Bold & Audacious.Part 2

Thank you all for your submissions on ‘bold and audacious’ ideas. As I mentioned in a previous post, I dislike ‘safe.’ Part of our job is to push the envelope, to make people think about how we use technology and, better, how we support the primary mission of the University. We watch industry trends, assess user needs and take steps to converge them at points in the future.

However, while I received some very interesting and provocative comments and ideas, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to include them in the annual report. They are not official, just ideas.

What I received is still worth a look. Sharing them here is a better venue. They’re less official and more open to ongoing debate. Here’s the list so far.

• Do not add any new technologies unless something else of similar value is dropped.

• PSU will never be in the headlines for data security or identity theft incidents

• PSU should block and prohibit all file sharing of music and video files on our network.

• All PSU courses should be developed and presented in WebCT.

• Discontinue support and acquisition of discipline-specific computer clusters. Instead, request that students bring their computers to class

• Require all students to develop ePortfolios.

• If we’re going to standardize on one computer platform, let’s make it Mac.

• Outsource management of the network. It is costly and time-consuming, and others would be willing to come in and provide this service for us.

• Stop using email for news and updates to all employees. Reserve allemp for priority messages. All others should go to the web portal or RSS feeds to which employees can subscribe.

• The role of the librarian as gatekeeper and information overlord has ended. The future of librarianship will go to those who understand and navigate the Google Economy.

• We should place all the reference books and periodicals in storage, retrievable on demand. In their place, we should create more space for students, faculty and staff to work collaboratively and discerningly around online research materials.

• Should we continue to provide email to students when they come to campus with free (and preferred) email accounts?

• Should PSU get out of the phone business? At least we should migrate to VOIP.

• Should we discontinue using Microsoft Office in favor of Google applications that are free and Webiquous?

• Why are we providing computers all over campus if students are bringing their own?

• Why do we not share more hardware and resources with sister campuses in USNH?

• Why don’t we move our Help Desk into the Library (hey, what a good idea!)

The IT Versatilist: Neither specialist nor generalist

I'm listening to Tom Friedman's book entitled The World is Flat. This is an excellent assessment of the recent history of information technology and its impact on the global economy. While I am moved to write about many aspects of this book, I simply recommend it to anyone who is looking at their career and how to remain viable.

Friedman cited some studies by the Gartner Group that refer to the valued employee of the present and future: neither a specialist (one with a unique but narrow and deep skillset) or a generalist (knows a lot about a lot but not in much depth), the versatilist is what employers are looking for.

A versatilist is someone defined by prior work and assignments. It is someone who has performed work in several areas, can apply experiences of the past into problem-solving today and tomorrow. Versatilists learn and understand the business units in their organization: how they work, their objectives and their customer needs…and help align their work with organizational goals.

How would you describe yourself? (rhetorical, but have some rhetoric with yourself)

Losing the print directory?

Our job is about managing change. Change is about altering behaviors.

Here’s another example of how technology offers students and others new services but requires us to rethink how we work.

Consider the PSU printed directory. It’s the yellow pages for PSU. In order for the publication to be produced each fall, significant work is required from people in HR to get all the information current. Calls and calls to department contacts who are not always here during the summer. Lots of manual data entry, data that exists elsewhere in our information systems for employees and students. And as soon as the work is finished, it is sent to the printer. Every week after it arrives, the directory becomes more and more dated.

Here’s the rub. Many employees want and use the directory. It can sit by a desktop or bedside, it is quick to look up a name. You don’t have to be online.

Yet in the past few years, we have developed alternative methods to look up the same information via the web directories, PSU’s Google Search and the new automated voice directory system. If you dial (535) 3333, you can name any employee or student and get directly to their phone or voicemail. Go ahead, try it. It’s new this year and we’re still working out some bugs, but it’s coming along nicely.

With these new technologies, why should we continue to go through the paces of producing a printed directory? Students don’t use it, they operate online.

Managing change is about changing behaviors. We need to train ourselves to look up information in new ways. We expect that for some people, especially those that need information quickly at all hours, they may still want a printed form of directory info. We can provide that in an alternative format that people can print on their own. For the rest of us, lose the print and get online. That data is always current.

Bold & Audacious Goals for ITS

The ITS annual report is just about done. It’s a snapshot in time, a bit of bragging and directions on where we’re going. But so far, it’s a relatively safe document.

I dislike safe. It needs a section on Bold & Audacious. What are the questions that no one wants to ask? What are the sacred cows? What might a naïve outsider ask if s/he was new to our environment?

To seed ideas, here are some questions posed by others at other institutions.

  • Should we continue to provide email to students when they come to campus with free (and preferred) email accounts?
  • Should we get out of the phone business?
  • Should we discontinue using Microsoft Office in favor of Google applications that are free and Webiquous?
  • Why are we providing computers all over campus if students are bringing their own?
  • Why do we not share more hardware and resources with sister campuses in USNH?
  • Why don’t we move our Help Desk into the Library (ooops, that’s a hangover from last year)

I’m asking for your help again. Send me bold and audacious ideas. Send them electronically or written on a piece of paper in an envelope addressed to me. I’ll pick the ten best and get them into the report. Think about things we might start doing, and others we should stop doing.

Maybe they’ll prompt a few more people to read it.

How do we prevent data un-integrity?

I was asked by higher ed business publication about data integrity and how we maintain it. Specifically, how does PSU assure that we do not have multiple databases where key data is not current or consistent? I felt like the answer was too easy. When you have an integrated information system, your people need to work integrated. Then I realized the real challenge had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with people and working effectively together.

First, not all schools work the way we do. We have a good system users’ group. (Studard) All the major stakeholders participate. The Registrar, Bursar, Financial Aid, Admissions, Grad School, ITS and others realize that it is in our collective best interest to work together - with common data and standards - to serve our students, admin and faculty well.

Second, you need to have a strong executive steering committee where higher-level, strategic decisions can be made. It requires VP's to work well together and make decisions as a group. We’ve got that, too.

Finally, when you implement a new, integrated information system, you agree on standards, on data and business practices, and you make that the context within which everyone works. When everyone reads from the same sheet music, the harmony is wonderful.

PSU, appreciate how well we have it! Apparently there are many others who don’t.

Questions: Blog more? Outsourcing IT?

Thanks to all who helped with the ITS annual report! Here are a couple of questions that came in recent days.
Q. Why don’t you blog more?

A. Blogging takes time. For me, I blog when the notion hits. In the past few months, I’ve found a use for a blog in my role as CIO. The blog allows me to post ideas and issues, news and updates…for me it is a new and provocative avenue of communication to the PSU campus and ITS. However, I’m not going to try and keep a schedule.

Q. There’s more and more being written about outsourcing IT on campuses. Just recently, the U. of Florida opted to outsource their distance learning program in an effort to keep their core efforts on mission critical projects and increase productivity elsewhere. (more on U of F). Is PSU thinking of outsourcing any of its components?

A. If you’re asking if we’ve thought of it, sure. We’d have our heads in the sand if we didn’t. Are we thinking about anything seriously? No, not now.

The core issues around outsourcing is making sure you don’t stretch your people too far on projects or services that are not centrally critical to your overall operation. Higher education already outsources a host of services. Dining services, Web production, payroll, information systems, course management systems, cleaning and maintenance, and residential life are outsourced by higher ed campuses. PSU outsources dining services and power production.

Should we be considering outsourcing elements of ITS? Sure. As our costs to operate systems on this campus continue to grow, we need to apply the same principles of due diligence. If an aspect of our operation can be done well and possibly for less cost, we should explore it further, particularly if additional services can be developed.

On the other hand, there isn’t a lot of competition to perform those services up in these parts. And, we have some serious talent in ITS that has developed some of the finest IT services around. We’re real proud of what we do and the systems we deliver.

Yet higher education is no different from any other industry struggling with the high cost of technology. I expect we’ll see more and more competition from outside services. That is good: it will keep us on our toes.