Author Archives: Brad Marshall

Time(line) for a change: New tool developed for use in ISG SharePoint sites

A new SharePoint timeline tool has been developed by a member of The University of Edinburgh’s (UoE) Information Services (ISG) team which will enhance organisation and utilisation of list data.

The tool has been created by Don Stuckey who was appointed SharePoint Developer in July 2020 within the SharePoint Solutions Service (SPSS) at ISG.

Don was tasked by Claire Bradford, SharePoint Solutions Manager, and Robert Beaton, SharePoint Technical Lead, to develop a roadmap/timeline ‘web part’ for UoE’s SharePoint sites.

This was done to help enhance Don’s SharePoint Framework (SPFX) development skills and produce a reusable ‘web part’ – that is a web part not tied to one particular SharePoint site.

After early experimentation with various forms for the web part, including a Gantt chart format, Don determined that a one-dimensional timeline format would be the most beneficial due to its relative simplicity.

Throughout the process of the web part’s development, Don has also collaborated with ISG colleagues to acquire feedback and suggestions for possible improvements which he has integrated and applied to further enhance the tool.

As a result, Don’s web part can read in event-based SharePoint list data (such as the data shown in the image below) and provide a chronological timeline representation of that data.

Example of SharePoint list data

Through this, SharePoint users are provided with an at-a-glance view of event-based data. Such data – which represents an activity, task, or development with a start and end date – is created and utilised across ISG and the wider UoE.

An example of the web part in configuration mode, i.e. showing the options the site owner can choose from when deploying the web part to a page in the site; can be seen below.

A screenshot of the web part in configuration mode,

Don said: “Besides all the valuable skills I have developed working on the web part, it has also all been great fun!

“I have really seen the value in sharing the web part with colleagues in the SharePoint Solutions Service Team and in Service Management, at various stages of the web part’s development, to get their feedback.

“I took each round of feedback into account in working on the next version and ultimately was able to implement nearly all the enhancements/features suggested by colleagues. This iterative process of feedback-building-sharing I think led to the web part being quite in tune with the form and functionality my sample users (i.e. my colleagues) envisaged for the web part.

“Given that the requirement to record and access event-based data is quite common (by “event”, I mean piece of data with a start and end date), and that users often wish to have an at-a-glance view of such data, I can see the web part being of value to various business units within ISG and the University of Edinburgh.”

Don’s web part is currently a ‘work in progress’ in the ‘targeted release’ stage and is presently deployed only to several targeted production SharePoints sites in IS Apps

Among the first sites to utilise the web part during this initial stage is the IS Apps Journalism SharePoint. An example of how this appears can be seen below.

A screenshot of the timeline web part in the IS Apps Journalism SharePoint, including the Hovercard users can see when moving their cursor over an event

Don said: “We will see how this targeted release goes, but assuming it goes well and the feedback from real users is positive, we could then consider making the web part available throughout the University’s SharePoint tenancy, so that any site owner can have the option of adding the web part to their site.”

As this web part is a work-in-progress, Don is welcoming any suggestions to develop it further, such as requests for additional features or configuration options.

He is additionally inviting anyone who wishes to try out the web part to email him to provide access to the demo site and add any ideas they have for its development into the “Suggested Enhancements” list.

Beyond its practical applications development of the timeline web part has also proven of immense personal and experiential benefit to Don, enabling him to gain and grow his SharePoint skills and to apply these to new challenges and other software.  

He said: “I have been able to use the SPFX skills that I acquired through developing the web part in many different projects where web parts in general are part of the solutions.

“In addition, SPFX uses many technologies that are not specific to SharePoint, e.g. React, Git, and REST APIS, and I have enhanced my knowledge of these technologies through my work on the web part.”

For more information or to trial the new web part and/or pass on any feedback contact Don Stuckey via email on:

Student staff members land top graduate scheme offers after completing internships at ISG

Rachel Weller (left) and Ting Hsuan Lin (right)

Rachel Weller, who studied Spanish and Classics, started as a Project Management Intern and then became a part-time Project Management Office (PMO) Administrator. She has now received an offer for the Change and Business Solutions Graduate Programme at NatWest in Edinburgh.

Ting Hsuan Lin, who studied Business Management, started as a Digital Transformation Intern and then became a part-time Digital Transformation Analyst. She has now received an offer for the Compliance Analyst Graduate Programme at Barclays in Singapore.

They spoke to us about the benefits of being employed by ISG as students.

What was your experience like as an intern?

Rachel: “It was a great experience, especially when I knew so many people whose internships elsewhere could not go ahead due to the pandemic. The summer is a varied and interesting time to work for ISG, and I had many critical year-end tasks to complete alongside my intern project. This was beneficial as an intern as it meant that I could have an impact alongside developing my own skills.”

Ting Hsuan: “Initially it was quite challenging as at the start of the pandemic I had issues with connectivity and equipment. Luckily my team was very supportive and I eventually managed to get better internet connectivity and some headphones so I could better participate in Teams calls. I spent time learning and picking up knowledge on platforms like Sharepoint which were new to me.”

What did you do once you became a part-time employee?

Rachel: “Compared to being an intern, a part-time role allows much more responsibility. I had ownership of many regular tasks, the most important being our departmental quality assurance process.

“I was also able to return to full-time employment during the summer break, which means that I have had two years in which I have supported the new summer interns and the end of year process.”

Ting Hsuan: “During my part-time role, I had the opportunity to spearhead more projects and lead other student interns. This was because I had gained more knowledge and experience after my internship so I could contribute more to the team.

“Working remotely allowed me to balance my time between studies and working because I could save time travelling to the office.”

How did your work complement your degree?

Rachel: “For me, it was more that my degree could complement my work – there was not much crossover in terms of content! Instead, it was largely soft skills that were complementary. The best example of this is communication. Obviously, communication skills are vital when studying a language, and this meant I had experience presenting, debating and communicating clearly from my classes. This was all useful when having to word emails, present at meetings and implement process changes. Altogether studying and working simultaneously added breadth to my experience at university.”

Ting Hsuan: “Having studied Strategy related subjects in my degree, it was interesting to see how it can be applied in a higher education context. I particularly enjoyed working on PowerPoint slides for different projects as this helped me improve my data visualization skills, a soft skill that will be valued in the Finance industry. At the end of my contract, I also spoke to my manager Stephen and kindly requested for a letter of reference; this might come in useful in the future after university.”

Bright future for UniDesk as service is transferred to new owners

It’s the end of an era but the start of a “bright future” for UniDesk as the service co-founded by the University of Edinburgh (UoE) moves into new ownership. After 11 hugely successful years, in which the service has gone from strength to strength, UniDesk has been transferred to the Higher Education specialist not-for-profit Shared Services organisation HEFESTIS.

Since it was created, the UniDesk Service has grown to become an indispensable IT Service Management (ITSM) tool for the University of Edinburgh and 10 other higher education institutions across the UK and beyond.  Among UniDesk’s many highlights are being consistently voted in the “Top 5 most used ITSM solutions within the HE & FE Sector” by UCISA every year since 2018, winning the UCISA ‘Best Delegate Presentation’ award at the 2018 SSG conference and being regularly showcased by TOPdesk online, via social media and at events.

As part of the pandemic response however Information Services has had to re-evaluate its priorities. Our focus on digital strategies and on supporting the University move to hybrid working has meant that we have been increasingly unable to grow and develop the UniDesk service in the way that is needed. The team at the University have therefore accepted that it’s time to pass on ownership of the service they have done so much to nurture and help flourish. 

“From the outset building the UniDesk Service and the journey we have been on since has been a real team effort.  We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has been involved – from those that had that bright idea all those years ago and created and developed the service to everyone that plays a part in supporting UniDesk today eleven years on,​”

Dawn Dodd​, joint UniDesk Service Owner at UoE, said.

“It really was a unique service to be involved with, and we don’t mind admitting that we are sad to see it go, but we know it has a very bright future ahead,”

​Catherine​ Hetherington, fellow UniDesk Service Owner at UoE, added.
Dawn Dodd​ and Catherine Hetherington, joint UniDesk Service Owners at UoE

What is UniDesk?

UniDesk is fully managed Information Technology Infrastructure-based (ITIL) shared service management solution, extensively tailored for Higher and Further Education process flows, using TOPdesk as the underlying IT service management platform.

The service was founded by the universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews and Abertay, and has grown to welcome eight new members, the universities of Sheffield Hallam, Ulster, Stirling, Edinburgh Napier, and Durham​; and most recently the Royal College of Art, University of Highlands and Islands, and University of Malta, in 2019.

Overseen by its incredible “small army” of hard-working University staff, UniDesk logs and resolves incidents and request calls to ensure these universities’ services are supported and can continue to run smoothly.

In the last academic session, the collective UniDesk membership logged a staggering two million calls, including more than half-a-million at UoE alone, and reached almost one million registered users.

“The key to the success of UniDesk is its collaborative community.  The service has been developed with the community in mind.

“We have nurtured the relationships with our members and ensure that they are involved with and have regular input into the service. 

“Our community is so unique that it is referred to, by not only the members, but those within the education sector as the “UniDesk Family”.  And a willingness to collaborate, share experiences and best practice, documentation and support each other is what makes the UniDesk family really special,”

Dawn Dodd said.
The UniDesk Team at the Conference in UHI in 2018

Bigger and better

The UniDesk Service has never stayed still and has constantly been evolving, improving and growing in more ways than just membership. Among the milestone innovations introduced are:

  • Quick Calls – a unique tool to capture face-to-face support interactions quickly and simply, which has helped to drive changes in service provision and improve student experiences
  • Launch of EdHelp – UniDesk underpins a ‘one-stop-shop’ where students can access help and information from all student services in one convenient place
  • Self Service Portal & Knowledgebase and Finance Helpline – delivering a clear route to financial support for university staff
  • Move to TOPdesk SaaS – providing possibility for future growth through migration of 24 environments in coordination with 11 member institutions

A number of successful communication and marketing initiatives have also been launched over the years.

This has seen the creation of promotional videos, a modernised UniDesk logo, regular newsletters and a revamped service web sites including a ‘forum’ area where members can chat and share documents and videos.

UniDesk has also been very active on social media, sharing information on new developments and “getting creative” by whipping up special seasonal and other temporary logos including animated gifs.

UniDesk’s seasonal logos

Alongside all the hard work the service team has taken every available opportunity to get the UniDesk family together to collaborate and have fun.

Four very successful conferences have brought together members to enjoy guest speakers and best-practice sharing and updates from the UniDesk community and TOPdesk.

The conferences have further helped to build connections, support new members and brainstorm solutions to any issues, during events and at breakout lunches.

Fantastic entertainment has also been provided at fun-filled preconference events, including a moonlight BBQ cruise in Durham, a spooky ghost walk in Edinburgh and dolphin spotting in the Moray Firth.

UniDesk team and members at one of the hugely successful conferences

The future of UniDesk

The University remains hugely committed to the future success of UniDesk. UniDesk is a critical service for the University and also underpins the successful EdHelp Service which contributes to student and staff experience on and off-campus. 

We are certain that HEFESTIS is the right choice for UniDesk. HEFESTIS, as a not-for-profit HE focused Shared Service provider, shares the values and ethos of UniDesk.

HEFESTIS is jointly owned by member Scottish universities and colleges and already provides a number of successful shared services, including DPO Share​, CISO Share​, Change Share​ and Office365 Share.

UniDesk run by HEFESTIS will bring a broad range of benefits, including:

  • Dedicated specialist resources with HEFESTIS
  • Building on the great foundations established by UoE Service Management, meaning a continuation in great service and delivery partnership with TOPdesk
  • More and bigger promotional activities – including HEFESTIS working in partnership with UCISA
  • Removal of current constraints on service growth, meaning more member innovation and even better value for the University

The legal transfer of ownership to HEFESTIS has now taken place. The transfer included a detailed agreement for continued UoE technical support, and 12 month transition period to ensure a successful handover.

“Working with the UniDesk team at UoE was a pleasure, the passion for UniDesk was evident and both sides worked well together to make the transition successful.

“Going forward we will endeavour to continue with the same culture and ethics. I believe UoE has built a great service in UniDesk and it’s a foundation that HEFESTIS will build on and grow,”

James Morris, Chief Executive Officer of HEFESTIS, said.

HEFESTIS have the capacity and expertise needed to further grow and develop UniDesk welcoming new members and taking the service forward to a bright future!