This was the fourth meeting of the UCISA London Group. The event was hosted by Imperial College London and opened with lunch followed by 4 excellent presentations. The meeting was well attended by representatives of member institutions, HE & FE, members of the LMN Board, a Jisc representative with representatives from a Jisc corporate partner, Virtus Data Centres who were sponsors for the day. Below is a summary report of the day.
1. Technical measures for proactive cyber security by Gerrard Shaw, Network Support, Havering College of Further and Higher Education
Gerrard told the audience that the idea for his presentation came from the last group meeting where there was a facilitated discussion on cyber security. Gerrard enumerated the array of measures they were employing at the college to combat cyber security based on the strategy to Analyse (current state), Remove (vulnerable systems), Implement (protection), Upgrade (products) and Inform (users). Actions taken to date includes audit of the firewall rules and examining traffic patterns, implementing changes on the servers and some policy changes. Also, they have selected Khipu Networks, a Jisc partner, to run external vulnerability scans on their network. Internally, they have used other tools like Tenable and Nessus. Gerrard was grateful for the information about Nessus which Paula Vickers shared at the inaugural meeting of the group, 7th April, from where he got the idea to use the tool in their network. Other work has been done at both the server and desktop levels. Gerrard spoke about the need to stay informed and said joining the UCISA Security Group (SIG) would help; and for raising awareness, he was pushing for the college to use the UCISA Information Security Awareness Training Course and to make it mandatory for all staff as part of their staff development. The presentation was followed by Q & A over several topics including confirming cloud providers’ data security, institutional policies for using security technologies like encryption, Cyber Essentials for FE, PCI Compliance, etc.
2. Data Centre Migration: a fresh start at Slough by Lise Foster, Associate Director of IT Services, University of the Arts, London
Lise gave an excellent overview of their journey on migrating their data from two university owned data centres to the Virtus data centre in Slough. Key drivers for the migration project was the state of their two data centres, one had no backup power supply and they had suffered three outages in the last two years, there was insufficient space to accommodate their growing infrastructure estate, essential equipment reaching their end of useful life while some were well over, and both data centres were at risk from single points of failure. The justification to use the Slough data centre was because it was not a managed service but a co-location service, it was secure, eco-efficient, 100% power SLA, and they could expand as they need arises. The project timeline was organised over two years, 2017 and 2018. 2017 is to setup the new facility, migrate IT services and migrate business applications while 2018 is to setup their disaster recovery site and de-commission the old data centres. Lise told the audience that the project was done using existing staff and not even a project manager was employed. The project had other related projects like WAN replacement, WIFI upgrade, switch refresh and replacement of telephony. Lise shared some lessons learned on the way including to ensure that a project manager is budgeted for and employed, allow contingency for staffing issues, unexpected technical issues, etc., and not to assume that something will work when it has not been tried or done before.
3. Is Jill Watson after your job? Discussion session on artificial intelligence and the IT service desk by Peter Tinson, Executive Director, UCISA
Peter introduced and facilitated a discussion on the potential of using AI in IT Services in areas like the service desk. Peter began the session detailing that Jill Watson was an AI instance, an online tutor that was introduced into an online forum to provide answers to questions posted by students. Initially, Jill’s answers were not too good but with time it improved so much so that Jill was now near perfect answering all the questions! At an EDUCAUSE event last year in the US, Peter also had the experience of another instance of AI which provoked the thinking on how AI could be used in IT Services in areas like the service desk? Peter therefore facilitated the discussion over these questions:
- What applications are there for AI in your institution?
- What does the future hold for the service desk?
- What are the impacts on IT Services?
- Where else might AI be utilised?
Delegates were enthused and contributed to the discussions with answers like this is a good application for the service desk especially with repetitive queries; it can scan the service desk database to answer queries; help with user guides; it should go on the line of functions rather than service; People like to speak to other people, so if the AI box could behave like a human, then it could take off; With the right voice controls, the AI box will do the job; we could use voice recognition for password authentication; we must prepare ourselves for this coming technology; people are already looking into it. In all, the delegates saw the potential for AI in service desk but would like to see it introduced in a managed way. Peter also promised a case study out of the AI work taking place in Leeds Beckett. Also, delegates were issued the “The Higher Education Service Desk Toolkit” a recently published UCISA Toolkit.
4. Adopting a new style of project management and initiation by Graham Francis, Director of Continuous Improvement, Havering Sixth Form College.
Graham’s role, since 2015, as Director of Continuous, a cross-college project management role – mainly IT related, came about because of the challenges with running successful projects in the college. Prior to his role, projects were done with little or no understanding of project deliverables, no clearly defined timescales, poor project management skills, etc. To rectify this, his role was created as was the Continuous Improvement Steering Group. For continuous improvement, they adopted a 4-part strategy to Plan, Do, Check and Act, with each part having a set of sub-parts involving various activities. For projects, they adopted a simple strategy using a Kanban, over 4 stages of development (Waiting, Definition, Production and Evaluation) involving a further 3 sub-stages (To Do, In Progress and Done), using coloured post-it notes to record progress and movement in the Kanban. To date, two projects have been successfully completed – Website and Infrastructure Storage Replacement. In the Q & A that followed, Graham shared about a project that had not been successful – Data Analytics. To track projects, they use MS Project and Graham admitted that this project management approach may not work for whole-university institutions but will work for departments within a university faculty.
The meeting was another great opportunity for the group to continue to establish itself as a supportive regional community of IT professionals in the Education sector keen on sharing good practices and networking with each other. The format for the day worked well for all, the topics of presentation were all well received and delegates participated in discussions and question and answers that followed each presentation. UCISA is grateful to all the delegates, presenters and our sponsor for the day, Virtus Data Centres, for helping to make it happen!