JISC ASSIST (Activities, Services and Special Initiatives Support Team) is an "awareness raising" unit set up because the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) recognises that "the opportunities presented by IT are outstripping the ability of the sector to assimilate and exploit them."
This article is by way of an introduction to what will be a regular feature of ARIADNE which will highlight current, and future, JISC plans and activities and how these are assisting HEIs grapple with the many information and technology related challenges that are influencing the shape of HE for future generations.
JISC is probably best known for putting in place a communications network to support HE known as JANET (the Joint Academic NETwork). In addition, JISC negotiates access to electronic resources and content on behalf of and for use by the higher education community, funds a varied programme of research and development projects exploring the potential of new and emerging technologies and commissions studies looking at the human and organisational issues involved with implementing and using information systems.
JISC ASSIST acts as a focal point for all information pertaining to JISC and associated initiatives and has an ambitious programme of PR activities. JISC ASSIST, however, is more than an awareness raising unit and actively engages with the community through workshops and meetings with senior management and other targeted groups to discuss and understand the needs of the community. Finally JISC ASSIST will be providing feedback to all parts of the JISC and the community it serves to ensure its work remains relevant and enable us to plan future work that is responsive to user requirements.
Our plans over the next 12 months or so include:
- an ambitious programme of PR activities including the continuation of the Senior Mangement Briefing Papers and other targeted materials
- a new JISC WWW site providing a single point of access to all JISC information and activities including a fully searchable database of all JISC papers, reports, projects, resources, etc. The site will employ current standards and demonstrate those that are new and emerging and use technological developments funded by JISC
- working with JISC funded services and projects to ensure maximum uptake and exploitation of their products and services
- continuing to run workshops and other discussion forums on strategic issues relating to communications and information technology (C&IT)
- meeting with the community through institutional visits, user groups, etc. to work together to understand the barriers impeding the uptake of C&IT and JISC resources and products
- using a subject based approach experimenting with a variety of promotional activities and monitoring uptake (see below)
- commissioning small projects on issues of generic importance across the whole of HE e.g. JISC ASSIST has recently commissioned an update to the SIMA  report "A comprehensive survey of the legal issues relating to the development and use of the World Wide Web technology at education sites" (see below)
- evaluation of JISC ASSIST including user consultation to inform future work plans
A key aspect to the work of JISC ASSIST is developing partnerships with other key players, organisations and initiatives.
What to look out for:
Resource Guide for the Social Sciences
Funded jointly by the ESRC and JISC the key focus of this project is on promoting and coordinating the type of social science electronic information and resources and the range of services available. The project is not about promotion for promotion’s sake; rather it is about aiding Social Scientists realise the type and range of internet services (and in particular those funded by the JISC and ESRC) available from a single point so that they can use them as appropriate to their needs. The Resource Guide Adviser is Karen Ford. Karen is based alongside the Subject Gateways for Social Science (SOSIG) and Business and Economics (Biz/ed).
JISC ASSIST is exploring the potential of expanding this model to other subject areas based on JISC’s collections policy  and has been working with Karen to ensure that the framework developed is one that could be adopted by other subject areas.
For further details of the resources and help available take a look at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/subject/socsci/
A survey of the legal issues relating to the development and use of intenet related technologies at educational sites.
An update to the JISC funded document "A comprehensive Survey of the Legal Issues Relating to the Development and Use of the World Wide Web Technology at Education Sites"  has been commissioned. JISC ASSIST has come across a number of instances where up to date advice is needed. The report is being updated and developed to reflect both the changes in law over the last 3 years, and the expanding number of uses to which Internet Technology is being put by HE institutions. As part of the report:
- a draft strategic plan and checklist for HE to use in structuring the administration of its provision of Internet resources including practical solutions and
- a set of draft regulations, guidelines, and other supporting documentation for use in conjunction with the strategic plan
are being produced. This work is of importance to a number of information related activities: the Information Strategies Initiative  and in particular that of information security and the BS7799 pilot work (see below). The report will be produced end of November 1999 with a draft report presented at the third annual UK WWW focus workshop  in September for discussion.
Accessibility of WWW sites
JISC ASSIST is working with the DISInHE  service (see elsewhere in this issue) to carry out an audit of a range of JISC service WWW sites to assess their accessibility by all staff and students. The results will be available as a set of case studies to the community. This is of particular relevance given the current legislation and the new European Human Rights Legislation which will be with us by the year 2000 (see ARIADNE Issue 19 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue19/disinhe/ for further details)
The following workshops are being planned for the next academic year:
- Information Security: results of the BS7799 pilot investigating the appropriateness of this information security standard for HE
- A C&IT infrastructure for research: what do we need in the way of network developments, resources, tools, training, etc. to continue to support researchers
- Other titles are under discussion including workshops on a Distributed National Electronic Resource for Education and the costs of implementing C&IT
If your institution is interested in a visit from members of JISC to discuss institutional needs and how can JISC help please contact JISC ASSIST, contact details below.
In the next issue, as well as updating you on JISC activities, we will reporting on work being carried out as part of our annual theme: Security: Authentication, Authorisation, Privacy and other security issues. With the growing importance of electronic information it is essential that it is appropriately protected. It should only be available to authorised users, and users must have confidence that the information has not been illegally altered. HEIs may also wish to restrict access to external information, either because it is inappropriate for users to access it or because there are charges associated with it. JISC is funding a number of projects in these areas looking at how this can be done cost effectively.  A number of other security related activities are also underway and will be reported on in the next issue.
Please visit JISC at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk and send your enquiries or thoughts to JISC ASSIST: firstname.lastname@example.org. Elsewhere in this issue of Ariadne there are reports on other JISC supported projects, including the National Electronic Site License Initiative, the subject gateways (BIZ/ED, SOSIG, EEVL), DISinHE, and also the CLUMPS projects run as part of the UK eLib Programme.
-  Joint Information Syastems Committee: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/
-  Joint Information Systems Committee - Five Year Strategy 1996-2001 http://www.jisc.ac.uk/pub/strategy.html
-  SIMA reports: http://www.agocg.ac.uk/sima.htm
-  JISC Collections Policy: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/collections/
-  A comprehensive Survey of the Legal Issues Relating to the Development and Use of the World Wide Web Technology at Education Sites: http://www.agocg.ac.uk/reports/mmedia/legal/title.htm
- Information Strategies Initiative: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/info_strat/
-  UK Web Focus: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/
-  Disability Information System in Higher Education or DISinHE: http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/
-  JISC funded projects in security issues: http://www.jtap.ac.uk/projects/Security.html
- Dr Jane Williams
- Head of JISC ASSIST
- Joint Information Systems Committee
- Computing Service
- University of Bristol
- Tyndall Avenue
- Bristol BS8 1GU
- Email: email@example.com
- Web: http://www.jisc.ac.uk
- Tel: 0117 954 6850
- Fax: 0117 9291576