Skip to main content

Listening to users

At today’s meeting of the project board for the Office 365 for Students project, the main topic of debate was when to switch over from the old mail system to the new.  All the technical work is currently progressing well and we expect to be ready by the start of the new semester, so this shouldn’t be a constraint.  The issue is when would be most convenient for the student community.

The message from the school and student representatives on the board, backed by the User Support Division, is that we should wait until the new (calendar) year.  At the start of the academic year, students are focussing on settling into their new accommodation and their new courses.  For first years in particular, they will have more pressing concerns than a switch to an new e-mail system.  They will be using the student e-mail system already to receive important messages from the university and we don’t want to disturb this communication path.

The next option we considered was switching over in the middle of the semester, after students have settled in and before exams.  This could work but again the representatives felt that students would be too preoccupied with their academic work.  Also, if anything did go wrong in the switchover, this would impact their work directly.  We’re not expecting to see problems in the switchover but we do have to manage the risk.

So the preferred time is the first week in January, if possible.  This will be a quiet time for students, with plenty of time to tell them about the plans in advance.  We expect to switch to the new system in the week before the start of the semester, giving us enough time to sort out any minor problems before the students start using the system in earnest.

This shows the value of a project board.  As technically minded staff, the project team (myself included) would probably have pressed ahead and brought the service into operation as quickly as possible.  Instead, there will be a four month gap between finishing the build and actually starting the service.  This should give a better experience for the people who actually matter – our students.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Service Excellence, Digital Transformation and Enterprise Architecture

Our University Secretary has sponsored a major review of the University’s administrative processes, coining the banner “Service Excellence”.  The aim is to look at the services we provide to staff and students with a fresh eye, making them more effective, more efficient, and focussed on the user rather than administrative convenience.

Our CIO is sponsoring a similar programme called “Digital Transformation”. This will replace old paper-based processes, starting with the question of what would processes look like if we designed them afresh for the modern connected world.  The aim is to make processes that are more focussed on the user and hence more effective and efficient.

Both of these ambitious programmes will need an effective enterprise architecture, if they are to succeed.  Digital Transformation is intrinsically about using opportunities provided by new technology to improve services and, as such, it requires effective technology services to make data available when needed, to pro…

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…