Over the past decade, Information Technology organizations on the UM campus have made steady progress and have managed to maintain a satisfactory level of service despite limited resources. Significant improvements have occurred in the area of external networking, web applications, consolidated funding for IT Utilities, and system standardization across affiliate campuses. However, much remains to be done. This section outlines the major issues that are confronting the campus and which drive the prioritization of goals, strategies, and actions.
- IT culture and management
- Academic and research computing
- Enterprise computing systems
- Student support
Funding for IT across the UM campus provides for steady state operations and maintenance, perhaps not at the level desired and not consistently across sectors, but with some success. However, that funding does not cover major upgrades that must occur to ensure the IT infrastructure can support 24/7 operations with minimal downtime.
Portions of the central IT infrastructure are now past the vulnerable stage and well into the risk stage, posing a threat to business continuity and the security of UM intellectual property. There are also significant inefficiencies associated with the use and maintenance of out-of-date environments and equipment. The primary areas of concern are the central IT data centers in Social Science and Liberal Arts and the core network.
Data centers, facilities which are specifically designed to house servers, network equipment, and storage devices, are the hub of information technology activity that impacts the work and study life of every campus constituent. Depending on the level and redundancy of power, network connectivity, cooling, environmental controls, and security, data centers are rated as Tier 1 through Tier 4.
With more than 15,000 students and 2,500 employees, The University of Montana should be housing core servers, campus network equipment, and critical data in a Tier 2 facility. Instead the two central IT data centers are rated less than a Tier 1, putting the university at serious risk of business continuity failure and wasting resources, both energy and human, in maintaining the facilities.
Some of the problems associated with the central IT data centers are the lack of redundant cooling capabilities, power, and dual fiber connections, the lack of security, and inadequate environmental controls. High pressure water lines and sewer lines are in close proximity to expensive, core servers.
Compounding the data center problems at UM is the fact that there are 21 additional data centers on campus, maintained by distributed IT personnel. Each of these centers requires space, energy, and dedicated personnel. Resource sharing, in terms of data archival, virtualized servers, and systems administration, is currently not part of the enterprise IT culture at UM.
A major network project over the past several years has been the implementation of the Northern Tier network from Seattle to Chicago. The Northern Tier, with its 10gb bandwidth across the state of Montana, provides high-speed connectivity from UM to other campuses, both nationally and internationally. This very successful project has shown network leadership at the national level.
The issue that the campus faces is that the core campus network capabilities are not adequate to take advantage of the Northern Tier to the fullest extent possible. In 2011 nearly 20 buildings had network speeds of 10-100mb and all campus network traffic is currently constrained by a 5gb firewall. The campus has an ongoing building upgrade project funded at a rate of $200K per year but progress is slow as each building upgrade is costing $100K or more. Funding for core network upgrades such as the replacement of core switches and a new firewall is virtually nonexistent. Central IT funding covers operational costs but significant capital expenses are problematic and often delayed beyond the equipment’s expected lifespan.
Two major objectives of the IT strategic planning process are to examine the role of IT on campus and to determine ways in which IT can be better organized, advised, and funded. With the infusion of technology in all aspects of campus life and with the rapid change in the availability of tools and services, it is clear that IT can play a stronger role on campus, partnering with the various sectors to understand and implement appropriate technology. The questions for IT at UM are whether and when to move towards a stronger leadership role. With increasing financial and competitive pressures, we must investigate ways to improve the decision-making process to avoid redundancy and, where possible, share resources across the enterprise. Organizational and governance structures are at the heart of this issue and must be addressed in the IT plan.
While there are exceptions, Information Technology on the UM campus has not reached beyond the level of a service center into the role of true partnership with the academic, research, or student life sectors. The SWOT exercise indicates that, even at the service center level, enterprise IT must make significant improvements to ensure efficiency, reliability, and consistency of service.
From a service delivery perspective, IT processes and procedures err on the side of ad hoc versus formal and group-specific versus standardized. Service level agreements are beginning to be put in place but are not the norm. Multiple problem tracking systems are in use and communication with customers is not consistent. Systems for tracking servers, network equipment, and other assets along with their status are not in place. Finally, collaborative working groups involving staff across enterprise IT are in their infancy. Trust between the various IT groups must be built over time to foster these emerging working groups.
Traditionally, though again with exceptions, the culture of IT on the UM campus has been one of service rather than leadership. While partnerships between other sectors, e.g. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, are commonplace, collaborative projects between other sectors and central IT are occasional. For IT to become a true partner, contributing the full potential of technology in support of institutional goals, a culture shift will is required at all levels, from staff to management.
The organization of IT at UM is not very different from peer institutions. According to the Educause 2011 Core Data Service Report, 56 percent of IT resources report to a central IT organization while at UM that number is 50 percent. The organizational issue at UM has less to do with central versus distributed than with a clear, logical allocation of functionality to the various groups. For example, central IT continues to manage two academic labs and one open lab while Academic Affairs manages sixty five academic labs. Another example is the number of data centers on campus. Many higher education IT organizations offer centralized, secure facilities and services to campus constituents, but UM data centers operate on a very distributed model. Ownership of resources and responsibilities has been more a function of events than informed decision-making.
As important as organization, the IT governance structure of a campus aids in the prioritization of resources and can lead to a more collaborative, as well as potentially more efficient, approach to IT decision-making. IT advisory groups, tasked to view IT from a campus perspective, can help balance the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ environment associated with a silo approach to technology.
Currently the IT governance structure at UM is limited. The academic, administrative, and identity advisory committees have not met for several years and the IT Advisory Council has been folded into the regularly scheduled cabinet meetings. There is a serious need for a robust IT governance structure, one that is more comprehensive in scope and more collaborative in terms of enterprise IT involvement.
While a broad review of enterprise IT funding could be valuable, the most pressing requirement is a reassessment of the means by which central IT is funded. The current model for funding central IT activities beyond certain state salary funds is campus chargebacks for telephone and network services. In particular, the port charge is an irritant on campus. To avoid a port charge, departments are opting for wireless service which is cheaper but provides far less bandwidth on a per person basis – often insufficient for departmental needs. With intent to maximize network resources, so critical to today’s work environment, a funding structure that results in better decision-making should be found.
While there are strong pockets of IT resources in the academic and research community, there has been minimal emphasis on a cohesive approach to academic and research computing. Central IT has provided some support to individual schools/colleges upon request and has worked to provide applications such as the Academic Planner and OneStop for students, but a comprehensive technology plan for teaching and learning is nonexistent. Academic Affairs has had limited input into the development and deployment of central enterprise systems such as Banner and the modules therein. Schools and colleges, by necessity, have hired IT staff, implemented data centers, and built academic computing labs to meet local needs, with success relative to the amount of funding allocated. The largest issue with this approach is the lack of a formal Academic IT structure that has resulted in their inability to have a body that can work with Central IT to prioritize directions and needs. However, there are other issues with the current approach. Inconsistency relative to student computing leads to confusion on the part of students as to what is available and where. Funding for academic computer labs and student staffing is based on a Student Computer Fee that does not take into account technological needs but simply size of a college. Software licensing for widely used packages like the Adobe suite is purchased in a piecemeal fashion leading to higher prices and inefficient distribution.
Resources for research computing are controlled entirely by the research organizations. With a lack of centralized IT support it is understandable that well-funded research groups would develop their own computing environments. However, the result of a totally decentralized approach to research computing is a dearth of resources for new and less well-funded research activities. Discussions regarding research computing requirements, the need for secure computing facilities, and the potential for shared use of high performance servers and data archival facilities could result in a consolidated quest for the requisite resources.
There are several issues associated with enterprise computing systems at UM. The first is the lack of governance. The second is the lack of a standard interface to Banner—UM’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. And the third is the degree to which Banner has been modified, leading to an enormous ongoing investment in UM-specific code.
The purchase and management of enterprise applications is widely distributed at UM with the various sectors taking responsibility for systems most pertinent to their area. While there may be inefficiencies associated with the provision of support for each of these systems across the campus, the primary issue is the lack of a campus-wide enterprise application advisory group. The purpose of such a group would be to ensure that each proposed application met certain criteria relating to security, identity management, and Banner integration and to prevent application redundancy. For example, the campus is currently supporting twelve room scheduling systems, four email systems, and multiple reporting systems, all of which could be consolidated to free up support resources across the sectors. Without cohesive oversight there is little/no short or long term planning for the enterprise as a whole. As an example of a short term issue, central IT has no sign-off on the purchase of systems but is often expected to provide both identity management and Banner integration services without prior knowledge of the coming workload. From a long term perspective, there is no clear campus direction in terms of the procurement or implementation of application functionality which in turn enforces the sector approach to the fulfillment of requirements.
Over time, with the implementation of numerous systems that require an interface to Banner, multiple approaches to that interface have been developed. As systems are upgraded, the individual interfaces must be maintained. There is a need to assess whether a standardized, service oriented architecture, could be developed.
The third issue relative to enterprise computing systems is the degree to which the UM Banner system has been modified over the last twenty years. Early on these modifications were required to provide the functionality desired by the campus but the practice of adding code rather than adapting business practices has resulted in a system that is far from baseline. A large department is required to maintain these modifications as the system moves through version upgrades and transitions in operating systems. Moving to a baseline system would free up resources to be used to support the increasingly complex array of enterprise systems on campus.
A major student complaint is the requirement to navigate a myriad of systems to accomplish their needs as they move through their academic careers. An attempt has been made to solve this in part through a single sign-on process. As many systems as possible are now accessed through the central authentication service (CAS) which allows the student to utilize one set of credentials for all of the functionality under that umbrella. That now includes the LMS (Moodle), email (Live@Edu), campus notifications (OneStop), course planning (Academic Planner), registration and payment (CyberBear), online library resources and wireless access.
The issue is that student requirements have not been analyzed from a broad perspective to ensure that appropriate functionality is being provided at all points of their career. While the applications that are available have been chosen or built with concern for functionality and usability, there is little cross system integration and no clear roadmap for the student to follow. Most of the systems have not been designed or adapted to take advantage of mobile devices, of increasing importance to students. Finally, from an IT perspective, there is no established architecture against which to evaluate new systems.
The first figure below gives a pictorial view of the confusion students face while the second figure shows the vision of an ordered, comprehensive approach to student systems.