Skip to main content

Preparing for a post-PC world?

Martin Hamilton has posted a thoughtful piece about the impact of the current IT trends away from the desktop PC and towards cloud computing.  I've been musing about how these changes might affect us as service providers.

The move towards staff and students using their own devices to access our services is well established.  We have a policy of providing services via the web whenever we can, giving people access to our services "anywhere, anytime".  The EASE system provides a single authentication point for common access and is integrated with Shibboleth as well.  There are still university systems that don't fit this model, perhaps because the vendor doesn't provide the option or because a university department has bought their own system without considering the wider picture, but we are moving in the right direction.

In some cases, the move towards outsourcing services can make this harder.  The big players all have their own authentication systems and want users to move into their world.  It isn't necessarily in the vendors' interest to have interoperable authentication, just as vendors of desktop systems before didn't necessarily want interoperable systems.  This is something we will have to keep pressing for.  Universities should keep working together on this - as we have with Shibboleth adoption.

Obviously a key aspect of the post-PC world is the expansion in the range of devices that people are using - phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, thin-clients, and so forth.  So far, we have the U@Ed service for smartphones and provide mail/diary services on phones too.  It seems to me that this is an area where we are likely to become more dependent on vendors, simply because of the support implications.  We simply can't test systems on all the different devices, with their different browsers and screen sizes, let alone different "apps". We can write systems to comply with standards, but standards are usually open to some interpretation.  If one of our systems doesn't work on a certain device, the best we can do is address problems as they arise, if we have the budget to do so.

So that's one side of the post-PC world: far fewer users using (or wanting) traditional PCs.  The other side is the use of cloud computing.  We already outsource some of our systems and we are looking at this option for others.  Some people tell us that all our services will end up being provided in the cloud.  I'm sure that many will, but it's interesting to compare this with the current situation where we procure a lot of applications to run locally.

Even though we are using more third-party systems than before (either from vendors or open-source projects), we are still asked to build local systems, or to substantially reconfigure third-party systems.  It seems that the market does not address all the needs of a complex university (or in some cases, not at an affordable price).  It will be interesting to see whether cloud-based commercial systems will address more of our needs, or whether the scale required will mean even more space for local niche applications.

Basically, when it comes to providing services, we are cloud providers, as far as our users are concerned.   They connect to our services via the web just as they do with commercial services such as Google or Microsoft.  In some cases, we know that we can provide these services cheaper than the commercial options.  So our decision will be whether to run our "cloud" services in-house, to outsource them (while still branding them as university services), or to stop providing them and let our staff and students use the commercial ones.  Factors affecting this will include data protection considerations, freedom of information obligations, branding, consistency of user experience, support for multiple devices, and of course cost.

Martin's post:


Popular posts from this blog

Changing Principles

In EA, architecture principles set a framework for making architectural decisions.  They help to establish a common understanding across different groups of stakeholders, and provide guidance for portfolios and projects.  Michael Durso of the LSE gave a good introduction to the idea in a webinar last week for the UCISA EA community.

Many organisations take the TOGAF architecture principles as a starting point.  These are based on the four architectural domains of TOGAF: business, information/data, applications, technology/infrastructure.  These principles tend to describe what should be done, e.g. re-use applications, buy in software rather than build it, keep data secure.  See for example the principles adopted at Plymouth University and the University of Birmingham.

Recently though, I encountered a different way of looking at principles.  The user experience design community tend to focus more on how we should do things.  E.g. we should start with user needs, use iterative developm…

Why the UCISA Capability Model is useful

What do Universities do?

This may seem a strange question to ask and the answer may seem obvious.  Universities educate students and undertake research.  And perhaps they work with industrial partners and create spin-off companies of their worn.  And they may work with local communities, and affiliation bodies for certain degress, and they definitely report on their activities to government bodies such as HEFCE.  They provide student services and support.  The longeryou think about it, the more things you can think of that a University does.

In business, the things that an organisation does are called "capabilities", which is a slightly strange term.  I think it is linked to the HR idea of a combination of the CAPacity and ABILITY to do a task.  Whatever the name, it is a useful concept.  A capability is more basic than a process: a University may change the way it educates students but as long as it remains a University it will educate them one way or another.

A capability …

A new EA Repository

One of my goals since starting this job two years ago has always been to create a repository for architecture documents.  The idea is to have a central store where people can find information about the University's applications, data sources, business processes, and other architectural information.  This store will make it easier for us to explain our plans, to show the current state of the University's information systems, and to explain what Enterprise Architecture is all about.

It's taken a long time to reach this goal, mainly because we're often had more pressing and immediate work to be done.  The creation of a repository is one of those tasks that is very important but never quite urgent.  So I'm now very happy to say that we are in the process of deploying a repository and modelling tool.

This is the culmination of a careful process to select the most appropriate tool for our needs.  We began by organising several workshops to gather requirements from a rang…