Is it in IT?

December 3, 2006 § Leave a comment

There seems to be a lot of talk about who “owns” various, previously considered IT, services and systems.

I recently attended the SUNY Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference and there was an interesting discussion specifically regarding the place of on-line and distance education within the campus’ organizational structure, particularly one like SUNY with 64 distinctive campuses. (This discussion was really lead by the SUNY DOODLE group)

This same discussion, again specific to on-line education, also took place at another recent SUNY event, the SUNY Council of CIO’s. There I noted that while many campus CIO’s have direct reports responsible for their institution’s on-line/distance learning programs (like I do), many other campuses house their programs under Chief Academic Officers/Provosts, Continuing Education, Business and Finance, etc.

With today’s diverse technology landscape many campuses are struggling with how to organize technology services and systems within the institution. While Information Technology departments have traditionally been responsible for development and support of everything from the projectors in smart classrooms to the the applications they project, other campus service providers (Facilities, Registrar, etc.), and in the case of teaching and learning even faculty, are striving to make more services/systems available to achieve their own specific missions. The result is often tension between the technical staff who must maintain a service or system and the end users who rely on its functionality.

The above was a recent topic of the Capital District Educational Technology Group (CDETG). I was fortunate enough to be asked to moderate the event, a panel discussion, and was joined by Gary Schwartz of RPI and Michael Feldstein of Oracle. Gary has over 25 years in academic technology and is currently the Director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s, Communications & Middleware Technologies. Michael’s background is in Teaching and Learning and, as Principle Project Manager for Oracle’s Academic Enterprise Initiative, is responsible for finding and integrating disparate academic services and systems from SIS to LMS’s. Basically, Michael is the guy who always wants something and Gary is the guy who has to provide it—I couldn’t think of two better people to ask who is responsible for the identification, design, development, deployment and support of technology on a campus.

I started off our discussions with some questions to the group, where do the following services or system “belong” in a campus’ organizational structure? That is, who is responsible for their current functionality, implementation and future direction? After some debate, the question of “who was responsible” boiled down to “who pays for it:” suddenly everyone knew what I meant.

Consider the web site, or even just a home page. Is this a Marketing and Communications responsibility or an IT responsibility? Is the message of the home page to be determined by recruitment or (financial) development goals? How do needs in technology affect needs in communications, and vise versa? And this is just the home page: what about distance learning, calendars, smart classrooms, digital repositories, card keys, voip, and on and on? When I began to ask who is responsible for the various services like those mentioned above, it was interesting to hear how various campus representatives explained and legitimized their own organizational structures. Are smart classrooms IT or Facilities’ responsibility? Who installs them? Who installs the electrical, the podiums and the screens? If your distance learning is under the CIO because they keep Blackboard and the servers it’s riding on running, how does your Provost create new programs that may increase storage, bandwidth, cpu utilization?

On top of the issue of who is responsible, there is plenty of room for debate on the distinctions between technology and functionality… Is it a “home page” or a “gateway” or a “portal?” Is it a “file server,” “media server,” “digital repository,” “content management system” or “eportfolio?”

With such complexity, it seems to me that many rely on the staple of any bureaucracy: the committee! Who can argue with the notion of forming “a committee of stakeholders?” I was actually on a committee that was charged to, “Dream it up.” I can tell you that our dream became a nightmare.

Let me insert here an interesting little use case in order to “make it real…”

As of last spring, laundry life at Columbia has changed dramatically. Today, with the help of a real-time Web-based service called LaundryView students can log on to the system via the LaundryView Web site from a link off the student information system (SIS) portal, to see which machines are free—even before they head to the laundry room. Students can use their campus debit cards to pay for the wash, and once they put a load in, they can monitor its progress from the same Web page, making sure they get back to catch their load as it finishes. If students prefer, they can even program the service to e-mail them when their load is done. According to Dave Roberts, Director of Information Services for the school’s department of housing and dining, the service is designed to maximize convenience.

God bless Dave Roberts! Can you imagine the committee that must have been in place to design, develop and deploy this? Was there a Laundry Committee that raised the need to make laundry more accessible? (I’m not making fun of this, perhaps a student was assaulted as they waited in an off campus location, maybe this is a clever business decision that provides revenue sharing or maybe Colombia can’t build more laundry services and needs to find ways students can maximize access). After the laundry committee, I am sure some sort of analysis was carried out to determine the best laundry monitoring service available (another committee?). I see that students can log on, access the site through a campus portal integrated with the SIS, use their campus debit cards and are notified via email. How many departments on campuses, including the committees who may be “advising” these departments, had to be involved? And most remarkably who did the Director of Information Services for the school’s department of housing and dining have to negotiate with; the Director of Information Services for the school’s Registrar to get access to the SIS and the Director of Information Services for the school’s business and finance department to get access to the debit cards, as well as the Director of Information Services for the school’s information services (!?!?!?!) to get access to email and identity management?

I referenced the above story with the CDETG, and asked:

  • How are new technologies identified?
  • How is the scope (functionality/features) determined—Who is involved (stakeholders)?
  • How are different stakeholders identified?
  • How do stakeholders communicate?
  • How are projects prioritized?
  • Who manages the project?
  • How are resources allocated?

Then once the project is defined, designed, developed and deployed

  • How are new users trained?
  • Who administers the service?
  • Where is the Help Desk?
  • Who determines what upgrades are needed?
  • How is value (success) assessed?

Most of the audience admitted that they did not know of a uniform process on their campus to identify, develop and support operations or new initiatives, but they all seemed to have faith in, and advocate for, communication.

If each service is potentially the responsibility of many departments and each department may potentially be housed in different silos of the institution, how can those with needs make their case through the appropriate channels to build awareness of and gain approval for, development and support for administration?

I can’t think of a better method, than Agile Project Management techniques and tools like Atlassian’s Confluence. More about those later…

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