The Jisc Digital Festival 2016

The two-day Jisc Digital Festival began early today and continues tomorrow. This was my first Jisc event for some time and provided a valuable opportunity to gain an overview of Jisc developments and, perhaps more importantly, meet many friends and former colleagues. Unfortunately due to family commitments I was only there for the day and had to leave at coffee time – in addition I spent most of my time talking to people and therefore didn’t attend any of the many parallel sessions. However I did attend the opening plenary which provided useful insights into current Jisc thinking.

Jisc digital festival 2016

The Power of Digital

The opening plenary session, entitled “The Power of Digital” had four plenary speakers: Dr Paul Feldman, chief executive, Jisc; Professor David Maguire, chair, Jisc; Professor Andrew Harrison, professor of practice at University of Wales Trinity St David and director of Spaces That Work Ltd and Professor Donna Lanclos, associate professor for anthropological research at UNC Charlotte.

The sides used by the speakers are available on Slideshare and are also embedded below. There is therefore no need for me to comment on the details of the opening talk. However one slide in particular caught my eye: the overview of the three key areas of work provided by the Jisc for the sector:

Slides from opening Jisc plenary talk

As can be seen Jisc do three main things for the sector:

  1. Provide shared digital infrastructure and services. This includes the Janet network, shared data centres (formerly known as Mimas), Eduroam and geospatial services provided I understand by Edina) with new services in the area of learning analytics, research data management and “FE college in a box” currently being developed.
  2. Sector wide deals with IT vendors and publishers. In the past the focus would probably have been on deals negotiated with publishers and have primarily been of interest to librarians, together with deals for large data sets. However it was interesting to note that the current emphasis is on the deals with IT vendors, with deals with Microsoft and Amazon being mentioned.
  3. Expert and trusted advice and practical assistance. This includes advice on open access, cloud services and cyber security (which I’m familiar with) and “financial x-ray” which is new to me, with plans to move into FE area reviews and a national monograph strategy.

Discussion

I was particularly pleased to see the high profile which was given to the importance of Jisc’s work in negotiating deals for institutional use of Cloud services, such as those provided by Microsoft and Amazon. In the past legal issues such as data protection and uncertainties of the robustness of the Safe Harbor agreement were cited as barriers to the widespread deployment of such services.

The Jisc web site contains brief details of the deals which Jisc have negotiated for the sector, which includes deals for Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Education and Amazon Web Services, although details of the provides of file synch and share services do not seem to be available.

jisc-cloud-services-summary

I should also add that at the event there was an announcement of a deal for Amazon Web Services, which is described in more detail on the Jisc blog. This announcement reminded me that back in 2008 Jeff Barr of Amazon Web Services gave a talk at the IWMW 2007 event on “Building Highly Scalable Web Applications” – although it appears that the deal is for use by researchers and not for those providing large-scale web services.

But what did I think was missing from this overview?

It was interesting to note that although open access continues to be of great relevance to Jisc, open source software no longer seems to be being mentioned. Funding for the Jisc OSS Watch service ceased some time ago and advice and support for the sector on procuring open source software products or on developing open source software does not seem to be provided. In addition, although there was an expectation that software developed by Jisc projects would be available as open source, it does not appear that current services being developed or procured will be as available as open source. Perhaps we should accept that openness tends to be popular in times of growth (as we saw in the early part of the 21st century)  but at a time of cutbacks openness is deemed no longer to be relevant?

I also noticed that the relevance of Wikipedia also appeared to be dismissed as part of the ‘wild west’.  This made me wonder whether such community-led approaches to content development were at odds with the Jisc view on the importance of “expert and trusted advice”.

Finally I wondered not that Jisc has negotiated deals for the mundane office products and we have a reliable networking environment, with many (but not all) users owning their own powerful devices, where the support for local development work will be provided. In the past the DevCSI initiative was successful in motivating institutional development activities; although the Jisc Summer of Student Innovation has been valuable in providing students with skills in IT development, such expertise will be lost to the sector when they graduate.

jisclive tweetPerhaps the most valuable comment made in the opening plenary was the comment by Dr Paul Feldman, chief executive, Jisc. As summarised in a tweet on the @jisclive account:

Feldman: Jisc is here to support institutions innovate and use technology. We want to hear what you need at #digifest16

I welcome this invitation to give comments and feedback. I’ve shared my thoughts of the areas I’ve welcomed and the gaps. I’d welcome thoughts from others.