This report sets OUCS’s objectives for 2009-2014. We present a review of our last five-year plan, then a section addressing core activities. Certain key objectives do stand out, however. Many of which depend on existing funding proposals under the emerging ICT Capital envelope, and the readjustment of the OUCS baseline for 09/10. These should also be read alongside the Five-Year Strategic Plan for the Office for the Director of IT (ODIT).
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).
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.
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.
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.
|Assists in the development of the University’s ICT Strategy||Ongoing through OUCS’s participation in PICT and its Capital Planning Group, and liaising with ODIT.|
|Contributes towards the establishment of a common computing environment (now termed the ‘enhanced computing environment’)||OUCS is assisting in this project (aka the ECE project) but this is led by a team separate to OUCS, the ICT Support Team.|
|Develops and supports high quality infrastructure services (especially the network backbone, e-mail, web servers, backup, security, and training)||Ongoing – see specific objectives below.|
|Develops new services||Ongoing – see specific objectives below.|
|Improves 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 to help with the Wireless roll-out, and a request to the ICT Capital envelope to support key network enhancements, and funding released by the University to enhance network resilience.|
|Work on wireless and mobile access||Ongoing.|
|Work in a federated environment with the distributed IT Staff||Ongoing. OUCS assists with the ICT Forum, and provides direct support services for the devolved IT Staff in the University.|
|Fosters effective use of IT in all disciplines||Ongoing, especially through our Learning Technologies Group and Research Technologies Service.|
|Provides training and tailored courses||Ongoing. OUCS courses currently attract over 13,000 attendees per annum.|
|Supports and promotes the Virtual Learning Environment||Ongoing. Funding for the development to Weblearn 2.0 has been secured until 2010. Ongoing funding will be sought.|
|Develops reusable and centralised e-learning resources||Ongoing. Focus has also shifted to repositories to hold this material.|
|Promotes research e-infrastructure (VREs, escience, etc)||Ongoing.|
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:
|OBJECTIVE||START DATE/END DATE/ESTIMATED COST (as appropriate)||MORE DETAILS|
|Roll out wireless service.||2009 onwards.||Installation begins January 2009.|
|Select and launch Groupware service||Trinity 2009 (pilot version).||Launch of Exchange, AD, and Sharepoint. Explore further development of Sharepoint.|
|Investigate further the possibility of automatic “paperless” student registration||Trinity 2009||This may become a real possibility with the evolution of student records systems; it is to some extent dependent on the success of the CUD pilot project.|
|Provide a Service Payment Centre outside the On-line Shop||End date: Trinity 2009.||The breakdown service is already using a model where customers are diverted to a secure credit card payment page and we would like to introduce this model for other service payments|
|Develop a Core User Directory service||Pilot to complete by Hilary 09. Review over summer. If accepted: staff, up to £60K; hardware, £50K initially. 2009-10.||The CUD pilot will demonstrate the feasibility and evaluate the likely take-up of such a service; if the pilot is successful, it will require significant resourcing to scale up as a full university service.|
|Development of SSO and Registration service to allow for earlier provision of credentials.||2009-2010||We are already noticing new demands from UAS for changes in the provisioning of SSO credentials, specifically in terms of issuing them much earlier in the cycle.|
|Provision of archive and backup services||Continue a programme of hardware upgrades to ensure service meets capacity and can respond to requests for different service levels. Funding in 09/10: £280K and £40K recurrent; 10/11: £500K and £50K recurrent. 2009-10.||Expand server capacity (09/10); upgrade tape drives (2009/10); feasibility study for new tape library (09/10) with replacement in 10/11. Extend charging model to encompass the provision of services to units and other IT providers in the University where the service required differs from that offered to the wider University or where the size of data ingested would have a disproportionate impact on other users (2009/10). Undertake consultation on the provision of undergraduate backup services (2009/10).|
|Provision of Web publishing services||Review and enhancement of services for hosting personal and group websites, including to support collaborative activities. User consultation requires 0.5 FTE for 3 months (£7K). Re-development of users.ox.ac.uk may require additional 1 FTE for up to 6 months (£30K). 2009-10.||The Web Publishing Service (also known as users.ox.ac.uk) provides basic website facilities for users. However, the service has not fundamentally changed for over ten years. During 09/10 we will undertake a user consultation; scope existing and planned facilities to support an online presence, including online collaboration and project activities, and define any new or enhanced services to meet evident gaps in provision (e.g. to complement or inform the rollout of Sharepoint or Sakai-based services).|
|Provision of a mailing list service||Replace the underlying software (Ezmlm) providing maillist.ox.ac.uk User requirements requires 1 FTE for 1 month (£2.5K). Replacement project may require additional 1 FTE for 3 months (£15K). 2009-10.||Undertake user requirements analysis; identify and implement software meeting functional requirements to replace Ezmlm; migrate lists and archives.|
|Refurbishment of OUCS data centre||Refurbishment of existing OUCS Data Centre. Funded via capital projects. Refurbishment will request a budget of up to £1M. 2009-11.||Commence project, arising from feasibility study recommendations, for the refurbishment of the OUCS data centre (April 2010); migrate and replicate key University services to shared University data centre (after Oct 2010)|
|Enhance and expand university podcasting service||OngoingHardware: £35k 2009/2010||Secure and expand the existing podcasting service by making use of robust storage space and infrastructure architecture.|
|Rollout of new Weblearn||Ongoing||Migration of current users to new system and promotion of new system to new users.|
|Provision of unified storage for management of research data||Develop unified storage infrastructure with cost-recovery model to support data-rich research activities. Total estimated funding over three years: £900K (i.e. 300k pa) with additional £100K recurrent. 2009-2013.||Provision of underlying storage infrastructure on which services for the management and curation of research data may be built. It is essential that the infrastructure integrates with a) local filestore provision; b) the OUCS HFS service; c) the OULS repository services. Specific requirements will be known via a proposed feasibility study and one or more externally-funded pilot projects undertaken in 09/10. Infrastructure will be rolled out in phases over three years together with cost-recovery business plan from 2010-2013.|
|Completion of Central Machine Room||Funding required for UPS 320k; networking 200k; racking 30k; internal construction (e.g. pods)||The CMR budget currently only extends to the construction of the building infrastructure, and contains no money for the internal fitting out of the room. We have calculated these figures on the estimated needs for OUCS (i.e. 15 racks), but the UPS and networking is meant to provide the infrastructure for future demands.|
|Provision of high availability infrastructure systems||Review high availability requirements and implement virtualisation strategy. Total capital cost: £400K. 2010-11.||Define high availability requirements for business-critical services in order to benefit from provision of second data centre. Where appropriate also consolidate servers and take advantage of benefits offered by virtualisation technologies.|
|Expand On-line Shop product offerings||Ongoing||We would like to expand the offerings in cases where OUCS can provide items of value to the University which cannot easily be obtained elsewhere. A pre-configured netbook or notebook is a possibility and we would like to continue investigating other options.|
|Improve turn-around time and predictability of Hardware Repair Service||Ongoing||The changes in the Hardware Repair service introduced in 2007 have improved the interface to the service and standardised the charges. We hope to streamline operations and improve communications in this area.|
|Explain, promote, and support good practice in web site management for the University.||Ongoing||This activity will assist the large community of university web managers by means of termly workshops, mailling list support, membership of appropriate university committees, and the Web Design Consultancy service.|
|Provide an Oxford-specific Linux customization based on the Ubuntu operating system.||Ongoing||The aim of this work is to build on the existing simple Linux customization completed in 2007, by extending its use to sub notebooks, and establishing its use within the help centre and teaching rooms.|
|Provide and support a search engine for university web sites||Ongoing||This activity will maintain a search engine, currently Google Search Appliance, which will index all public-facing university web sites and allow them to embed sophisticated and customized searches appropriate for each site.|
|Investigate and provide advice and services on energy reduction.||Ongoing||Looking at roll-out of wake-on-LAN service for 2009.|
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.
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.