Sharing across borders

UCISA is a member of the Coalition of Higher Education IT Associations (CHEITA). Many of the issues we face in the UK are the same in other countries – it is hoped that the existence of CHEITA will encourage international collaboration to address those issues. The following is a report on the Spring meeting of CHEITA.

The Spring CHEITA meeting took place ahead of the UCISA14 Conference in Brighton, UK in March. The meeting looked at the four main issues that were identified at the CHEITA meeting at EDUCAUSE in Anaheim in October 2013 and sought to identify resources that member associations were willing to share to assist others in addressing those issues. In addition, there was a brief update on the benchmarking activities since Anaheim. The afternoon session was dedicated to the support of research and included a number of presentations. The meeting was attended by representatives from France, Italy, Sweden, EUNIS (the Europe wide association), Hong Kong, South Africa, the USA and the UK.


Susan Grajek gave a brief update on the work of the CHEITA Benchmarking Group and the work EDUCAUSE have carried out. Susan highlighted the Top Ten IT Issues and the Top Ten Strategic Technologies for 2014. The discussion in Anaheim had focused on the need to develop maturity indices for technologies in higher education institutions (HEIs). Susan noted three areas where EDUCAUSE had developed indices:

• Research computing (see;
• Analytics (see;
• E-learning (see

In addition SURF have developed a maturity index for Green IT (see

A meeting of the EUNIS Benchmarking Group was held in December with Leah Lang attending from EDUCAUSE. The group had identified five elements that could be established as international IT benchmarks. It was noted that there were particular challenges in measuring spend and the quality of service delivered. It was also noted that it was difficult to compare institutions internationally because of the different educational systems in each country and different institutional missions within it. The CAUDIT Complexity index may provide a mechanism for facilitating international comparison. It was noted that the index worked well in South Africa and initial results in applying the index to US institutions was encouraging.

Jisc have developed a Financial X-Ray to establish the cost of IT in institutions. This work has identified a taxonomy for IT Services in institutions and looks through financial and staffing information to identify full costs for each element of the IT service provision. This is available as a service from Jisc. It was noted that a substantial amount of effort was required to establish full and accurate costs. A group looking at benchmarking of all university services is considering using the X-Ray method across all service departments for facilitate nationwide benchmarking.

There was a brief discussion on the role of benchmarking in driving improvements and efficiencies in institutions. There is a need to link cost with the quality of the service provided, both in terms of the service itself and customer satisfaction. Without an understanding of the quality of service and its relationship with cost, there is a risk that institution management may jeopardise quality services if they compare on cost alone. The UCISA approach has been to encourage benchsharing – institutions looking at the outputs from statistics exercises should compare all aspects of that service with their peers.

In addition to core data surveys, UCISA has carried out a benchmarking study on university service desks in the UK (report launched at the UCISA14 Conference) and Technology Enhanced Learning (report published in September 2014). UCISA is also planning to carry out a survey on Digital Capabilities and will look to see how these surveys can be shared effectively across the CHEITA members.

Information Security

A number of associations were carrying out work to improve information security in institutions in their countries. Cineca have developed systems to provide services on demand. These include virtual machines, disaster recovery and a remote systems management service. Cineca are storing and maintaining scientific data sets, backing them up and managing access to them through various clients. It was noted that institutions in Italy are mandated to have business continuity plans in place; the Cineca system assists in those plans.

The regulations institutions have in place underpin good information security. UCISA was launching the latest edition of its Model Regulations at the Conference; these are designed for institutions to take and adapt as they require. In addition, UCISA was revising the Information Security Toolkit. This is a substantial piece of work and the expected publication date is March 2015. The current version is available online.

In the UK, the operations of universities are overseen by governing boards that include members with no higher education background or involvement. UCISA has worked with the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education in the UK to produce a guide for institutional governors to help them understand the application of IT in universities and the related issues that institutions might face.

Efficiencies and modernisation/cloud and shared services

It was noted that all associations seek to drive efficiencies and modernisation in their membership by promoting best practice and sharing knowledge. Those that are consortia will help their members achieve efficiencies by developing new (and potentially shared) services for their members. The challenge within individual institutions is demonstrating that initiatives are delivering the efficiencies expected.

There were a number of developments taking place in Italy. Cineca were looking at providing facilities for a use on demand service for MOOCs. The prospect of developing a system based on the complete student lifecycle was being investigated. Cineca were developing a number of cloud solutions. EUDAT is a collaborative data infrastructure which will allow research data to be shared between communities and fortissimo provides services running on a cloud based high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure. In the UK, the possibility of a data centre being shared between a number of research focussed institutions to facilitate the sharing of research data was also being investigated. The University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University have refurbished a data centre and are now sharing it with another institution in the North East of Scotland. The initiative won the UCISA Award for Excellence this year.

EDUCAUSE have established a working group looking at the total cost of ownership of cloud computing and are starting work to establish if Cloud is cost effective. The Financial X-ray work from Jisc started as an initiative to ensure that institutions understood their full internal costs and so were able to compare their internal provision with cloud offerings. UCISA has produced a briefing paper on Cloud Computing targeted at senior management within institutions.

There is an initiative in Europe that is looking at the area of learning analytics. The LACE project is funded by the European Union and is considering the ethical aspects of learning analytics as well as looking to share best practice.

Support of research

The afternoon part of the meeting focused on the support of research and CHEITA delegates were joined by representatives from universities and a number of other organisations. It was recognised that, with increasing international collaboration, standards played a key part in sharing information. The session opened with two presentations looking at standards.

EuroCRIS is the European organisation for international research information. Although primarily Europe based it has members worldwide, including Australia, Canada and the USA. EuroCRIS promotes sharing through CERIF, the Common European Research Information Framework. CERIF supports a range of data objects, including publication, person and funding. It is intended that Research Information Systems (RIS) will hold information or be able to import/export information in the CERIF format. In the UK, the framework has been used to track publications and harmonise reporting. Germany is following the UK model. EuroCRIS are linking with CASRAI and ORCID.

A working party formed by Jisc and including representation from UK universities, research organisations and UCISA, recommended that the ORCID was adopted as a standard identifier for researchers. Following on from that recommendation, Jisc have established a number of pilot projects to streamline the ORCID implementation process at universities and to develop the best value approach for a potential UK wide adoption of ORCID in higher education. The pilots were due to begin in April 2014 and mirror similar projects taking place in the US.

Open access to research outputs, including data, is proving a challenge to CHEITA members. The pressures to develop an infrastructure to facilitate open access come from both governments who are seeking to maximise the investment they make in research by making the outputs more publicly available, and from the researchers themselves (particularly younger researchers) who seek to build their reputations through publications. The difficulty for publications is balancing the timeliness of public access against the desire for research outputs to be peer reviewed and the commercial aspects of publishing against the open movement. Open access to research data presents a further set of problems – the data need to be made available in such a way that they are discoverable and reusable and its curation and preservation need to be well managed. Both data and publications need to be discoverable. In Italy, Cineca have produced a number of resources to assist Italian universities. These include a directory of open access repositories, a registry of archiving policies where open access has been mandated, a directory of open access journals and a portal to provide a central point of access to publications archived in Italian open access repositories and journals. In addition, they have been participating in cross-Europe initiatives such as OpenAire to support the discovery, sharing and reuse of research outputs.

The meeting moved on to discuss institutional responses to the challenge of supporting research. In both instances it was clear that institutions need to invest heavily in supporting research if they are to maintain and/or enhance their research standing. The University of Cape Town (UCT) have established an eResearch Centre. The University recognised that leading research universities have a strategy that ensures that their researchers are equipped with the latest tools and techniques to raise their profile and improve collaboration. Consequently UCT planned to build an eResearch Centre to support their strategic mission to raise the quality of research within the institution and its profile globally. The first phase is to establish the core IT infrastructure to support research – HPC, storage and on demand (cloud) services were key to the initial phase but they must also be supported by dedicated IT and Library staff with a strong understanding of research. Thereafter the infrastructure can be built on by identifying discipline focussed pilot projects to develop institutional capabilities. Interdisciplinary projects can then follow before finally moving to international collaboration.

The University of Bristol was also contemplating setting up an eResearch centre which would bring two strands of activity together. The first of these was to develop a research data service which would assist researchers to develop data management plans, provide training and assist archiving data. The other strand was to develop an effective IT infrastructure to support the diverse requirements of researchers at the University. Bristol already provide 5Tb of storage to their researchers but need to build the support and tools to further assist their research faculty.

There were a number of common themes from the two presentations. The first was that IT departments are poor at communicating with researchers – this has led to frustration and the trend for researchers to do their own thing and build their own research infrastructure and support. A possible solution to this was to create a new role of Research analyst with IT or the eResearch Centre. This would be someone with a research background who would be better placed to understand researchers’ needs and both help them to use the tools available and communicate what was required of IT. This would go some way to making things as easy as possible for researchers – the institution needs to provide tools and support to its research community.
The meeting concluded with a discussion on research infrastructure models. These varied between highly centralised and government sponsored services (such as in Finland), services developed by consortia (such as in Italy) and services developed collaboratively between institutions (a growing model in the UK). In South Africa, one institution (UCT) appears to be taking the lead. The conclusion was that there was no one size fits all solution. There are perhaps efficiencies to be gained from a coordinated national approach which may require direction from government to be achieved.

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