Sunday, 18 October 2009

US Universities making software for themselves

I mentioned in earlier blogs the ability of universities to manage their own software environments, from administration of services to full software development. This may seem like pie in the sky to most commentators but the reality is quite different. We are aware of open source content management systems and learning environments (e.g.Joomla, Sakai); but what about software than assists on the operational side of things? Check out this web site for a project with solid Ivy League backing Big university names working together to build university software solutions that are open source and therefore adaptable to individual universities. This is an excellent concept and something universities around the world should benefit from in the future.

Lancaster Centre for e-Science now on Twitter

Follow the Lancaster Centre for e-Science on Twitter. You can find us at

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Lancaster Centre for e-Science is working with the Northwest Regional Development Agency LEAD project that aims to provide leadership training to owners of small businesses in the region. The LEAD programme has been very successful (see and was originally conceived by the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED) at Lancaster University Management School to provide owners an opportunity to meet other business owners in a mix of seminar and online interactions. Research on past participants on the programme indicates that those which participate are likely to increase sales turnover by approximately 15%; participants also highlight this additional growth is significantly influenced by their learnings during LEAD . Over the coming 3 years the programme, across 15 institutions in the region, will impact around 1250 business owners hopefully yielding sizable increases in north west economic growth.

The question to pose at this stage is how can we keep busy business people online once their LEAD programmes complete? It would be incredibly useful to have a large, easily accessible group of business people. For instance, at the beginning of the recession information on the impact of the recession at the small business level was scarce. Typically, knowledge of impacts has to wait until the dust settles and aggregate statistics come out of the Office of National Statistics. If we engage with business people electronically, in a trust based environment it could provide us real-time information on events. The Sakai portal technology we produce and provide as a service has capabilities as a e-community building device. It contains the usual tools, probably the most popular are forums. e-Facilitators (people that maintain electronic communication) are able to develop trust in in their LEAD communities allowing them to ask fairly confidential information to delegates. Responses to trusted e-facilitators are usually rapid and from multiple sources. Responses form very useful qualitative insights into problems. Additionally to forums, delegates are highly likely to response to online surveys that can be posted via the portal. For instance, we gather survey data from delegates as part of the evaluation of the programme; we have no problem getting to 100% response rates which is incredibly high. The evidence does suggest a high value should be placed in developing and maintaining groups of business owners online.

Collaborative Research in Business

Research has begun that evaluates the knowledge exchange interface between public sector and enterprise. The project, funded by JISC, evaluates how varieties of staff at universities communicate with business people as part of their job. The final ambition of the survey looks at how web based technologies can be used to improve 2-way knowledge exchange between these groups. Based on the Sakai portal framework, we will embed semantic search tools that will allow people to search for documentation and other people within a secure cloud environment. Importantly, once people have found what they are looking for, it will provide them the ability to link up with people using secure worksites allowing easy access to communication tools and information.

To begin the process we are currently surveying all university staff at Lancaster University that communicate with business in any way (e.g. consultancy, advice, research, teaching, student projects). Want to participate in the survey or want to learn more about the research? Click on the following link or cut and paste it into your browser to take part.