Strategic Directions and Priorities for 2012-2013
April 5, 2012
TO: All EITS Employees
FROM: Timothy M. Chester, CIO
RE: EITS Strategic Directions and Priorities for 2012 – 2013
Last month marked six months on the job for me as your Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the University of Georgia. Though it is fair to say that this six-month period was somewhat different than I had expected, due to the SSN breach and our collective efforts to reduce our SSN related risks, I must say that it has been a pleasure to be here with you at this great University. If I have learned anything over the past six months, it has been that you collectively should be commended for your dedication, hard work, and service to the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Georgia, and I remain grateful for you each and every day. As most of you know, I made the decision over the Christmas break to relocate my office from downtown Athens to the Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center in order to be closer to the heart of where our organization works each day and I am honored to work among you.
At this time, I feel it appropriate to send you an update on where I think we are, and most importantly, on what I believe are the challenges and imperatives facing us over the next twelve months or so. It has been my custom to write such a memorandum, one that outlines strategic directions and priorities, and release it at the beginning of each year. You can expect a similar memorandum from me moving forward around April 1st each year, which coincides with the completion of our performance review process and our annual reporting on goals and accomplishments to the University (which is how I hold myself and my direct reports accountable for advancing these priorities).
As I begin this memorandum, know that I believe that there is nothing about our organization, our work, our challenges, and our opportunities that are fundamentally different from similar organizations at research-extensive institutions within higher education. I have found that, in some regards, our work reflects the best of what is going on nation-wide. In other areas, we are substantially behind. And, not surprisingly, there are opportunities for improvement that we can take advantage of.
To begin, I am pleased to present to you the Long-term Information Technology Master Plan (ITMP) for the University of Georgia. This plan, developed through a community-wide effort led by Dr. Barbara White, is a blueprint for greatness and I look forward to working with you to operationalize its principles, goals, and aspirations and turn them into an agenda for action across our organization and units across campus. As CIO, part of my job is to also regularly convene conversations across the University to assess the effectiveness of these programs and update them when appropriate. Such a process of annual reflection and program review will provide a strong foundation for advancing the effective delivery and use of IT at the University of Georgia for many years to come, and will provide a source of inspiration for this annual memorandum from me.
Second, I want to comment on what I see as the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities facing us as an organization as we seek to advance the effectiveness of IT services across the University. Based on this assessment, I will outline our strategic priorities for the next twelve to eighteen months. By identifying these goals, which flow from our Long-term IT Master Plan, my intention is to prioritize those efforts among the many possible initiatives and projects available to us, so as to allow you all to focus your efforts on our most critical activities.
One of the strengths of the office I inherited is a strong commitment to community engagement as the essential ingredient for effective IT planning. From the use of advisory committees, to campus forums, to the compact planning process, there is a solid foundation of community engagement to build on. I am grateful for the work of dozens of students, faculty, and staff during the 2010–2011 IT master planning process that resulted in our Long-term Information Technology Master Plan. I am especially grateful to my predecessor, Dr. Barbara White, for her tireless leadership throughout this process. As I wrote in the introduction to this plan, I do not believe you will find a better plan for Information Technology at any institution of higher education. When you hear me talk about our priorities, it shall be using the language of this plan.
The need to set annual priorities and focus our efforts should be driven by a regular process of assessment and planning. What I aspire to do over the coming years is to strengthen the rigor of assessment practices and then to engage the broader community of students, faculty, and staff around the effective use of technology at UGA, tasks that I have assigned to Lynn Latimer Wilson. Assessment tools from the Higher Education TechQual+ Project provide us with a framework for assessing the quality of the technology services at UGA. The strength of this approach is that it produces more generalizable data about the quality of IT services, while it reduces dependence on anecdotal feedback. These data shall be the primary inputs for our annual IT planning process, which shall form the basis for regular reports to the University, including annual reports and five-year program reviews, as well as this memorandum.
In the fall of 2011, we asked faculty and staff to complete an annual TechQual+ survey and we just recently completed a survey for students. In these surveys, respondents have provided several hundred pages of suggestions and comments on how to improve IT services at UGA. Where we engage the community in planning collaborations, it shall be around actions that we should take in regards to what the data tell us about the quality of services. By administering this survey on an annual basis, we will put in place an annual process of assessment, review, and planning that I believe will lead to improvements in the quality of IT services across UGA.
Priority #1: We shall update the Compact Planning Process by adopting TechQual+ as the starting point for annual IT planning and making it the foundation of our annual assessment processes. These processes shall culminate each year in an annual planning memorandum that shall reflect on what has been accomplished and that shall set out priorities for the following year. Our Leadership Council shall be the body charged with annually analyzing and preparing recommendations for me based on this data, and I would like to see the Information Technology Managers Forum (ITMF) to be engaged in this endeavor in a meaningful way (ITMP Strategic Direction 1, Goal 1a, 1b, 2a, 3b). I have asked Lynn Latimer Wilson to take ownership of this goal.
Where we struggle with effectiveness and poor IT service quality, it tends to be related to organizational silos, failure to collaborate meaningfully, and hierarchical barriers between those who develop strategy and those who manage operations. Because of the present silos, far too many technical decisions are made in ways that do not take advantage of the economies of scale and technical expertise present in the organization. In some cases where this occurred previously, it resulted in less than optimal technology solutions that have produced poor application responsiveness, problems with usability, as well as intermittent outages. By flattening the collaboration across EITS, we can dramatically improve the technical quality of IT services over time. The development of our leadership council, which has been operating now for almost two months, is the primary vehicle for improving collaboration necessary to realize the benefits of the economies of scale and technical expertise available across the entire organization.
It is also imperative that we nurture leadership at the mid-career level – leadership that can translate IT strategy into operational principles and can lead others in implementing that strategy. One of the more disheartening things I have found since arriving is the lack of clear direction to each of you regarding opportunities for development, promotion, and advancement within our organization. At Texas A&M University, as I rose through the ranks from programmer to CIO, I benefited from a well-defined career path that informed me as to the direction I had chosen, the avenues available to achieve my goals, the competencies and experience required to advance, and clear criteria that guided my annual performance evaluation.
Ten years ago, common career development practices for IT professionals stressed a separation between strategy and operations, between functional and technical, and between those who engage people about technology and those who built and maintained technology. Organizations built on this model were successful because of well-developed work policies and collaboration approaches that ensured the necessary handshakes between units operating autonomously. What we have learned over the past seven years is that such organizations, when organized hierarchically, tend to be overly complex, slow to act and innovate, and prone to collaboration failures that results in less effective IT services. The need to become more nimble, flexible, and collaborative has resulted in the development of a new model, one whose importance has also been emphasized as a result of the present recession and the need to do more with less – that is, the model of the IT versalist. This is a model we shall aspire for EITS as we move forward.
Priority #2: We shall embark on a collaborative project to revise and update our present system for career ladders and position descriptions, in order to develop greater precision that defines for you the career choices that are available to you in EITS, the areas where you should invest in your own professional development in order to maximize your potential for advancement, and to provide clarity on what is expected of you. In do so we shall aspire for a new model that does not artificially separate technical from functional, but instead emphasizes technology as a necessary but not sufficient condition, and versatility in terms of communication, planning, functional knowledge, and leadership as an additional necessary condition for effective employee performance. I hope to begin this process of reassessment this fall, and you can expect to have the opportunity to participate in this process by working together to define those traits necessary for the success of your areas and those that distinguish high performers among their peers. (ITMP Strategic Direction 10, Goal 1a, 2a). I have asked Alan Katz to take ownership over this goal.
Priority #3: As a parallel endeavor, I shortly shall be convening a group of staff and managers to revise our performance evaluation process to ensure that it provides us with an appropriate way to evaluate the productivity and effectiveness of the work that each of you undertakes each day. My desire is to have a new performance review form ready for consideration by the Leadership Council by July 1, 2012 and use during mid-year performance reviews this summer (ITMP Strategic Direction 10, Goal 2a, 4a). I will be asking for three representatives from both our staff advisory board and managers advisory board to serve on this group.
Another opportunity for improved collaboration exists between EITS and the broader higher education technology communities, which can be a source for best practices to common problems experienced by all institutions. Engaging our staff and getting them plugged in is a key initiative. As we confront common problems, we will look to best practices as examples of what we should think about doing at UGA. Identity management is one challenging area that may benefit from a full exploration of such best practices.
Priority #4: Building on the momentum established by our Training Council, we shall reallocate internally over the coming four budget years so as to build a stable, base pool of funding to support employee training and professional development that is no less than 3% of our level of state funding, or approximately $480,000 annually (ITMP Strategic Direction 10, Goal 2a, 4a). Lynn Latimer Wilson and Donna Chandler have previously been tasked with ownership over our Training Council processes.
Many times, when we struggle with poor IT service performance it is directly related to what I would describe as the “cycle of over commitment and underperformance.” Nothing is more detrimental to the performance of an IT organization than over commitment in terms of regular requests for day-to-day support. Within the context of a culture that places a premium on customer service, this has resulted in a perfect storm where IT staff are constantly incentivized to say “yes” to far more than can be reasonably accomplished. This leads to underperformance in terms of technical failure, poor responsiveness by staff, important tasks “dropping through the cracks,” and lax information security practices. When failures do occur, there is further incentive to continue the over commitment in order to “make up for it,” which then leads to further under performance. The cycle of over commitment and under performance is constantly reinforced through such actions, and results in an IT organization that is far too reactive.
Priority #5: We need to develop a comprehensive methodology for application development and system implementation – one that will provide all of us with better tools as we propose projects, estimate their required resources, manage scope changes during implementation, and contract for those services. Doing so will result in a strengthening of our capabilities for costing, scoping, and change management that will in turn lead to improved consistency of approach, better definition of requirements and cost, and better understanding and acceptance by our customers (ITMP Strategic Direction 1, Goal 1, 2a, 4b). I have asked Greg Topp to take ownership over this project, to be assisted by Danna Gianforte.
Although many practices across the University remain lax when it comes to information security, we have recently put strong leadership into place at the University level. We have reorganized the information security operations and have established stronger processes for security assessment, incident response, and remediation (ITMP Strategic Direction 5, Goal 3a, 4a). We have also aligned network engineering with information security operations, which is the best practice for managing these areas. We are very early in the process of righting the information security ship, but we are moving in the right direction.
Priority #6: We need to simplify the policy, standards, and practices in regards to information security, so as to reduce complexity and improve understanding across the University. I would also like to see us redesign the information security Web site to improve usability and provide a consistent look and feel with the EITS Web site (ITMP Strategic Direction 5, Goal 1a, 4a, 5a). I have asked Brian Rivers to take ownership over this goal.
Along with an improved information security department, we have also built a very strong network engineering team. This team was put together last year and we are now realizing the benefits of this reorganization. Our wide-area-network capacity has increased by more than a factor of 8 – and while this should provide adequate capacity for the next three years, our internal campus network is still replete with bottlenecks and failure-prone equipment, resulting in inconsistent student and faculty experiences across the University. The decentralized support model for departmental networks contributes to these inconsistencies.
Priority #7: We must continue to invest in the University network, in terms of capacity and redundancy, and security. By the beginning of the fall 2012 semester, I hope that we will have in place two 10gb connections to our regional network provider, and we will have increased commodity Internet capacity that exceeds what is currently available through PeachNet and that should meet our capacity needs for the coming years. We should also adopt a commercial package for extending network authentication in an easy-to-use way for end users that is consistent across both wired and wireless access. I want to see us move to one common SSID for wireless networks across the entire University of Georgia (ITMP Strategic Direction 4, Goal 3, 3a). I have asked Brian Rivers to take ownership over this goal.
The present decentralized approach to network support also poses challenges for the University. What exists today, with many departmental networks controlled from the building to the network jack, is a natural result of the way that networking was established at research universities – that is, as a cost recovery service. This fee-for-service model incentivized many departments to take on the task of supporting their own network connections because they found it easier to absorb the necessary staff support into their existing IT organizations. Today, as the Internet has become central to our missions of teaching, research, and service, and when securing the network has become vital to our ability to protect our information assets, it is crucial that we put in place mechanisms that, in due course, will result in greater consistency and standardization in network operations. What I would like to see us do, over time, is take the entire campus to what today is considered as the “silver” level of support from our network support team.
Priority #8: We need to eliminate the service delivery, financial, and technical issues that pose obstacles to our establishing central control over the network from the campus core to every wall jack and to every wireless access point across the entire University. However, this shall not be a project that is enacted through policy changes and central authority, but one driven by delivering a higher quality of network support at a significantly lower cost, while allowing distributed IT staff to better focus their efforts on strategic activities local to their unit. Our first step in this process shall be a significant reduction in network support partnership rates at the silver and gold level, that could begin as soon as FY13 (ITMP Strategic Direction 6, Goal 1a). I have asked Alan Katz to take ownership over this goal.
We also must devote more of our efforts to the development or adoption of innovative technologies that hold promise for teaching, learning, research, and administrative activities that help advance the effective delivery and use of IT services at the University of Georgia. In the past, we have devoted far too few resources to research and development activities, and it is appropriate for us to reapportion some of our resources into these critical activities.
Priority #9: We shall be reorganizing, parallel to the Banner implementation, to form an integrated portal, Web content management, middleware, and integration team that can take on new initiatives – either those of our customers on a cost recovery basis or those strategic projects that are funded centrally. A multidisciplinary team, akin to what Purdue has established with their STUDIO team, is my aspiration (ITMP Strategic Direction 1, Goal 5a; Strategic Direction 2, Goal 1, 1d, 1e). I have asked Danna Gianforte to take ownership over this goal.
The strategies outlined in this memorandum require additional financial resources. With the current economic climate and funding challenges across the entire University System of Georgia, it is unlikely that we can expect any substantial influx of additional base funding. Indeed, we should strive to reduce our need for additional University base funding wherever possible so as to help the institution preserve its limited resources to support our primary missions of teaching, research, and service. With this in mind, I believe that there are significant opportunities for internal reallocation provided that existing state funding levels can remain intact. We should also have some flexibility to effect modest increases in both cost recovery rates and other fees when appropriate. Together, this should provide us with a stable base of funds for strategic IT initiatives moving forward.
Priority #10: It shall be the goal of all of EITS to internally reallocate 20% of its base state funding over the next four years. The share of this burden undertaken in our administration and business affairs (the overhead in EITS) shall be greater, equal to 30% of current expenses. These reallocated funds shall provide a stable level of support for the initiatives outlined in this memorandum, as well as those to be outlined in future memorandum. In doing so, we simply cannot opt for “starving the beast” or “trying to do more with less.” Our success in reallocation will depend on our ability to eliminate redundant shadow systems, platforms, and processes, invest in automation that increases all of our productivity, and leveraging better economies of scale in terms of technology but also our own internal expertise. Everyone throughout the organization has an important part in helping us reach this critical goal (ITMP Strategic Direction 8, Goal 1, 6).
In undertaking these initiatives, your combined experience, wisdom, and expertise is our most important resource. I have been very encouraged by the regular participation at our Leadership Council meetings, and I believe that the increased transparency and collaboration will strengthen decision-making and our ability to focus on our priorities at every level of the organization. Moving forward, every decision of significance, or organization-wide consequence, and every purchase that requires my approval shall pass through this council.
There is both challenge and change for us on the horizon, and while we have weathered the storm of the economic crisis, and are now coming through those challenges faring better than most IT organizations, there is the continual need for us to reinvent the ways in which we approach our work, the way we plan, the way we define success, the way we engage our end user community, and the way we hold each other accountable. This is not something that happens in one fell swoop but something that happens through a continual process of planning, evaluation, assessment, and accountability over the coming months and years. I look forward to working with you as we travel together down this path.