3. The department’s strategic challenges 2009/10 to 2013/14 (including the impact of reductions in resources)

3.1. Retrospective Consideration of Previous Plan

At the beginning of 2009 OUCS produced its revised 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 the University as set out in the Corporate Plan.

OUCS has achieved considerable success in meeting the objectives set out jointly by the department and the divisions. Our major projects are all running to time and within budget, with notable successes in the roll-out of the Nexus service. Despite the fact that demands on our services, and for new services are increasing all the time, we have also managed our budget once again to meet our forecast. At the same time, whilst remaining financially prudent we have also managed to develop our services in new and imaginative ways – e.g. launching Mobile Oxford, continued success of iTunes U, etc. We were the main developers of the Single Sign-On system for the Oracle Student System demonstrating our ability to work closely with other sections of the University, and completed the Core User Directory pilot. All of these, and other successes, are referenced in this plan.

3.2. Challenges, Issues, and Monitoring

At an abstract level the underlying challenge for OUCS is to:

  • develop and deliver the mission critical services demanded of it by the University
  • be responsive to the changing needs of the users within the University
  • be responsive to the changing landscape of IT in Higher Education
  • against major financial constraints.

Considering the range of critical services - the backbone network, email servers, hierarchical file store, training programme, advice and support – and the demands for new IT services which match the ambitions and reputation of a top-flight University, the challenge is considerable. Over recent years we have been asked to make cuts on predicted expenditure that have led to a year-on-year reduction in baseline funding with little access to development funds. As a result it is increasingly difficult for OUCS to meet user expectations, and more importantly to guarantee reliability and resilience.

Nevertheless, we aim to maintain standards, and our performance is monitored regularly by the OUCS Management sub-committee and ultimately the PRAC ICT sub-committee. This is a fully 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).

3.3. Savings Options

Against this background, however, OUCS has been asked to present options on how it, as a department, could demonstrate a 10% saving in net expenditure over three years. We have outlined this in detail in a separate paper but in summary we propose:

  • charging colleges for their use of OUCS’s services (currently they do not contribute to OUCS’s running costs)
  • factor in cost savings realised from OMIS applications
  • factor in cost savings from phasing out of Dial-in

In addition, we outline further options that could be considered but all of these would have a detrimental effect on OUCS’s ability to run and develop its services, or move costs from the centre to local units. These options include:

  • seek savings on non-payroll expenditure items (travel, professional charges, etc)
  • increase income through charging for some services
  • reducing two key services
  • freezing posts

These have been presented as a set of options in a separate submission to the Budget Sub-Committee for discussion. However, as we do not know the outcome of these discussions the effects of these options have not been factored into the following plans.

3.4. Future Plans and Initiatives

In spite of this what follows is a reflection on some of the objectives set last year, and a plan for how we can take services forward over the next five-year period bearing in our finances. Drawing on the objectives set out in published University strategies, we focus on key areas 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).

In many cases these new initiatives would require new money and we will look to the internal ICT Capital Envelope for this, or external funding (through bodies such as JISC). In Appendix A we have listed major projects which require funding in excess of £50k. The most important of these being the replacement of the backbone network beginning in 2011. OUCS has no development funds of its own to draw on so has to seek assistance from external funding. Even then any application to the ICT Capital Envelope would need approval by the OUCS Management Committee, PICT, BSC, and ultimately PRAC – and would only be submitted with the support of the divisions.

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