Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Posts By: Kiran Oza

CIS and tell


📥  Computing Services

ICYMI acronyms and initialisms are everywhere. Yes, I'm inviting comments to help me learn a few more that I could have included - and why not! Sharing knowledge and information is a critical part of our community.

This is my first blog post at the University of Bath: I started in January 2017 and I've been to 3 conferences/events already, so I need to catch up with blogging my notes if I'm to be allowed out to any future events. The first event was cryptically entitled CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC and was my first opportunity to be involved with the Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG), which is a sub-group of Universities and Colleges Information Services Association (UCISA). Speakers included the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Student Loans Company (SLC). They also included the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) although I'm not sure why they didn't make it onto the event title; perhaps CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC-ICO-UCAS just didn't trip off the tongue quite so easily...

Andy Youell (HESA) is always an entertaining speaker and despite having heard him give this talk before, it was still delightful to learn about "The Changing Information Landscape". Andy reminded us that the Higher Education (HE) sector has been doing data collections since 1965 (through UCCA at the time) and there are now over 500 HE data collections across 90 organisations. The Data Landscape Steering Group has been set up to ensure collective governance for these collections, to seek a better way, more efficient and joined up. There's also the potential for HESA to become the statutory data collection body for HE with a duty to reduce burden on the sector - more about that in the later Data Futures talk (keep reading). There is a twin agenda - standardisation and rationalisation - and a standard is a 'specification that is adopted'. The data landscape requires the development of a common language, through HECoS and the widening adoption of a Unique Learner Number (ULN) for students. The changing landscape also encompasses emerging data capabilities: did you know that an Excel worksheet has 17 billion cells - and that 88% of workbooks have errors (Panko, 2008)? Andy closed his talk with a call to action, referring to the HEDIIP research on Data Capability (2015) which identified a maturity model comprising 5 levels: chaotic, reactive, stable, proactive and predictive.

Sam Stokell and Graeme Lindsay (SLC) informed us of Current and Future Developments at the Student Loans Company. As of 20 Oct 2016, they had received 1.45m full-time (FT) undergraduate (UG) applications and processed 1.37m of these. Additionally they had received 81,000 post-graduate (PG) loan applications, processing payments for 56,000, with a total of £4.2bn in maintenance & tuition fees being administered through the company. Astonishing! They provided updates on a number of policy changes coming in 2017/18 and encouraged HEIs to provide course information in a timely manner (at the time, 50% had been collected).

Victoria Cetinkaya (ICO) presented an informative (and only slightly scary) talk titled "Information Rights in a Changing Landscape". The Information Commissioner's Office is an independent organisation whose remit is to uphold information rights and they have a new Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. The ICO is often asked to consider cases arising from the challenges of Freedom of Information (FOI): the duty to document versus transparency in outsourcing (report due to Parliament in 2017). They also respond to incidents resulting from cyber security attacks, analysing trends such as exfiltration, DDoS, system misconfiguration and other cyber incidents. She also reminded us of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be in force 25 May 2018 (despite Brexit) and applies to universities as Data Controllers. Anonymisation and pseudonomysation of data are good options, and GDPR will cover 'special categories' such as genetic and biometric data. It encompasses the existing 8 Data Protection principles and adds Accountability. Further guidance on GDPR is on the ICO website at: Organisations will need implement technical measures to comply and demonstrate compliance; universities may need to appoint a dedicated Data Protection Officer. There will be a requirement to report a data breach within 72 hours of detection, and maximum fines will increase from £500,000 to €20,000,000. Individuals will have 8 new rights: to be informed; to have access; to rectification; to erasure (the right to be forgotten); to restrict processing; to data portability; to object; rights related to automated decision making & profiling. Consent will only be considered relevant if people have a genuine choice.

Fatuma Mahad (UCAS) took us on a journey "From Clearing House to Digital Ecosystem", where she reminded us that UCAS is the world's only national centralised organisation processing applications to HE. They receive 800,000 applications each year, have 6,000 regional centres and cover 388 universities & colleges, and 1,200 schools. Their peak processing times include A-level results day where the website receives 5.5m pageviews and 239 logins/sec on Track (where applicants go to review and update their choices). In 2014, UCAS focused on a journey to adopt cloud technologies, outsourcing their work to Infosys while retaining in-house development. In 2015, their orientation was around a broader learner journey with enterprise-wide adoption of Agile methodology and thinking. This focused on value flow, quality, releasing products early and often, and organised around 5 Rs (review, refine, resize, reprioritise, regular cadence). This programme resulted in ~40% reduction of their on-premise technology footprint along with an investment in data science capability. In 2016, their theme was Digital Acceleration, focusing on SOA, ESB, IAM, CRM (Salesforce), mobile and cloud first. They instilled a digital workplace using Microsoft Office365 and SharePoint, with a 2020 technology strategy that is 'evolutionary, not revolutionary'. Looking forward, UCAS will focus on collection and search tools, application management and operational reporting for peer benchmarking. Their roadmap includes: iterative, continuous improvement after go-live; beta services for users to try out; and managing the results embargo to promote a 'zero-breach culture' (more on this in a later post from UCISA17).

Rob Phillpotts (HESA) closed the day with an update on "HESA Data Futures", which aims to make data better - while noting that "there will be pain before we get better data...." This programme involves more frequent data collection and aligned to business process, more timely with better data - in year and with a new data model (yay!) HESA will act as a data hub with a new, more agile system, with the potential to connect to existing data for time series reporting. The aim of this is to transform the 2019/20 student data collection, which requires a new software platform - Rob's looking for volunteers to help with the resource challenge of this work. Collection design v2 was out at the time and v3 out by end January 2017. The programme is working with alpha/beta groups and software suppliers. Data will be submitted in segments not a single file (S0-S6).


2017/18 will involve alpha pilots from 12 HE providers (HEPs) UK wide, looking at pilot concepts and prototypes. 2018/19 will be beta pilots of 500-100 HEPs self-selected and end-to-end testing. 2019/20 will be live for institution including changes to student records software (e.g. Tribal SITS - 'Samis' at UoB) and a data submission 'crunch point' moving to much better data from there on. Rob urged us to speak to our Registrars to give feedback on the programme.

All in all, it was a super day: I met many new people and afterwards 'linked-up' so as many as I could - it's the only way I remember people these days (via LinkedIn). Let me know if you have any questions about the talks - I'm happy to meet up over tea/coffee or just a stroll around campus!