ICT STRATEGY STEERING GROUP
Present: Dr Macmillan (in the chair), Professor Silverman, Dr Ashbourn, Dr Biggs, Dr Davies, Dr Doornik, Mr Fishenden, Professor Giles, Mrs Haworth, Mr Herriott, Professor Jeffreys, Mr Olivier, Dr Parkinson, Professor Peach, Mr Perrow, Dr Popplewell, Mr Russell, Mr Sibly, Mrs Taylor, Dr Trefethen, Mr Worth.
Apologies: Professor Bowman, Professor Burnett, Professor Clark, Professor Dutton, Dr Watson.
In attendance: Mr Brett, Dr Fraser, Mr Reynolds, Mr Shaw.
The minutes of the meeting held on 6 September 2005 were approved as a correct record, subject to the deletion of ‘by April 2006’ from Minute 1.
Minute 4 Relationship to other groups within the collegiate University
It was confirmed that the Steering Group would report to both ICTC and its Strategy Sub-Committee, as well as to Council and Congregation. ICTC’s remit extended to the front door of colleges and departments and its own Strategy Sub-Committee looked at strategic matters within that remit.
Minute 5 Developing an ICT strategy for the collegiate University
It was reported that the delay of two weeks in appointing a consultant to draw up specifications for the Enhanced Computing Environment (ECE) would have a knock-on effect for some of the Work Tasks. In due course, the consultant would put to the Strategy Steering Group (SSG) a number of ECE models to choose from.
The following had joined the SSG since the last meeting: Mr Fishenden (Microsoft), Mr Olivier (JISC), Professor Bowman (Humanities Division), Dr Popplewell (Medical Sciences Division), Professor Peach, Dr Davies and Professor Giles (Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division), Dr Doornik (Social Sciences Division) and Mr Russell (Student’s Union). Professor Slack and Dr Tierney had stepped down from the group.
Much had been achieved since the last meeting, with a focus on the establishment of the Work Task Groups (WTGs) and on communication. Membership of WTGs had been confirmed and those that had met had reviewed their remit, relationships to other groups and timetable; the overall timetable remained intact. The website was up and running, material from the WTGs was being placed on WebLearn, and the third newsletter had just been issued. The expansion of membership, in particular to include more academic staff and a student representative, had improved the balance of the membership.
Members welcomed the efforts to publicise the work of the group and it was agreed that the agenda, minutes and non-confidential papers for its meetings should be placed on the public website.
Professor Jeffreys reminded members that the intended deliverables for the period up to the second meeting were to establish the WTGs; to conduct the landscape survey amongst group members; to start effective communication; and to avoid project drift.
Many meetings had been held with groups and individuals from across the collegiate University and from elsewhere (e.g. John Hoskins, University of Auckland; Chris Borgman, University of California).
The landscape survey had been made available both to group members and to IT support staff for further distribution amongst their units. The response rate to date had been relatively low (10 from group members and 16 from others) but some key themes were already apparent as the factors identified as the most likely to influence (for better or for worse) the development of an ICT strategy (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/strategy/internal/SGI013.pdf). These included funding regimes; autonomy and federalism; ubiquitous computing as a requirement rather than a choice; mobile computing and remote access; standards-based computing; and the impact of legislation (Freedom of Information; Data Protection; SENDA).
The WTGs were already producing significant new ideas and were starting to build relationships and communications both amongst themselves and across the University (and beyond). Feedback was put within a holding position on WebLearn and passed to the relevant WTG as appropriate.
Additional forms of communication needed to be considered, such as articles in Blueprint or the Oxford Magazine or an open meeting. (Members expressed support for both of these.) A questionnaire was being compiled.
For the next meeting, it was hoped that WTGs would shift their focus from establishment to delivery within their timescale. It was important that the process should engage not just all members of the group but also (via WT B in particular) the University at large. This raised the questions of (i) how the SSG should best lead the process whilst at the same time working in partnership with the wider University, and (ii) what issues had been omitted from the process.
Given Dr Tierney’s departure, further thought was given to the proposal to conduct an analysis of the process being used to develop an ICT Strategy. It was suggested that this might form the basis of a student project within the Business School, though care would need to be taken to specify in advance what material could be published and in what form (e.g. anonymised?).
There was widespread support for the suggestion of a ‘straw-man’ Strategic Plan, not least as a basis for more effective consultation. It was crucial that the process of strategy development should not be perceived as a ‘central initiative’. It was agreed to produce a draft straw-man for consideration at the next meeting.
It was suggested that any form of strategy would be seen by some as a restriction of their freedom. Decisions would be needed as to whether the strategy was advisory or compulsory and what sanctions should be available. It would be useful to point out the threats of an incoherent environment which a strategy could protect against. It could also provide the freedom to do more easily things which were currently relatively onerous.
Some doubts were expressed about the effectiveness for general use of the landscape survey in its present form. The current categories overlapped widely. It was agreed that it provided useful input at the start of the exercise to make sure all aspects of the strategy were covered.
It was important to highlight how the process differed from previous strategies and to communicate effectively with non-IT specialists (who comprised the great majority of users).
On the level of support for the underlying principles behind the ICT Strategy exercise, Professor Jeffreys reported that support was high amongst those (relatively senior) staff with whom he had spoken. However, it was important to remember that the 2004 internal audit had found that the ICT infrastructure in Oxford was good. Furthermore, many user groups favoured fragmentation because it provided responsiveness to local needs.
It was proposed that ‘rights of access’ should be considered and documented. The nature of the contract between user groups and individuals and the central service providers needed to be understood. It was reported that many departments and colleges, had their own agreements and protocols. It was noted that those units which monitored access more rigorously than central service would be anxious not to relinquish their current position unless the alternative was at least as effective.
Following a period of extensive discussion it was agreed that the major issues that had not been prominent in the process to date were (i) finance and (ii) the need to integrate business systems within the ICT strategy.
A see item 7 below.
B academic divisions and colleges being written to.
C to meet shortly.
D final report due in February. N.B. It will be important to find out what people like about the present system; otherwise, they will reject anything new that threatens the status quo, irrespective of new benefits.
E to meet shortly.
F to interact with the ECE consultant. n.b. The ECE would be proceeding irrespective of the ICT strategy development. It was noted that there was a risk that the ECE project might produce a solution which ran counter to the subsequent ICT strategy.
G four other universities (two UK, two USA) have been approached, of which Manchester has already agreed to co-operate in discussions.
H hope to complete by the next meeting.
I needs a leader (no volunteers).
J to start shortly on the ‘straw-man’ Strategic Plan.
K output on the web.
Members stressed the importance of engaging with the academic community.
Members were invited to send comments on the draft to Professor Jeffreys. Though there were arguments both ways, the balance of opinion favoured including the reference to the landscape survey.
There were no volunteers to review that chart. Comments on the chart were invited, to be sent to Professor Jeffreys.
Members were thanked for their efforts to date.