3. The Department Strategic Challenges
At the beginning of 2008 OUCS produced its five-year plan (see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/5yr/). This provided a detailed analysis of the future initiatives and developments within OUCS, listed a series of specific goals and tasks and demonstrated how these took forward the aims and objectives of OUCS linked to the Corporate Plan.
What follows in this document, therefore, is a section-by-section discussion of these areas (many of which tally with the objectives set out in the previous Corporate 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. In writing this we have attempted to align the appropriate goals with those presented in the strategic plan for the Office for the Director of IT (ODIT).
- 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;
- seek to develop and support communication and collaboration tools that facilitate speedy dissemination of information to people on demand; in particular we will be rolling out the Groupware solution (Exchange and MOSS [Sharepoint]), and promoting a ‘unified and seamless access’ approach through the developing Single Sign-On (SSO) facility – the Oxford Username and Password (WebAuth1);
- 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; 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 users within the University, and will seek to develop further appropriate communication channels. It will continue to seek feedback on its services from users, and review these through a designated process (analysed by the Innovation Team, then the User Services Team, with overall review on many major initiatives by the OUCS Management Committee). 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).
OUCS continues to work through the recommendations of the Services Funding Working Group (SFWG) in collaboration with the OUCS Management sub-committee and ultimately the PRAC ICTC sub-committee. We now believe we have a transparent process in which on an annual basis the new OUCS Management sub-committee analyses our services (as defined in our complete set of Service Level Descriptions), suggest changes, reviews usage, and assists in setting the budget for the following academic year. This is but one stage in a now established review process of OUCS (see Key Performance Indicators – below).
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 that 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 Report2 for 2007-8. 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.
OUCS seeks to develop ICT services where they supplement existing teaching methods, especially as part of the tutorial system. This is the main approach of one of OUCS’s units – the Learning Technologies Group (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/). The group seeks to be responsive to the needs of the academic users by researching and advising on innovative approaches to teaching using IT. The LTG runs and develops WebLearn, the university virtual learning environment (VLE). In 2009 we will be launching the new WebLearn service (based on SAKAI). The Weblearn project is directed by a steering group comprising OUCS, college and faculty representatives. The LTG also provides the institutional podcasting service, supports the Oxford iTunes U initiative, and runs the IT Learning Training Programme, and other key services.
OUCS is not directly affected by the size and shape of teaching and learning, as it does not run matriculated courses for students, nor is it involved directly in student recruitment. However, a shift in the size or demographic of the student body will possibly affect the demands on some of the services offered by OUCS (and potentially the infrastructure charge). This has emerged as a key finding from the Services Funding Working Group and it has been calculated that an extra ‘unit’ places a burden of c. £4,000 on OUCS, and an extra user £80 per annum. We will be ensuring that the core services can meet any up-turn assuming appropriate funding is found, and our budget forecasts are all based on set students and staff numbers.
- Target development of new tools in WebLearn (e.g. to support tutorial teaching, course feedback, etc); Ongoing;
- Launch the new WebLearn; Target: 2009;
- Migrate everyone from the Bodington/WebLearn; Target: 2009/2010;
- Integrate the new VLE service with OUCS-developed Oak Authorisation and Groups Service, OxITEMS and OxPoints and with exisiting student administrative systems where possibleTarget date: Late 2009./2010
- Develop training and support services adequate to rollout of new University services, in particular Groupware and the new Weblearn : Mid 2009.
- Explore the integration of the new VLE service with the Groupware solution. Target date: Late 2009/2010.
- Support and promote the distribution of open content via podcasting and iTunes U; Ongoing;
- Promote and support user created content and multimedia through initiatives such as: new tools in the VLE; tagging and use of tag clouds; graphical representation of activity data; use of multimedia by students to share and express understanding; use of multimedia by lecturers to share and model research based teaching;
- Research and implement technology in response to user needs that provides teachers and learners with assessment and evaluation technologies that increases the quality and ease by which questions can be authored and marked.
- Promote the effective use of ICT facilities in the classroom by exemplar teaching rooms at OUCS;
- Promote web design for inclusive practice, usability and use of mobile technologies.
- Overall develop our IT Learning Programme to keep up to date with the demands of the users. In particular look at the research and support skills that staff and students will need and co-ordinate, on behalf of OUCS, a range of awareness-raising and training activities;
- Offer training courses in a flexible mode (especially online and ‘at need’ training);
- Develop the new Apple Teaching Centre; Target: 2009;
- Integrate training for Macs into general courses and promote specific training;
- Seek funding for new Media Lab (external sponsorship).
OUCS has a dedicated support unit – the Research Technologies Service (RTS - http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/rts/) which, through funding from external bodies, develops cutting edge applications to support research, and provides advisory services for the University and beyond. The activities of the RTS complement the infrastructure and other support services provided by OUCS. To assist with this and the development of OUCS’s own research strategy, we have a full-time Research Facilitator to take forward these activities, and are developing a research strategy.
The RTS is working with other University departments to establish the ICT requirements of their research communities, and has compiled a list of services that OUCS offers research projects across the University (see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/rts/rtsservices.xml). These range from project planning, through to offering advice to projects underway, assisting in development, and helping complete an exit strategy. In connection with this, the RTS particularly collaborates with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC3) and other relevant University units to investigate the development of tools to support the administration and auditing of research activity – especially relevant with the proposed forthcoming impact of the RAE. This activity includes an emphasis on assisting with project management and the sharing of research information and outputs, especially across disciplinary boundaries. One example of current activity is its contribution to the Oxford Research Archive initiative.
- Develop and promote an integrated suite of research-support services. This activity will ensure that Research Coordinators and senior researchers across the University are fully briefed about the specialised skills available to them from OUCS; it will also seek to develop new partnerships and projects in line with the OUCS Research Strategy. Target date: 2009;
- Monitor and develop the OUCS research portfolio. Monitor research funding opportunities relevant to the OUCS Research Strategy; maintain a list of currently funded research projects; provide twice yearly reports on project outcomes; aim to increase research income significantly beyond current levels; Target date: Ongoing;
- Through OSS Watch inform and advise the UK HE and FE community about open source software and open standards through briefing materials, events, advisory service and partnerships. Target date: Ongoing. (Funded via the JISC OSS Watch advisory service4); Target date: Ongoing;
- Collaborate with the OeRC on projects and activities which support research across subject areas through the use of advanced ICT. OUCS is represented on the OeRC Directorate and has established an OUCS-OeRC liaison post to identify and develop collaborative projects (notably in the humanities); Target date: Ongoing;
- Proactively support the establishment of institutional repository services through the ORA initiative. Also working on similar technologies via our BID project (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_rep_pres/repositories_sue/bid.aspx). Target date: Ongoing;
- Continue to co-ordinate, on behalf of OUCS, a range of awareness-raising and training activities relating to services and technologies to support e-research. Target date: Ongoing.
OUCS’s primary focus is on supporting the needs of the collegiate University. However, in so doing it offers support to faculties and departments seeking to engage more with the wider society. For example, by hosting the OxITEMS service (an RSS feed system) OUCS allows units to have newsfeeds on their web sites for internal and external users. It also allowed us to quickly and successfully launch the iTunes U service. We are also assisting in research projects and initiatives particularly looking at how the use of emerging Web 2.0 technologies can assist in such things as recruitment, widening participation, and engaging the public in research activities.
OUCS also acts as a major bridge with national funding agencies such as HEFCE, JISC, the Research Councils, and seeks sponsorship for major IT projects through the Development Office, OUCS’s own Research Facilitator, and KTPs. OUCS activites and project outputs contribute to relevant research and software development communities. In turn it will seek to inform faculties, departments, and colleges about new funding opportunities; as well as bidding for external grants to cover some of its own new initiatives. OUCS will also liaise with local bodies to identify opportunities to provide appropriate (and funded) IT training and certification where possible.
OUCS continues to improve its personnel procedures and improve career progression. Two documents are maintained for staff outlining career progression and decision-making at OUCS. OUCS staff are also encouraged to join internal SIGs, new teams, and trained in project management methodology. Through its IT Support Staff Service it also seeks to promote career development of the dispersed IT Staff. The OUCS ITLP training programme offers opportunities for skills development and IT training needs analysis to the personnel in the collegiate university.
Again OUCS is not directly involved in this activity as it does not deal with admissions, nor is it involved in student recruitment. However, as noted above any major change in the size or demographic of the student body will possibly affect the demands on some of the services offered by OUCS. For example, increased recruitment of international students will necessitate seamless access to the Universities from increasing numbers of remote sites. In addition, changes to the admissions process and recording of student data may also impact on our services. We will ensure that the core services can meet any changes in demand.
Moreover, WebLearn is increasingly bringing together tools that will support teaching and OUCS is proactively working with Student Systems, participating in the ongoing review of student administration and services. It is assisting in allowing Single Sign-On for Student Systems, and we see further work needed in this area as demands on the SSO service will change (e.g. users may need to be issued with credential at a much earlier point in the cycle, e.g. on application). OUCS has also helped the dissemination and promotion of material to do with admissions in such initiatives as iTunes U.
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 four key projects that will directly enhance the services offered to staff and students. The first three of these overlap appropriately with the plans set out by the Office for the Director of IT.
- 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. It will also include document repositories for research projects under Sharepoint.
- Development of a Core User Identity scheme as part of a wider initiative to tackle ID Management (including Group information)
- Design and build of a new Central Machine Room and refurbishment of OUCS’s existing data centre
- Roll-out of wireless across key areas of ‘campus’
There is also an overriding need to make sure that developments in these areas, and others, meet the needs of academics and students 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, the increasing penetration of Apple Macs, the rise in student ownership of machines, 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).
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.
Although our ability to develop existing services or launch new ones is extremely limited, without any development or enhancement budget, we attempt to maintain some flexibility through our pay-per-use service – NSMS. This invaluable resource allows us to offer new services more quickly, albeit on a chargeable basis. It is envisaged that once a service proves its worth via NSMS, discussions via the SFWG process with the Divisions could lead to it becoming a core service for the University. We also continually explore, with the Divisions, the possibility of adding extra facilities to existing services on a pay-per-use basis.
In terms of underlying infrastructure we note above the demands for wireless technology, roving access, and mobile learning. With the 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. As a department we are actively reviewing our energy consumption in the light of University guidelines, and note that one of the main drivers behind the refurbishment of the OUCS data centre (and the building of the new CMR) is to reduce energy costs for both power and cooling.
Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to achieve the objectives listed in the next section5. These will be the responsibility of several groups across the department, and many will be in conjunction with ODIT. Presented in chronological order these are:
The buildings and facilities at OUCS are currently running to capacity, however funding received for refurbishment in 2008 will allow us to take forward three key projects that will release valuable office space, and meeting/teaching space. We are also beginning a feasibility study of the refurbishment of our data centre and leading the work on the new central machine room.
It is important that sufficient funding is diverted to IT projects and services, and money is made available to allow OUCS to upgrade its existing services, and add new ones as required. The financial burden of adding new IT services and maintaining them must be recognised by the University. Furthermore, procedures must be adopted to streamline any increased revenue arising from the adoption of Full Economic Costing for central services into the infrastructure charge.
- Enact the final recommendations emerging from SFWG exercise. Target date: 09.
- Align its spending plans and cycles with the recommendations to the ICT Capital envelope.
- Provide advice, via our RTS section, for researchers writing funding proposals for projects with a significant IT element, and promote the opportunities offered by our NSMS unit to purchase IT support and development. Target date: Ongoing.
The University's Corporate Plan includes a commitment to develop an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) strategy for the collegiate University. In 2005 the University's Council approved a proposal to establish an ICT Steering Group with a remit to develop and bring forward an ICT Strategic Plan for the collegiate University. The full version of the plan is available at: http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/strategy/plan/.The ICT Strategic Plan recognised that the University of Oxford needed co-ordinated IT governance, a single forum for setting strategy and agreeing priorities. The ICT Sub Committee of PRAC was therefore established and the new post of Director of Information Technology (IT) was established. This necessitated the establishment of an additional post – Director of Computing Systems and Services – with a specific remit for the strategic, financial, and managerial development of OUCS.
In Trinity Term 2007, Council approved the creation of a new ICT Sub-committee of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC), replacing the existing ICT Committee of Council. The necessary changes in regulations were published in the Gazette on 11 October 2007 and came into effect on 26 October 2007.
The PRAC ICT Sub-committee (PICT) is a single point of governance for ICT across the collegiate University, and the principal advisory body to PRAC and Council and other University bodies on all aspects of ICT. It determines a strategy and policy framework for the collegiate University, and reviews the scale, quality and cost effectiveness of the services offered directly to users by the Oxford University Computing Services. It is establishing an ICT framework to enable centrally and locally provided services to work together efficiently, reliably and cost effectively.
Furthermore, the procedures through which ICT is funded have been reviewed and revised. A Capital ‘envelope’ for funding (referred to throughout this document) has been established and will allow major funding to be directed to key IT initiatives in which OUCS will take the main lead. Moreover, the services offered by OUCS have been analysed following the recommendations of the Services Funding Working Group, each service having a defined ‘Service Level Description’ and Divisions have been able to specify their future requirements for the first time. This will be used to determine future funding allocations.
- There is a critical single point of failure with the OUCS machine Room. This is being addressed by the new CMR and refurbishment of OUCS’s data centre.
- Key work needs to be done on enhancing the Network’s resilience. This work is underway.
- An overarching Continuity Framework needs to be developed by OUCS for its key services. Target date: Trinity Term, 2009.
- review of our Annual Report – a reflective look showing how we performed in the previous AY;
- review of OUCS’s financial position;
- 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 notably for new services;
- setting of our five-year plan (this document) outlining our objectives based on the needs of the divisions;
- reviewing any major security incidents.