Monday 3 December 2012

Business Cloud Summit 2012 - Cloudstore discussions

I had the great pleasure of speaking at the Business Cloud Summit 2012, held at the Hilton London Metropole last week. I was invited to speak on the subject of the moment, procurement via the HM Government Cloudstore. Along with my fellow invitee, Peter Edwards from the British Council, I spent half an hour explaining how the Cloudstore has helped to facilitate the purchase of a new CMS for the University of Hertfordshire and the cost & time savings that this has helped me realise.

I have always been a huge advocate for any system/process that helps to streamline my day-today working. The Cloudstore has achieved this and also has the potential to help with other projects outside of my remit. However, the most surprising part of the day for me was the 'straw poll' held during the session to see who has also used it. In a room of around 100 people only 3 held their hands up...

I think what this highlights is not that the Cloudstore is a difficult tool to use or that there isn't a very dedicated team behind it. It highlights that this is such a change in the way that procurement processes are run within central & local government and HE that there is still work to do on promoting it! The Cloudstore is there to help facilitate an easy procurement process, cut red tape and save us time and money. It's a no-brainer that if you can use it, you should use it!

I will happily continue to promote the Cloudstore as the first stop for procurement I just hope that it gains the recognition and promotion it deserves!

Images from the event can be seen below:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Workshops, Workshops, Workshops...

We are now into the latter half of the Workshop sessions with Squiz to look at what we want to include in the new University website. Some workshops have been great (wireframes, design, etc) and some have been rather slow, but necessary, Metadata & taxonomy for example (Sorry Nelson!)

However, what does appear to be coming out in these meetings is that the are very similar ides around what the website should do. For example, functionality wise people expect the website to degrade well when viewed on a mobile device. If that question was asked a few years ago people wouldn't have put a Responsive Design at the top of their lists! This not only highlights the fact that people are aware of smart phones but also that they way in which people are using them is changing as well. We currently have 15% of all our visitors coming to us on a mobile device, that's double the figure for this time last year... This highlights the moving target we are dealing with, potentially as soon as we deliver the website we will need to start development work to keep up with the evolving market! A great argument for a structured development plan...

However, one of the most exciting parts of the analysis stage (for me) is looking at what issues people currently have and how they can be fixed, effectively trying to make peoples lives easier! The list is reasonably long, as you would expect with a project this size, but so far nothing has been highlighted that can't be dealt with.

As we roll into our last few weeks of workshops it make me even more confident that the next 7 months will be extremely exciting...

Friday 23 November 2012

Movember - I've reached the creepy stage...

I think this video sums up how most of the University of Hertfordshire Movember team are feeling at the moment...

It's not too late to donate and make it all worth while though! -

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Digital Innovation in the Public Sector

Westminster Abbey
Last week I was invited to present at the latest Squiz Seminar session at Westminster Abbey. The session was titled "Digital Innovation in the Public Sector" and focused on ways of making projects easier for Public Sector bodies.

As we have recently run through a tendering process using the G-Cloud Framework I decided that would be an ideal topic to present on. Having given an overview of where the project stood at the point of my arrival I then ran through how the G-Cloud Framework facilitated a fast selection and purchase of a new CMS. Following on from the presentation there was a chance for the audience to question me about the process! A good deal of talk later and the final question came up "Are there any negatives to using the G-Cloud Framework?"

My answer?

"I can't say a single negative thing about it - it saved the project."

The day was well attended and highly informative and it's always a pleasure to speak about success stories. A highlight for me also was that my fellow presenter Matthew Hutton, gave a fantastic overview of the NOMS project to implement a new intranet... potentially an area for us to review post-launch of the external website!

You can see a copy of my presentation below.

Monday 15 October 2012

Technical Workshops... done!

We're only a few weeks into the official Web Development Project and we have already completed the scheduled technical workshops. Over the last two weeks we have had two full day workshops spread over two weeks. The aim of these was to look at drawing out an understanding of the current infrastructure at UH (University of Hertfordshire) and what we would like to create as our hosting environment on the Squiz Cloud.

Changing hosts will always present a number of potential issues but the main one at UH is being able to replicate what is proving to be a very efficient set-up. This is mainly due to the fact that the current UH hosting solution is in-house, bespoke built and running off the JANET network. In order to offer a comparable level of service we will need to be looking at rolling out all of the bells & whistles possible!

On our side we have the team who created and maintain the current content delivery and during the course of the two workshops a number of ideas came to light. A follow up meeting to iron out the details and i'm sure we'll be running an amazing set-up to host our newly designed, responsive website!

Wednesday 26 September 2012

We have kick off!

It's official, the Web Development Project (#UHDev) has kicked off! Having had the first meeting with the Squiz team last Friday we now have all dates for our analysis stage workshops.

Starting next Wednesday with 2 technical specific workshops to look at our current infrastructure and cloud hosting options.

Following on from those will be 9 content and feature related workshops that will help to tease out what we want our new site to be able to do as well as how we would like it to look. Reasonably intensive timeframes but then we do have a short project timeframe to work to!

Following on from the kick-off meeting we also held the Stakeholder Development Group meeting where Squiz came in to present current and completed projects and to answer any questions raised. It was a great session and it appears that everyone on the Group felt as though we will be very well supported!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Content refresh is underway!

Probably the biggest and most difficult part of any website refresh is the cleaning of content. So, to try and address this prior to our migration to Squiz Matrix we have now started a nine month project to clean up the content we currently have in whichever system it is sitting in. In total we have over 10,000 pages to work our way through so although 9 months sounds like a long time it really isn't!

The best possible outcome would be for us to close around 15-20% of the current pages, fix all the broken links and spelling mistakes and make the migration of content as easy as possible. Realistically though this is probably not going to happen...

People become very attached to their content, the value the time they have put into creating it and don't really want that to be taken away. A fair position to take if you only look at the time spent putting the content together but not if you look at the wider picture. If no-one has viewed the content then can it be said that it adds value to the website or visitor experience? I'd argue that it does't and that the content should be removed. It's easy to highlight what should be closed with a simple analytics report, the clever part is in convincing people it's the right decision!

So, we are now 3 weeks into a nine month project and so far it's going reasonably well, pages are being closed, we're using Siteimprove to find and fix broken links and spelling mistakes and hopefully the quality of the site is improving on a daily basis. But, we're only just getting started so who knows what the next few months will hold for us!

PS. The image is of the Edit+ editing tool within Squiz Matrix, a far better editing environment than the ones we currently use... roll on next year!

Thursday 6 September 2012

G-Cloud Procurement process, an idiots guide

Prior to joining the University of Hertfordshire I had herd a few rumours that the HM Government were looking at a more streamlined procurement process. At the time it was mildly interesting but not that relevant to my day-to-day working.

However, having suddenly needed to make a purchase of a new CMS the G-Cloud immediately sprung to mind and I was rather relieved to find that it was now working! Having run through the internal procurement processes at the University we have now just completed the purchase of a new supplier via the G-Cloud Framework Agreement. I am happy to announce that the University of Hertfordshire will be implementing a new website within the Squiz Matrix CMS.

The procurement process has been very straight forward and the use of the G-Cloud Framework Agreement has been a real life saver. Prior to the project beginning I agreed to write a blog post on the experience and the process of making a purchase. This is now live on the HM Government G-Cloud website, the link to the posting is below if you would like a read...

They have also now provided a list of eligible organisations who can take advantage of this fantastic service so if you do have a large procurement coming up it's definitely worth considering!

Thursday 23 August 2012

Microsoft have a new logo... budget approach taken

Microsoft have revealed their new logo today, the first change in 25 years. Unfortunately, that's about as exciting as the news gets and it's fair to say that the resulting logo is a little bit of a disappointment...

Given the increased pressure of Windows 8 not going down too well, IE losing it's hold on browser dominance and the fact that Apple have now been recognised as the most valuable company ever you'd think they would have put in a little more effort.

Jeff Hansen, Microsoft's general manager of brand strategy was quoted as saying "The majority of the items that people see from the company - websites, marketing, communications - people will be seeing the new logo pretty quickly."

Even though it does look like something you would see on a budget line of food in the local supermarket, at least they're still here to have a new logo after 25 years, which can't be said of some other tech companies. But, it'll be interesting to see if they're still around to reveal the next one in 25 years time!

Monday 20 August 2012

Content refresh is about to start

Last year, when I was in my previous post, I decided to blog on the progress of the Content Management System project. It was a great way of sharing progress, ideas and issues with the wider community and received some great feedback.

Now that I have a new role and a new project I think it's time to do the same thing!

So, starting today the new CMS project is kicking off at the University of Hertfordshire and we're tackling content first... always a tricky subject! There is a planned 9 month content refresh schedule in place where we will be looking to correct all broken links, spelling mistakes and dodgy content. The main aim being that we will deliver a faster, leaner site which is easier to navigate and maintain. Not hoping for too much really!

In the mix will be a number of useful resources including Siteimprove and Google Analytics. We'll also be unveiling our new Content Management System and Enterprise Search provider shortly.

First areas to get our attention will be the School of Law and the School of Humanities with the School of Education following on shortly. Interesting and busy times ahead!

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Olympic madness hits London...

I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic park on Saturday to have a wander around, sit in the sun and soak up the atmosphere. I can honestly say that it was fantastic, the volunteers were engaging and friendly, the train service was on-time and not over crowded and the park looks stunning.

What did strike me though was the amount of branding scattered through out the park. I'm sure it wasn't only me that picked up on the fact that all drinks were supplied by Coca Cola, you could only pay with Visa and that their brand names, logos and colours were all over the place! I can appreciate that they have paid a lot of money to sponsor the event and this is their return but does that approach of blanket advertising really work?

Well, according to IAB, it appears that it does:

A winning situation for the sponsors and a bonus for the visitors that the sponsorship money has delivered such an amazing Olympic Park. If you can get there then it's well worth a visit!

Friday 13 July 2012

What are Delites?

In an attempt to take an interesting and new approach to marketing a product, 'Delites' have come out with a rather clever video about how far people will go for a free box.

Granted, it's a great video, my only question now is... "What are Delites?"

Friday 6 July 2012

Long time since I posted...

Well, it's been a very, very long time since I posted a posting and that is mainly down to the fact that i've been caught up in a tendering process for a CMS supplier, the re-working and launch of a new Research section for the website (still pending) and the mapping out of a refresh of all 10,000 pages on the UH website.

It's fair to say that i've got my hands full! But, the good news is it looks as though the CMS supplier has been chosen and that I can make an announcement within the next few weeks. Exciting times ahead at UH and there'll be plenty to blog about as well!

Thursday 3 May 2012

Barclaycard PayTag is coming...

Always fancied the idea of using your mobile phone as a way to pay for your morning coffee? Well Barclays have announced that the PayTag is on it's way... not got an NFC enabled mobile? Not a problem, as they say on the site:

"PayTag can turn any mobile into a contactless way to pay, in seconds."

At the moment they are looking for people to register interest in using it and once you sign up to the interest form it's 6-8 weeks before you'd receive your tag. A really interesting move by Barclays and this could tie in very well with the Visa Olympic sponsorship deal.

The only issue would be that moment when you hold your phone over the contactless payment point and the cashier stares at you like you're mad... it's bad enough when you use a normal credit card!

If you fancy leading the pack in contactless then follow the link below to sign up:

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Embed Spotify in your blog!

A new feature from Spotify, embeddable music! Obviously will appeal to a huge number of music fans and what a nice piece of functionality for Spotify to offer for free... Surely the fact that it links back to Spotify has nothing to do with it!

...and just to prove it works:

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Instagram + Facebook = Facegram?

So Facebook has just picked up Instagram for $1billion... pretty high pricing for a product that doesn't appear to have any real revenue stream at the moment and was initially only valued at $500m.

So the question is, why have they done it and why did they pay so much?

Well, Facebook are looking to secure their position as the place to go for photo sharing. Although it may not be initially obvious Facebook contains a huge archive of peoples images, a big driver in staying engaged with the social network. If Facebook hadn't purchased Instagram it would be highly likely that Google (Picasa, Panoramio, Google+) or Yahoo! (Flickr) would have picked it up, putting them in a much stronger position to move forward. As Facebook continues to face competition from other social networking sites it will be keen to ensure that the competition can't simply purchase a superior product with a wide user base. The premium price paid by Facebook would have been to ensure that the deal was locked down early on.

A lot of people have expressed concern about the acquisition by Facebook and what the future plans of the app will now entail. Facebook has a reputation for swallowing start-ups whole and not necessarily keeping the functionality running. To try and help calm the storm Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom was keen to point out on the Instragram blog:

"It’s important to be clear that Instagram is not going away. We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network. We’ll continue to add new features to the product and find new ways to create a better mobile photos experience."

Moving forward though, will it prove to be money well spent by Facebook and will Instgram really survive intact!

Monday 19 March 2012

Life as a newbie...

So, week two at the University of Hertfordshire and i'm already starting to see some very similar patterns that must run through all Universities. Similar issues around content maintenance, faculty demands and the oncoming deluge of paperwork! One huge plus point though is that fact that this project looks like it's going to be brilliant, lots of things I can bring to it from my previous role, a huge number of quick wins and some stability that I can put in place that should last us for a number of years.

Thankfully my new team appear to be exceptional and I have a great mix of technical support to throw into the mix as well. Interesting times ahead but for now it's down to shaking hands and putting my face about as much as possible! Luckily life as a newbie involves a lot of coffee...

Friday 24 February 2012

Want to search next years courses? We can do that!

One of the advantages of pulling content from a central source is that you can quite easily pull additional versions of the data and it will be in the same format, nice and easy to work with!

So, as of yesterday we are now offering prospective students the ability to search 2 years worth of course data on the website. Entry for courses starting in 2012 and courses starting in 2013.

The reason for this is that when the normal recruitment cycle closes post-clearing for 2011 intake (September) and the new cycle opens for 2012 start we sometimes still have places to offer that start in Feb 2012 but are included in our 2011 intake numbers. A tad confusing but means that there is a need to advertise 2 overlapping years of course content...

The only real change that can be seen is the inclusion of a new button on our course finder:

that says 'Switch to 2012' to the right of the search field. This will switch any search made from courses starting in 2011 to courses starting in 2012 and a marker on each course to show which intake it is for.

As the Meerkat annoyingly says "Simples".

Update: Quick shout out to @danielinniss for the hard work on the above... shout out not prompted for at all of course!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Change is as good as a holiday!

You may have noticed that the blog has a new design applied to it... well, I am moving on from the University of Bedfordshire in a couple of weeks time and heading over to a Web Project Management role at the University of Hertfordshire!

I'm taking the blog with me of course and it will still be based around all things digital, i'll just be posting from a different office. Exciting times ahead!

PS Totally random image of an ashtray at Reading Uni I took during IWMW 2011... very cybermanish!

Tuesday 24 January 2012


Before Christmas we put together a bid for JISC funding around the implementation of XCRI-CAP formatted course data. Many, many intensive submission writing sessions later and we're pleased to say that we have been awarded the funding! This is a brilliant project with some very interesting potential outcomes. The first being the automated process of passing well formatted course data to our website in a feed format shared by multiple univerisites.

The idea behind this is ultimately to create the possibility of a 'compare the uni' type website that will allow students to directly compare the same course across multiple institutions. This has huge advantages for potential applicants and could mean a more engaged and informed application.

So, all we need to do now is start mapping out how we're going to get to that point. A fair proportion of the work will be focusing on internal processes that will need to be in place in order for the system to work. so, whilst the display of courses on the website may not immediately change we're be busily building in the admin side!

Watch this space, there's going to be some rather interesting outcomes over the next 12 months!