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I N S I D E

T H E

M I N D S

Leading CTOs and CIOs on Balancing Maintenance and Innovation, Identifying Cost Reductions, and Exploring New Solutions

Improving IT Performance

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Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education
Thomas Skill
Associate Provost and Chief Information Officer University of Dayton

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Introduction and Background I am the associate provost for learning innovations and technology and chief information officer at the University of Dayton. Because I came from the academic side of things, I am part of a new breed of CIO: I am not the guy with the management information systems (MIS) degree—I am the guy with the social science degree. My Ph.D. is in mass communication. As CIO, I think the strength of my perspective is a key focus on how users within the core mission of the institution need IT to respond. However, I did come into this position as a seasoned worker in IT. I have been associated with IT for my entire professional life, not so much as an IT person, but as a graduate student, a faculty member, and as a strategist for the university’s IT initiatives. When I came on board at Dayton and looked at what we had to do, I recognized that we had to take a very mature IT organization and put it on the table, reorganize it, and get it aligned—not around the way that IT people organize the world, but around the way that the institution of higher education needs IT to operate. IT at the University In discussing IT, it is very important that we distinguish its role in higher education because as I look at our peers in other industries, higher education has emerged as a different kind of animal—we are typically wideopen enterprises. What we are also seeing now at the university is intense demand for robust availability of core IT services, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in support of teaching and scholarship. The basis of that shift is that most universities have come to view the role of students and faculty as working anytime, anywhere, around the world. With that kind of an expectation, and also with an increasing dependence on IT resources to achieve the teaching, research, and service missions that are typical of most institutions, the IT availability question has become incredibly central as a performance indicator. Two other major factors that have emerged along with robust availability are security and disaster readiness. Because there have been so many

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

instances where institutions of higher education have been subject to various kinds of data breaches and both natural and manmade disasters, the availability question has become more critical. How you secure your IT assets and how you ensure business continuity in the event of some kind of disaster have become key requirements. The big challenge is that I do not believe that the resources have yet been identified to fully address a robust security and disaster readiness system across the board. Obviously, those institutions that have experienced major data breaches or a major disaster of some type have been shocked into providing those resources; however, from the perspective of a CIO at an institution that has had neither, I know that we are working very, very vigorously on those issues, but we have not as yet been able to identify the full range of resources necessary to achieve those objectives. Improving IT Performance: Reorganization and Realignment Improving performance has pretty much been the focus of my tenure in the IT leadership role. My first goal was to look at a mature IT organization that had been in place with similar roles and responsibilities for probably fifteen or twenty years. Our management team began with a full-scale reorganization, which was difficult and painful in many ways because it involved tearing apart an established organization, rebuilding it from the ground up, and moving many things around in the process. We also merged the core of IT—the administrative systems, networking folks, and telecom people—with all the academic IT people—everyone from developers of online courses to facilitators of technology used in the classrooms to the people who actually work with and support students in their use of their own technology. In other words, we brought together a young organization, which was academic IT, and merged it with a mature organization, which was traditional IT, and then we realigned the entire organization so that it was much more responsive. Our critical success factor was to align our IT systems, processes, and people with the core mission of the university. Along with the reorganization came a realignment of budgets and a realignment of the way that we allocated both authority and responsibility

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for various functions. If I had to identify the one thing that has happened in the past five years that has improved our performance, it was our organizational realignment. As we reorganized and refocused ourselves, we began to evolve a strategic vision where IT was connected to the mission of the institution: it was no longer just about IT being the telephone guys and the cable guys and the storage guys. Then we ultimately put into play a whole set of accountability factors for the way our university customers were going to look at us. The final piece—and I believe this has been our most successful—is that over the last five years we got the right leadership into the right roles in the organization, and those people have begun to redevelop and coach current staff, as well as bring in new staff, and build the organization outward with a customer-centric view of the world. Top Performance Challenges Among our top five performance challenges, number one is security, meaning securing our information assets from external threats as well as internal problems. This is a difficult challenge because of the openness that characterizes higher education. We must constantly balance security with flexibility. The second challenging area is in the renewal and replacement cost of infrastructure. The question we face is how do we sustain and improve a multimillion dollar infrastructure that we have built over many years? While many technologies have dropped in price, our experience has been that the cost to renew and replace key network and data center hardware does not get cheaper. It is difficult because you are not always necessarily spending money on making something behave differently; you are mostly sustaining an existing service, and it is hard to fully base-fund the appropriate level of resources for those needs. The third top challenge is the desire to add productive enhancements to our IT systems. For example, many institutions are struggling with how they can fund a robust wireless infrastructure. Everybody is going wireless now, but the problem is that as you get to a certain point of what might be considered the saturation of wireless, you then have the same trouble you

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

have with any kind of system: you have to be able to manage it effectively and optimize that system while controlling your costs, and how do you grow and add enhancements in a budget environment that is always limited? The fourth performance challenge is disaster readiness and preparedness and business continuity. The cost of building and investing in something that we may never need is substantial, and it is hard to say that I am going to take dollars that I need for something right now, something that is current and that people could really see the benefit of, and put those dollars into a disaster readiness investment that I may never use. However, the one time you use that system, it will have paid for itself many times over. The fifth and final issue is aging facilities. We have a data center that was built in the mid-1970s, and it is well past its best days. We are now in the process of planning to build a brand new data center that would allow us to have uptime during the most difficult circumstances of power loss and other kinds of disasters. The cost of actually building and moving to a new data center is phenomenally expensive if you want to have one that is second- or third-tier in terms of its sustainable capacity. Those are five of the biggest challenges to IT performance, and if I were to add a number six, it would be finding and keeping the best talent; that is obviously a challenge that everybody has on this list. Strategies for Dealing with Challenges In terms of security challenges, we are trying to wrap everything around a vision of how we can leverage our current resources to get us disaster preparedness and robust security, and tie that into existing resources. We have been able to leverage a good part of that. For example, we are in the process of implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; we are implementing the SunGard Banner system, which will allow us to consolidate four different systems that we currently use to support administrative computing: our student system, human resources/payroll, our financial system, and even our research contracts and grants, as well as our data warehouses that support all those systems. When we decided to build the ERP system and allocated resources

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to do it, we planned at the same time to put into play a disaster recovery strategy around those systems. When we began the budgeting, we said that we would not buy just one new computer system to host—we would buy two and locate them in different places so that we could have one back the other up, so if we have a disaster, we can move to the other system. In some ways, then, we are trying to leverage existing priorities and back into things like disaster preparedness and security. The other issue in security is that as we bring up this new ERP system, we are placing a major emphasis on making sure we have all the change management and security protocols and policies in place so that we do not have to go back and put that in later at a cost to us. We are trying to wrap those costs together. What we are trying to do with our renewal and replacement (R&R) budget is explore other revenue streams that might help us fund some of the things we cannot get from traditional university funding sources. We are looking at what kinds of enhancements we can offer as attractive options that students might like to consider. Would they consider an attractive cell phone offer if we were to provide it and if we could pair that cell phone with special kinds of university services like emergency notification? For instance, if as a student I could set my cell phone while I am walking home at night alone, so that if I do not check in at a certain point, it will ring back and notify campus security—would that be valuable to me? Those kinds of enhancements might make that cell phone worth buying through us, and we would make some money on it. Also, since we have so many residential students, our cable television infrastructure might allow us to offer premium channels and other kinds of services. We are looking at whether there would be a market that would not only pay for the system but also serve as a revenue stream. Those are some of the ways we are trying to find additional revenue to help us meet some of our performance challenges. The Influence of Users on Performance Our users are our customers, and in many ways, the feedback we get from them is precious and most important. Our reputation as a high-performing

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

organization is built on the words they share both publicly and privately about us. So we try to stay in constant conversation with our users. We frequently try to help them understand how our systems can support and enhance their work. We also frequently help them resolve problems that are either self-imposed or externally imposed on them. Customer service surveys are a standard method of data capture—and the ability to quantify our performance based on these surveys is very effective. However, we probably get our most valuable insight from customer e-mails— both good and bad—where the details of their experiences are well articulated. Relationship with Other Business Units Most organizations typically experience this: you will get a business unit that will come to you and say that because you did not do this or because you did do this, you have negatively affected the work of my business unit. Obviously, we are hypersensitive about the extent to which our operations touch every other operation on campus. What we try to do in that regard is minimize down time. One of the things we have to do is plan for most of our major system upgrades and changes to occur during off hours. That is one way of optimizing the university’s business, but it makes it difficult for us because it puts an extra burden on our IT staff to work weekends and holidays and other kinds of odd hours to keep our systems current and running. We are sensitive to the fact that our role at this institution is to enable others to do their work as efficiently and as productively as possible. We are sensitive to the fact that we really need to be bending to them, and we do that in a way that hopefully does not overextend our costs. This is another piece that is a big difference between higher education and other businesses. We are looked upon as providing services and support so that we can further enhance the work of others, and we have to spend a tremendous amount of time setting limits on that because we could spend a good deal of money providing all kinds of enhancements to the point of putting the university into the red. We produce a positive budget every year, but at the same time, we try to channel our resources in a way that

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optimizes other people’s work, which is an interesting balance because it is not as though we are trying to return money to the central coffers. Our goal is to use everything we have to maximize the performance of others on campus so they can meet their mission. I don’t think that most other businesses have quite the same model: they are much more driven by a revenue model and a cost-containment model. They are not about adding many more customer services unless there is a revenue element to it. We add services for our students and faculty as a strategy to strengthen the university’s reputation. Best Practices for New IT Solutions: Communication and Collaboration As a higher education organization, I think we all view ourselves as constant learners, and that means paying attention to the literature in IT, particularly in terms of the new innovations, and literature from across the Internet, as well as within the disciplines of the various academic programs. We also believe it means participating actively in regional and national organizations that bring together people with common interests, common challenges, and the shared desire to explore innovation. EDUCAUSE is the higher education organization that is most focused on supporting the initiatives in IT, and they sponsor an array of conferences, including an annual national conference that covers all areas of IT, a conference that focuses on learning innovations, and other conferences that focus on almost every other aspect of IT. Pushing our people and rewarding them is important for us to be able to stay connected. Also, we participate regularly in what we consider to be constituent groups— listservs, blogs, and things of that nature—that help us stay abreast of what is going on. We associate closely with many of our suppliers, vendors, and manufacturers. We try to tap them regularly about what is happening in their industries and what innovations are on the horizon. Having our people collaborate with institutions that have similar characteristics is great, and I believe that is one of the big differences between higher education and other industries: we can easily collaborate with people who are very likely our competitors in certain ways, and we do it easily, without that sense of breaking the code of confidentiality for the

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

organization. At times we are careful—when we think we are working on a new innovation and we do not have it ready to release yet, we do not want to spill the beans—but in many cases we are really open once we have done something or are in the process of doing something that we do not consider a market differentiator. Higher education people tell everything. We even share our internal documents with other IT organizations. For example, there are about forty independent higher education institutions in Ohio of which Dayton is the largest. As a CIO, I am in frequent contact with these other schools. I get information from them all the time; I am always pushing them information, and they are pushing me things in return. That they are smaller than I am does not mean they do not have better ideas. In fact, in many ways I take advantage of their smallness and their ability to move a bit more quickly in some areas. They may not have the same level of resources that we have, but that also means that it takes me a little longer to turn our ship around. There are some real advantages to collaboration, but the key is that our best practices for new innovation come both from paying attention to what is out there on the horizon and also from recognizing what best fits with our organization’s mission and culture. Innovation tied to the realization that it matches the institution’s culture and capacity for change is a key piece that my directors and I are always balancing. Innovations at Dayton We have been doing a number of innovative things at our university. For example, we are predominantly a residential campus of about 10,000 students, but we own about 400 houses surrounding our campus in the city of Dayton, so we have about twenty blocks of houses. In 1999 and 2000, we wired all those houses with fiber optics, and we were able to provide them with Internet, cable TV, and telephone services, just as if those students were in an on-campus building. It was something that was unheard of back then, and it set the tone that we were serious about making sure our students were connected. At the same time, we had a requirement that all our students had to have a notebook computer, and as we moved into the 2003-2005 era, we made

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substantial investments in deploying wireless networks so that students could connect essentially anywhere, anytime. With wireless, your network is never perfect, but ours was in more places than most people had, and we went from being ranked by Yahoo as a “most wired” campus to being ranked by Intel as one of the most unwired campuses for having wireless deployment. Then, tied to that, we had many initiatives that focused on our institutional mission, which is basically about integrating learning and living within a community setting. In that sense, technology has to be not just around the core campus; it has to support what you are doing in all your student living areas. Our assumption in installing wireless in our student housing was that learning is equally important away from the classroom as in the classroom. If you are able to support learning anywhere, it will take place, and we consider that success. It helped us in how we were externally viewed by our peers and by others who saw what we were doing, and it helped us oncampus as well, because our reputation as a forward-thinking IT operation began to develop and helped us become an even better organization. The Role of the CIO As CIO, I would call myself a boundary spanner. I am the person who is in the intersections of all the conversations. I am there with the highly technical people who deal with the day-to-day problems; I am there with the senior leadership who are grappling with vision, mission, and budget; and I am also there with the key people who actually deliver on the mission: the faculty who teach and the deans who lead the faculty. My role is to try to understand what everybody is saying about their needs and desires, and to then reinterpret that going both ways. I need to explain to the technical people the way that vision and mission and budget all intersect at what IT needs to do, and I also need to take the complex IT verbiage and put it into terms that make sense to our leadership, and to the deans and faculty. Frequently what I end up doing is trying to translate for both sides while at the same time trying to inject some kind of understanding or context so that everyone will see that we are all on the same side, and we are trying to achieve similar kinds of goals. IT may have some good strategies to accomplish what the other side needs, and, likewise, the faculty and the deans and others have some good ideas about

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

what they would like to see IT produce. I am, as I said, the boundary spanner. I need to be able to walk and talk in all those different contexts and help everybody understand so that we do not end up in unnecessary misunderstandings or disagreements. Factors in Success The reorganization of our IT operation was an enormous message to the campus community about how serious we were about becoming a good and productive organization. It was symbolic as well as real, and the rest of our colleagues, seeing us take this significant change action, helped us set the tone for where we were going. Then we tied to that the fact that we had to show performance. At the same time we were focusing on the key things we had to get at, which had much to do with the performance of our overall network, the performance of our storage and server infrastructure, and the performance of our technology support staff, help desk, and other technical resources. Finally, the last factor in our success was our ability to connect with students in ways that allowed them to recognize that we were a responsive organization and that we saw them as customers as much as we saw the faculty as customers. Measuring Success We were able to measure our success in connecting with students and faculty; some of the measures were soft and ad hoc—we looked at the reduced level of complaints and things like that—but we also took the pulse of the campus through several surveys and got some feedback as to how we were doing, where we were strong, and where we needed to improve. Those measures definitely helped us show our changes were substantial. The other way we measured success was in the extent to which our colleagues outside the university saw the work we were doing as innovative and important. Our participation at conferences—where we presented competitive papers and panels on the ways we have developed new technologies and new innovations, as well as the way that we reorganized ourselves—became a major focus for us.

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We also focused on certain things that were measured and rated. At one point, Yahoo Magazine ranked institutions of higher education based on which were the most wired, a ranking that was not based purely on the number of wired outlets, but had much to do with services and other IT elements. We managed to become recognized nationally; we were in the top twenty-five “most wired” universities for several years, and those rankings helped us. Room for Improvement There is absolutely room for improvement in our operation. Oddly enough, we need to improve the documentation around our IT policies and procedures. We need to be better about articulating those policies and getting them reviewed and having folks participate and actually help us meet our policies. Right now, we are in that good-to-great conundrum. We are good, and it is hard to get to great because we do not have a crisis to motivate us. Going to great means we have to be more consistent in the quality of what we do, and to get there, we have to be better about developing and implementing policies, procedures, and documentation so that we can ensure greater levels of quality. We are looking closely at the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) approach to developing improvements and quality assurance, but building that in is a difficult thing to do. It hard to implement processes like ITIL when you have a culture of people you have trained around the “customer first, customer first” mantra, where they want to race to bring solutions to the table and don’t always consider a disciplined policy or procedure-driven approach to things. We are trying to balance speed and customer service against getting to a quality control point where we know we will be able to sustain quality. Those are the two areas that I think we are struggling with the most. The other issues are always financial. We always need more money for R&R and things of that nature, but the elements that we have more control over are policies, procedures, documentation, and staff development.

Leading and Aligning IT Innovations in Higher Education – by Thomas Skill

Upcoming Performance Goals In the next year, we will hit the midpoint of our ERP implementation, which is a thirty-six month project. If everything continues to go the way it is currently, in another two-and-a-half years we will celebrate a successful implementation. We are investing $7 million in the system, which is our largest single IT investment since 2000, so it is obviously a major risk factor for us. What I am spending my time doing right now is going around the university to the various units and explaining to them what we are doing in replacing all of our major IT systems with a single central core system. Part of my goal is to explain to them both the struggles we will face and the benefits we hope to achieve—what we gain with this new system and how it will provide them with greater services. Once they get accustomed to the new system, they will be more productive and more efficient. It will give them information in the ways that they need it and on their terms, which they historically have not had. I think that anytime you move to an ERP system, the opportunity to talk to and point to performance is always there. The risk is the horror stories you hear, about other institutions that have not been successful in implementing an ERP system in a timely way. I face those questions constantly because we have many people who came to our university from other places where they had an implementation that did not go so well, and I spend time reassuring them that we believe we have done all the right things in terms of planning and support of the people involved. One of my biggest messages is that this is not an IT project. This is a university project that is being led by the business unit people, and IT is the enabler for those people. We are not making all of the decisions; the decisions on how the system goes forward are being made by the business units and the faculty.

Thomas Skill is associate provost and chief information officer at the University of Dayton. He joined the provost’s office in 1997. His role in the provost’s office has been to develop and lead the strategy for integrating technology-enhanced learning across the university. This strategic initiative strives to enrich teaching and learning within and beyond the classroom through innovative applications of technology.

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Mr. Skill has more than twenty-five years of computing and communications technology experience in higher education. He has been on the faculty at the University of Dayton since 1984 and currently holds the rank of professor in the department of communication. Prior to his current position, Mr. Skill served three years as associate provost for educational innovation and technology, three years as assistant provost for academic technology, and four years as chair of the department of communication, the largest undergraduate academic program at the university. Mr. Skill also has served as director of graduate studies in communication for seven years, interim dean of the graduate school for two years, and lead researcher in the School of Business Administration’s Information Systems Laboratory from 1986 to 1993. Mr. Skill earned a Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1984.

Dedication: To the UD IT Directors Council: Much of what I share in this chapter I
have learned from our conversations, and I am grateful for your support.

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