5. Enabling strategies

5.1. Personnel

OUCS continues to improve its personnel procedures and 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. Furthermore our continued emphasis on staff reviews and rewards for excellence shows our commitment to developing our staff.

OUCS has made strenuous efforts to keep its FTE and headcount under control. Over the past four years our FTE has dropped by 6, and we continue to look for at each post as it becomes vacant. It should be noted though that sometimes eternal factors change our staffing, e.g. with Nexus becoming a service in April 2010 we estimate our FTE count will rise by 3.

5.2. Admissions and Access

Although OUCS is not directly involved in this activity as it does not deal with admissions, nor is it involved in student recruitment, it does provide services which assist in these activities. In addition, 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. Moreover, changes to the admissions process and recording of student data may also impact on our services. A good example has been the move to Single Sign-on for the Oracle Student Systems. This has also allowed us to facilitate access to systems for students 'under offer'. However, this, of course, offers the potential for OUCS and other service providers (e.g. colleges, Student Administrations) to provide services for accepted students prior to their formal admissionto the University.

As noted earlier (‘Teaching and Learning’), 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. OUCS has also helped the dissemination and promotion of material to do with admissions in such initiatives as iTunes U; and is looking to roll-out a video-conferencing service in 2010 partly driven by the needs of the admissions interviewing process.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to admissions it is worth noting the following:

  • Launch a Video-conferencing service to assist with admissions interviews. Target: 2010 beginning (full cost recovery service in 2011).
  • Continue work with Student Services in UAS to facilitate the development of IT systems to meet changing demands. Target: Ongoing.
  • Further develop WebLearn, podcasting service, and open education resource work (see ‘Teaching and learning’).

5.3. Academic and Student Services

This section has primary relevance to OUCS as it focuses on service provision, and the underlying infrastructure, though as will be obvious OUCS has contributions to make to all the above categories. We have already noted earlier that a key priority of OUCS is to maintain its core service provision and to expand this (as directed by the divisions and if resourced accordingly). Here we look at specific targets for the next five years.

OUCS is currently undertaking a series of major projects that will directly enhance the services offered to staff and students. These are integrated with the plans set out by the Office for the Director of IT.

  • Roll-out of Nexus. From April 2010 this will be a full service. In 2010-2011 we will be seeking funding from the PICT envelope to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint 2010. We will also be looking to integrate WebLearn and Nexus in 2010-11.
  • Development of a Core User Directory Service. The pilot project was completed in 2009 and funding is being sought to develop this to a full service in 2010.
  • Design and build of a new Central Machine Room and refurbishment of OUCS’s existing data centre. Scheduled completion 2011.
  • Roll-out of wireless across key areas of ‘campus’. Ongoing, with project completion in 2012.

In addition to these major initiatives OUCS also, on an ongoing basis:

Assists in the implementation and review of the University’s ICT Strategy Ongoing through OUCS’s participation in PICT and liaising with ODIT.
Contributes towards the development of the ‘enhanced computing environment’. OUCS is assisting in this project (aka the ECE project) which 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.
Works on wireless and mobile access Ongoing - see specific objectives below.
Works 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 (see ‘Teaching and Learning’ above).
Promotes research e-infrastructure (VREs, escience, etc) Ongoing (see ‘Research’ above).

Considering our activities since the last five-year plan we would highlight, in particular, the following achievements (see also the previous points in ‘Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Resaerch’, and OUCS’s Annual Report 2008-2009):

  • Developed and launched the Nexus service. Achieved within budget and the deadlines set.
  • Developed the Core User Directory. The pilot project was completed on 31 June 2009 and we now are seeking funding to turn this into a full service.
  • Development of SSO service to offer earlier provision of credentials to students ‘under offer’ (see above).
  • Successful upgrades to HFS to meet immediate capacity requirements.
  • Upgrade of backbone network connection to 10Gbps.
  • Roll-out of Wake-on-Lan service to assist faculties and departments to reduce energy costs.
  • Major project assisting BSP and UAS on a virtualised infrastructure.
  • Assist in the planning for the Central Machine Room.
  • Assist the Humanities Division in the planning for the ROQ in terms of IT and AV.
  • Improved service for the Hardware Repair service. After focused training OUCS was able to launch in-warranty repairs for Macs.
  • Offer better support for web site development. OUCS’s Web Design Consultancy continues to attract more faculties, colleges, and research projects; and in 2009 we launched Mobile Oxford.
  • Provide support for Linux users. OUCS maintains a Ubuntu customization and is working on integration with Active directory.
  • Support web search engine of choice. OUCS hosts the Google Search Appliance for the University and this is now part of its core funding.

These are but some of the achievements over the year and are presented here as a representative sample showing the diversity of major new launches, and service developments.

In terms of underlying trends we constantly analyse user data and feedback and have observed: increasing demands for mobile support and wireless technology; greater demands on the network, need to consider carbon-impact of IT projects and green issues, virtualisation, increasing penetration of Macs resulting in more support demands, and a need to look more proactively at service oriented architecture for joining up core systems and services. 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.

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.

Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to achieve a series of objectives listed in Appendix A1. These will be the responsibility of several groups across the department, and many will be in conjunction with ODIT. Of the ones listed there some key initiatives stand out:

  • Replacement of the University backbone network. An essential project that needs to begin in 2011.
  • Completion of the wireless roll-out and network resilience projects, and other network improvements.
  • Upgrades to the Nexus project.
  • Development of the CUD project. The pilot project was completed in July 2009.
  • Integration of WebLearn and Nexus.
  • Development and expansion of the HFS facilities, based on proactive studies of user requirements. This will also include encouraging other central units (e.g. UAS/BSP) to move their backup facilities to our service.
  • Completion of the central machine room and refurbishment of the existing OUCS data centre.

We are also considering, in some detail:

How we can achieve greater energy efficiencies within the department, and reduce our carbon impact. This is ranging from power efficiency initiatives to procurement policies. We also seek to advise others on this.

Linked to the above we will be undergoing an examination of the possible benefits arising from the virtualisation of our services, where possible, particularly with reference to the opportunity offered to us by the new Central Machine Room.

It is becoming increasingly the case that many of the projects and objectives we undertake nowadays are collaborative efforts with OULS, UAS, BSP, ICT ST, and local units. We envisage that this will continue to grow as all central units seek to rationalise costs and integrate systems.

5.4. Space

The buildings and facilities at OUCS are currently running to capacity, and we note that some of our Type 1 services, and funded projects, require more offices. We do explore flexible working applications wherever possible to try to alleviate the issue..

Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to:

  • Assess the environmental impact of the building and see whether this can be reduced, and in particular enacting our Energy Management Policy.
  • Complete all refurbishment projects.
  • Rewire offices over a 3-year period.
  • Complete the new Central Machine Room.
  • Plan out and refurbish OUCS’s existing data centre.

As noted, we are also reviewing whether the building in its current state meets all its needs – possibly in partnership with CISCO. Most importantly the environmental issues are a constant consideration and the need to reduce our carbon footprint has to be at the forefront of any refurbishment. Careful thought has to be given to the way we process waste, sustain the building and the reduction in energy, all to ensure we maintain the University’s Environmental Sustainability Policy 2008. It is a major objective running throughout this plan to target our environmental impact wherever we can. The facilities will be rewired over the next 3 years enabling energy efficient lighting to be provided, and power consumption evaluation will become an integral part of our purchasing process.

The proposal approved by PICT to support video-conferencing in general and the piloting of the Cisco Webex service may prove useful to other departments in the University wishing to provide better support for remote working.

5.5. Finance

OUCS’s finance and administration is in full compliance with University Finance Regulations. The 2009 Statement of Compliance was completed without further recommendations. Quarterly management accounts comparing and commenting on significant variations from budget are submitted via the ASUC Divisional accounting structure together with updated year end forecasts. A budget submission process is also used to approve the Annual Budget.

In 2010 we will see the first enactment of the 123 charging model as resulting from the SFWG process. OUCS has been very proactive in this exercise and has provided costs for all its services, and metrics of use to feed into the charging model. However, it must be stressed that the calculations omit the important factor that during the SFWG process it was recognised that OUCS was considerably underfunded. We believe serious consideration should be given to this and in particular:

  • remedying the situation whereby OUCS is being asked to support more users than it is being paid to do by seeking contributions from the non-paying units (e.g. the colleges).
  • aligning the 123 charging model with changes in the University’s ‘size’. A contributing factor to the current deficit of OUCS has been that whilst the University has grown in terms of staff and student numbers (notably in the Medical Division), and real estate, this was never matched with an increase in funding to OUCS to reflect the added support burden. This emerged as a key finding from the Services Funding Working Group and it was calculated that an extra ‘unit’ places a burden of c. £4,000 on OUCS, and an extra user £80 per annum. All our calculations for the SFWG 123 charging model, due in 2010, have been based on the current numbers of staff and students, and real estate, but should this change it needs to be reflected in the formula used for calculating the costs needed to run the service.
  • considering a more equitable distribution of funds already set aside for central IT providers.
  • securing the long-term future of the ICT Capital Envelope which OUCS currently has to rely on.

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.

All of these issues were discussed at length in meetings with the Divisions following the Services Funding Working Group (SFWG) and a final report was submitted in 2008.

OUCS is doing all it can to reduce expenditure wherever possible. Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to:

  • React to decisions made by the BSC in relation to options presented for reducing net expenditure. Target: 2010.
  • Enact the 123 charging model. Target date: 2010.
  • Consistently align and assess our spending plans and cycles with recommendations to the ICT Capital envelope. Target: Ongoing (see Appendix A).
  • Take forward a short project to apply TRAC costing models to IT services. Target: 2010.
  • Consider energy efficiency measures to reduce utility costs and also procurement costs (and their effects). Target: 2010-2011.
  • 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.

5.6. Governance

OUCS is governed by its Management sub-committee which has full divisional and collegiate representation. This in turn reports directly to the ICT Sub-committee of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC). The latter 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.

Financially, as of 2010 OUCS will also be presenting directly to the BSC alongside other central IT providers.

5.6.1. Risk Management Strategy:

As with all departments and divisions OUCS prepares and maintains an annual risk register. However, with reference to this plan the risk to the University of not completing or achieving most of the above mainly falls under two categories. First our IT infrastructure will be compromised, especially with relation to business continuity; but also in terms of the facilities we can offer to the staff and students. Oxford would begin to seriously fall behind its competitors in terms of what it can support. Second, picking up on a common theme throughout this plan, unless the critical funding issues identified by the SFWG meetings are tackled then key services will be put at risk.

OUCS has also worked on its disaster recovery plans and business continuity planning. In particular we now have:

  • DR plans for all our services.
  • Dependency lists and priority list for restarts.
  • A documented and tested communication plan in the event of an emergency, which utilises a series of tools and technologies.
  • An annual policy of desktop testing our emergency communication plans, and DR policies.

We have also begun to adopt a dual-site resilience for core services (notably Nexus) and with the advent of the CMR this will be developed further.

5.6.2. Key Performance Indicators:

As noted above OUCS now has an established process whereby its performance is assessed by the users (via the OUCS Management Sub-committee), and its plans are aligned to user demands. This includes:

  • review of our Annual Report – a reflective look showing how we performed in the previous academic year;
  • 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 academic year 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.

Up: Contents Previous: 4. Core activities Next: Appendix A: I. Proposed New Objectives, 2010-2015


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