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All staff briefing on Digital Strategy – video available

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The transition of IT to Digital Technology Services (DTS) and the emerging Digital Strategy were the focus of the most recent all-staff briefing on 9 March.

Stuart Brown, Director of DTS, joined Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort for the session.

Introducing the session, the Vice-Chancellor said the start of the week marked a cautious but welcome process to lift the current lockdown. He said he was thankful to everyone for doing their best for our University.

“As your Vice-Chancellor, I could not have asked for more and proud of everything you continue to for our students and each other,” Robert said.

He said that the Ways of Working Pathway – one of the four pathways to emerge from our Post-COVID-19 Response Programme – was starting to progress its work by bringing together around 50 colleagues from different Schools, Functions and Staff Networks, working across different roles and grades.

“A key area of work for this pathway is providing colleagues with digital technology and support that is modern, flexible and secure.”

Stuart Brown said the transition of IT to DTS was important not just in shaping the perception of the team but in establishing DTS as an enabler of success at the University.

“When I got here around two-and-a-half years ago, I interviewed a number of Heads of Schools, Heads of Functions, colleagues around the University, to get a flavour of the perception of what IT was about. Whilst I knew there was some fantastic work going on in IT, there was this perception that we were out of sight out of mind.”

Stuart said that it was important to demonstrate his team’s capability to drive digital transformation, bring good practice and government and ensure that the strategic importance of digital investment was recognised.

He said the team’s work in providing solutions to some of the challenges thrown at us by COVID-19 – including Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate, a new Bookings system, support for Clearing – highlighted the success of this transition.

A video recording of the event is shared below and Stuart has also responded to some of the questions that he could not take up during the session 


If you are signed up to Microsoft Stream, you can watch the video there.


 

Stuart's response to other questions 

Q. Your reaction to the comments during the event

A. It was really encouraging to read all the positive feedback from the presentation, especially those that recognised the efforts of colleagues in driving and supporting our rapid Digital transformation over the last year. Whilst we do a lot of the enabling in DTS, the overall success comes from a much wider collaborative effort from us all. It shows us that when we work together, we can achieve really great things.

 Q. Are we getting too close to big vendors like Microsoft?

A. The support of large vendors such as Blackboard and Microsoft is important. We wouldn’t have been able to deliver services, especially over the past year, without their support. We cannot scale to the extent we need with hardware on our campuses. We cannot deliver fast enough to meet the ever-rising demand. We cannot afford to keep adding the level of computing our people and our work requires. Cloud providers have significant economies of scale that we can benefit from, improved security and faster response times when problems arise.

Q. So why not go with other large cloud providers such as Google and Amazon?

A. Unfortunately, both alternatives, from a terms and conditions perspective, are not compliant for the hosting of our core data and cannot therefore be considered for that purpose at present. In relation to whether aligning to Microsoft means we cannot support Linux or Mac users, that is not true anymore. Microsoft are not the company of the past where everything was Windows or not supported. Under CEO Satya Nadella, their strategy has become much more open and their technology stack is now agnostic to whether you run a Windows, Linux or MacOS so compatibility is no longer the issue it was.

Q. How will mobility work with colleagues working from home and from office?

A. We recognise that peripherals such as extra screens, docking stations, laptop risers, headsets, wireless keyboards and something to carry some of these around in need to be considered. This will be picked up as part of the Ways of Working workshop sessions, particularly the one on Digital Workplace so we will have more information on that in due course. For devices we are rolling out this year, we are recommending to Schools and Functions that docking stations are ordered for the office but that USB-hubs are fine for connecting laptops to screens etc. remotely. The other peripherals mentioned are also recommended.

Q. Will you be flexible about the specialist requirements of colleagues from Research?

A. We believe a significant proportion of colleagues will find a Surface that suits their needs. There will, of course, be exceptions to this. Using a Mac is OK, but DTS will need to manage this advice to ensure that security updates are regularly installed and all software on it complies with the licensing requires. DTS will also need to be able to remotely wipe the University data on such machines (with an audit trail) in case they are lost or stolen. This is standard practice with our Surface devices.

The heightened risk around cyber security means any machine connecting to the University network, Windows or Mac, needs to comply with the security arrangements – and the University Audit Committee has asked DTS to ensure this.

Q. Can we do something about the service we get from our suppliers?

A. If you are having a particular issue with a supplier, please raise it with Procurement. Colleagues in Procurement continually review suppliers for their performance, but please bear in mind that quite often the issues are not what they seem on the surface. For example if a supplier only sells machines manufactured by others, they do not control  the supply chain – which has been affected by component shortages in China and of course Brexit.

Q. Why can’t I purchase a laptop online that’s cheaper than University suppliers?

A. In terms of value for money, whilst you may be able to find laptops online for less money than suppliers like XMA advertise, you need to consider the wider costs of the service such as the complex logistics, asset tagging, and the additional costs our suppliers must bear to meet University expectations around ethics, particularly for modern slavery and sustainability.. With these additional combined requirements and overheads, the overall cost to the University may appear higher.

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