Information Services - the convergence agenda
Salford University recently celebrated its centenary, which included its existence as a former College of Advanced Technology. The University was, until 1996, one of the UK's smaller institutions but has more than doubled in size following what is probably going to become a common UK phenomenon, merger with an associated college. Merger, the national agenda towards convergence, and an opportune vacancy arising for a new Director of Service allowed the University to consider major restructuring. I was appointed with these issues as my agenda on arrival at Salford early in 1995.
The current restructuring in merger, is the continuation of a process started earlier in the University's history. The financial jeopardy experienced by the Institution in 1981, and subsequent re-structuring, led the Vice Chancellor to propose a convergence of computing and library services under a common management structure. The services were finally converged in a single location, an extended library building, with the title Academic Information Services (AIS).
The University post merger has 20,000 students, in a wide range of disciplines, and is situated approximately 1 mile from the centre of Manchester. The merger resulted in change in AIS from a single-sited `somewhat converged' campus service, to a seven-sited `fully converged' post merger service.
The Pre-Merger Environment
In 1988, following lengthy consultation, the Librarian was appointed Director , responsible for both Library and Computing Services with a Deputy Director directly responsible for each of these areas was . The reality of the situation was that there was some shared infrastructure, i.e. a common building and hence common work space and customer space; however, the services developed as less converged than in some totally independent service Universities. The AIS building had been extended to house the computing service on its transfer, with little if any thought being given to converged service delivery. The additional space provided open-access facilities, accessible from the former Library, with its own computing help-desk and advisor service.
The former College operated independent services and locations, on each of their sites. There was no common model for service provision and little relationship between the staff. Generally the College staff were on lower salary scales than their University counterparts and the service provision for Computing was lacking investment, strategic planning, or direction.
Convergence - a viewpoint
Converged delivery of services is appropriate if it enable better support for the customer and hence a better service. There are many models for converged services; most claiming convergence within the UK have managerial convergence without attempting to undertake the necessary restructuring and re-training.
Clearly there has been convergence between the Library and Computing Service activities in support of their users needs. The desktop computer is more commonly used for information access or processing than for mathematical computation purpose. Similarly, the library serves its customer through networked services including the OPAC, CD-ROMs and World-Wide-Web. In many disciplines the network has become the first and sometimes sole route to timely information access. Equally, the traditional material will continue to be a significant resource for the foreseable future.
The customer wants a single point of entry to service support and often is unable to discriminate a problem to the service provider. The complexities of infrastructure or service mechanisms are of little importance to them. The need is for instantaneous support, without excuse for inability to provide that support. The scale of support required has grown dramatically as the customer base grows with little or no increase in staff resource to support this growth. Thus, measures must be adopted to reduce the need for support by simplifying the interface, and by providing alternative measures to expensive staff resource.
Information is at the heart of learning. Neither the Librarian nor Computing Specialist has an exclusive right to its control or access. There is no right model for convergence other than partnership to support the customer's requirement. The pressure of reducing financial resources for staffing requires effective partnerships to be formed where the service delivery is customer focussed. Thus the impending merger provide a route to re-shaping the service at Salford. Although complete convergence was not a short-term achievable, it was not to be an issue sidestepped in the haste of merger. It has thus been put at the centre of AIS's operational agenda.
Merger - An Opportunity
Merger discussions had been underway for several years prior to my arrival at the Institution. The College Principal and University Vice-Chancellor had this as their personal objectives. I was appointed from outside as the Designate Head of the planned merged and converged service that would result Merger of the institutions was resisted in many quarters, and was by no means a certainty until fairly close to the final date, although realistically most felt the process was inevitable.
The University was persuaded that service should be equable across all sites, and agreed to invest major capital funding in refurbishment of the former College Library premises to support both merger and converged service delivery. Major investment in the network and telephone infrastructures was undertaken, essential for facilitating both merger, and converged service delivery.
Merger- the process
Merger, for areas of the University and College that were replicated by both, would be undertaken by an assimilation process. Individuals would have to compete for posts, created in the new structures, derived for the post merger institution. (There was little replication in the academic departments, as the merger was a very good match of disparate subject areas). The appropriate senior person, (often following an internal competition between former heads in the two institutions), created the structures and application for the posts in the structure would proceed tier by tier enabling staff with relevant previous experience and grading to apply, with appeal processes in place.
A blank sheet of paper is a great place to start a service; however, the agreement existed that all existing staff should nominally be accommodated in the structure, and that the combination of the old and new should nominally produce a 10% saving in the cost model. The former grades, service conditions and custom and practice relating to terms and conditions would require to be tackled. There was opportunity for staff to take early retirement under a generous merger related package.
Complete restructuring is a very threatening process for the staff involved, I would not wish to understate the difficulties through the process and beyond. The new AIS staff structure attempted to provide a common framework for former computing and library staff by recognising the individual professional and non-professional experience of the staff concerned. There was an attempt to provide a path for the non-professional to professional status by providing a suitable intermediary `para-professional' tier in the structure. Re-skilling was seen as essential and budget was earmarked. The new structure focussed on the need for information professionals and attempted to expunge the concept of library and computing terminology. However, the users recognise the physical as a Library, despite the other services integrated into the facility. We now naturally talk about AIS services being in the Libraries.
The structure recognised two categories of AIS staff. Firstly, those who were customer and service focussed and who had a major role in providing the public service. Secondly, those who provide private services essential for the public service but who were by the nature of their role actually invisible to the customer at the point of access. There were of course many that ranged in their duties from the private to the public or spent time in different roles. It was desirable that as many staff as possible should at least serve in the public service on occasion, to ensure awareness of purpose.
The first management `away-day' of merger set a context where there would need to be an internal re-focus; it was to be forcefully stated that `AIS is a customer of AIS'. The failure of the public service was often in the hands of the private service that had failed to deliver to the needs of AIS colleagues. It was my stated view that the private side felt that they served the needs of the external customer first and AIS staff second. Thus systems to support the public AIS operation were given a lower priority. Associated with this was a major lack of communication within the service between functional areas and inconsistent views of priority and purpose.
Assimilation and Re-structuring
Many would envy the opportunity offered by assimilation. The service could be planned from scratch, with a structure necessary for an Institution whose size had more than doubled, and would now be operating across several major campus locations. The overall structure was loosely defined with generic job descriptions, consultation was then was undertaken with staff and Trade Unions. The new structures were required to demonstrate efficiency or effectiveness gains in merger; the associated assimilation rules allowed people who could claim posts in the new structure contained significant elements of their previous role would have automatic right to apply for that post. Staff had their former salary protected in the event of assimilation at a lower grade. There was a merger early retirement and severance scheme available for staff who wanted an opportunity to leave. There were to be no compulsory redundancies.
The assimilation process was lengthy since as each tier was assimilated, the appointees would join the process of re-defining the job descriptions in the subsequent tiers, and being involved in the appointment process. Where new roles were created, both internal and external candidates competed through open competition. Effectively every former member of staff had to apply for a post in the structure unless the new role was a replication of a former role. The attempt at total fairness, with a visible process, with many stages for appeal, was naturally lengthy. It was clearly understood that AIS assimilation would be the most difficult anywhere in the University and would create the largest assimilated structure.
`Generic' job descriptions, emphasising information services, was an attempt to make posts available to staff from either a Library or Computer background. Convergence was at the heart of the structure with clarity that the new operating model for AIS would be through team based management. Re-skilling is essential, the public function of AIS has a majority of relatively junior graded staff providing support to AIS customers.
The opportunity may appear to be every Director's dream, i.e. to re-structure. However, the process itself is very threatening for staff. Clearly there have been winners and losers. However, the initial perceived benefits hide the difficulties. All change is threatening; during assimilation morale fell to a low level, with all the associated attributes such as high sickness and stress-related absences. During assimilation staff found they were both moving into their new role, whilst not fully released from former responsibilities. The process continuing whilst trying to deliver a full service.
Sickness, vacancies, and the overhead of the process itself all resulted in difficulty in achieving significant staff development. Assimilation and filling of vacancies arising took almost a year. During this period, staff had to support other massive changes resulting from service requirements arising from integrating the two very different environments. Major networking developments of around [[sterling]]2 million, a programme of re-development of AIS library locations at [[sterling]]3 million, and high investment in services infrastructure, were all undertaken. These investments kept staff from reflecting on the perceived threat as they could see AIS was to be at the heart of the University's future mission.
AIS - the near future
AIS continues to modify structure as staff are offered opportunities of Voluntary Early Retirement and Severance arising from projected budget deficit without institutional attention to overall staff cost issues. A tier of senior management will effectively be lost. The managers of service areas and service locations will be further empowered. The senior management of AIS will become light, an appropriate model, as a more predictable period of change follows. Team structures are developing but at unequal rates and hence require further senior management support and monitoring.
We have or are putting in place mechanisms to review the costs and costing of all our operations, and looking for measures which will improve efficiency or effectiveness. The Institution continues to support AIS closely, allowing continued re-structuring, to provide fitness for purpose.
AIS - the next three years
There are tremendous opportunities within G. Manchester. The four Universities have a special relationship, which is largely based on the close relationship that exists between Senior Management of the Institutions. Salford is the only institution of the four, that has adopted convergence strategies; however, this has no way impeded the special relationship. The institution Libraries have developed a special relationship and founded CALIM , which will be the framework for future developments in information delivery. CALIM is preparing strategy and business plans for a hybrid library service operating in some form of commonwealth model. It is likely that CALIM will found a company to provide service to the institutions, providing benefits of shared resource and efficiency, possible when scaling to support approximately 100,000 students. The Computing relationship has enabled the development of a MAN, which serves the institutions providing 155 Mbs connectivity to all major and satellite sites of the institutions. Similarly, a model for joint service provision, shared resources, and economies of scale are all attainable. The anticipated Deering agenda for regionalisation positions Manchester in an excellent position for the future. The four institutions are well positioned to be an exemplar for collaboration in the UK higher education sector.
Salford has founded a project called GEMISIS  that has a major Cable & Wireless Communications and the City as its partners. This 10 million pounds project has laid the infrastructure to support the GEMISIS mission. We have launched the BITN , which is rapidly connecting business across G. Manchester and will permit the University to deliver remote learning, technology transfer, and collaboration in many areas. We will be using connectivity planned for local schools and Further Education to facilitate Salford drive towards being the Institution of Enabling Technologies. We wish to use our new Video-on-Demand server to support the remote learner and to this end we are developing content applicable for the BITN, the remote learner, and the local student.
Salford has undertaken massive change in its model for service delivery now and into the next decade. Change is threatening, but it will not go away or slow down. Staff must accommodate change as a continuous process of opportunity. AIS at Salford is better positioned, than similar services elsewhere, for the changes ahead. The role of AIS is as a front-line customer support unit, for both local and remote customers. The cost of both infrastructure and services are decreasing whilst the need for customer support grows. The astute will observe the continued de-skilling by technological development, and accept the thrust towards customer focussed support in a rich information environment.
 Academic Information Services at the university of Salford - C. Harris, British Journal of Academic Librarianship, pp147-152, Vol 3, Number 3, 1988, ISSN 0269-0497
CALIM Consortium of Academic Libraries in Manchester
 GEMISIS is an umbrella for projects which demonstrate the viability of the Information Super Highway
Business Information Transfer Network
Director of Academic Information Services,
University of Salford, M5 4WT, UK