Task Force on Information Technology at UIC
Information technology is of increasing importance to the success of UIC's mission and goals. The 2009 summer UIC Leadership Retreat focused on information technology (IT) in a university setting to launch a broader examination of areas where UIC needs to envision and engage in active planning for its IT future. Computing and communication are at the nerve center of knowledge industries, and universities must remain at the frontiers of IT in research, business processes, instructional improvements, promoting student learning, community building, and computational and communication infrastructure.
Deans and other senior leaders must be actively engaged in technology planning and funding, for they are ultimately the ones to set priorities and provide investments to drive progress on the goals we set for UIC. Following up on the themes that emerged from the 2009 Leadership Retreat, I am appointing an IT Task Force of leaders with the goal of developing an IT vision and validating structures that help align IT efforts with the larger directions of campus endeavors, to ensure UIC's success in the years ahead.
At the highest level, the IT Task Force will consider all IT activity on campus, be it central or distributed throughout the departments. The Task Force will formulate an overall campus plan to match needs with services, services with resources, and to ensure that services and activities are performed by the campus units best prepared to deliver them efficiently and effectively.
Elements of a vision
The complexity of the computational environment and the rapid gains in connectivity are changing the way people think of the computational environment. High costs of supporting local computation motivate users to move to “commodity” services, be it email, data bases, or software. Building on existing ACCC plans and college and department intentions and practices, the Task Force should examine following are areas where a new vision could be articulated:
Overall Campus IT Architecture
Cloud computing and shared services models
Research and Supercomputing
Telephone and Voice-Over-Internet-Protocols
Learning environment infrastructure, and on-line learning in particular
Archiving & Records Management
In this evolving context, UIC might not be employing the latest infrastructure to maximum advantage, or may be missing needed services, e.g. cloud computing for CIC institutions, Google apps, web publishing support, and so on. Similarly, there might be some existing services that do not fully satisfy current needs, e.g. inadequate computational capacity for departments, recovery from security compromises, disk space, or collaboration software.
It is also possible that some services are inefficiently delivered, and we could restructure to recover some expenses. E.g., some production services currently provided by departments or outside vendors might better be delivered by campus-central or university-central IT organizations. In all these cases, we would benefit from a better alignment of IT activities with campus priorities.
Areas for Improvement
It should be clear which organizations are responsible for what services. It should also be clear what these organizations are planning, how they make decisions, and how to influence the processes.
- Buy-in and cooperation
For the most part, the Provost invests in ACCC and department heads invest in their own IT support, but normal users simply receive services. If there were a closer relation between providers and receivers of services, we would have more effective partnerships, and more productive use of services
- Organizational design and assignment of roles
Some services should be provided centrally for economy of scale. Other services should be provided at the edges for flexibility or local control. The Task Force should consider which services should be provided by which organization.
- Resources and funding
We need a mechanism to fund a base level of services for everyone. We also need a way for colleges or departments or even individual users to obtain and fund additional services for their specific needs
Hazards to Avoid
- Misguided chargeback
It is too easy to assume that letting everyone “pay as you go” will achieve market responsiveness. But this can produce serious problems and counter-productive incentives. For example, if UIC charges individuals for backup services, people are tempted to scrimp on backups – which can lead to disaster. Or if UIC charges for each network connection, or each Blackboard account, people will be tempted look for workarounds, and productivity can suffer. And there is a transactional cost or friction to each charge, which itself can be a waste of resources.
- Micro or excessive governance
Too much governance, or at too detailed a level, will slow decisions and consume excessive time from people with more productive pursuits. Whatever governance the Task Force recommends, it should be simple and high-level, setting overall directions but not inviting micro-managing.
- Resource rigidity
The single-minded pursuit of efficiency alone sometimes leads to inflexibility, and will squeeze out needed infrastructure projects that are not well measured by standard metrics. We must find adequate resources for high priority projects. But we should drop desirable but low-priority optional services, rather than starve them and accept frustratingly poor quality.
Task Force Charge
Specifically, the Task Force shall:
- Set out the highest-priority strategic goals of UIC, and their requirements for IT capabilities and services.
- Recommend IT governance practices that allow senior leadership to set priorities and align IT efforts with campus goals, without excessive management at a technical level.
- Recommend ways to increase the transparency of the governance process, so that all units can understand the priorities and directions, and service levels expected.
- Recommend any changes in organizational responsibilities that would improve IT services or their efficient delivery, considering both pros and cons of centralized versus distributed services.
- Recommend adaptive funding mechanisms, appropriate levels of funding and resources needed to support the IT component our strategic goals.
- Recommend funding models that would provide sufficient resources for all high-priority needs, while avoiding any perverse incentives for penny-wise, pound-foolish behaviors. The funding models must be stable enough to support long-term strategic progress, and flexible enough to respond to short-term tactical needs
- A preliminary report should be prepared by June 15, 2010
- A final report should be completed by September 30, 2010