Friday, 26 November 2010

Client computing in the future

Yesterday I attended the UCISA 'Client Computing in the Future' event, University of Huddersfield, 25th November 2010 (#UCISA-client). The first talk of the day was from James Hargraves, Client Platform Services Group Manager at UCL. James' approach really chimed with me, so I took detailed notes.
We used to think of client computing as a desktop computer with a software build on it. That's changing, and the old view is no longer sufficient. Trends changing it include Windows 7, Virtualisation, Macs, App Delivery, Cloud services, Smartphones, Tablets & Consumerisation.
Three different ways in which you can use virtualisation like techniques for client computing:

  1. Terminal Server (fairly familiar).
  2. VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). An alternative to terminal server, as your desktop has complete control over the VDI Virtual machine. In theory less contention between users than with terminal server. I got the impression James thought VDI technology too new for production use,, more something to keep an eye on.
  3. Client virtualisation - VM on client machines. eg run Windows on a Mac, or VM for personal use on a work laptop. This lets users install things they want under their own control, but without messing up the locked down corporate image.
Hardware Thin Clients. 
Is the promise of hardware thin clients too good to be true? Is the cost of ownership *actually* lower? No, not when you include the cost of the data centre infrastructure. Including that, the cost savings if any are marginal. [This is particularly true at Bristol, where we are struggling for data centre space]. Where are hardware thin clients most sensible? In a new building, where you can design the building with less requirement for aircon due to the lower heat output. Where are they least sensible? For student labs - students are intensive users, and thin clients are unacceptable for students if they can't watch Youtube!
Apple Macs
Macs are unquestionably becoming more popular. [Figures of 1/4 to a 1/3 Mac ownership by students quoted by various institutions]. Macs are gorgeous! There is nothing you can do to stop people buying them. Luckily, some new technologies make it easier for us to support them. There are options to deliver Windows apps to Macs. And if your data is in the cloud it is as easy to access on a Mac as on a PC.
Application Delivery
OSes don't matter to people, applications do. Apps are what people use. Smartphones have changed people's expectations of apps. Apps from the App Store arrive on your phone within a few minutes. In corporate settings, it takes forever to get an app approved, tested, and deployed! Our application delivery mechanisms need to get quicker. Yes, this will be tough on us, but from the users point of view that is not the point. So how do you do it? Offer an App Store like experience on the desktop. Citrix already have one - the stupidly named Citrix Dazzle. Chose your app, potentially enter an internal charge code if it isn't already licensed, and then it's there. [Maybe within a day, if not within the 5 mins of the phone, but better than the months it can takes us at the moment].
Virtualised Applications
MS AppV (formerly SoftGrid). VMWare ThinApp. Separates the OS from the app. Can allow installation of two versions of the app.
Cloud Based Services
eg Dropbox. How many people here use Dropbox? Lots of hands went up (don't tell your data protection people!). But you use it anyway as it is *really* easy and useful. Whatever we say to users they will continue to use Dropbox. Telling them not to is just ignoring the risk, when we need to manage it. So instead we need to make our corporate personal and shared space as easy to access, and that means putting it in the cloud.
Smartphones & Tablets
There were 4 or 5 iPads in the room, but smartphones were ubiquitous. iPads are still too expensive and there are real challenges at the moment using them in an enterprise environment - manageability, app purchase, support, and getting data on and off them. But these things will be fixed within the next three years, just as access to corporate calendar and email has been fixed on the iPhone [remember three years ago nobody had one of those either].
An ugly word, but the right word to describe what is happening to IT. Enterprise IT remains a good thing, but consumerisation can't be ignored. Central IT services need to rise to the challenge, not ignore the inevitable. At the extreme, some companies have experimented with saying "just buy your own computer and look after it yourself". Just give the staff a cash budget. This definitely isn't the right solution for all users, but it is for some.
The support dilemma
We need to support a wider range of OSes. We need to support personal devices. Personal devices have always been there, especially in HE, so take advantage of it! It's a challenge. New services don't mean users stop using the old ones! The old ones are still valuable. People use Twitter & Facebook & MSN but still use email. Students are still queuing to use desktop labs. People do everything at once [at times during my travels over the last three days I've been using the iPad, iPhone and netbook simultaneously!]
Implications for staffing
New technology such as virtualisation brings desktop and server infrastructure closer together. This challenges our traditional split between systems and support. Client & desktop should be seen as an area in its own right, with someone taking clear ownership of the whole thing. [Remember users don't care about the systems infrastructure, they care about the client and the apps on it. But traditionally maybe we defined ourselves by the backend systems infrastructure, thinking that is the 'real job' - and in the process neglected the true real job, what is important to the users?]
UCL's response
A group organised around the client, responsible for delivering a common desktop. [Big caveat, this is still a work in progress, and they haven't yet delivered it!] They have a decentralised IT staff, but [will] have a centralised app packaging process available to these staff. Gold, silver & bronze levels of the common desktop.
Areas that need further work
  • Backup/data integrity
  • Encryption
  • Remote wipe of mobile devices
  • Print consolidation
  • Green IT (- de rigueur to add this to list, but is it really important? He's a skeptic.)
The future
The future is:
  • consumerisation and cloud services - embrace these trends
  • responsiveness, an app store approach to the desktop
  • recognise that one size fits all doesn't work, especially in HE
  • tablets and mobile devices will be pervasive, but thick build PCs aren't dead

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Show your working (what this blog is for)

As any regular readers of this blog will likely know, I start a new role on 1st December as Assistant Director of IT at Bristol. In the expectation and hope that this blog will pick up some new readers I thought it a good time to set out what this blog is for.
It is a truism for all IT organisations that they don't communicate well. While there are pockets of good practice I think it has been a particular problem at Bristol. It's true of the IT department with its stakeholders and customers, management with staff, and different teams with each other. It's something we need to get better at, and this blog is part of a personal attempt to do so.
This blog represents my thoughts. It certainly does not represent any 'official' view of the University. Moreover it represents my thoughts at a particular point in time. I am always impressed by passionate but reasoned argument. As John Maynard Keynes said, "When the facts change I reserve the right to change my mind. What do you do sir?".
I think best when I do my thinking out loud. Some colleagues may have noticed this in meetings! I don't believe in the grand master working on a picture in deadly secrecy, putting it behind a velvet curtain, then unveiling it with a "Ta da!" flourish - at which point the patron mentions that he didn't want a painting at all, he wanted a sculpture. Rather I believe in the sculptor working in public. Mold the clay or chisel away at it in full view, draw inspiration from the outside world, take on feedback from whoever is generous to give it. Through this process of iteration we together produce the best possible final result.
As my friend the Physics examiner would say, "always show your working". A conclusion does not inspire confidence unless you show the process by which you arrived at it. As many people wiser than me have pointed out, an open conversation, carried out genuinely, delivers a level of trust amongst colleagues that a top down ivory tower model of leadership cannot.
I use this blog to discuss ideas. They may come from a conversation I've had, book I've read, or conference I've attended. I may not agree with everything the speaker/writer said, but found them interesting and noteworthy, and they started a thought process.
Thinking aloud in this way is for me the process through which half baked ideas are turned into something wholesome. If you don't like something, or if you do, please take this blog in the spirit in which it is intended. Above all, respond and help shape it. I'm available here, on twitter (@nick_skelton), by email, in the office, the corridor, & wherever. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Hermit crabs, Astronauts and the rest - what kind of mobile IT user are you?

Common Swift (Apus apus) in flight.Image via Wikipedia

Can you see yourself in one of these?
The Swift
Swifts migrate, between their summer and winter feeding grounds. Our swifts commute, between home and campus. They have nests in both locations, a work office and home office set up just the way they like. They don't carry much, and access their files through a VPN or Remote Desktop. But away from the nest they can get lost and frustrated, unable to get much done.
The Astronaut
Astronauts travel far, exploring hostile new frontiers. But they can't rely on any infrastructure in the places they find themselves, and must carry their entire life support systems. They have to worry about everything. A university astronaut might be a botanist in the jungle with their own satellite uplink and electricity generator.
The Nomad
Nomads are the opposite of astronauts - they are defined by what they leave behind, as the environment will provide it. A desert nomad carries little water as they know where the oases are. A digital nomad knows that every town has a Wetherspoons with coffee and free Wifi. They have no need for a heavy laptop with all their work on it. Nomads can be spotted by their lightweight netbook, Blackberry or iPhone. They store their work online and access it from any computer they come across.
The Hermit Crab
Hermit crabs are somewhere between astronauts and nomads. They travel, but have the burden of lugging a heavy bag everywhere they go. It's got the laptop, the charger, the spare battery, and a collection of all those annoying cables, dongles and adaptors that you hardly ever need except the one time you forget them.
The Monk
Monks spend most of their lives behind the walls of the monastery. They contemplate reality without leaving their cell, even if that gives them a narrow view of the world. On the rare occasions when they do venture outside they are calm and serene. They don't need any electronic communication tools as it is all in their head. They give you their undivided attention, free from all the interruptions that plague the modern multitaskers.
Based on the taxonomy of mobile users by Paul Saffo, forecaster and researcher at Stanford

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Mobile isn't special any more (and why this is a good thing)

I read a blog post this morning where Peter Tinson of UCISA turned his attention to mobile learning. Peter doubts that there is value in universities delivering learning resources for mobile platforms. Peter says:
What do students use their smartphones for?  I suspect that it is largely for the social aspects of their lives...
I agree. But students also use their laptops primarily for social purposes, and this doesn't stop us providing VLEs. The generation born with the Internet sees IT as a social tool - that's simply what a networked computer is for. Facebook is where it's at, not Microsoft Word.  This is great for us. The social purposes give students drivers to buy, carry and use powerful mobile devices. Once they have them the education will follow.
Would they attempt to use their phones for downloading educational material? The anecdotal evidence on network coverage suggests that it is unlikely that anyone would attempt to use their phone for anything complex. Do they use their phones to connect wirelessly where they can? Again I suspect not...
Yes, network coverage is pretty poor, and I agree that students won't use their phone for anything complex. That's why we make it simple. We have a wizard that sets up eduroam for your iPhone - just go to the webpage, enter your username and password once and it sets everything up for you. In future every time you are in range of a wireless signal it will automatically reconnect you. 

It is going to take many years for LTE (4G) to come along and replace 3G networks. In the meantime there's Wifi. Most universities have extensive wireless networks in their libraries, coffee shops - wherever the students hang out. At Bristol we're also providing flood wireless to rooms in our residences - a third of them by this October.
The cutbacks as a result of the current economic downturn are likely to drastically reduce the development of innovative learning material. Is the availability of learning material on smart phones something that offers real competitive advantage to an institution to merit investment? I doubt it.
Obviously cutbacks will hit us hard, and we will have to justify everything we do. So look at the best example of a mobile service in universities - Apple's iTunesU. iTunesU is phenomenally successful. 19 of the world's top 20 universities (by Times Higher rankings) have a presence on iTunesU, and millions of their lectures are downloaded.

Why is it so successful? What lessons can we learn from it and apply to other services? 
  • iTunesU is very easy to use
  • It doesn't need mobile connectivity all the time (podcasts are automatically copied to your iPod/iPhone and can be accessed any time)
  • It isn't just a mobile service (can be accessed on laptops and desktop PCs too)
  • It  provides a real competitive advantage. Most of Oxford's podcasts are downloaded outside the UK. This boosts their reputation and attracts lucrative international students. What better way is there to showcase your university than to show your best lecturers, for free, online?
I do think there is value in delivering mobile learning. But the way to do this right is to stop thinking about mobile as special. Is a smartphone mobile? A laptop? An iPad? The categories are blurring.  Mobile isn't it's own thing, it's just a part of the mix.

We must provide easy access to our learning resources in on whatever platforms our students want to use (i.e. all of the above). Think about the data not the platform. Make it simple, make it cross platform, make it just work. Use commonly supported standards, so you not have to reinvent it for every platform. Don't lock resources away tight, make them easy to get at. And get as many resources as possible out there in public to boost your visibility and reputation.

If we continue to think of mobile learning as something additional and special we will struggle to resource it. Concentrating on the platform may also warp our thinking and lead us to the wrong solutions. 

If we think instead about the learning materials, the content, then we are valuing what is important. It follows that we should make it available to all our students, as widely as feasible, irrespective of the platforms they possess. 

Thursday, 3 June 2010

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

douglas adamsImage by michael_hughes via Flickr
Rejoice! Nick Jones of Gartner is blogging again! And anyone who quotes Douglas Adams is all right in my book...

I don't know of anyone who speaks more sense on the increasingly difficult task of how to manage mobile devices. For those of us in organisations too poor for a Gartner sub his blog is a precious free route that delivers unexpected pearls of wisdom.

Here's Nick:
Roughly speaking the management world splits into two camps: the traditionalists and the realists.

The traditionalists think that this is a battle which can still be won. They have 3 year strategies, roadmaps, user segmentation models, and a pile of technology such as device management tools, HVDs and virtualisation which they throw at their unfortunate users. They (finally and reluctantly) admitted they can’t stop iPhone but they’re busy building walls around what the users can do with it. They’re a bit like the philosophers in the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, they want rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty safely corralled within a neatly controlled universe.

The realists appreciate that the entire universe has become an area of doubt and uncertainty; control is no longer an option. Strategic segmentation models to define what facilities users need for their work are futile when new devices and services are emerging every month, the very nature of work is changing to become more autonomous, and adhocracies invent processes on the fly. Users – particularly knowledge workers – are saying: “I need new tools to do my job in new ways, and who cares if I downloaded them from an app store. I’m the one paying your salary and it’s unacceptable for the business to under-perform just to fit your outdated view of the world”. Realists are the inverse of the philosophers, they may implement a few rigidly controlled areas of certainty but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

Like many polarised conflicts neither side is entirely correct, but the world is shifting towards the realists...
The Gartner managed diversity model for mobile IT support has certainly influenced my thinking. I gave my take on it at our Futures Cafe last November. It included one Douglas Adams reference and a lot of restaurants, but not the one at the End of The Universe.

Here's something I wrote this morning, trying to establish the ground rules for our student laptop clinic:
We are happy to look at almost any hardware at the clinic, doesn't really matter if it is a laptop, netbook or iPad. The deal is:
  1. we commit to look at something, even if we think we can't help we don't dismiss problems out of hand,
  2. in exchange users understand there is no guarantee that we can resolve the issues,
  3. users meet us halfway - they don't dump problems on us, we work with them on it and they learn in the process, and can finish fixing it themselves when we've pointed them in the right direction,
  4. problems are contained within a fixed resource (time and staffing), they don't sprawl. Clinic finishes at 5pm prompt whether problem is fixed or not.
and on our forthcoming GetSatisfaction community support site for Mobile IT:
  1.  we have a willingness to engage with problems, and not dismiss them,
  2.  users understand we don't have all the answers and can't solve everything,
  3.  a contained forum, at a slight distance from the more guaranteed support mechanisms,
  4.  we work with users to produce answers together.

Hmmm. Am I being a traditionalist or a realist here? It rather looks as if I too want rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Perhaps I'm a pragmatist, recognising that a few such areas are all we can achieve in our current organisational context. If these work and prove themselves, then I may in time win the argument, and we'll let uncertainty take over Life, the Universe & Everything.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

IT and the Urban Planner - learning from the planning blitz

lewins mead, bristolPhoto of Lewins Mead by Synwell via Flickr

I love living in Bristol. It's a friendly city with so much life and culture. But Bristol is a vibrant city because of its people, not its infrastructure. It has beautiful architecture alongside monstrously ugly buildings. The city centre is choked by Byzantine one-way systems and gyratories. It has some of the worst traffic congestion and poorest public transport options in the UK. Why?
 A mate of mine is an urban planner, so he has the misfortune of listening to me winge about this. After the terrible devastion of World War Two there was a rare opportunity to rebuild our cities. Why, I asked him, did the planners get it so badly wrong?
His answer was to remind me of the context at the time. Think about Britain in the 1950s:
  1. Cities were still in a state of devastion after the war, and in urgent need of regeneration. There was a tendency to want change, and dismiss the immediate past. Bombed out buildings held too many painful reminders. Large grants from central government were available, but only if the money was spent quickly.
  2. There was excitement about new technologies. Concrete made it possible to build tall in a way and at a price which could never have been done before. The motor car was the future, and cities were planned around it. Everyone was captured by this vision. Pedestrians were removed from the ground, exciled to subways or aerial walkways where they would not impede the traffic flow.
  3. Above all, planning was a new profession. In the UK planning as a profession dates back to The Town & Country Planning Act of 1947. Planners were making it up as they went along. They had theories such as Modernism, and influential prophets such as Le Corbusier, but no benefit of experience.
Over time planners came to realise that many of their ideas didn't work out in practice. Concrete looked grey and grim in the British climate. Huge tower blocks were squalid and dehumanising for their residents. Pedestrians prefered to take their chances crossing the road rather than risk muggers lurking in dark subways.
Town planning today is rather different. Planners are not perfect, but they do now consider the human factors. They involve local people in their decisions at an early stage, paying more than just lip service to their views. Cars are no longer prioritised above pedestrians and cyclists. Zoning is out and mixed use is in. The streets come alive with pavement cafes. Sociologists work in planning departments alongside the geographers and engineers.
We are emerging from the global financial crisis but expect swinging cuts to HE and the rest of the public sector. A few relish this, from the viewpoint that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. They might be tempted to sweep everything aside and start afresh. This is what the post-Blitz planners wanted, and arguably they did more long term damage than the Luftwaffe.
How does this relate to IT? Look back again. Lets date the IT profession in the UK to 1957, the year in which the British Computer Society was founded. IT is also a young profession. Like planners, we have had no hindsight, and we made mistakes. We built inhuman systems, where the technology mattered more than the people who had to use it.
The mistakes of planners towered over us all for fity years. Each concrete block is a monument to failed ideas. They act as a constant reminder that we don't we know it all. Planners were forced to learn. In IT our mistakes are easily swept under the carpet, so we repeat them, time and time again. We haven't learnt. Don't like Pine email? Here, have Simeon. No, now we use Execmail. Here's Mulberry. Nothing really changes! We are still rolling out inhuman systems.
Things are getting better in some quarters. Consumerisation is the megatrend sweeping the IT industry, and this has introduced competitive pressures. The best private-sector firms have fast-loading easy to navigate websites. They employ User Centred Design principles to make their services easy to use. They have to. On the web your competitor is just a click away. The firms which don't make things easy don't survive.
In the public sector we have been shielded from this and haven't learnt. We are still building systems that make you tear your hair out, are full of impenetrable jargon, and require a training course before you can use them. We are getting a little better at the externally facing stuff. Our internal systems remain execrable. Do we hold our own students and staff in particular contempt?
How do we avoid this? Learn from experience. Be aware of the heffalump traps and we might not fall into them. Think about some of the mistakes early urban planners made:
Something is better than nothing. Must fill that bomb crater, doesn't matter what with. Got to spend the budget, or it will vanish at year end. This will be familar to anyone in the public sector. 
Dismissing the immediate past. Whether it is flock wallpaper or timesharing/thin clients, most generations dismiss their parents solutions but rediscover their grandparents. I'm guilty of this one. I am of the generation that has an instinctive dislike of Microsoft and am inclined to like Google. That is a form of prejudice that can blind me if not aware of it 
Overexcitement about new technologies. We are always excited about the technology at the top of the hype cycle. Is Cloud Computing our concrete? Just because we can adopt a technology doesn't mean we should. Consider when it is appropriate, and when it is not. Don't start off by thinking about the technology, think about what people actually need. 
Undue reverance for prophets. Perhaps Steve Jobs is our Le Corbusier? Question the established dogma of the future. What does "everyone know", which actually nobody knows? 
Paternalistic thinking. Involve those who will live with the systems at any early stage in your planning. Don't think you always know best, be prepared to change your plans in response to feedback. Design on a human scale. Do you even know what the user requirements are? Perhaps you are designing an email system when people really want a to-do list. 
Concentrating on grand visions. The theory may be good, but something always happens to stop us getting there. Small incremental improvements actually deliver, the future never arrives. Don't stick to an outdated plan, be flexible. As John Maynard Keynes said "when the facts change, I change my mind".
The IT profession is ten years younger than the urban planning profession. The planners were busy in the run up to the year 2000. Some millennium projects were a success, others were white elephants. That's the stage IT is at right now. Let's improve it over the next ten years.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Two of my favourite films

Last week I was in Cambridge and attended the first module of the Future Leaders Programme, a leadership development course run by the LFHE. This was hard work, thought provoking, but also huge fun. I'm still in a very reflective mood. In that spirit I thought I'd share reviews of two films I've both enjoyed and learnt from.

Exit Through the Gift Shop: a film 'directed' by the notoriously enigmatic Bristol graffiti artist Banksy. It is currently on (limited) general release in UK cinemas. Banksy remains a shadowy character, and the film isn't really about him at all, although there are fascinating insights into what makes him tick. The subject of the film is Terry Guetta, a filmmaker and artist in LA. Terry comes across as almost deranged, but achieves remarkable success. I left the cinema quite bemused, contemplating quite how he did it. Is it self-belief, hard work, accident, contacts, talent, resources or marketing?

Being There, a 1979 film starring Peter Sellers. Sellers' reserved performance (for which he was nominated for Best Actor in the Academy Awards) is extraordinary. He plays Chance, a gardener, who has
lived a cloistered life behind the walls of his garden until he is suddenly released into the world. Before long he is propelled to the upper echelons of Washington society. Is Chance a Christ-like sage, in touch with values that the rest of us have forgotten, or is he merely a blank slate on which we project our own ideas?

Both films are thought provoking and very funny - see them if you can.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Implications of the iPad: diversification is the new trend

In one day many words have already been written about the Apple iPad. I won't attempt to describe it here - for that see the walkthrough above, or read Stephen Fry. Instead I'll discuss how technology is developing, as demonstrated by the iPad.

I've owned an iPhone for two years. In December I also bought an iPod nano. Why? I wanted something more lightweight to go running. I don't need the iPhone's large screen when running, and the nano is so lightweight I can strap it to my arm. It has the right form for its function.

The iPad has its place as well. It isn't a phone replacement - I can't put it in my pocket, and I can't even make calls with it. Neither is it a laptop replacement. I could take the iPad with me instead of a laptop for a day or two, but it is missing too much for me to use it as my main computer.

So what is the iPad? It is something different. It's an appliance, not a computer. It is designed around its form factor (think A4 pad or photo frame). It is better than a phone or laptop if I want:
  •  to show my family photos in the living room,
  •  to read a magazine in bed, 
  •  to study journals on the train,
  •  to check my agenda discretely in a meeting.
Until now we have thought about convergence in IT. The iPad is evidence that convergence is over.  Diversification is the new trend, as computing power spreads through a range of appliances whose form fits their function. It points to a future in which every appliance is a computer on the Internet. We'll use tablets like we use paper. We'll have networked TVs & radios. We'll use walls and tables as displays. We'll have projectors that turn any surface into a computer. The primary user interface will be touch.

Some of these products are already available, albeit with rough edges (iPlayer on Freesat, Pure Sensia radio). Others exist as convincing demos (Microsoft Surface, MIT Sixth Sense). The iPad is here. It is smooth, slick and makes a convincing demonstration of what is to come. It is cheap(ish), has good battery life, and has the right form for its function. Apple's tablet will get cheaper and better each year, while other manufacturers will build them running Windows, Android & Chrome OS too.

Whatever the organisation wants our staff and students will buy and use these appliances. How does the university respond? We must understand diversity and embrace it.

At the moment our starting point is "IT = computers". We provide a desktop workstation for our staff and think that's sufficient for most needs. We expect our students to provide their own laptop and do their work on that. We streamline our business processes, but with client software which only works on one OS. We embrace the web with our portal, but assume it will be viewed on a large screen.

Computers are getting cheaper and are disappearing into the furniture. Access from a phone or tablet will be as common as access from a laptop or desktop. We should stop worrying about issues such as whether the university or the individual buys the device. This won't matter - you will naturally use any computer or appliance you come across. The OS won't matter either, any more than you worry about what OS your washing machine runs. The web will be the new common layer.

Information Technology isn't about computers, it's about information. We must think about:
  • how we store information, index and catalogue it,
  • how we share information within and outside the organisation,
  • How we break down silos and connect up the dots, 
  • how we access information easily but securely,
  • how we provide the data people need without overwhelming them with trivia.
These are deep, tricky questions. We can glimpse some answers through concepts like tagging, linked data, and the intelligent learning systems we use today for spam filtering.

Imagine a digital dashboard on the web. An evolution of our portal displays timely, relevant information: orders to authorise, todays calendar, and emails ordered by priority. As the dashboard is standards compliant and designed to be used at different resolutions you can view it on any device. You check items from your phone when out and about. In the office and around campus you display the dashboard on your tablet. While you prefer your desktop workstation for composing longer documents you like the tablet's intuitive touch interface for dealing with quick tasks.

William Gibson said that the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed. The iPad is here from the future, and the rest of it will be along sooner than we think.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Forget Groupware

JP Rangaswami on his blog Confused of Calcutta decries the way we use email: "ninety per cent of e-mail is generated by the firm and never leaves the firm". JP sees this as evidence that firms are ignoring their customers. He says "whatever we do in the enterprise, we need to ensure that the walls of the enterprise do not keep customers out". It is the stuff which crosses boundaries that is interesting and important.

At least it is possible to email people outside the organisation. In other enterprise systems you can't contact people outside the organisation at all!

My university implemented a calendaring system some years ago. Many academics don't use it. They do however use Doodle lets them schedule appointments with their collaborators in other organisations. Our internal-only calendar system doesn't - so no wonder people won't use it.

Regular readers will know I believe in the importance of network effects. The value of a network grows with the number of connections in the network. Small internal networks became massively more valuable when they were linked to form the Internet, the network of networks.

We need to link our small internal collaboration tools to form the equivalent. To coin a phrase forget Groupware, think Globeware.
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Monday, 18 January 2010

Information Literacy and the role of universities

Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Universi...Image via Wikipedia
What is Information Literacy and why is it important? In the words of Barack Obama:

"Rather than merely possessing data, we must also learn the skills necessary to acquire, collate, and evaluate information for any situation... Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it. Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise."[1]

Information literacy should not be confused with technical IT skills (how to operate a computer). IT skills are important, but Information literacy is fundamental. University libraries have for many years helped teach students to evaluate and assess information sources. This role is now more important than ever due to the wealth of information available online. "Information literacy (IL) is recognised internationally as an essential competence for participation in education, employment and society"[2]

Universities should embrace the goal of educating their students to be critical thinkers. It is almost a indictment of our times that we need to explictly state this. State it we must, least some of the broader purposes of a university education are forgotten.


1st October 2009

Information literacy strategy development in higher education: An exploratory study. Sheila Corrall, International Journal of Information Management, Volume 28, Issue 1, February 2008, Pages 26-37

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