UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Signals From Sheffield

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Nov 2011

What are IT Service departments doing these days? Frustrated users sometimes regard IT Services as seemingly having responsibilities for developing barriers to use of IT , with comedy sketches such as “Computer Says No” from Little Britain and Channel 4’s The IT Crowd illustrating that such views are commonplace. A few month’s ago as described on the Communities and Government Web site Local Government Minister Grant Shapps and Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark “called on a new generation of councillors to shake up their town halls in the interests of the people they serve and help banish the ‘computer says no’ culture that exists in some councils“.

Do University IT Service departments also need shaking up? A few days ago I came cross a post on Social Media in CiCS on Chris Sexton’s From a Distance blog in which she described use of social media within CiCS, the Corporate Information and Computing Services department. Chris, the CiCS director, explained:

Blogging is something some individual members of the department do. Some, like me, use commercial products like Blogger or WordPress and have them hosted off-site, some use our in-house blogging software, uSpace, based on a Jive product. Some blog regularly, some less often. What we haven’t had before is a departmental blog, so we’ve changed what used to be a static news page on our web pages into a blog. So much better – it’s easy to update, we can include pictures, links and videos, and, more importantly we can collect feedback in the comments field.

and went on to add that the department has “been using Twitter in the department for a few years” and has “finally taken the plunge and set up a [Facebook] page“.

In addition to running an IT Services department for a large Russell Group University Chris has been a prolific blogger since she set up the blog in October 2007, having posted 62 posts in the first three months of the blog, 208 posts in 2008, 183 in 2009, 162 in 2010 and 147 to date this year. It does seem to me that Chris’s blog will provide a good insight into IT departments in a large University so I hope that the content of the blog, which is hosted on Google’s Blogspot service, will be preserved. But it also seems to me that the sector would benefit if such openness and transparency were to be the norm across not only IT Service departments but also other service departments including the Library. So whilst Chris’s recent post demonstrates a commitment to use of social media to support the user community at Sheffield University, and a willingness to exploit both in-house and cloud services, perhaps the most important signal being sent from Sheffield University is the willingness to be open and invite comments and feedback on development plans. I’d be interesting in hearing if there are other IT Service departments which have taken a similar approach.

3 Responses to “Signals From Sheffield”

  1. To me Brian, it’s not just whether or not IT Services departments blog and use social media themselves but also how they facilitate/obstruct their use by other staff and students. I think you have picked up on a key issue “perhaps the most important signal being sent from Sheffield University is the willingness to be open and invite comments and feedback on development plans”. But then, I have been teaching the importance of user involvement in IT for 20 years plus ;) – I will refrain from commenting on my own experience within my institution.

  2. I’ve been very impressed by what IT Services at Bristol, and Nick Skelton in particular have been doing – check out

    Evidently you need a critical mass of folk who are ready, willing and able to make something like this work. But it works both ways: are our stakeholders and service users ready to engage (perhaps publicly) through social media? :-)

  3. suchadrag said

    The VLE Support team here at the University of Leeds have been in my view excellent at using a WordPress blog, Twitter (@leedsvlesupport) and a mailing list to disseminate the latest news and tutorials about our Blackboard installation (so much more since we upgraded this summer to 9.1 and quite a few things have changed…) Thumbs up to them :)

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