5. Key Underlying Principles

The University’s Corporate Plan was published in September 20051 after a lengthy consultation process. OUCS welcomed the publication of this document as it set out a pragmatic approach to ten key strategic target areas for Oxford, whilst at the same time protecting the values and overall principles of the University. Clearly the plan is aimed primarily at academic divisions and departments, and certain objectives (such as the targets for student numbers) are not directly relevant to OUCS. However, even such objectives may have direct consequences for OUCS’s services, and the department needs to be ready to accommodate these. Furthermore, the impact of the Corporate Plan across the whole of IT within the University was analysed by Work Task C of the ICT Strategy and fed into the final document (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/strategy/worktasks/c/). It is recognised, however, that 2008 will witness the completion of the University’s emerging Strategic Plan though initial drafts indicate that this will not affect our strategic directions.

What follows in this document, therefore, is a section-by-section discussion of the ten strategic areas of the plan – focussing on key topics such as teaching, research, and overall support services. Under these we then list the key objectives OUCS proposes which will assist the University in meeting these strategies. It is important to note though, that ICT will increasingly be used to monitor, audit, and facilitate many of the administrative processes that support these strategies. It will also be used to disseminate information in a speedy and appropriate manner. Specifically OUCS will:

  • continue to act as a centre of expertise and advice on IT related matters;
  • seek to develop, bring in, and support systems to facilitate the administrative processes behind teaching and research in collaboration with other bodies (such as BSP); as well as fostering innovation in teaching and research (VId 2);
  • seek to develop and support communication tools that facilitate speedy dissemination of information to people on demand; in particular we will be promoting a ‘unified and seamless access’ approach through the developing Single Sign-On (SSO) facility – WebAuth3;
  • continue to promote the use of open/agreed standards for data interchange. We view this as crucial if the University is to successfully manage the data flow of information from system to system, and to develop a managed environment for its systems and architecture;
  • act in a customer-driven way developing its services to the needs of the academics and students within the University (VIc); it will adopt a project-based approach to this by developing business cases, support and dissemination procedures, and appropriate sustainability policies.

To abstract a key point from the above, OUCS will continue to be responsive to the needs of the academic users within the University, and will seek to develop further appropriate communication channels. In the last year it has set up a Prototyping section specifically tasked with meeting academics, proactively collecting feedback, and assessing user needs. It has also just set up an Innovation Team to filter through new suggestions for consideration and development as appropriate. These may be requests for changes to existing services, or the development of new services within OUCS. The department has also established a series of representatives (‘reps’) who are attached to a specific department or college and liaise with the academics there to again get feedback on OUCS services. Through its IT Support Staff Service the department already has excellent links with the dispersed IT Support throughout the University and it will seek to build on this. In addition, however, it will be proactively seeking to build links with academic users via division, department, and faculty IT committees; and via college links (formal and informal).

5.1. Reviewing OUCS’s Performance

Throughout 2007 OUCS has undertaken a service-by-service analysis with the Divisions (following the recommendations of the Services Funding Working Group), looking at funding, enhancements, etc. We now believe we have a transparent process in which on an annual basis the new OUCS Management sub-committee will be able to analyse our services (as defined in our complete set of Service Level Descriptions), suggest changes, look at usage, and set the budget for the following academic year. This is but one stage in a now established review process of OUCS. This includes:

  • publication of our Annual Report – a reflective look showing how we performed in the previous AY;
  • setting of our five-year plan (this document) outlining our objectives based on the needs of the divisions;
  • review of our SLDs and costs associated with the services;
  • making recommendations to PICT and then PRAC re the budget for OUCS for the following AY.

All of these will be overseen by the OUCS Management sub-committee.

5.2. Maintaining OUCS’s Existing Services

OUCS provides the University with a set of key services and systems that are critical to the University’s core activities (e.g. the University backbone network, email servers, hierarchical file store, training programme, advice and support). The highest priority is to make sure that these are fully staffed and resourced to maintain the existing level of service (as defined in our SLDs). The changing needs of the University together with advances in technology requires OUCS to continually review and, where appropriate, enhance, expand, or discontinue services. Therefore, the five-year plan lists specific objectives relating to OUCS which aim to ensure that critical services can continue to meet the requirements of the University.

As we have noted elsewhere, and as is clearly visible in our annual reports, the increasing demand for OUCS services shows no signs of abating. Many examples of this are available in OUCS’s Annual Report4 for 2006-7. As a result it is increasingly difficult for OUCS to meet the levels of demand, both in terms of the number of users and also the level of service, faced by these services.

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Notes
1.

Supplement I to the Gazette, 136 (September, 2005).

2.

References in bold point to sections and paragraphs in the Corporate Plan.