ICT vs The World #ussc17

I was invited to present at the UCISA Support Service Group #ussc17 conference in Bristol. I went to the conference last year with some IT colleagues and we presented a 20×20 called ICT vs Academics and I wrote a blog post whilst there called ICT vs Educational Technologists. This year I was invited to expand on the presentation and blog. This post summarises my main points from my presentation.

Slides here. Video here.

A deliberate d*ck

I warned delegates at the beginning of the presentation that I was going to be deliberately provocative, or as I put it, a deliberate d*ck. Why?  Because being deliberately provocative makes people think. They may not like it, they may not like me, but you can guarantee they’re going to sit there arguing with me in their heads. In doing so, they’re considering what I’m saying rather than passively accepting it.

Also, if we were doing it right we wouldn’t be having a conference dedicated to it, would we?

We are prone to finding reasons why we can’t do something. Money, buy in, time etc. the list is endless. I asked the delegates to put those things aside. The people who use your services don’t know about your internal politics and why should they? Think about what you would do in an ideal world. If there were no barriers? That’s what we should be aiming for.

Who was my intended audience?

I didn’t have any one audience type in mind. The quality of service is as much the responsibility of those at the top as it is those at the bottom. It’s all interlinked. I was speaking to anyone who works in an IT role. The people who use your services don’t care about your hierarchy and nor do I.

Let me begin with a question.

I didn’t have time to pose this question during the presentation so, to those of you who work in IT, in an education institution, what do you say when people ask you what you do?

A. I work in IT.
B. I do IT in education.

Have a think dear reader, we’ll return to it later.

Who they, what do and why?

If you get that reference I should give a prize or something.

I always start off by explaining who I am. Suffice to say I am not the usual attendee; beautifully put:

I do work in the IT department but I am in a little separate department which is not only geographically separated but also feels philosophically separate too at times. So I am a member of IT services, a colleague within IT services, a user of IT services and more often than not I become the target of academic’s IT frustrations. ‘Cos I obvs work in IT innit.

I’m not an expert (in anything really). I don’t fully understand what IT services do but I would say I know enough. I’m just someone who has made a few observations over the years. I’m also a great believer that everyone deserves a champion, someone who fights for them, and I see myself as a champion of academic needs. It frustrates me to see the relationship break down because it shouldn’t and there are easy remedies to improve it.

Things

I sit in the middle of both worlds. Academic and IT. It is a blessing and a curse. I am neither one or the other. But I am able to see things from both sides.

Acknowledging the ‘challenges’

It’s unfair to start a presentation of this kind without acknowledging the challenges IT peops deal with every day. I work on a helpdesk so these are just a few of the things I regularly get:

  • The people who send in a ticket at the last minute for something absolutely essential. Often happening in the next 30 minutes that they’ve known about for weeks.
  • The people who have emailed 3 minutes ago then email again to chase it.
  • The people who say they have emailed you repeatedly for something but when checked there is no record of contact from them (often when asked who they contacted, they completely ignore the question)
  • The people who worked as an x in the 90s. Who explain how to fix the issue, what you should do and why what the department has done is completely wrong.
  • The people who use all the latest tech at home, then think they should automatically be able to use that at work.
  • The people who email with an issue that is vital and must be fixed immediately but doesn’t reply to further information when asked.
  • The people who have their own money, buy something without consulting you, then expect you to make it work.
  • The people who provide no information e.g. I have an issue with Word.
  • The people who will not accept that their issue is a result of their lack of knowledge.
  • The people who could just Google the answer (since that’s exactly what you will end up doing anyway).
  • The people who are just downright rude…

In my slides, I used the word customer. *Hand slap* for not following my own advice.

IT is the broad side of the barn

You are an easy target, no a HUGE target. Chiefly because what you do affects people’s everyday lives. IT underpins every single process at a University. I can’t think of a single example that doesn’t involve IT. People get into work and spend the day using the services you offer them. Expect them to be laid back about it? Think they’re gonna be chilled when it breaks? Think again.

The buck stops with you. Fair or not.

Plus you’re never going to win. Noone knows what they want. Nobody wants the same thing and you’re always going to upset/disappoint someone. Accept it. Let it go.

Technology won’t save us

Two brilliant quotes about technology from smarter people than I. Technology won’t save education. There is no single solution. But there is a perception that technology is the panacea to solve all ills. This is what IT departments are faced with and why the pressure on them continues to rise.

“When you decide [there is] a problem, then you naturally start looking for a solution…and then you go to the technology to be a solution and everyone is disappointed.” David White and Donna Lanclos – Being Human is Your Problem ALTc2016

Kill the witch

If you don’t understand it, it’s magic.
If you practice magic you’re a witch.
Kill the witch.
James Holden – July 2015

IT is a dark art. Few people really know what you do and even fewer understand it. I don’t suppose we need to. If we all understood and knew how to do what you do, then we wouldn’t need you. I sometimes get the feeling that IT people like to nurture that mystique. IT is hidden away in offices as far away from people as possible and ITSM tools are introduced to avoid dealing with anyone directly (sorry, to effectively manage…zzz). All people want to know is who to contact and what’s happening. They hate ticket ping pong.  IT processes are complex and convoluted usually obscured by mountains of paperwork and meetings. We get it, they don’t. The people who use your services are not ITIL experts.

Mine, mine, mine

IT departments often feel they own the ‘thing’ they support. It feels like products and services are selected based solely on IT preference and what’s easiest for you.

“systems are setup to meet ICT needs rather than academic needs.” – anonymous academic 2016

If someone says they need something, who are you to decide whether they do or not? Who are you to decide whether it’s worthwhile or not? You have become the gate keepers.

A noteworthy response on Twitter:

It’s ours when it breaks. Yes, it is, because YOU ARE THE PEOPLE PAID TO MAKE IT WORK AND KEEP IT WORKING. If we could all maintain our own IT infrastructure (a terrible idea) then we wouldn’t bother with an IT department. You are the experts in all the technical aspects of technology, how it integrates, how to install it, how it needs to be maintained, however, in my experience, IT departments know very little about how some technology is used or why and worse, they spend very little time finding out.

Computer says no

Not a lot to say here that you don’t already know. The people who use your services don’t understand the complexity behind what you do. They don’t know about service level agreements, security, integration, data management, change management etc. and you don’t do a very good job of explaining it.

When you say no you never explain why it’s a no.

Where innovation goes to die

Universities are under enormous pressure to offer students an ‘excellent’ experience and outcomes. Thanks to module evaluations, TEF and NSS staff are under increasing pressure to ‘perform’. Sadly, technology is seen as the magic bullet to solve every aspect of Higher Education and innovation is the way to do it. Innovation appears in every strategy. Innovative pedagogies, innovative research, innovative use of technology in education etc. Technology is your department. Expectations are rising and you’re the first in the firing line. “I wanted to innovate but IT said no”.

I’m not listening

A key part of communication is listening. You show people you care by listening and acknowledging them. You can’t do your job properly unless you get to know people. How can you say you understand people if you don’t talk to them? Do you know what people do? Do you understand the pressures on them? How can you prioritise something without understanding it first?

Empathy is key. If you employ people on your service desk who can’t empathise then you’re asking for trouble.

The best thing we can do is listen and not make assumptions about what is right or best. Neil Milliken

Francesca Spencer, a project manager at Leeds Beckett University, did a fantastic parallel session called ‘Technophobe testing – an experience of providing a service to those who fear, dislike, or avoid technology’. It was a fantastic demonstration of project management going wrong. The team created a brand new learning space with all the bells and whistles but the users of the room hated it. Why, because they didn’t speak to users to understand how people actually use a teaching space! They learnt their lesson. The presentation is available here.

What’s teaching got to do, got to do with it?

EVERYTHING. Otherwise, what the hell are we all doing here? I don’t think a University will survive when the students stop turning up and why do they come to University? To be taught, to learn and, if they put in the effort required, receive a degree. I have heard an IT employees say “we have nothing to do with teaching”. Do people use your services as part of teaching, as part of the administration of teaching and management of students? YES. Then you have everything to do with teaching. Any thoughts otherwise are ill-informed and ignorant.

You remember I asked you what you say when you’re asked what you do? THIS IS WHY. I have often had the feeling that IT people see themselves as IT professionals. On the whole, this is fair, you do IT one place it’s relatively similar everywhere but I see a distinction. The problem with IT people is they don;t see themselves as IT people in education. There is a subtle difference. If you see yourself as the latter you will understand your context and context makes a difference. IT in a business is different to IT in a University. The technology may be the same but the people, the drivers, the pressures are not.

People what a bunch of b*stards

People are messy, complicated, rude, impatient, and tiresome but people are the reason we’re here. They are not homogenous. They are real people with feelings and needs. They are not users or customers. They are people. Get to know them, you’ll be surprised what you’ll find out:

“corporately there is little feel for the academics’ problems…so no ICT member builds an empathy with the academic regarding the particular issue.” – anonymous academic 2016

“I don’t generally feel well supported, but the personal contact is good. It’s not that I want to bad mouth individuals but am happy to blame a faceless organisation, but systematically, it fails to support me.” – anonymous academic 2016

Our weapons against evil

Come out of the basement. Stop hiding from people. Be seen. Own the good, the bad and the ugly. People will respect you more.
Prioritise people skills. Employ people with people skills. ICT skills can be learnt. Learning how to deal with people is much harder. Ensure a people skills ‘test’ is part of your recruitment process.
Support your Service Desk. Service Desk is often the first to get the blame. Support them. Provide them with the information they need, if they don’t know, they don’t know. Thank them. Be grateful they bear the brunt of your disgruntled customers.
Reward and recognise people. Find a way to recognise and reward those who go out of their way to provide good service. This will help develop the people first culture. It will become the norm.
Don’t sell tech as a solution. I am guilty of this. So are tech companies. Don’t join in. Technology is not a solution, it can only be part of the solution. Don’t oversell what it can do. Everyone will be disappointed.
Support innovation. Find a way. Have a team who deal solely with ‘new’ requests and ideas. Get the resources. Your University is full of evidence to back up what you need. Start using it. Create a process for pilots, for trying stuff out and then how those pilots are assessed and become production. A clear process will be beneficial to everyone.
Advocate not oppose. Linked to above. Help people achieve, be their champion. You’ll find they will become your champion too. Facilitate and help. Don’t just say no.
Create a feedback loop. Could be as simple as ‘you said, we did’. Show you are listening and acting on it. People will wait patiently as long as they know something is being done.
Drop the jargon. Stop using phrases like customers. They’re people. Use their names. Don’t use your ITIL jargon either. Speak to people in a language they will understand.
Assume nothing. There are lots of false assumptions out there. People don’t need training – they do. Students can all use technology – they can’t. Don’t fall for them. Don’t be guilty of promoting them. When you assume you fail.
Learn about people. You can’t do a good job if you don’t understand the people you are here to help.
Be transparent. Be honest. Show your workings. Explain things to people in a language they understand, expose your processes and limit the documentation barrier.

Good ‘customer’ service is not the same as saying yes.

This thought occurred to me as I wrote this post. Often, we conflate good service with saying yes to everything. No’s are a necessary evil of our job. You can’t avoid saying no although, if you can find a way to say yes, you should. Good customer service, no let’s not use that phrase, let’s say treating people well is free. You can still treat people well when saying no or when a resolution is taking time. Be transparent about your decision-making process when saying no. Be clear from the outset what your process will be, what hoops you need to jump through, what you need from them, try to give a timescale and most importantly keep them updated especially when timescales move. When dealing with someone having an issue the same principal applies. They just want to know. They want to be considered. They want to be important to you.

So how’d it go down?

Well other than my having forgotten that I had used a custom font and having hideous slides it went OK. I forgot to say everything I wanted to but it was not a complete dumpster fire and I can live with that.

For the audience, I imagine it went down like a cup of hot sick or it was taken in the spirit it was intended. I’m not a highly paid consultant, I’m just a person sharing some thoughts. Take them or leave them. If a handful went away thinking about the way they treat people then we’re all winners.

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

UCISA SSG continues to surprise me on day two. There was a bit about shiny stuff, a word from our students, a bit about processes, a bit about bees and some fervent dancing.

Thinking outside the Box. How a little bit of box made a big difference

Chris Dixon, Head of Operations, Lancaster University and Valerie Focke, Head of Education, EMEA, Box.com

Today’s business showcase was a big improvement on yesterdays. Chris shared his experience of implementing Box for the storage, management and sharing of files at Lancaster University. He highlighted the reasons for their decision. Chiefly, staff found the existing file management and sharing services ineffective. Particularly, sharing files outside of the organisation.

Student Panel

I love a student panel. They are always fascinating and it’s nice to hear from them directly.

IT services need to keep up

They talked about the need to make emerging technologies available so that students are prepared for the tech world. By the time they finish their studies the technology has changed so we need to prepare them.

They were asked how they like to be contacted. One said social media as that’s where they get their news. A mature student (that’s how she described herself) preferred email. Most importantly they felt that their lecturers need to be informed about ICT issues/services/tools etc. As often their lecturers are the ones introducing them to the tools.

They were asked about our marketing materials or “communications guff” as it was described. They all said it was overwhelming in induction week. They were bombarded with too much information. It would end up on a shelf never to be looked at again. Their preference would be to search for the information WHEN they need it. Not have it forced on them at every turn.

There was a misinterpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the one with Wi-Fi at the bottom, which meant students were asked whether Wi-Fi was at the bottom of their priorities. Wi-Fi is actually the most important in the hierarchy as it becomes more important than basic physiological needs like eating, drinking and sleeping. They all agreed it was very important but not the be all and end all.

The dreaded lecture capture reared its ugly head. Questions of value for money and other nonsense. The students all said they like the personal interaction of a lecture.

Attendance monitoring arose, described by one student as ‘Big Brother’. One argued they are adults, they pay for lectures and whether they turn up is their decision. This was met with staunch opposition in the audience. My argument would be if they’re not turning up then the lecture needs work. They shouldn’t have to choose whether a lecture is worth their time. It should be to begin with.

The students didn’t feel ICT was approachable. It was described as hidden away, intimidating and they were reticent to interrupt people at work.

Some said 24 hour contact with ICT is important to them. Another said they didn’t need 24/7 they just want to know when their issue will be resolved and dealt with. They liked the use of live chat and video support.

Use of social media was preferred to remain personal and some felt, or were told, it was not appropriate for their studies. I don’t agree but I can see why they wouldn’t want us in their social media.

What did I learn? Students aren’t homogeneous. Don’t treat them that way. Stop saying “our students want” instead go and ask them. Remember, you’re going to struggle to please everyone.

How big business, and a bee, started our customer service journey at Leeds Beckett

Eleanor Draycott, Help Services Manager, Leeds Beckett University

What an animated and passionate team they have at Leeds Beckett. Eleanor told us about their redevelopment of their Service Desk Environment. Old fashioned counters were removed to create an open, inviting, friendly zone for staff and students to drop in to. Eleanor talked about the old counters being barriers between the service desk staff and the users. The work they have done, despite some difficult times in the project, has removed those barriers.

They have open spaces where staff and students can stroll in to. They even have a genius bar. They have principles that all staff have to adhere to and they recognise that the attitudes of the people they employ are just as important as the environment.

Embracing Open Badges: Showcasing staff and student achievement at York St John University

Roisin Cassidy, Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor, York St John University

I have always been a sceptic about badges. It feels faddy. Like the stars McDonalds used to give their staff. A bit…insincere. Rosin has changed my mind. Eroded some of my scepticism.

Open badges are based on a shared standard and contain metadata. The metadata says what the badge was earned for, who issued it and where from. The metadata follows the badges. York St John have been giving badges for participation in their CPD and Roisin shared some examples of uses in the curriculum. Getting the – “what and the why” is important to get right from the start. What is it for, why would people want it, what are the criteria and how will it be evidenced. I can see badges working well if we get that part right from the start. I’m thinking of starting with our CPD offering and go on from there.

Agile tools and techniques

Colin Jones, Web and Applications Team Leader, Robert Gordon University

I must confess to not having concentrated fully during this presentation. Forgive me Colin, it wasn’t you. I had an academic in crisis who needed help. Agile is nothing new. The scrum meeting concept isn’t either. There’s lots online about it. Sorry I can’t say much on the subject.

Marmite: academics and a toast to the IT crowd?

Mark Schofield, Dean, Teaching and Learning Development, Edge Hill University

This was an amazing presentation. Clearly Mark is a veteran. Mark is an academic who has worked in a number of institutions at home and abroad. He had a very insightful (and brilliantly funny) presentation. Which illustrated, as so many have during this conference, that we need to work together to do anything well. He represented the problem as a humpback bridge with ICT professionals on one side and academics on the other unable to see one another. Mark used memes brilliantly. The featured image for this post is one he used to describe ICT Professionals. (Based on this conference, and the passion they demonstrate, they don’t all take that attitude) He acknowledged we are all difficult beasts. But with mutual respect and empathy we can do some brilliant things.

This has to be my favourite presentation. Everyone was transfixed. What a showman.

Process improvement partnerships: continuous improvement at Leeds Beckett University

Clare Wiggins, Continuous Improvement Manager, Leeds Beckett University

I ended the day with some play. Clare talked us through continuous improvement at Leeds Beckett and then let us run riot with the Mr Potato Heads (MPH). The idea was to form a plan then as a team try to construct MPH as quickly and accurately as possible. We recorded our time each go and our accuracy. We then talked about how we’d do it better and tried again. Long story short we had been continuously improving by reflecting on our work.

It was great fun, a nice interjection to the day, but what did I learn? Don’t try. Be rubbish and people will be amazed by the improvement. We had the fastest time but won nothing. I’m not bitter. (I am bitter)

How do you measure up

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services, Leeds Beckett University

Sally finished the day by sharing the results of this years benchmarking survey. It was really useful to hear about the work other University’s are doing. It’s also useful to know where you stand in the wider community.

If you’d like to look at the report it’s available on the UCISA SSG website here.

Dinner

Dinner was a formal affair. Beautifully decorated with Alice in Wonderland themed tables. Dinner was followed by much dancing. The brilliant Ten Hail Marys played some serious funk, ska and indie classics. I lost my mind when Mr Brightside came on. The night was finished perfectly by the final song:

So throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right – One day like this, Elbow

We’ve got a lot of change to come. Education is being systematically ripped apart by people so far removed from it they may as well be on the International Space Station. Remember HE is a wonderful profession to work in. Remember why we do it and who we do it for. It will be OK. Keep calm. Carry on.

What did I learn? ICT Professionals + free wine = serious shapes thrown.

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Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

Matthew Saunders: Ucisa Support Services Conference 2016 – Learning and Listening

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

This is my first UCISA Support Services Group conference. It has always been, in my mind, “not for me”. It has always struck me as being for ICT professionals. That the presenters and attendees will not speak my language. I imagined it being full of tedious sessions with people droning on about their latest implementation of something or other. So far SSG16 has been quite wonderfully the opposite.

Tech-savvy

This phrase is a bug bare of mine. “Our staff/students are all tech-savvy and want to use xyz”. NO they are not. If you go and sit with enough of them you’ll soon see. It’s dangerous to assume that your users know how to do what you think they should. It’s not just dangerous, it’s arrogant. Stop it. If you’ve not seen the work Jisc has been doing around digital capabilities then go and take a look at their blog Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog and James Clay’s elearning stuff blog.

Delivering excellence in public services; customers, challenges and collaboration

Aline Hayes, Director of Business Change and Information Solutions, Sheffield City Council

Aline delivered an interesting presentation on the approach to service delivery at Sheffield City Council. She emphasised the importance of engagement and collaboration with the end-user. There was some practical detail about their approach to ‘suppliers’ working as services or partners. She emphasised the important role the council plays in the loves of vulnerable people and how even the seemingly insignificant loss of services can have big consequences.

There was a lot of talk of customers. HE staff shudder at the word (though it’s not surprising for the council to use the term). Let’s not use the word but lets assume the principles that the word invokes. Trust, empathy, service and care. Our students and staff are using our services. Those services should be quality.

Despite being interrupted by a fire alarm evacuation Aline continued her delivery with aplomb.

Problem management on a shoestring!

Garry Hunter, Problem Manager, Northumbrian Water Group

I really enjoyed this presentation. Not only did Garry deliver it with zeal and engagement but he was making sense. Get to the root of the problem, fix it so it doesn’t happen again. Yes please. He’ll know he’s done a good job when they make him redundant.

What annoys staff most is when something is broken, ICT know it is, but they do nothing. They don’t care how long it takes to fix, or how hard it is, they just want it fixed!

Business showcase

The conference is split up by business showcases. The less said about today’s presentation the better. Mainly because I couldn’t hear it and doubt I would have listened even if I could.

Creating user centric services whilst maintaining corporate compliance – is it possible in higher education?

Andrew Howe, Head of End User Services, University of St Andrews

I LOVED this presentation. Andrew was speaking my language. No more technology for technology’s sake. Andrew presented a list of ‘things’ our students use and want. I think this is dangerous. There are a lot of students who don’t use those things and have no interest in them. Try asking them? But remember if you ask them if they want it they’ll say yes. Instead ask what they want to do. Then find the technology to make that happen!

Andrew reminded us that staff are not always capable of doing what ICT expect from them. Thank you. Digital capabilities…they aren’t all Bill Gates…support them…bla bla bla. (Read my other posts)

20×20 More than just a degree

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services, Leeds Beckett University

This was an incredibly personal, heartfelt and sincere presentation. Sally shared her life experiences and the transformative experience HE has been for her. It was wonderfully refreshing. It reminded me of why I started working in HE. Why I love it. Why I get up every day.

We can touch lives. We can change lives for the better.

20×20 ICT vs academics

Timothy Ingham, Operations Manager, and Kerry Pinny, Digital Education Developer, University of Lincoln

Tim and I presented on the results and subsequent actions of a survey we sent to ICT and academic staff. If you work in HE you will appreciate there is a volatile relationship between the two. To summarise ICT don’t understand academics and academics don’t understand ICT. As a result everyone’s a bit dissatisfied and unsupported. We’re developing a ‘day in the life of’ session so they can share their experiences and develop understanding.

Dinner and Treasure Hunting

Dinner/food is the make or break of a conference. The dinner was informal BBQ style food. Long queue but the English revelled in it. Dinner was followed by a treasure hunt. The image for this post is our team cramming themselves in to a phone box. We were dedicated. The hunt was a walking tour of Leeds with some theft activities thrown in. Great fun and a brilliant ice-breaker.

Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

Matthew Saunders: UCISA Support Services Conference 2016 – Learning and Listening