28 September 2004

ICT Governance

Management of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) within the University is being restructured.

PVC Research and Information Management Professor has been having discussions with ICT Managers from ICT Services and the Academic Divisions about the organization of governance for ICT in the University. Currently there is no University-wide entity that looks after these things, the responsibilities having been devolved to the Divisions some time ago. A number of University-wide committees that coordinated activities in this area have come and gone, with no single group responsible for advising the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC), or to coordinate the implementation of any policies that come down from VCAC.

With the current move to centralise ICT Services, PVC R & IM is looking for a structure that will ensure proper governance of ICT services, projects and systems.

Web Content Management System

The University now has a Web Content Management System (CMS) to help keep UC web content current.

PVC Research and Information Management launched the University's new Web Content Management System last Thursday in the Council Room. The first site to go live using the Web CMS is the CELTS site, available at http://www.canberra.edu.au/celts/.

PVC R&IM made some interesting remarks at the launch about the need for Universities to be online for prospective students to do some research on where they might like to go: if you are not online, you don't exist for these cyber-generation students. One member of the Division's staff had such an experience in China in January this year when her Chinese hosts could not find the School of Education and Community Studies on the University's website, even though it was on the staff member's newly-printed business cards.

The University's Web Content Management System was built with the open source software MySource Matrix developed in Australia by Squiz.net. The system will simplify and automate the way web publishing and management takes place at the University: allowing content owners to edit their web pages in a browser-like environment rather than having to learn Dreamweaver or another complicated web-page editing system, or having to rely on others with web-editing skills to make the changes for them.

The Division's "marketing" websites will be transitioned to the system over the next year or so, but the timetable and strategy are still be determined by UCOnline Manager and the ICT Services team (ICT Services will take over the responsibility of hosting sites using the Web Content Management System, and will help with training, coordination and supervision of the sites hosted there).

TSU Team are aware of the future transition to the Web CMS, and, while our role in any changeover is unclear at the moment, any work that has been done on websites recently has been done in the knowledge of the new system coming in, and sites have been designed to transition easily to the Web CMS once this is required by ICT Services.

Resource requirements and the restructure

The change in credit points to standardise on multiples of three has given us the opportunity to review resource requirements for restructured units.

Manager, IT & Media Services met with the Heads of Schools of Professional Communication and Creative Communication to discuss the resource requirements of units in courses being restructured.

In particular, the units of concern were Advanced Broadcast Journalism 1 & 2, Television Production 2 & 3 (all four of which courses are heavy users of media facilities, equipment and technical staff, and all of which are proposed to be changed from 4 to 6 credit points), Communication Dissertation and Creative Project (both of which, at the discretion of the convenor or Head of School, can include substantive media production work).

It was agreed that the Advanced Broadcast Journalism courses both have a 20% increase in assessable items that include production components, and this would have an impact on the facilities, equipment and technical staff involvement with the unit. Students in these units would be expected to spend more time in the studio and lab environments than do those students currently doing the units, placing greater demand on supervising and technical staff.

Television Production courses would not require additional resources for the restructured units, but Creative Project was proving to be an issue that is being looked into by the School of Creative Communication. The unit is expected to be changed to reduce the pressure on equipment, facilities and technical staff, and any requirements for access to these resources would be coordinated with the Media Facilities Users Group, MFUG.

The convenor of the Communication Dissertation unit, where students can choose to do a substantive media production work as their dissertation, must liaise with the Division through MFUG, and get their agreement before the convenor can approve a particular substantive media production work where the facilities, equipment and/or technical staff of the Division are involved.

14 September 2004

Student Access to Multifunction Devices

Students in ICT in Education and the ILTC can now print and photocopy to local devices.

After an inordinate amount of to-ing and fro-ing between the TSU and ICT Services, the new student access multifunction devices (MFDs) in the ICT in Education student lab and the ILTC are now configured to correctly charge students for printing in line with University policy. While the system for charging (Pharos) is an ICT Services service, it appears the Division must administer the system for our printers.

In contrast the Library was most helpful in establishing a system to transfer funds to the Division for the use of the MFDs by students for photocopying using the same photocopy cards the students can buy in the Library or the CRC.

What we support

With limited resources, the Technical Services Unit can’t always satisfy a client’s every wish...

Recently there has been some discussion around the Division about what the TSU supports in relation to desktop and laboratory computers.

All computers purchased conform to a standard hardware configuration (that changes over time as technology changes and prices drop). The current configuration is Pentium 4 or Macintosh G5, 512MB RAM, Combo Drive (reads and writes CDs, reads DVDs), Flat Panel Display.

Staff desktop computers in the Division are imaged with standard environments, with additional software added for some users with specialist requirements where the additional applications are properly licensed (and usually paid for from the cost centre associated with the end user). Staff can install additional software on their computers (they must ensure they have the legal rights to install the software), but the TSU will not be able to support this additional software. Should the computer require re-imaging, the TSU will apply the current image to the computer: all end-user installed software and locally saved data may be lost during this process.

Images for lab computers are developed after consultation with stakeholders around the Division. Images are built from properly licensed software and tested to ensure all the available applications work together properly. Applications already in the image are normally given precedence to new software if there is a conflict. Applications requested may be rejected for any (or all) of a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Lack of compatibility;
  • Size and complexity;
  • Cost; and
  • Support issues.

Further information about the Division's policy on software requests and lab images can be found on the TSU website at http://www.ce.canberra.edu.au/tsu/soft_requests.htm and http://www.ce.canberra.edu.au/tsu/labs.htm.

Acronym soup: SOE and COE

A University project to come up with a more manageable system of providing a stable computing environment is underway.

SOE stands for Standard Operating Environment: a specification for a standard architecture, system software and set of applications to be used on computers throughout an organisation. On the other hand a COE is a Common Operating Environment, which as well as specifying a common IT architecture within an organisation also stresses interoperability and cross-platform capabilities among an organisation's computers and sometimes other devices like organisers, pocket PCs, mobile phones, and so on. Under a COE all the devices in an organisation would run the same software and use the same interfaces so that information is presented consistently throughout the organisation. ICT Services felt that SOE was too prescriptive a term (suggesting an identical outcome for all which was not the intention), so has decided to refer in future to COE.

The COE group in ICT Services has been established to develop and maintain images to set up different groups of computers around the University (for example staff PC and Macintosh desktop computers; student PC and Macintosh lab computers). An image is a complete copy of all the files on a hard disk: when an image containing an operating system is applied to a hard disk, the computer containing the hard disk becomes as exact copy of the computer from which the image was made. Together with other management strategies, the use of images makes it possible to deploy and look after a number of computers much more effectively.

An image is created first by setting up a master computer with all the system software, settings, patches, drivers applications and so on required by the organization. This environment on the master computer has to be checked to see, for example, that it actually works properly, that all the software is licensed, that there are no conflicts between the various applications and drivers, and that it works on the University network. Once a stable functioning environment is achieved, the same environment must then be checked across the whole range of systems it is intended to be deployed to: unless all the computers are exactly identical (same make and model number, identical memory, hard disk [type and capacity], monitor, peripherals, firmware, etc), it is impossible to say that the environment will work across all the computers without testing them first. Often for example several alternative drivers have to be included in the environment to cover a range of different hardware configurations used. Only after the environment has been certified to work on its intended hardware can a final image be made and applied to the target computers.

In the past the process of developing a base image that works has taken between six weeks and three months: and it has to be redone (not necessarily from scratch) each time there is a variation to the environment. There are often conflicts between existing applications and new ones: if these can't be resolved the existing application is usually retained and the new ones refused. Often different end users request alternative applications that do the same job (like web browsers, for example), but when tested the applications don't work together properly: if both are included in the final image it means that some configuration needs to be done manually once the image is applied to an end user's machine (somewhat defeating the purpose of creating the images in the first place). Over the past three years at least it has not been possible to include all the functionality requested by end users due to hard disk capacity alone: the resultant image has been too large to fit on older machines like those in Category A teaching spaces.

The COE group will build on less formal arrangements that have been in place for a number of years around the campus, whereby the computer centre, in consultation with the Academic Divisions, has developed some base images that the Academic Divisions then take and modify to suit their local needs. Sometimes these modifications have created difficulties, for example for staff and students trying to access network storage from computers managed by different Divisions. The COE group will work actively with representatives of the Academic Divisions to develop images at suit everyone as much as possible and try to ensure interoperability across Divisions where required.

Two TSU members are currently working with ICT Services to ensure the needs of the Division are communicated to the COE group and our requirements are met.