What's new in IT Services – April 2023

A lot’s been happening behind the scenes in IT recently. Here are just a few of the latest developments.

IT at THE’s Digital Universities UK event 

Dan Simms and Monica Jones talking to a group of Digital Universities UK delegates in a lecture theatre.

IT Services played a significant role in some of the discussions that took place during the recent Digital Universities UK event, held on campus between Monday 17 and Thursday 20 April.  

This was the first time the event has been held outside of London. 

Chief Information Officer Dan Simms and Chief Data Officer Monica Jones both took part in a session where IT leaders from higher education and other industries explored mutual goals, challenges and what higher education can gain from digital-change practices in other industries. 

Dan and Monica also led a session outlining how the University has successfully used data for its digital transformation efforts. 

They defined data transformation, and why it is important, as well as how we’ve collected data and applied it meaningfully to transformation processes. 

Taking a cue from our 2022 Annual Review, as well as Dan’s recent Inside Track, they also looked at some of the challenges, successes and lessons learned that can be applied to future endeavours – like the implementation of our Data Strategy.  

They were not the only ones involved. Our Interim Director of IT Customer and Employee Engagement, Amina Vora, took part in a session discussing Accenture’s approach to sustainable digital change, and how it can be applied effectively to the sector. 

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Cloud Authentication project complete 

The project that was set up to move our users and applications to a more secure authentication system – and ensure the highest standard of security protects our tools and users – has been completed. 

The team have managed to successfully move all applications that could have been moved to this more secure, cloud-based authentication solution. 

This has been possible thanks to some great collaboration across IT and the entire organisation – the cross-functional team worked closely with the application owners from business, as well as the comms team, to get this delivered.  

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Helping Cleaning Services set up their IT accounts 

We've been working behind the scenes to help colleagues gain access to their University IT account, so they can use the HR staff benefits site, access their payslips, access eduroam on their phones, access work emails and more. 

This has involved a number of volunteers from around IT signing up to work through the initial set up process with their colleagues and helping them access useful systems for the first time. Sessions will be continuing to run over the coming weeks as part of a pilot, with a view to rolling it out to more colleagues in the future if it is successful. 

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Esther Simpson Building Facilities  

The Esther Simpson Building's Trading Room.

The Behavioural Lab and Trading Rooms in the Esther Simpson Building are now up and running for Leeds University Business School (LUBS).  

The Behavioural Lab can facilitate research, as well as immersive teaching and engagement activities, thanks to a flexible space featuring cameras, microphones, and virtual reality headsets. There are also specialist devices in these spaces, such as galvanic skin response monitoring and eye tracking equipment.  

It is all controlled through specialist software packages which can also record and analyse measured behaviours. Given the potentially sensitive nature of the data collected, secure data capture, transfer and management has also been implemented. 

The two 24-seat trading rooms, meanwhile, allow students to practice trading in a safe environment using real time market information. It gives students a chance to apply finance theories to decision making through real world scenarios – and get a practical understanding of the financial markets – through a virtual trading platform. 

The primary trading room in particular is a real showpiece for the Esther Simpson Building, and is housed in a glass room visible from the main reception area.  

Special thanks go to Ian Kay for all the work he's done to get these facilities, with all of their requirements and complexities, running. 

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SAP patching 

Before the end of the 2022-23 financial year, SAP successfully underwent its year-end patching – required annually to implement legal changes needed by HMRC for the new tax year.  

All budget changes are updated at this time in preparation for the start of the new tax year, and relevant processing changes delivered for completion of tax year end. If these patches were not applied to SAP before the end of the financial year, then payroll would have been severely impacted, with incorrect National Insurance and tax calculations for April.  

This year's patching process was particularly tricky as SAP systems were also upgraded to a new version of Oracle. They were previously running on version 12, which was no longer supported, and later this year SAP will be migrating to Azure – running on a more recent version of Oracle makes that move easier. 

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Virtual Private Network (VPN) update 

In March, we deployed a new version of the VPN client via Windows update – this happened in the background on users' systems, without them needing to do anything.  

While it didn't introduce any radical changes to the functionality of the software itself, it did ensure that University-managed machines could now connect to our VPN, as those running older versions simply weren't able to.  

One example of where this work will have an immediate impact is on the Windows Refresh project, which needs users working off-campus to connect to the VPN to complete the necessary updates. 

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Securing our network 

In mid-March, we removed a potential vulnerability from our network – a piece of outdated custom code that was trying unsuccessfully to communicate to an old server that was switched off in late 2022 and is due to be decommissioned. 

As well as being a possible security risk for our network, it may have also been causing delays to users trying to log on and off various systems. 

The code in question was part of a set that allowed central management of operating systems, applications, and users' settings – in this case it was old, unmaintained, custom code that was written in-house several years ago and was no longer needed. 

We successfully removed this code with no interruption to service for any users, helping keep University devices secure while ensuring everyone stayed connected. 

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Assessment centre day success 

On Wednesday 15 March, we ran an assessment centre day to recruit Grade 5 and 6 second line support technicians. 

Split between morning and afternoon cohorts, the sessions consisted of a quick intro followed by a technical test hosted on Microsoft Forms using crowdsourced questions. There was also a group exercise involving Lego, kebab skewers and tangerines that aimed to get candidates to demonstrate their team working, leading and directing, and participation skills. 

Each cohort also had a short campus tour, as well as a more formal interview. 

Happily, we’ve been able to make a number of offers, and feedback so far from candidates, panels and supporting staff has been positive.  

As it was quite different to traditional interview rounds, the day needed a lot of up-front preparation. The fact it was so successful was the result of a lot of great teamwork, and it will form a blueprint for other similar recruitment events in the future – thank you to everyone involved in the planning, and the session itself. 

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In brief 

Our amazing Service Desk team have reduced the time to respond to users from nine days to two – in only two days! This is a huge achievement and improved experience for our customers. 

We’ve also significantly reduced the backlog of monitor and dock requests, and are now largely reliant on users collecting equipment.  

Thank you to each and every person involved for all the hard work and dedication that has made this possible. 

Finally, our two Business Analysis Apprentices have both been shortlisted for the BCS Digital Apprentice of the year award, which celebrate IT and Digital’s rising stars from apprentices, T level students and boot camp leaners across digital disciplines. 

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