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Performance Enhancement – how should technology enable it?

Friday, May 4th, 2012

The Performance Enhancement project is now fully underway at the University of Bristol. The project team comprises people with a wide ranging set of skills – from Change Managers to User Experience and Web Design experts, and includes me as Enterprise Architect.

In an excellent initial meeting a few weeks ago, the team members all met each other to understand better how all our skills will complement each other to achieve the overarching goal of the project. In Enterprise Architecture, one of the steps in applying a TOGAF-based methodology is to express the architecture vision and principles of any endeavour. So, in high level terms, just what is Performance Enhancement considered to be in the context of our project and how do we wish to enhance or change the processes by which it is currently undertaken at Bristol?

Performance Enhancement is not considered to be only related to staff review meetings:

“Performance enhancement should be an ongoing, continuous process that is not only seen as constructive but is in fact expected of leaders and managers by staff.” (http://www.bris.ac.uk/hr/policies/performance/)

Here is a diagram from our HR department that indicates the range of processes constituting performance enhancement (please note that the use of the word ‘tools’ here is not to be confused with the use of the word to mean technology-based tools):

Aspects of Performance Enhancement

The Performance Enhancement project aims to equip leaders and managers with the skills and confidence to have appropriate and effective conversations throughout the whole range of performance enhancement mechanisms and processes in place. It will also provide leaders, managers and their staff with the information they need to enable better-informed discussions to take place around performance.

This information aspect is where the technology component of our project comes in. For the first time at Bristol we wish to offer good quality and complete (as far as possible) data to those participating in performance enhancement conversations. The information we wish to provide should enable an holistic view of the sorts of activities that a member of academic staff participates in, from data about teaching contact and preparation hours through to research publications and participation in events – even measures of esteem or leadership roles that are not documented in our master data corporate systems, but which are nonetheless relevant to discussions about achievement or progression.  In terms of technical architectures, then, how are we to provide timely and accurate information from both our corporate teaching-related and also research-related systems to be surfaced in a view layer tool to support performance enhancement discussions? Well, our current architecture involves introducing a Web Services component to layer on top of our current timetabling system (in order to extract teaching contact hours in a sustainable way), plus using the Pure research information system (to provide research related information). Over the course of the project (which will run for at least another two years) we hope to be able to introduce new sources of information, perhaps some external. We also need to think carefully about the sorts of data we wish to archive and for how many years we wish to preserve it. For example we might wish to store year-on-year the percentage FTE’s of academics teaching across various courses, but in this scenario we wouldn’t want to record, say, the time of day or room that the academics were teaching in. However, all assumptions are being carefully thought about at this stage, in terms of the more global business intelligence requirements we have at the University (for example, although performance enhancement requirements may not include buildings and rooms data, Estates might wish to have this data archived for their own entirely separate purposes).

I will blog more about our technical integration architecture as it unfolds (implementation will start in earnest in the summer). Meanwhile the project is undertaking a programme of engagement with departments, to talk about the cultural and process aspects of performance enhancement as well as the introduction of our new technical tool to support processes. Feedback from this round of engagement will help us (on the technical side) to develop the view layer part of the tool so that is user-friendly and appropriate to the tone of the project. We intend to use the tool to solicit feedback from a pilot group who have agreed to trial it for staff review discussions in the Autumn.

A review phase of the project (at the end of this year) will include an evaluation of the pilot tool against any viable third party solutions should they become available. If nothing is available externally then we have the option to develop our in-house pilot tool further, make it production grade and to extend its use throughout the University. Either way, the data integration work we’re doing at the middleware layer will be supportive of any view layer tool that is deemed suitable for performance enhancement in the long term.