CIO discusses IT plans with Administrative Senate
IT consolidation, SIS and e-mail system replacements all on track
March 17, 2009
By Sean O'Malley
Ohio University will continue to see major IT improvements in the coming year. In remarks at an Administrative Senate brown bag seminar, Chief Information Officer Brice Bible stated that plans to consolidate IT across the university, replace the university's aging student information system, and integrate the university's e-mail/calendaring environments remain on track.
IT Consolidation Plan
The consolidation plan is the result of a recent Board of Trustees action giving the office of the CIO responsibility for the university's information technology resources on all campuses and within all colleges and planning units. Bible said that translates into a commitment on his part to survey IT resources in each area of the university, collaboratively identify which resources should be centralized and which should remain under local unit control, and establish appropriate service level agreements for those resources.
"This is not a mandate for one-size-fits-all centralization," Bible said. Instead, the plan should be seen as an opportunity for collaboration along a shared services model. "Some specific academic services work better under a distributed model. Those services should stay in the colleges."
The plan includes a proposal for providing personalized computer support to all departments across the university. Currently, some departments have multiple technicians on staff while others have none. Under the new approach, technicians would be assigned to specific buildings and departments and would spend the majority of their time "in the field" supporting those departments. According to Bible, having the same individuals serving the same people day in and day out will result in better support.
"One of the strongest arguments for a distributed approach revolves around accessibility and unique knowledge," said Bible.
Beth Lydic with the College of Education expressed concern about the timeliness of support under the new plan. "Faculty want someone right there to be able to help them," Lydic said.
Bible acknowledged that the consolidation plan is by no means set in stone. "We will have to sit down with each planning unit head, work out the details, and not be afraid to tweak things as we go along. The process needs to be collegial and conversational." IT surveys already have been distributed to planning unit heads, and Bible hopes to present the full data to both the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) and the Board of Trustees in April.
Now that funding has been secured, the SIS replacement project is moving forward rapidly. According to Bible, the project team currently is negotiating with 3 vendor finalists who are competing to be the university's implementation partner. As the project moves forward, core team members from throughout the university will converge on the former Factory Street dance studio, where the majority of the project work will take place. In the coming eighteen months, Bible noted that the university will need to be disciplined in the way it handles the workload in offices that are contributing staff to the project.
Given that the new SIS will be happening immediately before the switch to semesters, Wendy Merb Brown observed that many of her constituents felt that it would be more "bang for the buck" if the university were to undertake both conversions at the same time. Bible responded by citing his own experience at the University of Tennessee and the advice of industry professionals. "There are a million ways an implementation like this can go wrong," Bible warned. "The last thing you want to do is to throw another major variable like the semester transition into the mix. We need to get this system up and running smoothly in the quarter system first. If we do that, then the semester transition becomes much easier."
Along with replacing the university's student information system, the project also will include a centralized identity management system. The university currently uses a home-grown solution that will not be supported in the new PeopleSoft environment, Bible said. Along with ensuring compatibility with the new SIS, an identity management solution will provide a single, secure repository for personal information such as Social Security numbers.
"We will be one of the first universities in the country to completely strip Social Security numbers out of PeopleSoft," Bible said.
E-Mail and Calendaring Replacement
In response to a question from Lisa Dael, assistant director for lifelong and distance learning, Bible outlined plans to replace the university's e-mail and calendaring systems. According to Bible, the university's home-grown e-mail system is complex, dependent on aging hardware, and expensive to maintain. It also does not provide many features that users see as standard, including large quotas and tight integration with online calendaring.
To provide those features and take advantage of the university's existing agreement with Microsoft, OIT plans to move to Microsoft Exchange as its faculty/staff e-mail and calendaring solution. Barring any major changes, OIT plans to install the necessary hardware during Spring quarter and begin inviting departments to migrate to the system as soon as it is fully installed and tested. Roll out could be completed as soon as Fall, Bible said.
After the move, the standard e-mail and calendaring client for PC users would be Outlook, while Mac users would use Entourage; however, any client capable of connecting to the system would remain an option, Bible said. For students, the university is leaning toward Microsoft's Exchange Labs solution rather than Google's Gmail, not only because the Microsoft product would integrate better with the faculty/staff Exchange server but also because Microsoft has been more willing not to "mine" student data stored on its servers.
IT Plan draft, as presented to Admin Senate (PDF)
Information Technology Advisory Council