Tag Archives: optimising operations and data

Time back – Weeknote #275 – 7th June 2024

I spent most of the week working from home, it is exam time for some in the house, so I was around to provide lifts to early revision sessions, or to ensure functionality in case of delayed buses. I had intended to work in the office at least one day this week, but I was also expecting a call from the garage about my car, and it would have been easier to pick it up travelling from home, than from the office.

I am currently taking a leadership course at Jisc, and this week I completed some more units from the Institute of Leadership. I have extensive management and leadership experience, running teams of various sizes, complexity and geographically distributed. I have planned, designed, and delivered shared services for consortia and complex organisations. I have also managed multi-million pound budgets and projects. In addition I have delivered management and leadership training, both at Jisc, to universities, and was a Management and Business Studies lecturer back in the 1990s.

Having said all that there is still room to both learn new things and to update existing knowledge. I also want to affirm my understanding of leadership as well. The course has been useful for these things.

Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

Had a couple of internal meetings this week, they were scheduled for longer than they actually took. Though it’s nice to have time back, it would be even better if we had that time back before the meeting took place. Planning meetings takes time for the person planning the meeting but can save a lot more time for those participating in that meeting. Do they even need to be in that meeting?

I have written about meetings over my Technology Stuff blog.  Back in 2021 I reflected on an article by Atlassian on making meetings better, useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

I also wrote about how “Meetings are a waste of time”

The perspective we can solve engagement issues by having meetings, and so we need to improve the online meetings, misses the key problem, which is the lack of engagement. This is a leadership and management challenge not just about improving online meetings. People have a personal responsibility to engage with corporate communication, give them choice, make it easier, but to think you solve it by having a meeting, is a similar thinking that people read all their e-mail.

I enjoyed reading this HEPI article on future scenarios for Higher Education.

The author, Professor Sir Chris Husbands, is the former vice-chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University. He develops four plausible scenarios for the future of English higher education and looks at what they could mean for students, universities and government.

Scenario 1 considers what happens on the current funding trajectory.

Scenario 2 looks at what a higher education sector fully funded for high participation, research and innovation might look like.

Scenario 3 explores the implications of a tertiary system.

Scenario 4 considers what a more differentiated system might look like.

I have written some scenarios up as future visions as prompts for discussion. The HEPI visions are much more near-future (and probably more realistic) than my visions. However my future visions are not supposed to be accurate predictions of the future, more as discussion pieces to prompt thinking about how higher education can change.

Found this article on Wonkhe interesting on the future financial sustainability of higher education: Why I wouldn’t bet against a fee rise after the election.

It’s long been assumed that whatever the outcome of the coming general election, fees would remain stuck in the freezer for the time being. We’ve pored over Public First polling that has neatly demonstrated how unpopular raising fees would be and concluded that no political party could feasibly contemplate this. But the ground is now shifting beneath our feet and I think a modest but significant fee rise looks more likely than ever.

I think that may happen, as a last resort if there are real possibilities of universities failing, as well as declining international student recruitment, then the (next) government may need to raise fees to ensure that universities survive financially.

I continued to do some researching and then writing June Intelligent Campus newsletter. This is posted over on the Jiscmail mailing list for the Intelligent Campus.

I have been working on an Intelligent Campus Maturity Tool, this has required me to map out competency statements    that institutions would require to assess their current state of readiness in relation to smart and intelligent campus.

Wrote a section for our board report on the work I have been doing.

I planned, prepared and then cancelled my Senior Education and Student Experience group meeting. I have now been asked to attend UUK Round Table on the same date.

A history of attempts – Weeknote #265 – 29th March 2024

Shorter week this week with Good Friday. I spent the start of the week working from home, I did eventually get to the office on Wednesday.

Some interesting articles from WonkHE on Monday, related to the work I am doing with optimising operations and data.

 There may be ways to make UK higher education cheaper to run

Is UK higher education really the world’s third most expensive way of getting a degree – and if it is, what might the alternatives look like?

One of the key questions that arises from different operating models, are higher education institutions prepared to change, and are they only going to change because they are forced to.

The other article was about shared services.

Are “back office services” really better together?

There’s a history of attempts to drive efficiency by sharing services – and precious little evidence of success.

When I started my work in this space, I came to similar conclusions that were in this article. However I do think just because that was the way things were, doesn’t mean that there isn’t opportunities in the future.

Did some analysis of various reports, articles, and links in relation to Optimising Operations and Data. I did a similar analysis of various reports, articles, and links in relation to Intelligent Campus.

I started the planning various reports in relation to Optimising Operations and Data.

I had a meeting about a proposed Intelligent Campus maturity framework.

I did some more field research on the Intelligent Campus.

Deck of Cards – Weeknote #264 – 22nd March 2024

A busy start to the week, I was attending HESCA 24 at the University of Loughborough. HESCA is the Higher Education Smart Card Association, primarily a membership organisation for vendors in the smart card and access card space.

There were some interesting talks and presentations. Some were from universities and others were from vendors. As the presentations were about fifteen minutes long, I didn’t make any sketch notes.

I was talking at the final session of the conference talking about the holistic approach to building a smart campus. Got some nice feedback from the session.

This week we also had our Senior Education and Student Experience Group Meeting. As a well as our usual what’s on your agenda discussion, we also looked at what the big challenge is for higher education and discussed two of the future visions I have been writing. Some interesting thoughts and commentary came out from that.

I had an initial discussion meeting with another university about a possible stakeholder workshop. I was also contacted by a colleague in Jisc about a different university for a conversation, who is also interested in this space. There is a lot of interest and demand in this area from universities across the UK.

I continued my work on optimising operations and data, undertaking further analysis of various reports, articles, and links. I did a similar thing with my work on the intelligent campus.

We had a team meeting, though meeting isn’t really the operative word here, much more a structured conversation and chat.

I was in the office on Friday which was quite busy, for a Friday, usually it is quite quiet.

I attended the Digital Elevation Model review meeting with colleagues from the FE side of Jisc.

Setting a vision – Weeknote #262 – 8th March 2024

I was working in the Bristol office for a few days this week and a couple of days working from home.

Spent some time preparing for next week, when I will be in London, Edinburgh and then early the following week I will be in Loughborough. Will be spending a fair amount of time travelling and staying in hotels as a result.

I wrote a blog post about transformation following attending the UUK event the week before. In Transformation and all that I look at transformation and how digital and technology can now enable that transformation.

As we discuss and talk about digital transformation, it becomes apparent very quickly that digital transformation is not about digital causing transformation. It’s not as though if you invest in digital and online technologies that therefore you will be (magically) transformed.

It was very much a reflection on a post I had written two years ago.

Here we are two years later and re-reading the blog post, much of what I wrote still stands up. In some cases the technology has moved forward already.

I developed and imagined another vision for my work on optimising operations and data. This vision was on secession, a vision in which departments secede from the university hierarchy and form their own institution.

University departments already had some element of autonomy, so it wasn’t too long before some departments decided to secede from the university and form their own “university” to take back control. These departments wanted to have more power over the recruitment of students and staff. They were able to outsource administrative and professional services to subsidiary service companies that delivered services to a large number of these autonomous departments. With the wealth of empty office space across major cities, it was relatively easy to procure space, combined with online provision, and hybrid home working, the costs of running a department of a university, divorced from the university itself, could be minimised. The use of shared services across these small independent universities enabled them to focus on research, learning and teaching.

I also developed one on the outsourced university.

It was seen as easy to outsource much of the domestic functions of the university, but it became apparent to many senior managers that they could outsource much of their professional services as well. It wasn’t too long before some enterprising universities realised that they could outsource their teaching as well. This would enable them to bring in dedicated subject experts for teaching on undergraduate programmes as and when needed.

I’ve enjoyed writing these and will be interesting to see what happens when I share them with some senior colleagues in a few weeks.

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I saw that UPP Foundation launched Student Futures II, New threats to student futures. In 2021, with the world still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UPP Foundation convened the Student Futures Commission to understand how the pandemic was affecting students and what universities could do to help them get back on track. Two years on, the UPP Foundation launched Student Futures II, with new research from Cibyl and Public First assessing the sector’s progress.

The cost of learning crisis is creating new threats to students’ futures

Worryingly, students who took part in focus groups for the Commission report a further gap between what they imagined university would be like and what they have actually experienced, with international students in particular feeling short-changed. There is a general sense of apathy, a loss of agency, and high levels of reported loneliness – and with many universities at or close to the end of their financial tether, the solution of delivering “more support for students” is well past being reasonable or sustainable.

pie and apples
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Do you use pie charts? Well stop then.

I was sent these two links about not using pie charts.

This link was from August 2007, which was some time ago, Save the Pies for Dessert.

Not long ago I received an email from a colleague who keeps watch on business intelligence vendors and rates their products. She was puzzled that a particular product that I happen to like did not support pie charts, a feature that she assumed was basic and indispensable. Be- cause of previous discussions between us, when I pointed out ineffective graphing practices that are popular in many BI products, she wondered if there might also be a problem with pie charts. Could this vendor’s omission of pie charts be intentional and justified? I explained that this was indeed the case, and praised the vendor’s design team for their good sense.

This was the other link, Here’s why you should (almost) never use a pie chart for your data.

The tiny slices, lack of clear labelling and the kaleidoscope of colours make interpretation difficult for anyone.

So if you need to show data, don’t use a pie chart, use a bar chart instead.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Also this week I did work on the following.

I was supporting a colleague on the management of our Dovetail licences. We use Dovetail to analyse data. I used it myself this week to analyse the UK Higher Education Financial Sustainability Report in relation to the project I am working on in optimising data and operations. I also used Dovetail to review some of the data and insights we have on the intelligent campus.

I gave a briefing (with a PowerPoint) about my work on optimising operations and data.

Updated our CRM with conversations I had last week.

Surviving – Weeknote #261 – 1st March 2024

I was in London towards the end of the week. I was attending UUK’s Survive or thrive? Grasping the financial sustainability challenge event.

Universities are critical to society – whether that’s developing the skills our economy needs, boosting regions, driving social mobility or discovering the next scientific or innovation breakthrough. We are at a critical turning point, however. In 2021-22, one in four UK universities reported an operating deficit. UUK’s policy and advocacy work is focussed on securing more sustainable funding for higher education across the UK but we also need to act for ourselves. We need to apply all the innovation, creativity and business acumen across the sector and beyond and grasp the nettle to find solutions to the big questions.

This conference will cover urgent topics such as:

    • How can we innovate and find new ways of operating – through different organisational models, creative use of digital, online and AI tools? What might hold us back?
    • Should we challenge the status quo and how? High quality, high touch, high-cost teaching to student ratio? The overall student offering? Geographic footprints in the UK and beyond?
    • When you need to transform a university, what are your options and how do you do it?
    • How do policy and regulation inhibit innovation and what can we do about it?

This was probably one of the best events I have attended in recent months, though, I think the main reason for that was how much of it was aligned to the work I am currently doing at Jisc.

The programme was excellent, with both keynotes, panel sessions and effective workshops. I also had a fair few ad hoc informal discussions with colleagues. There was a large number of senior managers, including vice-chancellors at the event.

Attended Jisc’s Evidence and Research Advisory Group. I actually attended this meeting whilst going for a walk. It was quite late in the day, so though I was working from home, the house by that time was quite busy. I knew I had minimal input to contribute, so rather than annoy the house, I went for a walk, which was quieter than the house, well the road I walked along was quite noisy.

Had my regular one to one.

As well as writing various visions for my work on optimising operations and data, I am also looking for exemplars of current practice. As with a lot of my work, I planned out the structure and content of the exemplars, as well as identifying possible case studies for the exemplars.

As part of Learning & Teaching Reimagined, we constructed some simple scenarios, across the spectrum of digitally enhanced teaching and learning. I want to do something similar with optimising operations and data. These would show the impact on students, academic staff, and professional services as you travel down a road of optimising operations and data.

I am expecting to run some events in this space.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I am still working on learning spaces, and spent time reviewing and analysing Learning spaces data on Dovetail.

Visionary – Weeknote #260 – 23rd February 2024

I have been working on a series of visions about how universities could be working differently in the future. The aim of the visions is not to predict a future, but to provide an insight into a possible view of what that future could look like and think about how these impact on your current position and thinking. We did something similar for Learning and Teaching Reimagined, and though I wasn’t personally credited with the authorship of some of the visions, I did create and write the visions. I tested them out with a few people and got the reaction I wanted as well as stimulating an interesting discussion.

One of those visions was about organisations merging. Coincidently in the news this week was the news that City, University of London and St George’s, University of London have agreed a merger – the new institution will be called City St George’s, University of London and commence operations from 1 August, “though full integration will take longer.” Current City president Anthony Finkelstein will lead the combined institution.

There has been much talk about the four day week, in the Guardian this week was an article on how some firms have made their four day week trials permanent.

Most of the UK companies that took part in the world’s biggest ever four-day working week trial have made the policy permanent, research shows.

Reports from more than half the pilot organisations said that the trial, in which staff worked 100% of their output in 80% of their time, had a positive impact.

For 82% this included positive effects on staff wellbeing, 50% found it reduced staff turnover, while 32% said it improved job recruitment. Nearly half (46%) said working and productivity improved.

TASO published a new report: Using learning analytics to prompt student support interventions.

How can learning analytics – data systems that help understand student engagement and learning – be used to identify students who may be at risk of withdrawing from their studies, or failing their courses, and what interventions work to re-engage students in their studies?

The key findings from the report were:

  • Neither HEP found a measurable difference in post-intervention engagement rating between at-risk students who received an email followed by a support phone call and at-risk students who received only the email.
  • Neither HEP found any significant impact of the additional support call on the likelihood of a student generating additional at-risk alerts.
  • Qualitative feedback indicated that students welcomed the intervention. For some, the phone call was appreciated as a means of breaking down barriers between themselves and the institution and stimulating their re-engagement with learning. For others, the email alone was cited as a sufficient motivator to re-engage with learning.

There was an article on Wonkhe on the report.

A new study from TASO seeks to judge “what works” in the use of learning analytics for student support, exploring whether students identified by engagement data as being “at risk” were better supported by email and phone contact or email alone. Large cohorts of students at two providers, Sheffield Hallam University and Nottingham Trent University, were divided into two random groups. In both cases, it was found that an additional support call created no measurable difference in at-risk students’ subsequent engagement and no appreciable change in the likelihood of the student generating subsequent alerts.

It will be crucial to robustly test the impact of any wellbeing interventions that analytics systems may trigger.

As many people already well known, the environmental costs of generative AI is soaring, and that also being kept mostly secret. In Nature is an article about the impact AI will have on energy systems.

Last month, OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman finally admitted what researchers have been saying for years — that the artificial intelligence (AI) industry is heading for an energy crisis. It’s an unusual admission. At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Altman warned that the next wave of generative AI systems will consume vastly more power than expected, and that energy systems will struggle to cope.

Spent some time planning out Senior Education and Student Experience Group meeting for March.

Wrote a briefing update on the work I have been doing on the optimisation of operations and data work.

Had an interesting and informative conversation with a college about their smart campus aspirations.

Spent time planning next steps of my Intelligent Campus work.

Planning a meeting with an university for a follow up workshop on their smart campus planning, after successful workshop in January and their request for a 1-2 day cross university workshop.

Worked on creating and planning blog ideas in the personalisation space. Also worked on creating and planning senior management primer ideas in the personalisation space, and some use case ideas.

Spent time planning out ideas for Spaces events over the next 12 months.

Noted that this worknote represents five years of undertaking worknotes for the blog.

Star – Weeknote #242 – 20th October 2023

Took some leave this week and headed off to Chessington World of Adventure for the day.

It was nice to see Lawrie win our Star of the Month award for his work at ALT-C. I took the time to write a detailed nomination about what he did and the impact it had. It was a well deserved win.

Spent most of the week planning, reflection, and researching concept of optimisation of operations and data. Researching the background, exemplars, benefits, issues, challenges, and barriers to shared services across higher education. I have been finding relevant reports and documents, uploading them to Dovetail and then going through them undertaking analysis of the content, tagging different sections. Still early for deep insights, but often these reports flag the potential benefits of shared services, there is a lot of discussion about the importance of process analysis and optimisation, before moving to a shared service model.

This reminds me of some work I did back in 2014 about process analysis and optimisation before adding software or a digital service to the workflow. For example no point in adding a CRM for student recruitment, unless you go through the current process of student recruitment, and then reflecting on what you are trying to achieve. Without undertaking the process analysis, you can often find that all you are doing is spending a lot of time, effort, and money on creating a digital version of the existing process, which often results in just translation, and not taking advantage of the affordances of what digital and online can bring, and usually losing the nuance of the analogue or in-person process.

It has been a little but more challenging to see some of the blockers and barriers that stop the implementation of shared services, but this is where I can bring in some of my own experiences to the table.

Read this interesting article this week: Sunderland City Council is planning to extend the local eduroam Wi-Fi network into the city centre.

It is working with the University of Sunderland and its smart city partner Boldyn Networks to enable accredited users of EduROAM, developed as a Wi-Fi service for the higher education sector, to obtain connections beyond the university’s campus through the public Wi-Fi network.

From a social mobility perspective, inclusion, widening participation, reducing carbon, wellbeing, and a range of other factors it’s important that eduroam extends beyond the campus. It enables students to access Wi-Fi at a time and place of their choosing, rather than being forced to travel to campus.