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Preview: News from Computing Services

IT Services News





 



Michaelmas IT courses schedule now available

2017-09-20T00:00:00

The schedule of IT classroom-based courses and workshops for Michaelmas term (Sept-Dec) is live and waiting for you to book!  Online courses are available instantly through the University’s subscription to Lynda.com – see the Lynda website for details.

A full list of courses can be found on the IT Learning Centre web pages or login (using your Oxford Single Sign On) to our course booking system and see what's available. Tips on searching for a course can be found here

We have courses covering a wide range of topics and this term we are launching a new series of programming courses, starting with VBA, JavaScript and PHP. These ‘Kick-off’ sessions are designed as a hands-on introduction to a programming language for non-programmers.

For more information or advice on which courses would be beneficial to you, email courses@it.ox.ac.uk.

 

Picture credit: John Cairns Photography




New organisational structure for IT Services

2017-09-18T00:00:00

During the first half of 2017 IT Services undertook an organisational change programme to better position itself for future service delivery to meet the changing requirements of the University and the evolving landscape of IT over the next five to ten years.

After extensive consultation with staff, the IT Services Senior Management Team has agreed a new departmental structure guided by four principles:

  • Simplification – consolidation of teams and processes (admin and technical), reducing points of contact both internally and externally
  • Efficiency – grouping teams around platforms, making teams more resilient for improved service delivery
  • Increasing our capability – in strategic planning, resource allocation, IT architecture, and vendor management
  • Assurance – bringing together our oversight of projects and services, to ensure proper ownership of our regulations and policies

There have been changes to teams, roles and reporting lines to ensure the anticipated benefits for our customers are realised and, as such, there are new points of contact for some core services and technologies. The key changes can be summarised as:

  • A major reorganisation of the Infrastructure group, namely:
    • the Network and Data Centre Services section will expand the existing managed firewall and network services offered to departments and colleges
    • a new section, Platform Services, has been formed to consolidate teams and expertise supporting core services, including the former Network System Management Services (NSMS) and Systems and Databases Management Group (SDMG)
    • a new section for Technical Architecture and Projects to increase our expertise in technical architecture as well as clearly delineating resources for service delivery and service development where required
    • There has been be no change to the Enterprise Applications section (Nexus, HFS and Chorus/Telecoms) to avoid putting large strategic projects at risk.
  • Increased remit for the central Service Desk, now including the former NSMS help desk and some other smaller, generic applications.
  • Two new senior appointments in the Office of the Chief Information Officer:
    • A new grouping under a Director of Planning, Governance and Assurance to oversee the planning, monitoring and assurance of services and projects
    • An Enterprise IT Architect to have strategic oversight and governance of the University IT architecture.
  • The IT Learning Centre and Projects Training have been brought together within the Customer Services group.

Service managers will be in touch with their specific user communities to inform them of any new contact details and our online service catalogue (www.it.ox.ac.uk/services) will be updated in due course. In the meantime, if you are unclear how to contact a particular service, our central Service Desk will be able to direct your enquiry to the correct team; please contact help@it.ox.ac.uk or telephone (01865 6)12345, available 24/7.

Picture credit: TheBlowfishInc via istock.com.




IT Services Annual Report 2016-17 is now available

2017-09-15T00:00:00

The IT Services Annual Report 2016-17 is now available and provides an overview of the department’s achievements in the past year. The examples selected for inclusion demonstrate how we continue to deliver the activities in the collegiate University IT Strategic Plan, supporting the work of the University, its staff and students.

Fascinating facts for the year include:

  • 103,475 IT support calls were received by our Service Desk
  • 940 information security incidents were responded to
  • 27% increase in network traffic comparing 2015-16 with 2016-17
  • 349,297,112 emails were delivered

A PDF of the full report is available on our website (visit http://www.it.ox.ac.uk/about/reports) and printed copies are being distributed to key contacts around the University.

 

Picture credit: John Cairns Photography




Improved content on our Help site to support new students

2017-09-08T00:00:00

The first thing many new students to Oxford want to do is connect to the WiFi so they can let friends and loved ones know they’ve arrived safely. Our own evidence as well as feedback from students and local IT staff is that information on how to do this can be confusing and difficult to find.

In order to address this we have revamped our Help site in time for the new academic year to include a home page with links to the areas likely to be of most interest to new students. The underlying content has also been rewritten to make it easier to use and simpler to understand, with new or updated instructions being created for getting connected to the WiFi, managing passwords, accessing email, as well as useful information on free or discounted software and what training courses are available.

The site also now includes contact information for local college and departmental IT staff who, in many cases provide first line support for staff and students. This work has prioritised the information most useful to new students, however work will continue over the coming months to update or archive out of date or unused materials to further improve the site.




Professor Anne Trefethen elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering

2017-09-08T00:00:00

Professor Anne Trefethen is one of four University of Oxford researchers elected as Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering this week in a stellar list that includes some of the world’s leading innovators and business people.

Professor Anne Trefethen is Chief Information Officer and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and a distinguished Professor of Scientific Computing. Her work has been largely on numerical algorithms and software development, including libraries and software frameworks to support the development of science and engineering applications on high-performance computer systems.

She was one of the pioneers of massively parallel algorithms and an important leader in the field known as e-science. As CIO of the University of Oxford, she leads a major information technology enterprise that supports leading-edge research as well as critical business systems. 

Professor Trefethen said: "I am delighted to have been elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering – it is a great honour to be selected and recognised in this way.  I am very much looking forward to getting involved in the activities of the Academy."

Others honoured include Professors Eleanor Stride and Roger Reed of the Department of Engineering Science, and Ursula Martin, Professor of Computer Science.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Since 130 engineers were first called together in 1976 to form the Fellowship of Engineering, our Fellows have come together to advance and promote excellence in engineering.  I’m so proud to welcome our new Fellows, who represent the very best of UK engineering. From technology giants to our universities’ finest minds, our new Fellows demonstrate how engineering is tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the world.  I look forward to working with them as we continue to make the UK a leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses.”

For information on the full list, visit the Royal Academy of Engineering website.




New undergraduate emails stay on existing Nexus service

2017-08-22T00:00:00

The plan to set up all new undergraduate emails accounts on the cloud-based Nexus365 service ahead of their arrival in Michaelmas 2017 has not been possible due to technical issues.  Therefore, new undergraduates will have their email delivered via the existing Nexus service and their accounts will be migrated to the cloud-based Nexus365 service along with existing staff and student accounts.  The project is currently re-planning the migration to Nexus365 and further information about the schedule will be published in due course.

Please see the project website at http://projects.it.ox.ac.uk/nexus365 and, if you have any queries, contact the project team at nexus365@it.ox.ac.uk




Enhanced training and support for data visualization

2017-08-04T00:00:00

IT Services has developed a training and support service to enable research groups across the University to use interactive data visualizations in project websites and social media to facilitate the communication of their research to funders and potential collaborators.

The service offers:

  • a library of data visualizations scripts that Oxford researchers can use to quickly create interactive charts, network diagrams, maps and other types of visualizations.
  • classroom and online training to help researchers create their own data visualizations.
  • consultancy for research projects that can draw on a budget.

Courses have already been delivered to the Mathematical Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS), Social Sciences Doctoral Training Centres, 240 academics through the IT Learning Centre (ITLC), and seven Oxford postdocs who want to offer visualization support.

The courses focus on use of the R, Tableau and Mathematica systems and also include the practical steps researchers need to take to meet their responsibilities as outlined in the University Research Data Policy, for example how to choose a repository, when to publish a metadata record and how to get support for writing a data management plan.

The service currently has 20 visualization case studies, (see http://idn.it.ox.ac.uk) and has also been discussing collaboration with institutions outside of Oxford, for example OUP and Sheffield University.

Please contact Martin Hadley with any enquiries at researchsupport@it.ox.ac.uk.




University Organisational Structure Management Service

2017-08-01T00:00:00

Organisation structure information is vital for the efficient administration of the University as it is the official repository for the formal names and associated finance codes of departments, units, and sub-units. IT Services has recently successfully completed a project that has delivered the University Organisational Structure Management Service. This is centrally funded, owned by Planning and Resource Allocation (PRAS), and provides a user-friendly administrative interface (using Microsoft Dynamics) to allow the University’s organisational structure to be managed more effectively. For example, we can now easily capture requests for data amendments, retain and view historic information, and publish to mailing lists.

Anyone at the University with single sign-on (SSO) credentials can submit requests for organisational structure edits via a web form on the PRAS website. Once approved by PRAS, the data is updated in the MS Dynamics database. Snapshot files can also be automatically produced, on an ad hoc basis, and made available to recipients of a mailing list maintained by PRAS and on the PRAS website at http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/pras/uniorg/. The Dynamics database holds a permanent historical record of changes from when this service went live in late April 2017. Decisions about future changes and ad hoc reporting capabilities will be made by PRAS and these will also be recorded within the database.

If you have a product that you want to integrate with the University Organisational Structure Management Service please contact the IT Service Desk at help@it.ox.ac.uk.




SDC (shared data centre) shutdown successful

2017-07-21T00:00:00

The existing Hall 1 of the shared data centre (SDC) was shut down over the weekend of 15th and 16th July in order to carry out essential electrical works required for the expansion of the facility with the commissioning of the new Hall 2. These electrical works were completed successfully to schedule.

The shutdown affected colleges, departments and faculties with equipment housed in the SDC and we are pleased to say that they regained access to their equipment by 2pm on Sunday 16th July.   The shutdown also meant that some services provided by IT Services (e.g. WebLearn, Nexus and Chorus) were at risk through only being available at a single site.  A few services were unavailable during the shutdown, e.g. Hierarchical File Services. All services were restored to full resilience by 9am on Tuesday 18th July.

We would like to thank all SDC users and service users for their forbearance during the shutdown.

 




Chorus delivered to 11,800 users

2017-07-05T00:00:00

Chorus (the new telephony service for the collegiate University) has now reached 11,800 users with the completion of the third implementation tranche at the end of June 2017, representing around 60% of total phones (c20,000) to be delivered.

While the original plan was to introduce Chorus in six sequential tranches, the project has reduced this to five and should complete implementation by the end of December 2017, three months earlier than originally anticipated.  By mid-July the business change team will have completed engagement meetings with all re-scheduled units and the technical team expects to complete remediation planning by the end of September.

Bringing completion forward has partly been possible due to the emergency closure of the Tinbergen building (Zoology and Experimental Psychology) that necessitated the early delivery of Chorus to the 800 staff who had to be relocated. IT Services succeeded in rapidly reconnecting telephony for displaced staff and, because Chorus assigns each individual a unique phone number which they can then access through their ‘preferred device’ (e.g. desk phone, mobile  or tablet), they will now retain that phone number wherever they are located whether temporarily or permanently.  

Find out more about the project: http://projects.it.ox.ac.uk/icp or contact icp@it.ox.ac.uk
Chorus service information and support: http://help.it.ox.ac.uk/chorus, help@it.ox.ac.uk (include Chorus in the subject line) or (01865 6) 12345.




Learning Design Model

2017-06-29T00:00:00

Funding has been granted for work to research, develop and pilot a framework to assist individual academics and course teams in optimising the use of digital technologies as they design new programmes or revise existing ones. The work, which is closely aligned with the Digital Education Strategy, will be based on the principles of Learning Design. It will draw on previous research in this field at Oxford and elsewhere, and will review similar frameworks currently in use at other leading research universities in the UK.
 
The outputs of the work will be a supportive framework appropriate to Oxford, together with associated professional development workshops and resources for academics wishing to engage with technology enhanced learning. The work will be completed in July 2018 and will lay the foundation for a service provided collaboratively by Academic IT Services and the Oxford Learning Institute.

Keep up to date on this and other Academic IT projects via the Academic IT projects web page.

 

Picture credit: John Cairns Photography




Graduate Supervision Reporting - replacing GSS

2017-06-27T00:00:00

In 2018 the Graduate Supervision System (GSS) will be replaced. The replacement is required because the vendor is withdrawing support for the underlying platform. This presents an opportunity to improve our systems in this area, and incorporate the improvements recommended by the Education Committee (this list is published on the Graduate Supervision Reporting page).

The Education IT Board has now given this project approval to advance to the development and implementation phase, and the IT Committee has been asked to approve the project scope and funding request. Assuming the project is approved by the IT Committee, development will start in September 2017.

Key aims for this project are:

  • Replacement of GSS with a new Graduate Supervision Reporting module in eVision (GSR).
  • Implementation of process changes intended to improve reporting participation and quality.
  • Technical improvements to eliminate downtime and data problems associated with GSS.
  • The Training Needs Analysis forms will be made available within GSR. The Project Board also agreed that integration with the smart phone application Inkpath, which was originally in the scope, should not be included at this stage as it is due to be piloted by various departments during the 2017/18 academic year.

The project will continue to draw on the expertise and input from a Project Board and User Group, to identify the detailed requirements for the new system. The User Group is made up of representatives from across the University, from divisions and colleges with a range of GSS user roles.

Further information, including benefits, is available from the Graduate Supervision Reporting page.

GSS: https://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/gss/




Courses for teams and groups

2017-06-22T00:00:00

The IT Learning Centre team offers over 200 IT courses in a programme open to all University members but we can also offer these as 'closed courses' for groups, where:

  • only your group of staff or students will attend
  • the course is organised at a time to suit you

All our courses are listed on our course search page.  

Closed courses are charged at a fixed rate of £120/hr for groups of up to 20 people.  A closed course covers the same topics as its corresponding open version, however, for a one-off charge, we can customise the content to fit your specific requirements.

The IT Learning Centre team is now planning the summer and Michaelmas term schedule so if you're interested in discussing a closed course, please get in touch.

Contact: courses@it.ox.ac.uk




Student Systems improvements

2017-06-22T00:00:00

Student Systems performs a continuous programme of improvement work, funded and approved through the Education IT Board.

During the 2016/17 academic year, work has been carried out to stabilise and enhance existing student systems functionality (in two separate projects). During Trinity term, enhancements will be made in the areas of factors affecting performance, submissions, undergraduate admissions, and research management. In addition, helpdesk responsiveness has been improved by tackling common problems. Data from the Student Systems Support Centre shows:

  • New support calls have reduced by 18% so far this year
  • Number of open tickets have been reduced by 65% (814 in September to 288 in May)
  • 70% of new tickets are resolved within one week (61% in 2015/16)

More information about planned improvements can be found on the Student Systems web pages.




Internal Research Award Management System (IRAMS)

2017-06-21T00:00:00

On 5 May 2017, IT Services delivered IRAMS (Internal Research Award Management System), a purpose-built system for managing internal research funds and external grants with institutional quotas.

Working closely with divisional offices and Research Services, the project aims to tighten data security and reduce the associated institutional risks. This contributes to the realisation of the University’s strategy of commitment to research by enhancing research support infrastructure. IRAMS will facilitate grant applications, selections and post-award management. This gives researchers, and research administrators, a consistent and simple interface with all their internal funding applications and awards data kept securely in a single place. Divisional officers and Research Services can add and manage funding schemes through IRAMS, while departmental approvers can follow progress of applications, see final reports, and review extension requests.

For further information please see https://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/researchsupport/applying/electronic/ or contact research.services@admin.ox.ac.uk.




VLE Review - findings published

2017-06-19T00:00:00

WebLearn is built on a platform called Sakai, which has been Oxford’s virtual learning environment (VLE) for eight years. In addition, the Michaelmas term 2016 Digital Education Strategy implementation consultation with academic staff and students raised the need for a more intuitive and user-friendly VLE. The VLE Review set out to determine if WebLearn continues to meet the University’s requirements as the primary platform to support teaching and learning.

In Michaelmas and Hilary terms 2016-17, a consultation was carried out with staff and students, including those who do not currently use WebLearn. The full report and summary of findings are available from the VLE Review findings web page.

On 8 June, the Education IT Board approved the VLE Review Project Board’s recommendation to look for a new VLE supplier. In accordance with this recommendation, suppliers will be invited to submit a proposal fulfilling a list of requirements specific to Oxford.

The main reasons for this course of action are to seek to:
1.    Provide an improved user experience to staff and students by implementing a VLE that addresses many of the concerns raised regarding shortcomings in the usability of Sakai.
2.    Benefit from simpler maintenance procedures, through these efficiencies, foster the development of specialised tools that accommodate requirements and activities specific to Oxford.
3.    As set out in the University’s Digital Education Strategy, support academic staff as innovative teachers by improving the functionality and usability of key digital platforms.

In parallel, the VLE Review User Group will further evaluate the suppliers’ platforms, focusing primarily on functionality and usability. A report summarising what is learned from this evaluation will be prepared for the Project Board aiding in the decision-making process for a preferred supplier.

Following the selection of a preferred supplier in Michaelmas term 2017, the project will prepare an implementation plan that will outline the resources necessary to transition to the new platform. The plan will include support for departments and colleges in migrating existing content to the new platform. The proposed implementation plan will then be considered by the Education IT Board.

The selection process will focus on finding a solution that supports teaching and learning. For those people who are using WebLearn for other purposes, WebLearn will remain available until an alternative is identified. Plans for this transition will be developed in collaboration with users.

Further details are available from the frequently asked questions page, and any questions can be sent to VLEreview@it.ox.ac.uk.

 




OxTALENT 2017 awards

2017-06-15T00:00:00

The OxTALENT awards ceremony is first and foremost a celebration of the creativity and innovation of participants in the competition. It's also the culmination of another year of productive - and enjoyable - collaboration between Academic IT Services and staff and students across the University to further the benefits of digital technologies to all areas of academic activity. 

This year's OxTALENT awards ceremony was held at the Oxford Martin School on Wednesday 14 June. In total, 87 entries had been received (a record!), and their quality was reflected in the number of awards made: 23 across the seven categories.

This year the entries in each category were co-judged by a member of Academic IT Services and an expert from elsewhere in the University. A number of the specialist co-judges were able to attend the ceremony and announce the award-winners; we thank Dr Julia Horn (Innovative Teaching & Learning), Tom Fuller (Digital Media), Lesley Paterson (Public Engagement) and James Slattery (Outreach & Widening Participation).

Invited talks were given by Professor Sir Paul Collier, Professor Emma Smith and two of the winners: Dr Janet Smart (Innovative Teaching & Learning) and Dr Niall Winters (Outreach & Widening Participation).

Full details of all the winners, runners-up and recipients of honourable mentions can be found in the News from Academic IT blog.

Many congratulations to everyone who took part and to the organising team - an inspiring showcase of using digital technology in education.

 

 




Adopting an agile software development process

2017-06-13T00:00:00

Over the last 2 years, IT Services’ Software Solutions have been adopting an agile software development process and an application lifecycle management platform to support it. The development methodology is based on ‘scrum’. Scrum adopts an empirical approach which is underpinned by transparency, inspection, and adaptation. All work within the scrum framework is visible to those responsible for the outcome: the process, the workflow, progress, etc. In order to make these things visible, scrum teams need to frequently inspect the product being developed and how well the team is working.

The major advantage scrum has over other methodologies, especially for teams adopting agile ways of working for the first time, is that regular testing reduces time and resource, and increases productivity as a result. Since there is visibility in progress tracking there are no surprises at the end of the development process. This means no time is wasted on having to go back and redo any part of the development process. This has the added benefit of making project timelines more predictable.

Primarily, Software Solutions use continual testing. This involves splitting the work that needs to be done into small testable units of functionality around two to three days in size that can be tested as soon as they are finished. This enables testers to ‘mop up’ any issues along the way.

To date the team have run approximately 20 software development projects through this process and currently have around 25 applications configured with continuous integration builds, automated testing and automated deployment pipelines. They are currently averaging 20 builds and deployments across four teams and a wide variety of technologies including Drupal, React + Node, Docker, .Net, Dynamics, SQL Server, and MongoDB.

The team are now at a stage where they have a good repeatable process and a fully integrated toolset. If you are undertaking some software development and are interested in taking advantage of this approach please get in touch for advice and a demo by emailing Head of Application Development, Matthew Castle (matthew.castle@it.ox.ac.uk). 




Introducing Oxford Mosaic - our new web CMS platform

2017-06-13T00:00:00

Oxford Mosaic, our new web CMS platform, will launch as a fully supported service on 14 June. Training courses for new users wishing to use the service will be available in July.

The platform has been available in a public preview phase since July 2016. The service is now generally available across the University, allowing research groups, departments, colleges, service units, academics, student societies or cross-institution partnerships to communicate their work or activities with a wider community.

The new platform is aimed at people with little or no content management experience, allowing them to focus on knowledge and content sharing rather than technology. A choice of configurable designs ensures that websites look professional, can meet accessibility standards, and are fully responsive to mobile devices.

Set-up costs are free for all users, and there is a sliding scale of charging levels. The smallest microsites, for small units such as research teams, are available at no cost. Larger, more complex sites can also be built on this platform, which continues to evolve and grow to meet the needs of larger users. The Oxford Mosaic team is currently working on a project with the GLAM division to upgrade the platform so that it can provide the world class level of engaging public-facing websites required by the likes of the Ashmolean Museum and the Museum of Natural History. The Ashmolean Museum will be the first GLAM unit to make use of this in their new site.

More details of the service, along with examples of websites built on Oxford Mosaic, can be found at http://oxfordmosaic.web.ox.ac.uk/. An interactive demo will be held each term: please email oxfordmosaic@it.ox.ac.uk to register your interest.




Chorus plans early completion

2017-05-25T00:00:00

The University has recently had to close the Tinbergen (Zoology and Experimental Psychology) building.  As part of emergency measures for Tinbergen around 800 users were moved to Chorus earlier than scheduled. Tinbergen also houses a telephony exchange to which access is now highly restricted, resulting in an increased risk to the telephony of units still supported by that exchange.

Therefore, and using the extra capacity created by moving Tinbergen staff to Chorus early, the project is proposing to bring forward a range of units, originally planned for tranches 5 and 6 (between October 2017 and April 2018), and complete implementation by December 2017. The project business change team has already contacted key people in those units affected and will be liaising closely with them in the coming weeks and months.