3. Introduction to Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS)
OUCS is the main IT service provider for the University of Oxford, presenting a portfolio of services directly aimed at supporting academic staff, students, and administrative staff, in their learning, teaching, research, and daily work. In this sense then it is akin to services one might categorise under ‘Academic Computing’ with its primary focus being on the academic divisions and their support. However, OUCS works in a highly complicated environment for IT support based on a devolved model. All faculties, departments, colleges, and other units will have their own needs for IT support, and in many ways are autonomous in deciding on how they meet these which will often involve a mixture of centrally and locally-provided services. OUCS does not manage these local IT support staff but does attempt to provide them with extra help, advice, support, and training through a co-ordinating service (ITSSS – see section 6.18). In addition to OUCS and the local staff, it should be remembered that Business Systems and Projects (BSP) provides the technical support and development for the major IT services within UAS; SERS provides similar support for the libraries; and the ICT Support Team works across UAS, OULS, and OUCS to provide desktop support. Although none of these (BSP, SERS, or the ICT Support Team) are actually part of OUCS we do consistently work together on collaborative projects.
There has been a central IT support service for the University since 1957, out of which grew what we currently call OUCS. At present the department houses c. 130 staff (a quarter of which are on external grants), and has around an £8m turnover a year (over £2m of which comes from external grants, and pay-per-use services). We support over 40,000 users – including all the academic staff and students, college-only staff, visiting academics, staff at other central units, and so on. For over 40 years now, OUCS has been recognized by the academic staff and students as the main place to go for help and support on IT matters, but also the body that underpins the core work of the University. This is reflected in the range of services we offer – including the University Network Backbone, Security, and Telecommunications services; core services such as the University email and calendaring system (Nexus); the University’s single sign-on solution (WebAuth); the back-up and archiving Hierarchical File Server; and ‘front of house’ services such as our drop-in Help Centre facility open to all staff and students. Over the years OUCS has also adapted to the grwoing demands of academics and students to support their teaching, learning, and research and now offers services such as the largest IT training programme in any UK HEI, the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, and advice and support for e-learning and e-research activities. Moreover it continues to adapt and develop its services, as witnessed with the recent launch of Mobile Oxford aimed at delivering to the increasing number of mobile devices. This annual report lists all the varied services that we offer and presents key performance indicators.
OUCS always strives to deliver services to meet the needs of its users, and in particular the academic divisions who are the sole funders of the department. We always attempt to provide maximum value for money, and achieve service delivery and development in the most cost-effective manner. To this end we report directly to a Management committee consisting of representatives from all the divisions. This committee monitors OUCS on its service delivery related to the Service Level Descriptions agreed with the divisions, analyses OUCS’s financial accounts, helps sets its priorities, and most importantly directs its development. Crucially this involves an annual review of all services, and discussions on whether some should be phased out, others developed, new ones added, and the financial implications of all of these decisions and how these could be met by the divisions. We are a department that provides services directly to the users, the development and funding of which is decided by the users.
In addition OUCS is recognized locally, nationally, and internationally as a centre of expertise in several IT-related areas. To further this, the department is extremely successful in attracting external funding from research councils and other funding agencies – most notably the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). These projects are invaluable as they allow the department to develop services through project funding, and explore new areas that are in line with developing trends in IT services, and the University’s overall goal to maintain its reputation for excellence in teaching and research.