement existing OxITEMS service.
Continue Development of the Apple Supported Desktop Solution, and increase overall level of support for Macs. 2007 - 2009 Led by NSMS and ICT ST.
Develop Software Licence Management Service 2008 Redeployed staff to this resource, also investigating streamlining of invoicing procedures.
Investigate shared storage investigations 2008 OUCS has set up a Storage SIG.
Increase network resilience and security enhancements 2008 – 2011. £605K with £50K recurrent. The plan is to increase the resilience and security of the voice and data networks by improvements to the duct and fibre infrastructure along with the distribution structures associated with them (such as MDX rooms)
Continue to support the teaching of modelling on MBA, Biology, Economics and Social Science degrees and Postdoc programmes. 2008 onwards Funding received for this from EduServe.
Deliver the Low Carbon ICT project to provide the University with technology and information that optimises the use of existing ICT infrastructure (so reducing the environmental damage caused by University operations). 2008-9 Part of a wider investigation into reducing energy costs and the carbon footprint of IT. This is a joint project with the OeRC and OUCE.
Promote revenue generating Thames Suite bookings. 2008
Integrate training for Macs into general courses and promote specific training 2008
Undertake an accessibility audit to ensure online training material is compliant. Jan 08 to June 08
Coordinate a range of awareness-raising activities relating to services and technologies to support elearning. TT 08.
Introduce a parallel Sakai/Bodington VLE service by June 2009. June 09.
Integrate the new VLE service with OUCS-developed Oak Authorisation and Groups Service by Mid 2009 June 09.
Plan an exit strategy from the Bodington/WebLearn service including migration of all data, development of new training materials, and training of staff members. 08-09.
Explain, promote, and support good practice in web site management for the University, especially advising the University’s Web Strategy Group. Ongoing.
Continue to run a shared information environment for use of ICT Forum (the ITSS wiki), as well as developing secure delegated services aiming to enhance the facilities available to IT support staff across the collegiate University. Ongoing.
Investigate and, if appropriate, implement a further streamlining of OUCS’s front of house services. TT 08.
Provide support for TEI XML projects. Ongoing.

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It is also important to cross-refer this section with other key areas in this five-year plan, notably our strategies to facilitate research (section 6), and teaching and learning (section 7).