UCISA Symposium: It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it

Yesterday I made a flying visit to Birmingham (and back) for the second day of the UCISA Advisory and Support Staff Symposium 2009 held at the Aston Business School Conference Centre, Birmingham.

This year was the first time that USICA has pulled together two of its groups into one event event: the UCISA Service Desk Group (formally known as the Advisory Services Working Group) and the Distributed IT Support Staff (DITSS) Subgroup. So the delegates comprised of the people in HE/FE Institutions who help you with all your IT requirements. Not a community known for being an easy crowd – and they admit this themselves, as one speaker said “we have in the past had a reputation for being the people who say no“. The infamous “computer says no” sketch from Little Britain hasn’t helped things either.


The theme for the event was It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it so remote working could prove to be one of the cornerstones of this assertion.

The morning kicked off with a presentation by David Morris of Coventry University on the Location Independent working (LIW) project. I’ve blogged about this project before and it seems to have gone from strength to strength. The project is now in it’s 12th round and when complete will result in 125 members of staff working off-site. Coventry University have also found that the opportunity to work remotely is proving to be an attractive incentive to future employees and is a significant instrument.

The next set of presentations looked at Cloud computing from a couple of different angles. Nick Short and Sarah Sherman from the Appropriate & Practical Technology for Students, Teachers, Administrators and Researchers (APT STAIRS) project have been using Google docs as a tool to solve a number of L&T problems. In the second phase of the project they have with been working with vets out in Tanzania and begun to use the Google Android mobile platform. As Nick pointed out in Tanzania there are surprisingly good networks that can be taken advantage of (in fact he’d found the wireless in Tanzania to be better than the wireless in the Aston Business School – which was lousy!). Phil Range from Manchester Metropolitan University talked about the move from their Novel Student email system to Microsoft Live@Edu. Some interesting discussion followed on the problems this might cause with regard to support and loss of data. Manchester Met have taken the “it’s now Microsoft’s problem” approach to dealing with this.

Connecting Remote Workers

After refreshments I led a workshop on Connecting Remote Workers. The session was met with mixed response. Some delegates felt that they had the technology sorted (and have had for many years) and the people problems and other support factors were not really relevant. Others recognised that having a general plan in action was becoming a necessity with the rise of crisis situations (like Swine Flu). Many recognised that there was a need to test their systems for such situations. Other issues we discussed were licensing problems, broadband problems and roam working. I think these guys were primarily interested in the tools available and saving themselves a headache.

My slides are available from Slideshare:

I next attended a really interesting session on Business and Community engagement led by Dave Hartland of Netskills. BCE is strategic management of partnerships, interactions and transactions with partners, clients and intermediaries external to the institution. Doing this more makes total sense given our current economic situation and JISC have recently begun a programme in this area.

The day ended with a great presentation by Rhion Jones from The Consultation Institute on Serving the stakeholder customer. Rhion did a fantastic job of illustrating how important the symbiotic relationship between a support team and their stakeholders is. This mutually dependent relationship is built on knowing your client, understanding the client and trust. Unfortunately Rhion’s uplifting presentation ended on a bit of a downer – the stark reality that confidence building is particularly tricky in these tough times and that we (the public sector) are heading closer and closer to economic meltdown. As Steve Gough, co-chair of the event put it in his closing thoughts: “we are all screwed!

This might have got me down luckily I’d just read the reboot Britain essays (more on those in another post) on my train journey so was feeling optimistic and empowered! New situations just require new approaches. I allowed this idea to be the one to fill my thoughts on the walk back to New Street…