OIT prepares for "Year of the Change"
E-mail, calendaring, Blackboard, SIS and network projects move forward in parallel with IT realignment
September 9, 2009
2009 may be the Year of the Ox, but for Ohio University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), it will be the Year of the Change.
By Sean O'Malley
During the coming academic year, the university will see multiple IT-related improvements, including two new e-mail systems, a new calendaring system, and a new version of Blackboard. The Rufus Initiative will reach out to faculty, staff and students to help refine the university’s new SIS, while the NextGen Network upgrade will begin bringing faster network speeds to the desktop. Finally, OIT itself will change, as the university implements President McDavis’ August 17, 2009 directive to consolidate all university-wide servers, enterprise applications, data networks and security under OIT.
CatMail and Exchange
OIT will be rolling out two new e-mail systems - CatMail for undergraduates and alumni, and Exchange for faculty, staff and graduate students. Both systems will include modern web access and an integrated calendar. For undergraduates, calendaring will be a new feature. For faculty, staff and graduate students, the Exchange calendar will replace Oracle Calendar.
The CatMail conversion already is well under way. At the start of summer, OIT converted most alumni Oak accounts to the Microsoft-hosted CatMail. Incoming freshmen were converted in time for Orientation. During July and early August, current students and recent alumni had several opportunities to convert their accounts as part of OIT’s beta testing. Once that testing was complete, OIT made the CatMail conversion tool available to all undergraduates and alumni. That tool remains available on the Webmail login page, and periodic conversion reminders will be sent to individuals who check their mail on Oak.
On October 12, any remaining undergraduate and alumni Oak users will be converted automatically to the new system. Forwarding will not be affected by this conversion. Individuals who forward their Oak mail elsewhere will continue to receive university mail at their chosen forwarding address.
Faculty, staff and graduate students will see a new e-mail and calendaring system as well, with Oak/Webmail/Mulberry/Oracle Calendar being replaced by Exchange/Outlook/Entourage. Exchange will feature a new client (Outlook for PC, Entourage for Mac), integrated calendaring, a modern web interface, and sync capabilities for most mobile devices. Conversions from Oak e-mail to Exchange will happen on a department by department basis.
Exact schedules for the Exchange conversion still are being worked out; however, OIT intends to complete the process by spring quarter at the latest.
Blackboard 7.3 for all, plus a Blackboard 9 pilot group
Fall brings the end of one change and the start of another for Blackboard. For fall quarter, faculty who wish to use Blackboard must use version 7.3. Blackboard 6 will remain online through December 31, 2009 for course exports and conversions; however, it is no longer possible to create new courses in Blackboard 6.
With the conversion to Blackboard 7.3 fresh on everyone’s mind, OIT’s academic technology staff already are looking toward a future move to version 9. The change from Blackboard 6 to Blackboard 7.3, while not trivial, did not require any major adjustments to the way individuals interact with the system. The upgrade improved performance and added features, but the system overall remained unchanged.
Blackboard 9, on the other hand, represents a complete rewrite from the ground up. According to blackboard.com, version 9 will be “radically different” from all previous versions. The user interface will be highly customizable and will include capabilities from Blackboard’s former competitor WebCT.
To prepare for this change, OIT will begin piloting the new version later this year. Additional information about the pilot project will be available in October.
The Rufus Initiative: Summer summary and fall plans
The Rufus Initiative involves more than just replacing the university’s Student Information System (SIS) with PeopleSoft’s Campus Solutions. It also includes managing identities and securing personal data, streamlining the recruiting and application process for prospective students, consolidating the university’s online services under a personalized, customizable portal, and designing a technical framework that will allow departments across the institution to access student data when and where they need it.
Over the summer, the team took steps to purchase three separate packages that are prerequisites to the new PeopleSoft SIS: identity management, constituent relationship management and a web portal. Identity management will secure personal information and track individuals’ roles at the university. Constituent relationship management will streamline the recruiting and admissions process for prospective students, and the web portal will bring university services to students, faculty and staff via a customizable, personalized interface. All three of these purchases should be finalized during early fall quarter. At that point, public discussions with university stakeholders can begin regarding how each of those packages should be configured.
The team also has begun the detailed process of defining how PeopleSoft will process student and institutional data. In a series of validation sessions in August, the group presented its approach to student biographic and demographic data and began discussions about how best to meet institutional reporting needs. In total, over 100 representatives from across the university attended at least one of these sessions. Three additional validation sessions have been scheduled for September to discuss how PeopleSoft will be configured to accommodate the university’s existing academic structure: colleges, schools and departments; programs, plans and majors.
Once these basic configuration decisions have been made, the team can move on to what faculty, staff and students care most about: what the system will look like and what it is capable of doing. During fall quarter, several university-wide demo and feedback sessions will be available regarding the basic, “as delivered” faculty and student interface screens in PeopleSoft. These sessions will be the first chance for interested individuals to see what PeopleSoft is capable of and to give their feedback on possible improvements.
OHIO’s Next Generation Network upgrade is not officially scheduled to begin until October, but preparations already are underway to increase the university’s network backbone to 10 Gbps, provide 100 Mbps to the desktop, and improve wireless coverage on all six campuses.
In mid June, the university awarded a contract to Juniper Networks to provide switches, routers and other network hardware needed by the NextGen project. Since then, equipment has been steadily arriving on campus, and OIT technical teams have completed the necessary training to be able to install and configure that equipment.
Because increased network performance will place additional demands on the university’s data center and main networking hub sites, electrical upgrades were performed this summer in both Alden Library and the Computer Services Center.
In October, OIT’s infrastructure teams will start visiting buildings to upgrade wiring, jacks and network infrastructure. Although the project will take multiple years to complete, many locations will see performance increases as soon as this quarter.
As part of the university’s move to modernize and secure its IT infrastructure, OIT contacted academic and administrative departments during 2008-09 to survey distributed IT resources, systems and support staff. This survey identified many unique needs across the university that are best served at the departmental level; however, it also identified many opportunities for improved service through consolidation.
On August 17, 2009 president McDavis issued a directive to consolidate all university-wide servers, enterprise applications, data networks and security under OIT. In the coming months, OIT will work directly with affected individuals and departments to create the best mix of central and distributed services. In the meantime, chief information officer Brice Bible has asked that distributed and central IT staff continue to maintain their current service levels. “Our first priority is to have a smooth fall quarter opening,” Bible said.