Stakeholder perspectives

Over the last Hotel Lobbysix months the Logins for Life team members have been interviewing stakeholders on campus at the University of Kent. We wanted to know what views were held by staff from all University departments and from some of our other partners here on campus, on the project’s proposals. Some of our informants were extremely techie and some of them not techie at all. We have now published an analysis of the interviews .

We encouraged people to be frank and open and promised anonymity. As a result we got a pretty wide range of views. From the extremely positive to the downright negative. But certainly more leaned towards the former rather than the latter.

There was lots of support for integration of social networking tools – especially for prospective students browsing the website – and most thought there were clear benefits in continuing to supply an email service to alumni. Many raised the issue of dealing with users who have multiple roles in the organisation – for example, students who do also part-time work for the university – and whilst it was agreed that it could be frustrating to have to log off and then on again to change roles, there was some opposition to combining both roles in a single log on. Many thought that having to go through the log on process whenever a person changed roles helped to remind them of the different responsibilities and rights associated with each role. It was also thought that the central administration of single identities with multiple roles would be fraught with difficulties. Often local, departmental  knowledge would be needed to protect sensitive data whilst allowing sufficient access for efficient working.

The report is now online.

As we enter the last few weeks of the project it is becoming clearer what the team will recommend for Kent.  Kent has already started to roll out alumni email and it seems there is a business case for this – for ex-staff it is perhaps not so clear though there is definitely demand for it. There are, however, many models which could be used for the provision of email to those no longer physically attending the university so many HEIs may well find a good fit.

The linking tool being developed by the School of Computing – which will allow users to access some of their university data using credentials other than their Kent IT credentials – is in the final stages of development and early feedback is very good. It certainly seems like a tool that will improve the user experience – especially if we also adopt a policy of allowing initial registration with the same social networking application credentials. It has security benefits too – especially when university data is accessed from public computers.

One observation on how rapidly the worlds of work ethics and social conventions change: It seems not so long ago that the  argument was raging as to whether email was as valid as the printed word. Many were asking questions like:  Is email appropriate for all types of communication? How formal should our style be when we communicate by email? Can you give bad news by email? Well that battle was won – or lost depending on your viewpoint – and now the big question seems to be:  Is Facebook appropriate for work/academic communication?!

It seems the most popular answer to that is sometimes but never exclusively.

It is easy to forget that the social networking aspect of the Logins for Life project is not just about Facebook – in fact the project states that it will ‘investigate incorporation of exisitng digital identities with University accounts’.    I admit it is usually easy to find Facebook related issues to blog about so I am in part to blame . It is quite difficult to get away from Facebook. At the moment the list of digital identities that can be linked using the tool developed by Kent’s School of ComputSocial networking logosing is as follows:

  • Google,
  • Twitter,
  • Facebook,
  • OpenID
  • and the UK federation

But the tool only links the Kent IT account to these applications. Kent does not require a user to subscribe to any of these applications to interact fully with on-line services. And if a new candidate comes along to steal Facebook’s crown – then we could link to that too.

Keeping the paths open

An interesting meeting yesterday with the Former Staff Association. I had been invited to give a short presentation on the aims of the Logins for Life project which I was happy to do. I was even happier that it presented an opportunity for me to hear the views of this group.

Access to University resources, particularly email, was important for most Kent veterans. There was hardly a dissenter to the view that hanging on to your email address beyond your time as a staff member or student had many benefits. For some it was about maintaining social links with former colleagues for others also about still ‘feeling part of the academic community’.

This was not the only item on the wish list though. Many academics continue their research or at very least maintain a great interest in their subjects throughout their lives. This group were frustrated that they no longer had access to relevant online journals. Understandably, there was less interest in this for non-academic ex-staff.

Particularly if there was likely to be a cost attached. And there’s the rub.

That is not to say that a reasonable charge for the use of University’s on-line services was thought to be un-acceptable. But people did not want to pay for services of no interest to them. So the discussion moved on to the possibility of a tiered system whereby a subscriber could opt in or out and the subscription price would vary accordingly. Suggested menu items were:

  • Email re-direct only service
  • Full email facility with storage
  • Access to online journals
  • Access to departmental research data
  • Help desk facilities

Setting up a potentially complex system like this would require re-negotiations of many licences and perhaps extra staff hours would be needed if help desk facilities were to be included. The ex-staff I spoke to were appreciative of the service they had received from IT and Help desk staff and would very much welcome the opportunity to have such a service available to them again – even if it had a cost. An interesting idea though very carefully worded SLA’s would be needed.

Handled well, a scheme like this could also raise our profile and enhance our reputation amongst an influential and well-respected section of the community.  Is there also potential here for a new income stream for Universities with the added bonus of a reliable contacts list for ex-members? Or do we risk tying up University resources addressing the needs of a group that are one step removed from our core customer group?

My opinion is that this feels good and adds balance to the work the project is doing looking at the needs of our users at the other end of their careers. Both groups are a valuable part of the wider University of Kent community.  Maybe not all those wishes are achievable but certainly worth exploring.  The devil as ever is in the detail.