A picture of the UCISA SSG conference stage in 2016

Ucisa Support Services Conference 2016 – Learning and Listening

This was my second year attending the Ucisa Support Services Conference. I shared my experiences from last year which described my first encounter of a conference of this kind, and some rules that made up a personal survival guide. This year I am writing about the listening and sharing of ideas.

All Universities are tackling similar issues, and the SSG Conference is a great way to gather ideas and provide some perspective to compare your own journey. It’s not just about reassuring yourself on your own journey, but also reassuring others that their journey is moving in a positive and successful direction.

Ideas that are never shared will always fail to achieve their full potential. The originator of the idea may never know how the idea spreads or is incubated, but that doesn’t matter. Some form of recognition is nice, but that’s not the reason we share our ideas.

This was something I learned early on in my career in IT, where sharing a simple idea to a persistent problem resulted in a shelf edge label being placed on every shelf in almost every Tesco store in the country. The problem was locating products and all I did was highlight that all the information was available but unused. I didn’t receive any recognition, it was a passing comment, but that seed grew into something much bigger.

During my career in Academia, I have so far experienced five IT departments supporting Staff and Students. A common theme has persisted throughout, that we are alone in the industry and are always experiencing new problems for the first time. I have seen so much wasted effort where solutions are developed in a vacuum, encountering all of the hurdles and gotchas that others have already identified, and usually ending up with relatively the same result.

I am so happy that my latest IT department doesn’t always think this way. We see ourselves as being part of a community of IT departments in Academia, and the Ucisa SSG Conference helps to bring us all even closer. There will always be team members that don’t want to listen to others, but we can slowly convince and influence them otherwise.

Reflection is a skill that needs to be learned, embraced, and accepted. Team members need to be empowered to reflect and time should be allocated for team and service retrospectives. Self-reflection is great for individual development and for us, our ability to be more self-aware was improved by learning more about ourselves through Insights Discovery. This is my Personal Insights Discovery Profile.

I felt extremely proud of Tim Ingham and Kerry Pinny and the IT department they were representing in their 20×20 session entitled ICT vs Academics. It’s refreshing to hear, and brave to share, the honest opinions of the people you are there to support. It’s impossible to please everyone, and this was reflected in the offline comments after the session. It seems many people don’t or can’t talk openly about the potentially negative opinions of the people they support. If nobody is talking, then we can’t help each other.

There was a general theme forming that IT departments often do what suits themselves best, from their perspective, rather than listening to the people that they are supporting. By taking the time to better understand the audience they are supporting, it not only improves the communications with the IT department, but also helps produce the most productive, reliable, and focused IT Services offering.

It was interesting watching the presentation on Box, an online collaboration platform. The comments from others indicated that a single collaboration platform is no longer possible, as the people you support will always want to use the platform of their choice, as well as the one they are forced to use by the people they are collaborating with.

This creates lots of consumer level accounts storing unknown amounts of corporate data, secured by various privacy statements, and stored in various regions of the world. By ignoring the problem, the IT department gives their people no choice but to reduce their security by opening accounts that aren’t supported by their IT department.

Should IT departments offer multiple online collaboration platforms, safeguarding their people with Model Contract Clauses, institutional authentication, and security policies? The debate continues, but it’s important to remember that IT departments can be selective with the individual features they provide and support on these platforms.

The presentation “Think and Act Like a Hacker to Protect Your Company’s Assets” by Paula Januszkiewicz proved that you can make IT Security interesting and understandable by all. The conference room was absolutely silent, everyone was paying full attention. That’s very impressive, and another great reason for attending Ucisa SSG conferences. It’s sad that so many others who didn’t attend the conference missed out, as everyone in Academia needs to understand and get excited about IT Security.

With my batteries recharged, enthusiasm high, I am now excited to get back to work and bring about change where I can. I see the Service Desk as the heart of the IT department and the people providing this critical service need to supported and empowered to enable a faster, more effective, and more efficient support service. If we know our audiences better, we’ll also naturally provide a more personalised service.

I want to get out of the office more and talk to the people who use our services. I want to be listening to the complaints, even those that are spoken over teas and coffees in distant kitchens all over the campus, these being some of the most important and honest comments that will otherwise never be communicated with the IT department.

I am really looking forward to another busy year and the next SSG Conference in 2017. There are many plans and ideas that I’d like to achieve in the next year, and maybe some of that will be worthy of a future 20×20 session. As a technical team player, who is learning to be more social and less socially awkward, it will be interesting to see how much personal progress can be achieved in the next year.


UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance Ucisa SSG16 Conference Presentation Videos and Resources

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