Making the project video

Recently the focus of the Transform project has been on making the project video description.

The JISC training held in London earlier this year – Storytelling Techniques for Project Dissemination – really helped clarify my thoughts and provided lots of helpful practical advice. I learned not to lose the audience by asking them to read something on screen at the same time as listen to what a talking head is saying, and that no amount of fancy visual editing can make a bad image good. Statistics should be avoided (it’s hard to present them coherently in visual form) and so should bullet points (people just read on –separate points instead).  Making it digital – as opposed to a slideshow – involves using flow, pace, subtlety and understatement, which is why music should only be used with extreme caution. Endings should not be abrupt. It is important to include some signposting like a web link at the end, especially as people could be watching it out of context.  We were urged not to leave out the human elements of our stories, which is what makes them interesting.  I came away reassured by the power of simplicity, echoing the message of a great book recommended to us by our critical friend Sarah Chesney: Simple and Usable by Giles Colborne

I made interview plans, decided they were too ambitious and complicated, and simplified them. Two people I had consulted during the project, whose work has involved them in transforming the way records are managed, kindly agreed to take part in the video: a Business Analyst piloting a new SharePoint committee records system, and the Project Manager of a finance efficiency programme. At King’s College London we are fortunate to be able to call on colleagues in Audio Visual Services, who did a very professional job of filming the interviews in their campus studio.  Although I had planned to ask only five or six key questions, I found the interviews flowed better and the subjects relaxed once I allowed the conversations to become more of a dialogue. It was difficult to select the short extracts for the final video, but we chose some that focused on the benefits of digital records, and lessons learned, and tried to avoid anything too descriptive or detailed. I wrote a script for a voiceover, which I recorded later. Now I am waiting for the first rough edit, to which still images will be added to break up the talking heads.

This aspect of the project has been very time-consuming but fun to do, and I am sure many more people will watch a short video than would ever pick up pages of text and read it. I only hope the finished product lives up to expectations!

Change management and student records

Our recent work on student records has prompted reflections on the nature of change management.

Some issues demand technological solutions:

  • Systems can be designed to combat the problem of paper files being generated in up to 8 different departments for a single student
  • Users do not have to print born-digital records for the paper file once they have the capability to attach electronic documents to computerised student or staff records
  • Technical processes can be devised to overcome challenges integrating our student data with third party systems (Student Finance England, Transport for London, Higher Education Funding Council England)

Other issues require cultural change:

  • Might it be feasible for awards committee members to view exam results on tablets in meetings, to save printing them all to paper?
  • Is it reasonable to expect committee members to print documents sent to them electronically?
  • Would tutors ever want to mark online?

Sometimes users devise a local solution to a local problem. Occasionally this even gets adopted and implemented more widely – the extent to which this is possible depends on several factors:

  • Is it scalable?
  • What compromises are required?
  • Can the prototype processes be refined?
  • Is the proposed change desirable?
  • Is the data comparable
  • Is it auditable?

Some local innovations are adopted centrally – bottom up – and others are devised at a higher level centrally and “imposed” locally – top down – what are the relative merits of each approach? Local pilots usefully reveal teething problems on a small scale, and allow experimentation so issues can be fixed at an early stage in the process. But if technological fixes are done at a macro level, detached from the bigger picture, how do they fit into the overall roadmap?  It is crucial to identify dependencies at an early stage so to link local innovation to the corporate, strategic overview.

We need to understand which processes can be computerised and which cannot. It is not possible to automate everything, nor is it desirable – there are many variables, and some processes involve subjective judgement and/or discretionary decision-making.  There is no benefit to computerising some processes.  Process mapping is crucial, to avoid pointlessly systemising poor practice.  

We know we cannot continue to provide a Records Management service for paper AND hybrid records indefinitely. They are too hard to manage: some records only exist on computerised systems; some are printed for paper files; some paper files contain documents that do not exist on our systems, making them incomplete records; and we are missing digital information held outside our systems.

What is involved in moving from hybrid to digital systems? And how will we know when we’ve got there?

Managing student records

The Transform project is looking at how records are managed in six key areas and, in February, the focus was on student records.  We talked to four teams working with student data and learned a lot from hearing about their frustrations and triumphs. We also identified some areas where efficiency could be improved through using technology.

The Student Conduct and Appeals team manages about 600 case files each year. The combination of an impending office move, and a new manager, created a great opportunity to review records management. Routines that had previously worked well had gradually broken down over a long period when a succession of temporary staff handled records inconsistently, and systems that involved organising files by case type went wrong when cases crossed boundaries – eg when a complaint also involved an appeal. Case files are in paper format and born-digital documents are printed and filed. Exploring the reasons why taught us something about resistance to going digital: people are unsure about the legal status of digital versions of important documents, especially if the signature is significant, and they also fear losing information in digital format if routine backup procedures fail.  This is useful in helping us understand and manage the culture change required to ease the transition to more digital ways of managing records. Happily, our visit also created an opportunity to discuss housekeeping electronic records prior to a planned migration to a new server – staff wanted advice about managing information received via email so it gets attached to the case files, rather than remaining in desktop mail folders.

The Exams and Awards Office services around 100 committees involved in student assessment, generating “masses” of paper. Thousands of exam record documents are printed for committees over the course of a year – around 75% of which are subsequently destroyed.  Previous efforts to reduce the volume of paper documents circulated to committee members have not been very successful: large volume emails caused system crashes and the number of recipients is limited; and security concerns surround the use of drop box.  SharePoint offers the promise of improved document sharing in future, but it will be critical to ensure the correct structures are in place first.

Committee members need access to statistics in meetings, but efforts to project live data onto a wall instead of providing information on paper stalled when the system performed slowly. Members have suggested using individual tablet devices to view data, a proposal that might justify a cost-benefit analysis – do other institutions have any experience of this?

 Another potential improvement area concerns the 1,500 students who each year complete a form on paper requesting special exam arrangements – a good candidate for an online web form with the added bonus that the digital record created could subsequently be stored against the student’s online record.

The team readily identified some other bonuses of digital records management: freeing up valuable office space by reducing the number of paper-filled filing cabinets, and improving the image of a service occasionally perceived as bureaucratic and inefficient, raising both institutional reputation and staff morale.

The Assessment and Records Centre for Arts and Sciences has already been using technology to improve efficiency. It used to take four full-time staff three weeks to manually enter 40-50,000 exam marks, but this has been halved using Excel – equivalent to six working weeks for one person, or one and a half weeks for each of the four team members. This has eliminated the large backlog that used to accumulate during the summer peak, enabling them to monitor progress and stay on top of other tasks, such as running reports for boards ratifying marks, which streamlines progression procedures. The team say the main benefit is not even the time saved, but the improvements in data accuracy – rectifying mistakes used to involve time-consuming manual checking, but the new automated process instantly identifies errors by revealing exceptions.

Completing a Change of Registration form used to require manually entering data into multiple fields on the student system – not only laborious, but also the cause of inconsistencies and errors. The team was frequently asked to retrospectively complete fields left blank (eg ethnicity codes, reasons for withdrawal) because lack of this data prevented the accurate completion of HESA returns.  A new process now updates all these fields in a single action.

Completing a Change of Circumstance form used to be a chore that involved completing a form in Word with data from several different places on the student system, but important as a vital part of the process that enables the College to claim fee income from Student Financing England (SFE).   The improvements made to the Change of Registration form mean a whole batch of Change of Circumstances forms can now be produced at a stroke, AND in a format conforming to SFE standards. 

In a typical year the team used to manually produce up to 18,000 individual results summary documents when results needed to be checked (eg resolving discrepancies, authorising condoned fails, ascertaining student debtor status, borderline results that might affect final degree classification).  The team devised a way to produce a batch of documents for all the students on a single programme in one exercise, described as a “massive boost to productivity” and an improvement attracting praise from exam board committee members.  Progression is another area that has been streamlined, using Excel functionality to generate summaries confirming whether students can progress to the next year or have failed any core modules.

The team has the Registered Student Form in their sights next – plans to generate this form with most fields pre-completed with accurate data from the student system could reduce the reliance on paper forms completed (possibly inaccurately) by students.

Historical student records in the archives originate from a variety of sources, and a series of institutional mergers has resulted in a legacy of different systems. Records are also held in multiple locations which can make life hard for archive staff answering queries. We wondered: if the records can’t be stored together physically, to what extent can they be brought together virtually? Ideas we have come up with so far include digitising location-specific master records that double as finding aids, and creating a new resource by producing guides to student records by department and/or era.

Lots to think about!

Refreshing Transform

There are many difficulties with starting a project once a bid has been successful. It can be hard to get started, and find the right approach, and to find time to think about a new challenge on top of a normal workload. A common experience, reinforced by discussions at our recent Action Learning Set, is that the original scope can, in retrospect, seem too ambitious in proportion to the resources available. The important thing is not to panic! A project can always be steered back on track with a bit of re-focusing and refreshing, in fact it is an unusual project that does not change shape along the way to some extent. As long as the original objectives are kept in sight, and plans made to deliver the promised outcomes, the organisation should be able to find some real and lasting benefits from the experience. We need to be strategic, which is why is was great to meet with Sarah last month and get her enthusiastic approval of our plans for completing Transform.

Our project is broadlly about looking at records management in 6 key areas, and exploring improvements that might be achieved by encouraging a shift from paper to electronic systems. We already knew it would be important to seize opportunites arising from changes already planned, such as an efficiency programme in the finance department, and we have since identified synergies with other initiatives. However it became apparent that going into each of the 6 areas in great depth could involve so much mapping and documenting of processes that it could detract from the more important creative work. Instead we will now focus on one set – committee records – in depth for the remaining 6 months, and take a lighter look at each of the other 5 records sets in turn, one per month, applying some of what we are learning from our main study. This approach has breathed new life into the project, and re-energised it.

Action Learning in Preston

Thanks to Lucy for hosting the Action Learning Set at UCLAN last week. It was really good to meet others and find that two of them are, like me, new to their projects. I thought the principles of Action Learning – something else that is new to me – worked really well, as we took it in turns to listen to each other talk about project issues, ask helfpul questions and make practical suggestions. I noticed how often people said “thanks, that’s a really great idea!” People seemed to find the human contact reassuring.

What I learned:

  • Many projects start out with an over ambitious scope and have to be adapted to become more realistic
  • It can be really hard to secure buy-in and decision-making from senior management, a common cause of project bottlenecks.  People are sometimes appointed to chair project boards because of their seniority, but the  skills required to chair meetings effectively, and drive decision-making, are often underestimated. Tactics to combat this include making efforts to win support by briefing key individuals outside meetings
  • Sometimes small changes can be introduced almost  “by stealth”, but real strategic change requires concensus and organisational maturity
  • There are risks associated with an over-reliance on technology – we need to be aware of the pitfalls of platforms disappearing and changing, and upgrades and migrations
  • If we don’t have time to do justice to the outcomes of consultation exercises and workshops, it might be worth considering delegating some of the analysis to the participants, who might have an interest in resolving issues
  • One way for a project leader to draw a line at the end of a project, and extricate themselves, is to foster and empower a community of practice to continue the good work
  • When it’s hard to identify obvious indicators to measure progress, consider looking for metrics that reveal inefficiencies – eg how long it takes to find information, how many people are involved in achieving something – and demonstrate how this has changed
  • Plan consultation carefully, considering which methods are most effective for what you want to find out and, above all, consider at the outset how you plan to use the results

Thanks also to Sarah for chairing so supportively, and effectively by ensuring that we all agreed to some specific actions. This should ensure the day has practical outcomes that help us move our projects on, rather than being a talking shop or group therapy session, however valuable that might be!

Applying Enterprise Architecture webinar

We found last week’s JISC Infonet webinar Applying Enterprise Architecture interesting and informative. It showcased the experience of two universities, Staffordshire University and the University of Bolton. For those who missed it, here’s a link to the recording:

Their experiences shared confirmed our feeling that it can be a real challenge finding a common language for effective communication between IT, Information Management and people working in the business units.

Applying Enterprise Architecture involves taking a more holistic approach to connecting people, processes and technology than earlier business re-engineering models might have done. It can usefully “wrap around” other disciplines and methodologies.

One participant asked how it relates to Action Research (a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by a community of practice to improve the way issues are addressed and problems solved, involving active participation in organizational change). The answer suggested that Action Research could almost be considered a lightweight version of Enterprise Architecture.

There was some discussion about which tools people found useful. Staffordshire found the CETIS Archimate modelling tool preferable to Visio, liking the way its flexibility enabled them to tailor presentations to different audiences, to convey messages in a professional way that boosted credibility. Someone else found the Ketso Creativity Kit was good for generating ideas, identifying problems and priorities Another participant used the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment to bring 40 individuals together.

Whilst diagrams have a role in cutting across the silos that can develop, forming barriers between IT, Information Management and the business, we are all keen to bring about actual change rather than just keep mapping things.

Sadly, there are no magic answers. It was acknowledged that raising awareness – and the professionalization of process review – is a long game!

Thanks to Andy Stewart and everyone else involved for a stimulating session.

Face to face action learning set

Have just finished a useful action learning set here at King’s College London today.  One thing that several members felt was missing was the chance to meet face to face during the project and I was happy to host this here.  We took a similar approach to our online sessions but being able to see my colleagues faces was really useful and we all took away actions from the session.

My main concern for this set was that parts of my planned project have moved off in ways I had not considered when I was writing the bid.  Sarah, our cluster leader had done her homework and was able to restate the project objectives so this helped to focus my thinking.  I will go away to review the mapping of the original bid objectives to refocus what has been achieved during the project and what is outside the scope of this project.

The actions I have come away with are:

  • Delegate some work on the project to other team members – I did assign a team member to each set of records when we did the initial workshop back in January but in most cases, they haven’t been involved due to other priorities or to a need for preparatory work before they could take over.  I will be reviewing each record set work and arranging meetings with them, probably around the evidencing change templates which I think are a good way of focussing activity on the project
  • Define the measures for each record set (these might be high level) and then arrange a meeting/telephone call with Sarah to discuss next steps
  • Start filling in the case study template and consider building skills around story telling ready for the video case study (maybe find someone else to be in the video!)
  • Blog shorter posts and more regularly
  • Share draft evidencing change templates on our action learning set cluster



Evaluating the project

It’s 8 months since our project started in November 2011 and that means that we are nearly half way through.  This is a good time to start to ask the questions about what we have achieved so far and find ways of measuring this against our original objectives.

In January, the Information Management team held a facilitated workshop to capture baseline data about the six key record sets we had identified in our project bid.  This resulted in ‘As is’ process maps and captured some actions to fill in gaps where our knowledge of the data flow through systems was lacking as well as identifying who within the College is accountable for the overall record and constituent parts.

 Our initial focus was work on our Student records which we retain permanently although currently this is partly in digital form within our SITS student system as well as paper records, sometime files from both the central teams and departmental teams.  As part of a College funded initiative, we mapped the data flow from our admissions portal through the SITS system and also identified where data was duplicated in both digital and paper formats.  This exercise was captured in a ‘Data Managment Plan’, a new process that we have started to use to document data flows and risks.  Carrying out this analysis has enabled the Information Management team to develop the trust of business users and begin to build a business case for introducing document management to increase the content of a student record by linking scanned and born digital documents.  This should reduce the risks of core data being held outside the student record in the longer term, although implementing this functionality across the College will take time and resources to support this.    The plan has now been signed off by the business owners and feedback has been very positive.  This has resulted in project funding for Key Information Sets (KIS) and Higher Education Achievement Record (HEAR) being allocated to a 2 year Information Analyst post within the Information Management team to allow us to support the business in delivering these projects whilst ensuring that records and information management are embedded in the solutions. 

How we evaluate this is our next challenge – we can document qualitative changes such as the introduction of Information Management skills to the project team and at the end of the project in 2014, we will be able to show many back office changes such as how we capture programme and module approval and we could document the time taken to approve a module using a paper based process and compare this to the online approval and multiply this by the number of approvals per year to show a recurrent saving.  We have some experience of this as part of the JISC Impact Calculator pilot in 2010 where we defined the cost or time per unit of change against the resource costs to make the change.  We asked for help from our Finance team who are more used to calculations of this type so we may be going back for more help soon!

Our work on staff data has been progressing well as we analyse the individual fields of the PURE system feed, which will populate a portal to support our preparation for Research Excellence Framework assessment in 2014.   The use of HR data feeds exposes data quality and business processes in a way that was not intended and our challenge here has been to work with HR, Finance and ITS staff to map data flows through both the HR and Finance systems.   We have held several round table meetings to agree potential changes and ensure that we do not affect other processes by implementing these.  Mapping the process for communicating change has also been illuminating as accountable staff often have very different understanding of similar processes.  One outcome of this work has been a better overall understanding of data uses and we are now considering setting up an Institutional Data Governance Committee to sign off changes to reduce risks in this area. 

Committee records management has been progressing well behind the scenes and we are aiming to digitally archive 100% of our core committees (standing committees designated within our Ordnances) by 2012/13.  I’ve been trialling the Evidencing Change template in this area and will be sharing it with the action learning set when we meet on 10th July.

Other areas of records management have not been progressed at the same pace – there is always a limited amount of resource committed to working on this and student and staff records are high priority when matched with technical resources to implement change.

Estates records were a high priority in 2009 -2010 and improved working relationships led to better paper records management and some involvement in development of their project management system to add document management functionality.  The functionality project was put on hold in 2011 and has not yet been revived, so we will be working with Estates over the summer to understand any future development and help them to address the risks in the meantime.

Finance records have always been predominantly paper and work on this project needs to focus on building relationships with Finance staff and understanding the roadmap for development of the Finance system in this context.  Some of the work on staff data has meant work with Finance staff who control the establishment and this will be useful to build our understanding of the many aspects of financial management carried out within the College.

Our final set of records for this project is research administration records.  We have been working with staff within our Research Management Directorate over the last year on a range of projects around research data management and so have started to build our relationships there and will continue to be involved as they begin to specify the functionality of a new pre and post awards system.  One output from our earlier project is a guide to retaining research administration records so one of our frequently asked questions – what documentation should I retain can now be answered with a best practice guide

This entry has not really answered the question of evaluation but has certainly raised several new issues in my mind – I think I need several different levels of evaluation criteria, depending on the stage of change each area is at.  Where we are ready to make changes and have a project in place, this can be documented in one way but where change is not even being considered, a different set of criteria need to be applied – more of that in a later post

None of this will be solved overnight, but what we have learnt from this is the value of bringing key players around the table to talk about issues and working as a multi-disciplinary team to understand each person’s role in the process


Progress so far

Since the last action learning group on 7th February, We have been trying to address the challenges of this project.  Like most other Higher Education Institutions, we are in a time of great change and financial cut backs and so much of our work has been to research where there is appetite for change and where change is already being planned and we can work with these areas to improve their chances of achieving change and delivering added value.

At the end of January, we held a day workshop facilitated by an external IM consultant to look at all 6 areas of records within this project, Student, Staff, Finance, Estates, Research and Committee records.  Each member of the IM team is taking a lead on one area and we summarised the current situation as we understood it and then tried to map the data flow of each type of record from creation to retention, deletion or archiving.

One main area of focus since then has been around the management of student records.  We currently retain all student paper files permanently and although there have been some electronic student record pilots, most of our schools still create a paper file as well as maintaining the electronic student system (we use SITS).  There are many reasons for this – most academics and some administrators don’t have access to the student system and so when they need to write a reference or answer a query about a student, getting access to the paper file is the easiest way to do this.  Other issues are lack of scanning facilities for those records received in paper format,  lack of trust of the electronic system or comfort in the existing process and lack of drivers to change!

As information managers, we need to  be led by the business in driving these changes.  We have identified a window of opportunity to work with our Students and Education Support Directorate who are driving work around the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).  Alongside this work, the business is also hoping to improve access to the system, address training issues and review the security model so that end users can get an overview of a student record without having to access multiple screens or submit data directly into the system.  Our team will be working alongside these projects to compare ‘As is’ and ‘To be’ processes and to demonstrate at what stage fully electronic records can be trusted and we can cease creating and retaining paper records.

Another area we have been asked to work on by our IT services is to look at staff records.  In preparation for Research Excellence Framework assessment in 2014, we are implementing a new Research Information System fed by the PURE application.  The use of HR data feeds exposes data quality and business processes in a way that was not intended and our challenge here is to work with HR, Finance and ITS staff to map data flows through both the HR and Finance systems.  One thing that we are focusing on is responsibility for fields within the core systems – in many cases, there is  no clear responsibility and in other cases, changes can be made to suit one use which may impact on how another system uses this data. 

None of this will be solved overnight, but what we have learnt from this is the value of bringing key players around the table to talk about this issues and working as a multi-disciplinary team to understand each person’s role in the process.

The Enterprise Architecture workshop arranged by JISC on 29th March was a valuable introduction to this approach and one thing I particularly took from the day was that Enterprise Architecture practitioners may be more effective if not sited in ITS or Business functions.  Our experience of being neutral players, able to understand technical and business requirements and to translate requirements between the parties would back up this recommendation.

Other areas we have started to investigate have included research administration records.  Administrative records are managed by our Research Grants and Contracts team and at present are kept as paper files and sent to records management for retention.  Discussions are underway to scope a new system that will manage pre and post awards and will allow digital or scanned documents to be attached to the project.  Involvement in the planning and design of the system will allow us to ensure that these records will be more widely available which should limit the need for staff to keep their own copies as well as to improve the ability to transfer administrative records to the College Archives to preserve our research memory

Committee records are now only preserved digitally and we are continuing to work with committee administrators to ensure that they submit them in a timely manner and that we can store them with adequate metadata for retrieval and use by College Staff.  We hope to create a new committee system using SharePoint 2010 in the near future which will allow self-service secure storage and access for committee members to allow phasing out of printed copies at a later stage.

Work with our Estates records will be building on two previous projects both funded by JISC – the PEKin Project which delivered a case study on the move from paper to digital estates records and the Transforming Estates Records Management (TERM) project which piloted the Impact Calculator.  Estates are improving their project management system (IMPREST) to allow storage of project documentation and the IM team have been involved in this work.

Our final area of work is that of Finance Records.  This is traditionally paper based and we are in the early stages of documenting the flow of information from external suppliers and staff expenses to payments and the documentation created and its need for retention.  There are many players involved in these processes and the appetite for change is not high.

I’m looking forward to the next action learning set on April 30th to share our experiences with the other members and to use this feedback to plan work over the next few months

Using JISC Resources to address change

The College’s strategic end game is a near complete shift to electronic digital records, information management and archiving, and a reduction in the number of parallel enterprise systems. This will achieve cost savings to digital and physical space and IT support while optimising access to definitive information for business purposes. This will include the provision of core data concerning the student experience and reduce the time required to answer Freedom of Information requests.

Key to this vision will be utilising JISC guidance to build cases, prioritise and improve staff skills.  Involvement in the JISC Strategic Information Practice Group will provide an opportunity for Information Management to work with other staff of the business and to undertake further appropriate professional team training to support these endeavours.

Information Management staff currently generally lack skills in building practices around strategic ICT notably in support of enterprise architecture as this is rarely included in professional training courses. Capacity building in partnership with others as part of this project willhelp to align our skills with our technical colleagues, provide a better understanding of challenges and enhance multi-disciplinary working to meet the College’s strategic objectives.

Experience of the previous Impact Calculator project suggests that action learning sets and peer to peer support will provide an environment to discuss difficult organisational challenges. This in turn will enable solutions and measures to be devised to support a move to a more integrated records management service and incentivise technical skills improvement in our staff

The funding from this bid will offer staff a protected space away from their day to day responsibilities to study and analyse tools, and to discuss in depth their potential application at Kings which would not normally be possible.

Previous work piloting the Impact Calculator over 6 months focussing on estates records (  gave us experience of the challenges of setting SMART (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) metrics around information management change, but the short time span was not long enough to evaluate the longitudinal impact of these changes nor maintain staff involvement in the transformation process.

This project has therefore been designed to benefit from the maximum 18 month period to optimise this impact.  There are four discrete sets of outcomes from this project:

  •  Analysis- working with records owners to review the lifecycle of their records and capture the process of change
    Deliverables: process map, metrics definition and benchmarks, communications plan
  • Organisational workshops – involving the steering group champion and records owners to set achievable targets
    Deliverables: targets, methodology (using Data Assessment Framework)
  • Action learning sets – discussion with project peers and JISC experts to identify potential barriers and to plan strategies to overcome them Deliverables: professional development and improved effectiveness of Information Management team for the benefit of the College
  •  Monitoring – bi-monthly review of targets and forum to address barriers to change
    Deliverables: longitudinal progress maps, documentation of barriers and their solutions

These will feed into a case study which will be available to the wider sector along with the deliverables such as process maps, metrics definition, lessons learnt and feedback on how JISC resources could be enhanced and improved