By Sean O'Malley
Ohio University's Office of Information Technology has made significant strides in the year since Brice Bible took the helm as chief information officer. Bible shared those accomplishments Thursday at the Board of Trustees Resources Committee meeting. He also identified additional investments that are still necessary.
Findings of a comprehensive Gartner Consulting IT benchmarking study identified the university's IT infrastructure as being underfunded, understaffed and unsustainable without additional investment. Bible presented an overview of the past year's progress toward closing those gaps and outlined an IT improvement plan that could require as much as $46 million in additional investment over the next six years.
Successes from the past year include:
- Hiring seven new, critical IT positions
- Installing a new disk storage array in the university's data center
- Completing an IT risk assessment
- Establishing an IT security office and IT policy framework
- Completing the student information system preimplementation and readiness assessment
- Establishing the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) and constituent advisory groups
- Partnering on IT services with Finance and Administration and the College of Arts and Sciences
- Participating in and hosting statewide and national outreach activities, including the P2P Forum, OHECC, the Spring
Web Developers Conference and Internet2 Day
- Creating a change management process that tracks maintenance, upgrades and modifications to systems that have the potential to affect university-wide IT services
Network and systems improvements
Although the university now has a strong IT security office and sufficient disk storage space to support the demands of a growing institution, several major gaps remain in OIT's core infrastructure, Bible said.
Foremost among these is a lack of network capacity. At typical peer institutions, 96 percent of buildings have at least 1 gigabit per second of bandwidth available, compared to only 40 percent at Ohio. To address this gap, Bible presented a six-year plan to update the university's network infrastructure, costing approximately $17 million. When Trustee C. Robert Kidder asked whether the university could alleviate some of this expense through partnerships via the new University System of Ohio, Bible said prices could be driven down through collective purchasing agreements but that network infrastructure ultimately is an individual purchase.
"The wires and jacks that connect one room to another and one building to another have to belong to us," said Bible.
Bible also said that systems staff must monitor and maintain 25 unique OS versions running on 10 different hardware platforms with over 20 supporting vendors. Such diversity is a major barrier to improving efficiency, Bible said. To address this challenge, OIT plans to leverage its recently installed storage array to begin consolidating server systems.
Financial and administrative services
The university's current online financial and administrative services, based on the Oracle eBusiness suite, could benefit from improvements, Bible said. Many processes that could be handled entirely online currently require manual intervention, and the system offers limited reporting capabilities. Bible noted that federal tax regulations will require the university to upgrade its eBusiness suite by July 2010. OIT and Finance and Administration still are defining the scope of this project, but Bible estimates it will cost around $5 million.
In the academic realm, the Faculty Technology Advisory Group recently submitted a report to ITAC identifying current faculty technology needs. The group pointed to four major areas of need: collaborative/scientific software, Web-based videoconferencing, training and standardization of technology packages in all classrooms.
Along with addressing these issues, OIT plans to continue its pilot of Blackboard 7.3 through fall 2008, with full conversion of the campus to the new version during the winter intersession.
Finally, in an effort to further improve academic services, OIT will conduct a benchmarking analysis of its academic technologies group using expertise from Educause, the IT professional development group for education. During this period, Human and Consumer Sciences faculty member David Matthews will serve as interim academic technologies director.
Bible reiterated the importance of moving forward with the university's plans to replace its aging Informs SIS with Oracle's PeopleSoft.
Only one other public institution still uses Informs, and it will begin an SIS replacement project in July of this year. Bible estimated that the full cost of the Ohio University's SIS project, including conversion to semesters, will be $23 million.
Strategic directions and partnerships
Bible emphasized that his presentation should not be taken as a detailed financial plan but rather as a strategic overview, and that the cost figures and details of the improvement plan would need to remain conceptual until a firmer university budget is in place. Bible said further that these issues do need to be faced fairly quickly, due to the demands of a semester conversion.
Overall, Bible reiterated his focus on infrastructure modernization and stability, noting that the university must prepare itself not only for the switch to semesters but also for changes that will come about as the University System of Ohio continues to evolve.
"Taken together, the universities in the USO spend a total of $50-$75 million per year on enterprise software," Bible said. "That's a huge opportunity for us to pool our purchasing power and drive costs down."