About My Talk at the UCISA CISG Conference
On Friday 20 November I’m giving a talk on “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?” at the UCISA CISG 2009 Conference.
I’ve written my slides and uploaded them to Slideshare (and embedded them at the bottom of this post. But slides on their own don’t really convey the message and if I want the talk to be truly open providing a Creative Commons licence for the slides and giving permission for my talk to be recorded or videoed isn’t enough – I should summarise my talk and allow (indeed encourage) comments to be made. This I will do in this blog post (which, incidentally, should also provide a more accessible alternative version to the talk and the slides).
I have spoken at previous UCISA Management conferences:
UCISA 2004 Management Conference: where I gave a plenary talk on “What Can Internet Technologies Offer?”. In this talk I introduced a set of technologies now known as Web 2.0.
UCISA 2006 Management Conference: where I gave a plenary talk on “IT Services: Help or Hindrance?”. In this talk I argued that IT Services needed to engage with Web 2.0 otherwise they might find themselves marginalised.
UCISA 2008 Management Conference: where I gave a pre-recorded video contribution to talk on “Digital Natives Run by Digital Immigrants: IT Services are Dead, Long Live IT Services 2.0!”. In this talk I argued that IT Services need to reinvent themselves.
My views have developed over time:
- IT Services need to understand Web 2.0 and not dismiss it as a ‘trendy marketing term’ 
- IT Services need to engage with Web 2.0 services (IT Services as visitors) 
- IT Services need to embrace Web 2.0 services (IT Services as residents) 
I now feel that institutions will need to embrace Web 2.0 & rethink their roles (HEIs as residents).
Political Drivers for Change
The political drivers to such changes have been articulated in “The Edgeless University” report and the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report. In addition the higher educational sector also needs to be able to respond to the recent Mandelson report as well as the current economic climate which underpins all of these reports.
Against this background of radical changes across the sector we have Web 2.0 and the Social Web which appear to promise many potential benefits to teaching and learning and research. But there are also many challenges.
The MIS Sector
How might MIS managers react to these changes? If we were to ask the user community for phrases which might characterise the sector we might find words such as “control”, “security” and “policies” appearing. We might expect “Prince2″ but not “Agile development” and “risk averse” but not “risk taking”.
But such characteristics are to be valued for those involved in providing many of the back-end services in our institutions – please, let’s not have an ‘always beta’ approach to salary systems or our pension schemes!
Such characteristics were identified at the UCISA CISG 2008 conference in which Alison Wildish and John Howell and “Can web services and CIS work together in harmony when it comes to the web?“. But rather than revisit that talk, which argued for greater collaboration across groups such as MIS and Marketing departments within the institution I want to explore how such departments need to change in its engagement with a Web 2.0 environment (such as ‘the network as the platform’) and a Social Web environment (in which members of the institution are openly sharing their resources and interests with others).
The Social Web
Some may feel that Social Networking services are only used by students and young people and have no relevance to those involved in this provision of services across the institution. But we do find that senior managers and UCISA stalwarts, such as Chris Sexton and David Harrison are prolific users of Social Web tools such as blogs and Twitter. Chris Sexton’s Twitter id @cloggingchris reveals her hobby (clog dancing and related folk activities) – and it was via our shared interests in rapper word dancing that Chris and myself got to know each better both personally and professionally, through our discussions on our blogs and via Twitter.
So yes, the social dimension is important to enhance our professional activities – after all there is a conference dinner at the UCISA CISG 2009 conference which fulfills this role. Perhaps the main difference between the online and physical social activities are the lack of formality in the former (unlike the UCISA conference, a black tie or kilt are not expected in the Twitterverse!).
“Web 2.0 Changes Everything”
In May 2009 Andy Powell on the eFoundations blog argued that “if Web 2.0 changes everything, I see no reason why that doesn’t apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. David Harrison was in broad agreement:
“There is a little doubt in my mind that Web 2.0 will eventually change everything in respect of university education … what makes the current situation different is the emergence of communication & collaboration tools that easily & transparently transcend the organisation. The Web 2.0 university will be one therefore that consumes, collaborates and communicates – some are better placed to build such a model, others not.“
What might be the drivers of such change, I asked recently. Some may feel that a combination of the economic crisis and global warming may force institutions to radically reappraise the well-established approaches to events across the sector, but that’s a topic for another post and another talk.
In this post and in my talk I will consider three aspects of the changing networked environment which I feel are significant drivers for change within the sector: Cloud Services, the Social Web and Openness.
When I gave a talk on “IT Services: Help or Hindrance?” at the UCISA 2006 conference I used the potential of Web-based email services (such as Hotmail and GMail) as a threat to IT Service departments, arguing that IT Service departments needed to be more flexible and agile, otherwise the user community would abandon the centrally-provided services. But Michael Nowlan, who was Director of the Information Systems Services at Trinity College Dublin, interpretted my talk differently – why don’t institutions simply buy into such services. And that is what Trinity College Dublin did, followed by an increasing number of UK institutions, most notably Sheffield University.
On her blog, Chris Sexton has regularly kept colleagues and the wider community informed of her thoughts on institutional use of Google as an email provider. In April 2009 she summarised institutional use of “Google for students” and earlier this month she suggested that it is “Now to sort out staff mail….“.
Chris also recently reported on a session at the Educause conference on “Cloud computing – Hope or Hype?“. Chris concluded:
“I went in firmly on the “hope ” side but tried to listen objectively, and I must say my mind wasn’t changed! The “hype” arguments came over as defensive and ill informed. She made a big thing of it just being a cost cutting exercise, but in the current financial climate I couldn’t see what was wrong with that!“.
I’d go along with that. Institutional engagement with Cloud Services is, for me, simply the latest approach to service provision which the sector is engaging with. I would hope that there is a community-wide involvement in negotiations, but this is no longer the radical solution it seemed back in 2004.
Services For The Individual
Like myself, Chris Sexton is using a blog service which is in The Cloud. Chris’s blog is hosted on Blogspot whereas mine is on WordPress. But rather than the hosting issues (bother services are well-established and mature) for me the more challenging issue is the individual autonomy to provide a professional service. Yes, there are issues about trust, quality and sustainability of the content. But for me, this is similar to the trust which my organisation places on me when I give talks – and similarly UCISA will have expectations that I will act in a professional manner when I give my talk. Both my talks and my blog posts will have personal idiosyncrasies – but in our sector we tend to prefer such approaches to the corporate droids!
As use of such externally hosted services continues to grow we will need to develop policies and share best practices, but, again, this is nothing new.
‘Core’ and ‘Chore’ Services
Whilst I have been exploring ways in which the Social Web can be exploited by professional in the sector, David Harrison and Joe Nichols at Cardiff University have been developing an institutional model for understanding the relationships between in-house and externally-hosted services. David has distinguished between chore and core services. This approach was presented at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event in a talk entitled “Servicing ‘Core’ and ‘Chore': A framework for understanding a Modern IT Working Environment” and summarised in a blog post on the IWMW 2009 blog.
The Need for Openness
Moving on from the provision of the services we need to address the openness of the content. The initiatives within the sector to provide open access to research publications are well-known and we are now seeing initiatives to provide open access to research data and open educational resources (OER). But what about our institutional data? Is this still being held in institutional silos, making reuse difficult and costly and thus inhibiting development, innovation?
The JISC-funded MOSAIC competition provided an opportunity for developers to demonstrate innovative approaches to making use of library circulation data provided by the University of Huddersfield. And yes, privacy is something that needs to be considered – and in this case the data was anonymised before being made available and the APIs published.
This is surely an area in which our sector should be actively engaging with – perhaps regarding data as something that should be made open unless there are valid reasons not to do so, unlike the current position in which institutions keep data closed unless required to.
A move towards greater openness may result from the government responding to public pressure for greater openness. We have seen public pressure to provide transparency for MP’s expenses. And Tony Hirst, a lecturer at the Open University has provided a wide range of examples of how such data, once published, can be reused. Should not the higher education sector, as publicly-funded organisations with expectations of liberal values and transparency as well as a well-established tradition of innovation in IT, be seen to be leading this drive towards greater openness. And shouldn’t UCISA and groups such as UCISA CISG, be taking the initiative in their role as the custodians of such institutional data?
A Risks and Opportunities Framework
Yes, there are risks. But there will be no opportunities for innovation and change without an element of risk-taking. JISC infoNet has developed a Risk Management infoKit and, as described in papers on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and “Time To Stop Doing and Start Thinking: A Framework For Exploiting Web 2.0 Services” UKOLN is developing a risks and opportunities framework to support decision-making processes in the selection and use of Social Web services.
My talk is entitled “What If Web 2.0 Really Does Change Everything?”. And yet, reflecting on my slides, I feel I’m simply suggesting a more open approach to use of IT within the sector – with a risk-management approach being taken to use of third party services and a willingness to make institutional data open for reuse by others. I hope this is not felt to be threatening – rather I feel it is a reaffirmation of the IT Services long-standing tradition of embracing IT developments and the higher education sector’s even-longer standing tradition of embracing social change.
What do you think?