Monday, 3 September 2012

Technology Revolution - As Big As the Industrial Revolution?

Whilst enjoying the benefits of technology, I do bemoan the fact that it has and continues to put so many people out of work. Computers in the 1970s and 80s were applauded as heralding increased leisure time for humans. But that should have been a warning for governments to prepare plans for ensuring an equitable share. It would only work if governments had thought of (or think up now) other ways to ensure distribution of wealth and other ways for the masses to contribute something to earn wealth.

As it is the corporations gain more profits from automation whilst more and more people are without work, until once a generation grows up seeing their parents always out of work, that becomes the norm and is a particular problem where parents accept their lot and do not instill in their children any desire to work. Luckily, some have that desire in themselves or it is instilled by their educators or by example and I applaud those who take it on without help from family.

But I believe this to be a downward spiral. In time unless corporations are forced to pay far more tax to the countries in which they operate, there really will be just a few mega-rich owner/managers and the millions unable to find work or afford anything. Taxes have to come from somewhere and as manual jobs disappear through self-service tills, automated receptions in hotels and doctors' surgeries etc. and all the areas yet to be automated, tax sources will either dry up or legislation will have to change so that the burden falls on those with ability to pay.

That of course provides a disincentive for companies to grow. So those who start companies and maintain them should always be allowed to expect to earn more than the masses.

But governments are notorious for choosing the easy option which affect the masses rather than those most able to bring about a desired change.

Look at all those councils fining people for putting rubbish in the wrong disposal bags. Wouldn't it be better to tax manufacturing companies for every single-use piece of plastic packaging produced? The cost would have to be passed on to those who intend to use that packaging and then soon they would find more environmentally-friendly alternatives and I would not have to find a pair of heavy duty scissors to open blister packs!

I don't know what the answer is to this problem. But we need governments to acknowledge that the way of the past is not sustainable. There are few opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled people and they will diminish. We also need some innovators and entrepreneurial minds to start to think of solutions and new ways of sustaining communities.

At the moment there is far too much of the sort of thinking that leads to charging the earth for car parking in city centres and then moaning that shops are closing in city centres.

I don't often get into politics, but it is time for a rethink! What do YOU think?

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Vexing Problem of Processes

I spent yesterday in a meeting with colleagues from various JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs to folks in the Further Education and Skills Sector, though that suggests Shakespeare to almost everyone else...)

We met in Birmingham to discuss work we were all involved in for JISC Advance on coordinating resources from both the RSCs and my own service of JISC infoNet on the review and improvement of business processes

"We" were Graciano Soares; RSC Manager for London, who leads the group (as much as it's possible to lead a bunch of enthusiastic show-us-a-tangent-and-we'll-follow-it people like us), Allen Crawford-Thomas; e-Learning Adviser (Teaching and Learning) for RSC West Midlands, Colin Gallacher; e-Learning Adviser (Work-Based Learning) for RSC Northwest, and myself.

We had a lively business meeting in the morning followed by an afternoon's work creating a document of our plans for approval before it can be released.

As always though there were some real gems that came out during the course of the meeting that, unless written down and shared, can so easily be lost and forgotten.

So here's a record of three not-quite-random thoughts.

Pockets of good practice

I suggested at one point that organisations should employ business process review techniques to eliminate pockets of good practice.

A statement that on the face of it sounds initially ludicrous. Until you think about it and what I was saying was that you should make every attempt to share that good practice so that it remains a pocket for a very limited time and instead adds benefit elsewhere where practice is not so good. So then someone suggested we have a full suit of good practice, which led Colin to comment that it was all surely about how organisations cut their cloth...

Yes it is. If you allow pockets of good practice to exist in perpetuity then you are missing a trick.

What is "the norm"?

Someone had mentioned something as being "against the norm" which prompted Allen to say "So what is the norm anyway? People talk about it as though it's a constant but I don't think it should be."

We agreed. We decided that "the norm" should allow for being open to new ideas, to give space, time and resources to controlled experimentation that should be evaluated and assessed to see where it directly could add benefit through wider implementation or indirectly suggest further new ideas.


We discussed the concept that problems around technology are not necessarily down to the technology itself, but may be about reluctance to use it, uncertainty as to whether use is mandatory, a lack of knowledge or skill or confidence on the part of users, or the lack of any monitoring for quality or compliance.

Thus we came up with a phrase and a few bullet points.

It's not just the technology - it's also the way you:

  • decide what it's supposed to do (pre-purchase/build planning)
  • prepare for it (before and during implementation)
  • prepare/collect content/data for it (process design)
  • use it (input)
  • make use of it (output)
  • monitor compliance
  • monitor quality of content/data

Thanks guys, a brilliant day.

Friday, 9 December 2011

LEAN in Education

Recently I was asked to provide some training with reference to the Lean Methodology devised by Toyota.

As part of the exercise I contextualised Lean's Seven Wastes or Muda for the post-16 education sector and thought it may be useful to include that here.

Waste 1

Inappropriate transportation

Overuse of peripatetic equipment, Legacy systems requiring paper transfer

Waste 2
Motion of People

Unnecessary movement of staff / students

Lessons timetabled to require movement between buildings / campuses, F2F meetings off-site or at one end of campus, specialist resources away from main teaching areas.

Waste 3

Unnecessary use of paper, materials, striving for perfection over fit-for-purpose

prospectus, course materials, minutes of meetings, production of presentations, figures, data and information

Waste 4
Irregular Processes

Misalignment of steps in processes

Retesting due to misplaced results. Use of expensive consumables when cheaper alternatives are available. Expensive local Vs central reprographics. Misallocation of valuable and scarce resources i.e. not spending the money where it is needed

Waste 5

Uncontrolled inventory (too much/too little/in the wrong place) and/or excessive Work in Progress (WIP)

Paper and materials stocks, printed materials, production of course materials too early - particularly in areas where current state of industry includes rapid developments and change

Waste 6

Procedural errors, missing data, lost items requiring duplication

Lost assignments, rooms or equipment double booked, inappropriate access rights, innacurate data

Waste 7
Waiting and other time-related waste

Delays, Misaligned requirements/delivery

Long process cycles, over-dependence on committees when speedy decisions needed, Bottlenecks

Friday, 8 July 2011

JISC Regional Support Centres

The last couple of weeks I've been doing the rounds of a few JISC Regional Support Centre "eFairs".

The RSCs, as they have come to be known, are a conduit between the JISC Advisory Services and learning providers, particularly in the FE, Adult and Work-Based Learning sectors.

They field queries and signpost providers to the appropriate service and they also host and administer a number of workshop activities that we deliver on their behalf.

Within each of the RSCs are a number of knowledgeable and skilled advisers who support use of technology in colleges and other providers in their region.

Many of them host an annual event where practitioners from the sector can meet, network, listen to experts amongst their peers, demonstrate what they have done, and learn what other support and resources might exist from the somewhat complex range of services that make up JISC.

This week I've been in Ipswich at Suffolk New College for the RSC Eastern region's eFair.

Together with colleagues from JISC Legal and JISC Digital Media, who together with my own service, JISC infoNet, come under the umbrella of JISC Advance, I ran a "Show and Tell" session throughout the day, talking to delegates and showing them some of the resources we have to offer the Sector.

It was good to talk to some of the other services and agencies working within the Sector as well, it being particularly nice to hear about our resources being used and promoted by others.

If you work in the UK post-16 education world and haven't come across your regional JISC RSC or other JISC Advance services then you can find out about them on this page from the JISC Advance website.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Business Impact Analysis

I had a query from a college friend the other day who said 'We have been advised by our IT Auditor that we need to complete a Business Impact Analysis to establish the criticality recovery priority of systems, the nature of risk to which they are exposed and the contingency measures to be implemented. We do have a Risk registers where we have been documented all IT Risks and its calculated control.'

I've commented before ("What is the Real Risk?" May 2009) that whilst we tend to be good at identifying risks we can easily look at them from a personal rather than an organisational point of view. If you identify the risk of tripping over a wire you think of the impact as injury rather than thinking of it as the amount of work not done and the consequences of that because someone is off on sick leave with a broken leg.

My answer was, 'It sounds as if they are wanting evidence that you have identified what impact the loss of individual systems would have on the organisation as a whole – which would then allow you to prioritise systems against each other so that if you lost more than one you would know which to bring back on line first.

'We tend to think of risk in terms of things like “email system goes down” but they are asking what would the impact of that be – what would be impossible and what delays would alternatives bring?

'E.g. – loss of all email communications sent from external contacts until situation resolved or external contacts advised to send via alternative methods leading to delays from known regular contacts and total loss from unknown, new or occasional sources. Internal communications needing to be routed through other means – telephone, internal post, introducing delays up to one day.

To register these details can be time consuming and involve careful thought. The JISC infoNet Risk Management infoKit recommends describing risks with a sentence construction such as: "There is a risk that A, caused by B, will lead to C". "C" may be more than one consequence and may involve writing quite a bit of text!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Gaining the Trust of the SMT as an IT Manager

Yesterday I went to Manchester, having been called in at the last moment to substitute for a speaker who couldn't make it. The event was about Shared Services in Post-16 Education.

One of the comments made at the event was that senior management in colleges don't always make decisions based on sound knowledge of what technology is available and what it can do. But I had to wonder whether that was because senior managers simply didn't care (I don't think so!!!) or did they not trust the level or span of knowledge of their IT manager?

So it led me to follow that train of thought for a while and to start to identify how an IT manager should build that necesary trust if he or she wanted to be consulted as part of senior management decision making.

My own background contains several years as a Head of IT in a college and many more as manager of Management Information Systems. I was probably not the easiest of managers to handle as I constantly strove to improve systems for both SMT and users and that costs money and involves bending ears a lot. But I had the trust of the College Principals that I worked for.

Why? Because I demonstrated that I was keeping on top of new developments and had the good of the college close to my heart. Because I included within my remit (my decison - no one gave this to me) a responsibility to assess the background business processes of the college and I raised issues where I thought they could be improved.

Had I just sat and got on with running the IT team, making sure that systems were working and not trying to understand what others who used the systems were trying to do and how and why, I wouldn't have had the knowledge necessary to gain the trust of anyone outside my own team. And therefore, why should they ask my opinion on anything other than "We want this done, how long will it take?"

The job of an IT Manager should include the assessment of new technologies and I'm sure that 99% of IT Managers do this. But I wonder what percentage go to their senior management team and say "This technology is becoming available. These are the benefits it could bring us, here's what it would cost, here are the risks we would face and here's how we would have to change in order to exploit it."

Now if I was a senior manager in any organisation, that's the IT bod I'd want managing my IT department.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Evidence of Continued Impact of JISC infoNet Resources and Workshops

Shrewsbury College of Art & Technology have already provided a case study of evidence of impact following the training of their Senior Management Team and Middle Managers, on a series of workshops from JISC infoNet.

The workshops included Project Management, Process Review, Risk Management, Change Management, Information and email Management and Managing Multiple Projects in a Complex Environment. Donna Lucas, Head of Human Resources at Shrewsbury, has recently provided an update to this.

She says, “The management of projects here at the college has improved no end. For example we now employ a project management facilitator who works with teams to ensure that they are managing their projects within the disciplines and that individual projects are coordinated from a cross college point of view. We have recently committed to a re build of our engineering block, a 3 million pound project and that will be the first big test of our new approach. Add to this new disciplines for risk management and a range of identified change programmes and the sense of progress is really tangible.”

Details of the events available can be accessed from with the related online resources available from

Please note that workshops are only available to the Post-16 Education Sector in the UK.