Behind the scenes at IT Services

This year has presented some interesting challenges for IT. After our overnight move to working, teaching​ and learning from home, we spent our summer months working closely with colleagues across the University to plan for Michaelmas term and new ways to continue delivering world-class education to our students.   

Helping to develop the University's Early Alert Service 

One of our top priorities was collaborating with colleagues in Medical Sciences IT (MSD-IT) to get the University's Covid-19 Early Alert Service (EAS) up and running in time for the arrival of students. Working together with MSD-IT, teams worked on development, business analysis and testing, successfully delivering the EAS to demanding schedules and specifications. The system is running well, testing students and staff and helping to reduce the burden on the local NHS test and trace service.   

Preparing buildings and teaching spaces 

As you will have heard, closing buildings is relatively quick, but reopening both offices and teaching spaces to offer Covid-safe environments is more involved than you might think. Before they could be used, checks were needed on many office systems. As well as power and air conditioning, the checks also included such things as Wi-Fi, software updates, servers and more. Additional teaching spaces, such as the IT Services Thames Suite, also needed to be made available to meet demand. Some of these spaces across the University did not have facilities to record lectures, so IT Services and local IT staff worked together to ensure that lecture capture technology was available in as many spaces as possible. Since the publication in June of the IT Checklist for returning buildings to onsite working, IT Services staff have been involved in the reopening of many of the 220 buildings now in operation for Michaelmas term.  

Booking system to help keep students safe 

We were also asked to provide a booking system to support Covid-safe operations. In particular, colleges requested a system for booking desks in libraries, making appointments with a nurse or getting IT Support. To make this available quickly, we worked with Microsoft to arrange early licenses so we could provide college IT officers with access to Microsoft Bookings. We also created a forum so that users could support each other. Bookings was well-received and has now been made available to departments, ably supported by local IT staff. This was a completely new way of quickly rolling out functionality to meet a specific need, without a lengthy project. 

Responding to increased demand

Our Nexus365 team has worked flat out, working closely with Microsoft to influence and deliver Teams features that staff across the University had been asking for. As well as influencing development, they have created thousands of Teams, including around 200 during the week of writing this.

Of course, our Service Desk colleagues have been there throughout, helping us all when we've contacted them. As we moved to working remotely they responded to a tripling in call volumes for several weeks, and demand continued to be high through Trinity and at the start of Michaelmas term. Since March they have managed around 30,000 incidents and 14,000 requests through self service, as well as answering more than 13,000 phone calls. 

Keeping the University communicating and collaborating 

It's not all been about developing new systems in response to the pandemic though– our work to support IT services and deliver projects has continued throughout. Teams across IT Services are quietly going about their work: finding ways to make desktop machines work at home; making sure systems work with new library and museum ticketing systems; enabling software and network upgrades; patching firewalls and switches to make sure they remain secure; and generally ensuring that there is capacity and security across all the systems we manage.     

Security is always a top priority and we have continued working with our information security colleagues to respond to an increased number of cyber incidents and strengthen our systems and policies. Oxford's Chief Information Security Officer's update has more information.

We have also provided support to make sure that online exams happen smoothly and securely. And did you know that as well as providing post-graduate inductions in three formats to suit different audiences, our IT learning instructors have provided a lot of one-to-one help to academics with using Panopto and Teams?

Our projects (many in partnership with other parts of the University) have also continued with great outcomes. For example, SharePoint Online is coming soon and eExpenses will be introduced early next year. Our projects update article has the latest information. 

Looking to the future

As you can see, IT Services does so much more than just provide your desk phone or Wi-Fi, and preparing for this term has been one of our biggest challenges in a long time. But we made it and now we are thinking ahead to next term… see you there.