3. The New OUCS

It is not inappropriate to describe this process as having created a New OUCS. Certainly, OUCS has a new mission statement reflecting a new emphasis on cross-divisional support:
The Mission of OUCS is
  • To provide high-quality and cost-effective IT services that meet the needs of the University and its members;
  • to contribute to the University's wide range of IT training and relevant training resources;
  • to foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT in teaching, learning, and research across the University;
  • to promote effective communication throughout the University IT community.
OUCS will fulfil this Mission by:
  • operating, developing and supporting the University's primary computing infrastructure and services including facilities such as the network backbone and its external connections; central email, web, news, and backup servers; and other core university-wide support services including security and anti-virus support;
  • fostering the effective use of IT in all disciplines through the provision and development of training and courses, learning and teaching resources, and by such activities as negotiating advantageous arrangements for the supply and maintenance of hardware and software etc.;
  • by actively supporting the work of, and collaborating closely with, IT Support Staff within the University;
  • developing centres of expertise in relevant areas relating to the application of IT;
  • by promoting and demonstrating good practice.
OUCS has reorganised itself in way that reflects the priorities evident in its mission statement. In addition to the existing Administration group, the new organizational structure comprises four major groups:
  • Infrastructure Group
  • Learning Technologies Group
  • Technical Services Group
  • Information and Support Group

Each of these groups combines a number of existing OUCS services with a particular focus, as indicated by the group titles. A high priority for each group will be the refinement and formulation of that focus, for example in a group strategy document, which will in turn contribute to the overall strategic development of OUCS. At the same time, the new structure emphasizes the need for collaboration between the groups, since the services they provide are of necessity complementary.

The Infrastructure Group comprises those existing OUCS sections dedicated to the continued maintenance and development of the central technical infrastructure on which the whole University depends. Its sections maintain one of the largest private University networks in Europe, provide state-of-the-art back-up and archival storage facilities for the University's intellectual assets in digital form, contribute unique expertise in the area of security, privacy, and anti-virus support, and maintain and operate the technology underlying our webservers, mailers, and other University-wide facilities, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Learning Technologies Group builds on the pioneering work carried out within the former Humanities Computing Unit in bringing new computing and information technologies firmly into the centre of traditional teaching and learning practice across all subjects in the University. It also integrates all of OUCS current training activities into one new section, combining these with the cross-divisional Academic Computing Development Team and a range of much-valued specialist resources and research activities, and thus acts as a central focus point for the dissemination of information and best practice on the integration of Computing and Information Technologies in the core teaching and research activities of the University.

The Technical Services Group likewise combines existing and highly-valued services with OUCS into a new framework. It combines the existing Network Server Maintenance Service, the Computing Services Shop, and other self-funding services into a new Business Centre within OUCS. The economies of scale consequent on centralizing expertise allows OUCS to market essential services at significant cost savings to many departments and colleges who would otherwise have to invest heavily to provide equivalent facilities. These services also ensure that expensive expertise in technical support for distributed systems and related matters, can be made widely available across the University.

Finally, the Information and Support Group, perhaps the most varied of the four, comprises the new Help Centre, created by integrating and streamlining all of the existing OUCS front line support services (Advisory, Registration, PC Consultancy, the Learning and Resources Centre, and the Centre for Humanities Computing) into a single point of contact; an expanded Information Service responsible for development of extensive web-based information systems; a new support unit dedicated to IT Support Staff across the University; as well as all the ‘back room’ staff supporting these front line services. In addition, this group contains a new combined Research Technologies Service which will bring together a number of existing and new research-focussed support services leveraging new technologies. Current Services within this section include e-Science, the Oxford Text Archive and the Humbul Humanities Hub.

It should be noted that the new OUCS structure does not alter our previous commitments, but rather expands on them. Historically, OUCS has provided a home within which services of benefit to particular sectors of the University could develop, most notably the Humanities division. As the success of the LTG demonstrates, the approach taken in developing such services can be applied more widely to all divisions. The needs and priorities identified during our close relationship with one part of the University, and the way we have supplemented the provision offered locally, can be generalised and extended to serve the needs of all. For example, the support services formerly available only to Humanities IT Support Staff will, in the new structure, be available to IT Support Staff from across the University. The specialist knowledge built up by close collaboration over twenty or more years research in ‘Humanities Computing’ is now complemented by a structure in which research interests from other divisions can also participate. We believe that this environment will foster the synergy and innovative thinking which is essential if our services are to keep abreast of the rapidly changing world of information technology and be relevant to all parts of the University.

In making this reorganization, we believe that OUCS demonstrates its responsiveness to the clearly expressed priorities of the rest of the University, while at the same time making best use of its investment in staff expertise. At a time of financial constraints, OUCS has to allocate scarce resources in the most effective way. Our new structure ensures that central funds are used to offer close support for those services within the Divisions which demonstrably support teaching and learning across the whole of the University. OUCS also has a responsibility to maintain its investment in the staff, whose expertise comes from working in a complex and stimulating environment. In reallocating staff responsibilities and re-organizing sections, OUCS management has endeavoured to ensure that staff expertise is recognised and nourished for deployment where it can have greatest impact.

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