Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Topic: Business Support Systems

The Customer can have what they can afford

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📥  Business Support Systems, Computing Services

I recently posed the question, 'Is the Customer always right?' and concluded that the answer was 'No', particularly when specialist expertise was required which the Customer does not have.

However, there are situations where this is different.  For example, if I am having a suit made for my wedding.  If I want a lime green velour suit, lined with black denim, turn-ups, no pockets and a jacket which skims the floor, then I can have it!  However...

The Customer can have what they can afford.

If I really want the suit I have described above, I can have it.  I will have to pay extra for the long jacket, for the unusual lining and for the skilled experts to work with the velour and tailor it to my rather round frame.  If I want it studded with diamonds, I can have it, but I must pay for the materials, the labour and any other costs to make the suit, including the ongoing cost of having it cleaned by specialists.

Everything has a cost, whether we are paying a 3rd party, or using internal resources to create and support a service, system or team.  If you don't have the budget to pay for everything you want (including infrastructure, staff, licensing and on-going support), you may have to compromise and focus more directly on satisfying the Business Needs, rather than producing an all-singing all-dancing system, otherwise you'll end up with a system which can sing and dance, but can't do what you actually need it to do.

Naturally, it's best to work out what can and cannot sensibly be achieved as early in a project as possible, which is why it is important to define and agree a scope.  If we don't, or if we allow the scope to change significantly once a project has started, we may get part way through and discover that we need to find funds for additional specialists or other resources.

We don't always have the skills we need to hand, so we must consider other ways forward.  One recent example uses a combination of additional internal staff, training and external consultancy to not only complete a large development but to build that expertise in-house.  You may be surprised to learn that this approach is significantly less costly than the original idea of engaging a 3rd party developer, not only in terms of initial investment but also on-going support, particularly when you consider that the expertise gained will be useful for future projects, further reducing our reliance on expensive 3rd parties and their purely commercial intentions.

If you want to contact the team, you can email us at business-support-systems@bath.ac.uk, or by raising a ticket for us. Just make sure to mention BSS at the top of your description and it'll get to us.

Until next time.

 

The Customer is King(?)

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📥  Business Support Systems, Computing Services

In my previous post, I explored who we mean by 'the Customer' and concluded that anyone who wants something from us is our customer.

In this post, I ask:

'Is the Customer always right?'

The quick answer is 'No'.

That may be a surprising response to some of you, but consider this: would you tell your GP how to treat your illness?

My GP is a trusted advisor - a technical specialist in the area of general medicine.  When I am unwell and want to consult my GP, I tell her that I am ill and want to be well (the Business Need), what symptoms I am experiencing (Business Requirements) and not what disease I have or how to treat it.  I rely on her expertise to diagnose my illness and recommend a treatment path.  I understand that things aren't always straight forward, so that path may change if necessary.

Within the context of the University and specifically working with Computing Services, our customers are experts in the business and understand the Business Needs; we understand systems and how to satisfy those Business Needs, so together, we can drive the University forward.

Bring us your Business Needs, your Aims and Visions of what you need to achieve and we will work collaboratively with you to work out the details, then develop systems and processes to satisfy them.

If you want to contact the team, you can email us at business-support-systems@bath.ac.uk, or by raising a ticket for us. Just make sure to mention BSS at the top of your description and it'll get to us.

Until next time.

 

Simple, fast communications, built into the applications we develop

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📥  Business Support Systems, Computing Services

Hello all

There's some really exciting news about a new enhancement to communication tools at the University which has now been rolled out to all staff: Skype for Business.

Skype for Business  gives you a range of fantastic new communication and collaboration tools:

What's even better is that you can do this from directly inside your BSS-developed applications such as BSS Boards, Central Contracts Repository (CCR), CAROL, TRAD and C-MIS.

Imagine, for example, that you are using the CCR and you want to ask about some changes to a document:

  1. Hover your mouse over the name of the person who last saved the document and you will see ways to contact them, which you can initiate from right there.
  2. You click on the Instant Message icon and a chat window opens up. You ask if the person has 10 minutes to look at a document with you and they say yes.
  3. You click the Screen Sharing icon and hey presto, the other person can see your screen! You can both see the document that you have opened and can discuss it by message, over the phone or via a headset (if you have one).
  4. You could even give them control if you want them to make changes to the document in real-time.

There's no need to hunt for another application, no confusion about who you are contacting and no cost to use it. It's great when what you need is a brief discussion, or when you are in separate buildings, sites or continents!

You can also add your own contacts, who may be outside the University, and you will be able to communicate with them in the same way.  Even better, the tight integration with Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Outlook means that you can schedule virtual meetings with people (even if they don't have Skype for Business) and they will get a link to the virtual meeting, hosted on our servers, so that they can join and have all of the functions that a Skype for Business user can have!

I'm sure you can tell that I'm very excited about how Skype for Business will enhance the applications that we develop and deliver.  This is another example of the great benefits to be gained from Enterprise Platforms which are designed to work together!

If you want to use voice or video over Skype for Business, you will need to buy a headset and/or webcam which is certified for use with either Skype for Business or Lync (the old name for Skype for Business). Contact the ITP Shop in the Library for details of great deals on the right equipment.

You can also sign up for a Skype for Business course to learn more about it.

 

Until next time!

 

Who are your customers and mine?

  

📥  Business Support Systems, Computing Services, Research, Service Desk

I often hear colleagues talking about 'our customers' and 'customer service', but who ARE our customers, yours and mine?

Thinking of the University as a whole, it might be easiest to start with the obvious ones: undergraduate and postgraduate students who want us to educate them and prepare them for their chosen destination. That's a reasonable start, but our customers include a MUCH wider range of people and organisations than just our students.

A Customer is anyone who wants or needs something from you.

That may sound like a very broad definition, but let me put that in context:

The parents and grandparents of our students want to be sure that their children are going to get an excellent education, have a good experience while at university and that their investment is good value.

Our research partners want to be sure that we are capable of carrying out excellent research and that we will deliver appropriate results within the budgets and timescales set. Employers want us to create educated, qualified, job-ready graduates who will add value to their organisations as soon as they are employed. Funding bodies want us to to be deserving of the money they give us, delivering proven results in education and research. The public expects us to use their money wisely and to push the boundaries of research for the betterment of mankind.

Those are our external customers, but we also have internal customers, all of whom expect and deserve a high level of service and support. Our managers need us to do our jobs efficiently and to quickly report problems so that they can be addressed before they escalate; colleagues need us to perform our functions well and to support them when they want something else from us.

You need me to do the best I can for you and I need you to do the same for me.

So again I ask, who are your customers?

 

Until next time.

 

Better, easier committees, boards and meetings - and cheaper than using paper.

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📥  Business Support Systems, Computing Services

If there's one thing that a university likes, it's a committee, a board, and meetings; groups of people getting together to make decisions, often about documents of some sort.  Managing those meetings can be troublesome, either using paper or emailing documents, because of cost, the labour needed to manage and produce prints or update emailed copies and the lack of a searchable archive of the committee's business.

Business Support Systems' response to this is BSS Boards, an electronic Board/Committee management application in use within the University of Bath, which has been developed in conjunction with the Head of Secretariat, Angela Pater.  It has already been rolled out to nearly 140 decision-making boards and committees across the University, but it can also be used by anyone who wants to manage a board or committee, or indeed any group of decision makers who need to keep records of their meetings and/or review documents (even team meetings).

Board Administrators can:

  • Set up Meetings, automatically generating templates for agenda and minutes
  • Upload documents for review/consideration, separating normal documents from reserved (confidential) documents
  • Manage the board constitution - who can see/use the board and who has access to standard and/or reserved business documents
  • Store, manage and search all contents of the document (inside the documents as well as the title and other meta data), creating a committee record.
  • Create and manage minutes documents during the meeting (or not, as preferred).
  • Convert documents to PDF and merge multiple documents into a single PDF inside BSS Boards. This can be easier for board members to digest than lots of separate documents.
  • Use (or turn off) automatic notifications to members
  • Create custom notifications for members

Contact the team to discuss how BSS Boards could help you to manage your meetings.

Until next time ...

 

Business Support Systems - Helping you get data under control

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📥  Business Support Systems

Hello fellow surfers of the blogosphere!

As this is my first blog post, it seemed appropriate to introduce you to my team, Business Support Systems, and to tell you a little about what we do.

The Business Support Systems team within Computing Services is still a relatively new team, only becoming complete in February 2016.  Our mission is to develop solutions to Business Process Management needs across the University, in line with the larger Process Improvement initiative that the University is running.

If you're not sure what Business Process Management is, it could be described as 'improving the way that data flows throughout an organisation, which may or may not use technology to do so'.

We are most effective when you come to us with your Business Needs or Problems, rather than asking for a specific solution - we have the expertise and experience to help you meet your aims by working with you to build the right solution.  If you work collaboratively with us to do this, our solutions will add value to the organisation by supporting improved, streamlined processes which add value to the business and specific teams or groups of customers.  Our solutions allow people to focus on making appropriate decisions and human interactions, rather than being a slave to out-dated procedures and archaic ways of working.

Some examples of solutions we that have delivered so far are:

  • TRAD - 'Terrorist-Related Access to Data'.  This is a register for staff and students to log their valid need to access data and information which might appear to support terrorism.  This is part of the Univerity's response to the Government's PREVENT initiative to try to stop the radicalisation of young people.
  • CCR - the 'Central Contracts Repository'. The CCR acts as a central repository for storage and basic management of contracts between the University and third parties.  The solution helps departments and teams to easily store and retrieve their contracts and manage renewal reminders within a system accessible by legal and procurement teams with responsibility for best practice in these areas.
  • CSMF - 'Computing Services Management Forum'.  The CSMF tool allows team leaders and managers within Computing Services to write and share monthly reports for wider consumption and for members of the forum to mark items for discussion during our monthly department meeting.  This has greatly improved the efficiency of our department meeting (reducing them from over 1 hour each to an average of 20 minutes), whilst still allowing a frank and clear exchange of information within the department.

If you want to contact the team, you can email us at business-support-systems@bath.ac.uk, or by raising a ticket for us.  Just make sure to mention BSS at the top of your description and it'll get to us.

I'll be blogging more from now on, telling you about the team, what we have achieved, what we are working on and what ideas we have for the future.

Until then, just remember:

“The first rule of any technology used in business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” - Bill Gates