Mobile Strategy Update

A couple of months ago I blogged about our Mobile Strategy development here at the University Since then, several conversations have taken place with the CMS project, the Student Portal service, and with the TEL advisors network, with a view to planning our next steps in line with both systems architecture plans and the new e-learning strategy in the coming months.

MyMobileBristol (MMB) is a pilot service – part of an iterative, tactical approach we’ve taken so far to exploring the role of University-provided access to information, tailored to a range of mobile devices (often devices that are personally owned by students – smartphones, tablets and so on).  Behind MMB, there is at the middleware layer a Semantic Web based data aggregation service, developed by our R&D group (ILRT). This service successfully aggregates data in a very flexible and extensible way, integrating externally hosted data (such as Bristol City Council “Next Bus” transport info) as well as internal data (such as newsfeeds about University events or service status updates). It exposes the data it holds to consumer services via a RESTful interface meaning that this data becomes highly reusable, whether by smartphone apps, the Mobile Web or even the Student Portal. Bringing this content to the latter is now a priority.  The Student portal concept is naturally correlated to the goals of MMB in that it is based on the principle of collecting together functionality and information that students need in a one stop location. It also permits personalization – for example personalized student timetables. Not surprisingly, these are the next big “want” from the student mobile user community, according to surveys and user engagement studies conducted by the MMB project last year.

Continuing dialogue is taking place across the organization, facilitated by my Enterprise Architect role. With the CMS project we have agreed that the Mobile Web as far as the University Web is concerned should be underpinned by using responsive design as far as we can ( .

I also met with the SITS (Student record system software) suppliers, Tribal, this week to find out whether or not they are putting thought into how students may want to access course or fees and fines information using a range of mobile devices. We had a useful discussion about how we can collaborate in this area.

The more we can integrate our mobile solution across a range of applications and scenarios, the better. For example we need to link the MMB solution easily to the recently acquired Blackboard Mobile Learn application and also to Library resources.  Conversations are still to take place with the UG and PG Customer Relationship Management projects (to discuss the mobile experience in relation to Hobson’s  software used for CRM at Bristol).

So what are the next steps for mobile provision, which has so far been focused on the student experience at Bristol, for obvious strategic reasons? Well, prioritisation is the key. There are lots of things we could do next based on our assumptions about student needs or our desire to focus on institutional strategy or even our excitement about breaking technologies such as NFC (Near Field Communication)! But we want to get next steps as “right” as possible, given that managing, and hopefully fully meeting, student expectations, as we move from pilot to service will be essential. A really useful discussion tool is our student lifecycle diagram with a mobile information view filled in (see image). This gives a way to talk about precisely which strategies are the most key – impressing students during freshers week with funky campus orientation games using mobile device GPS features? or giving students better timetabling information and reminders about assignment deadlines? Or what?

Mobile Solutions considered in relation to the Student Lifecycle

Mobile Solutions considered in relation to the Student Lifecycle


This week I presented the student lifecycle view of options and discussed potential next steps in the area of mobile support with TELAN (Technology Enhanced Learning Advisers Network), previously eLAN. This approach to discussing priorities went down very well with the group. There are some interesting developments taking place in e-learning. Professor Nick Lieven, PVC (Education), has tasked the group with a mission to develop a new e-learning vision and strategy for the University by Easter 2012. The group would like me to convene a focus meeting with them in March to look in depth at what the Mobile Business Case should prioritise, together with a specially invited group of student representatives. Meanwhile the Student Portal service will be looking to upgrade to the latest version of uPortal and will conduct more user analysis, increasing our understanding of student requirements. We will also have the opportunity to analyse uMobile (from uPortal) to see how easily this new platform will help us to support the student mobile environment.


Master Data, Data Integration and a JISC Project

We’re very pleased to have been awarded a project under the JISC Transformations Programme.

Snapshot of JISC Transformations Programme WebsiteDuring the project we plan to use JISC resources such as the ICT Strategic Toolkit along with the support of the JISC Transformations programme and continued development of our institutional Enterprise Architecture approach to tackle the problem of achieving full integration of our various learning, teaching and research systems. We are in the process of documenting our core “master” data model and mapping the interrelationship of the data models implemented in our wide-ranging systems. This is because we need to consider how we may improve the sustainability of data exchange between systems without an on-going reliance on multiple point-to-point systems integrations – integrations that are resource-intensive and complex to maintain.

By core data model I mean the data model that is core to the business of the University and that is relatively unchanging over time. We are modelling entities such as Student, Programme, Unit, Researcher, Department, Research Output etc. and the relationships between them. We are also working on the classification schemes we use such as to define the University structure for faculties, schools and departments (this is currently undergoing a standarisation process internally). Documenting this data model – and maintaining a version-controICT Maturity over timelled history of it over time – will mean that our developers will be able to make reference to the core data model when developing new system solutions (thus avoiding potential ambiguity in the way information is shared between systems and with end-users), and we will be able to be clear about how new, external systems will need to be integrated to fit with our core data model. Finally, implementing integration support at the middleware layer will take us further on the road to ICT Maturity. We are currently somewhere between the stages of “technology standardisation” and “optimised core” as illustrated in the diagram.

Requirements are being driven by several large-scale projects at the University of Bristol including the Managing Information Project (with its emphasis on business intelligence), the Performance Enhancement Project (which seeks to provide better quality data to support our staff review and progression processes) and the University Web Project (which focuses on providing new and improved public Web content following the recent purchase of our new Content Management System).

Please see the blog for the project (, where more info will appear over time.



Our Mobile Strategy at Bristol

I attended the very enjoyable UCISA Conference in Manchester this week and gave a presentation on how we are focussing on the student experience with our mobile strategy currently. Incidentally, the rumour going round was that Lady gaga was staying at the same hotel as the conference – I think I went up in the “cool” stakes accordingly as far as my kids are concerned!

In my presentation I talked through how we had started tactically with JISC funded projects to drive our pilot service for students – see for example and feel free to try it out on your phone’s browser. Following lots of user feedback and some requirements-gathering workshops run by our Usability consultant, we then began to create a Mobile Strategy using an Enterprise Architecture approach. This involved defining principles to underpin our strategy, working on our information model, developing our vision of where we are now and where we want to get to and devising a roadmap to get us there. This is encapsulated in a business case for the senior decision-making body to evaluate and approve, watch this space!

Thank you to those who gave me useful feedback and discussed their own related work (for example a similar initiative at St Andrews University) and this blog post by John Townsend:

Conference tweetsI found other presentations on the Student Experience very useful,  for example a thought provoking presentation by Paul Taylor at the University of Warwick, who described the notion of the Student as a collaborator as opposed to a consumer or a learner, and how physical and online spaces can be created without layouts that dictate a sense of hierarchy or constraint in terms of how learning may take place. Very interesting thoughts on how the design of the physical and online environments can affect opportunities for co-creation in HE.



Why is a lifecycle diagram handy?

Inspired by some work the ITANA group have been doing in the USA ( I’ve been developing two main lifecycle diagrams here at the University of Bristol. These are proving invaluable in discussions with a very wide range of stakeholders across the institution – both within and outside of IT Services.

We are developing our understanding of both the Research and Student lifecycles currently, and with each we are considering the administrative/management “pipeline” that runs in parallel to those lifecycles – on the same diagram (see below).  As regards the latter, these are processes in support of the key activities typically undertaken as part of the “cradle to grave” continuum for students and researchers.  It is proving very useful to consider both the relationship and the difference between these two perspectives – otherwise it is all too easy to neglect to consider what the Student, say, is experiencing in relation to the IT systems they need to interact with at the University, and instead to become preoccupied with creating administrative efficiencies and ensuring that we manipulate Student data according to our own reporting, management and business intelligence agendas.

Student Lifecycle Summary Diagram

Things get interesting once we start to fill out different versions of these lifecycle diagrams, showing information in the central blue area of the diagram. For example, in our Enterprise Continuum we hold diagrams that show all the systems that are interacted with along the lifecycles, colour coded according to diversity or uniformity of use across the institution. This depiction has sparked striking reactions from a range of personnel with comments such as “I never realised that students interact with so many systems”, “Why haven’t we had diagrams like this before now?” and “Can we use the systems view to analyse what impact an increase of student numbers would have on the performance of our systems?”.

Things we want to do next include showing the unit costs of systems as best we can, showing the business value that systems contribute and projects currently running that target parts of the student or researcher lifecycles. From this we hope to get a clearer, holistic picture of whether we are making investments in a truly strategic way and if not how we would get closer to that situation.

Researcher Lifecyle Summary Diagram





The pleasures of having an intern come to stay!

Last week Sara Price “shadowed” me as I went about my normal business, going to various meetings and processing information, sometimes producing diagrammatic models to help build up pictures of our systems, processes and strategies and their interrelationships… Sara blogged about her experience here: Sara’s blog post.

In fact Sara quickly got up to speed with the Archimate modelling language and by the end of the week gave me a neat appraisal of how Archimate compares with Triaster process mapping (undertaken extensively by our team of Business Analysts here at Bristol).  She said she thought that Triaster process maps are an excellent entry point to understanding complex business processes, and, as a linguist (Sara is studying for an MA in English Literature at Exeter University) they were intuitive and helpful. She said she thought that Archimate modelling on the other hand gets further in to the nuts and bolts of information modelling and that moving from Triaster models to Archimate models forces one to become very precise at a number of levels (ranging from specifying who exactly interacts with a process, down to the tool and underlying systems that are used). All very interesting stuff – thank you Sara and good luck with your dissertation!

Post card from Sara

Post card from Sara


Hello, I’m Nikki Rogers, Bristol’s Enterprise Architect, and this is the blog I maintain to share information about our EA activity at the University of Bristol.

If you wish to know about EA in the wider setting of UK Higher Education then please take a look at the JISC Infonet introductory pages on this topic:

And if you’re wondering about what I do, here are some indications ….

EA involves a lot of talking

The EA can help these Towers of Babel to communicate - and thus align strategy


Modelling with Archimate

Modelling with Archimate - I currently use the Archi tool for this.

More to follow!

Models and related documentation are held in the University’s Enterprise Continuum, which is growing over time, currently at