UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

IT Services Reinventing Themselves

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 Mar 2007

I gave a talk on IT Services: Help Or Hindrance? at the UCISA Management Conference 2006 held in Blackpool on 8-10th March 2006. The UCISA Management Conference is aimed at senior managers in IT Service departments (and also attracts those involved in related support service departments, including the Library). I was very pleased to be asked to speak at such a high profile conference, which attracted over 300 participants. The conference was also highly successful; as Owen Stephens summarised in his Overdue Ideas blog:

How often do you leave a conference feeling inspired, and then end up getting dragged back into the daily grind?

I think that this year the UCISA conference has challenged me to make some changes. So – I want to go back and do at least one thing that has been mentioned during the last 3 days. It could be changing the way I engage with students, (Stephen Heppell), having an evening meal with my colleagues (Tim Smit), developing partnerships with the community (Michael Ahern and Craig Hickson), or by working with the students rather than against them (Brian Kelly), or something else that has been inspired by one of the speakers.

So – a challenge for me to go back and do something differently. And a challenge for all UCISA delegates (and others reading this) – change something about the way you work, or deliver a service. If you want, leave a comment to say what it is.

At the JISC Conference 2007 which I attended earlier this week I had the opportunity to talk with a number of the UCISA staff, and was able to obtain a summary of the feedback from last year’s UCISA conference. I was very pleased to discover that my talk received a rating of 3.2 for the content and 3.4 for the presentation (with a rating of 4 for excellent). The talk received the third highest rating (and I hope I’m note infringing anyone’s privacy by reporting that Tim Smit received the highest rating, scoring a perfect 4 for the average for his presentation on Creating Dreams).

It was particularly pleasing that my talk received such high ratings as, as indicated by the title of “IT Services: Help Or Hindrance?“, I was suggesting that the traditional approaches taken by IT Services to the provision and support of IT may no longer be applicable in a Web 2.0 environment. The feedback indicated that, rather than IT Service managers acting like turkeys voting for Christmas, they are, in fact, aware of the need to reinvent themselves. This realisation struck me after being invited to give a follow-up presentation to IT Service managers in universities in the East Midlands back in November. It struck me that that I didn’t really need to labour the point of the need for change; rather, the participants were rather more interested in how IT Services should go about implementing change.

I’m not the only person thinking along these lines. Yesterday Mark Sammons, a Senior Computing Officer at the University of Edinburgh (and contributor to this blog) published a posting on IT Services 2.0 on his blog. Mark predicted that “ In 5 years time, IT Services will be almost completely unrecognisable to how they are now.” Rather than feeling threatened by such changes, Mark is very optimistic about the future: “I see a great opportunity with this new world, this “IT Services 2.0”.

I’m pleased that Mark has coined the term “IT Services 2.0” to refer to a modernisation of IT Services to reflect the changing environment. And I heartily support his vision for change:

The real challenge therefore, will be for IT Services to adapt, to provide services to help end users collaborate or communicate and help each other, and to offer more value to the organisation. Of course, there will be casualties such as support staff who can’t learn to develop new services will be increasingly marginalised, will be increasingly redundant, but in many ways, it is exciting – the chance to move from an environment of being reactive to providing increasingly rich new services is much more interesting (to me, at least).

I’m pleased to find increasing evidence that IT Services are adapting rapidly to a Web 2.0 environment. But where does that leave the Library? The term “Library 2.0” has already been claimed to refer to use of Web 2.0 technologies within a library context, so we may have to coin the more clumsy phrase “Library Services 2.0” to describe the re-invention of the Library. But are Library Services 2.0 to be found or are they behind IT Services 2.0? Or, on the other hand, is this term redundant as the Library has always emphasised the importance of the user, and all that is need is minor refocussing?

5 Responses to “IT Services Reinventing Themselves”

  1. Brian,

    Thanks for linking to my blog.

    I’ve always thought that the Library Services have, at least in part, managed to be ahead of the IT Services with regards to these new services. For instance, I’m sure most have recognised the threat/opportunity of services like Google by now. They recognise that Google is an information portal of data that users will take advantage of.

    This, surely, is part of the Library Services 2.0 role – to understand, manage, organisation and filter these many new sources of information available to them.

    For example, lets say the Law department had a number of resources and needed a service to allow users to check, cross-reference and perform other checks on cases. IT Services might be able to produce something like a mashup that did this, but where would the data come from? As an IT person, I have little idea of the different internet, intranet and other resources which could be used. The danger is, choosing the wrong resources, would result in the classic: Rubbish Input always results in Rubbish Output.

    Those who have worked in Library Services have been advising people on information resources for many years, and with Web 2.0, there will be a whole lot more data sources (user, computer or traditionally generated) and, from that, the added need for data management and filtration. They will be the ones consulting people on the resources they should use, and those they shouldn’t (and this is where a keen understanding of the pros and cons of Wikipedia comes in!). Importantly, as we reach further and further into things like RSS feeds and web services and the like, we reach closer and closer to information overload and therefore, the Library Services role of filtration comes more and more important. And more difficult.

    I suspect this, as it matures, will start to push the edges of Web 2.0 – as users get more and more from these Web 2.0 services, they start to see the limitations of the APIs these services have and hanker for a more intelligent web which allows more semantic friendly, finer grained approachs to data. And that’s the route to Web 3.0…

  2. Hi Mark – UKOLN has published a briefing document on “Web 2.0: Supporting Library Users” which describes the potential benefits to libraries and library users of Web 2.0. In addition we’ve published one on “ Web 2.0: Addressing the Barriers to Implementation in a Library Context” (these documents were written by Tracey Stanley, formerly of the University of Leeds, but now at the University of York). The second document summarises some of the organisational and cultural barriers which may be found in Libraries

    As you suggest, many libraries will be engaging with Web 2.0 (as I pointed out recently, the University of Leeds is running training courses on the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia, for example).

    However the fact that my “Beware the Librarian fundamentalist” slide attracts comments such as “this bit was very funny, and was basically about the fact that we like to think we know better than our users what is good for them” (taken from a report on my recent seminar at Nottingham) I think indicates that librarians sometimes recognise in themselves some of the failings I mentioned in my presentation.

    But in general I would agree that the Library sector may have shown themselves to willing to embrace cultural change (indeed the JISC-funded eLib programme in the 1990s was a major factor in facilitated such changes).

  3. The use of ‘Library 2.0’ actually varies. I believe those who started using Library 2.0 (sorry, don’t have a reference), were really talking about libraries engaging with their users – not about the use of ‘Web 2.0’ type technologies (although these did inspire and exemplify the type of thing that could be done). This usage upset quite a large number of librarians, who thought that they were already engaging with their users and had been for many years.

    To make a broad generalisation librarians/library services do still struggle with the fact that “we know what’s best” – I suspect that there is still a long way to go before the sector generally recognises that often our users are happy with ‘good enough’ information, rather than ‘the best’ information – which is why Google or Wikipedia are popular resources – no matter what their drawbacks, much of the time they are ‘good enough’. I feel that even our attempts to educate users (Information literacy etc.) still have that condescending edge of “we know what’s best”.

    At the end of the day, I suspect most of our users don’t want to know about the complex world of information that’s out there. We need to adjust to this in several ways. Firstly, we need to get out of the mind set that you have to have the ‘best’ information – often (not always) ‘good enough’ will do. Secondly, we need to make the ‘best’ information easier to find – if we do this, then we’ve really got a ‘win-win’ thing going.

  4. […] Mark Sampson from Edinburgh University in March 2007 and this was referenced in Brian's bog-post "IT Services Reinventing Themselves".] The UCISA talk generated some reflection on the topic and a dialogue with Cardiff-based […]

  5. […] from Edinburgh University in March 2007 and this was referenced in Brian’s blogpost “IT Services Reinventing Themselves“.] The UCISA talk generated some reflection on the topic and a dialogue with Cardiff-based […]

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