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Strategic Priorities and Directions for 2016-2017

April 11, 2016


TO: Colleagues within VPIT Units at the University of Georgia

FROM: Timothy M. Chester, Vice President for Information Technology

RE: Annual Planning Memorandum for FY17

On September 12th of this year, I will begin the sixth year of my tenure as Chief Information Officer and Vice President at the University of Georgia. Every year around this time, I write a planning memorandum for all of you, and the broader University community, which allows me to report on the progress toward our strategic goals, to present our successes over the past year, to share our initiatives and priorities for the next year, and to comment on the challenges and opportunities we can expect along the way. This is my fifth planning memorandum since I joined the University of Georgia.

Over the past five years, our accomplishments as a team have been numerous and have had some very substantial and positive effects for the University of Georgia. This goes beyond the big initiatives that everyone knows about, such as the ConnectUGA project, and extends into areas such as expanding the campus network, acquiring a newer and much larger HPC research cluster, reducing reliance on sensitive information, and deploying multifactor authentication to protect that information. But beyond all of those initiatives, I’m most proud of the accolades given by the committee responsible for our recent five-year program review, who noted that EITS has been successful in reestablishing relationships of mutual trust and respect across the institution and that the organization has become the University’s first and preferred provider of IT services and support. This took a team effort. It required patience, and it required the capacity to accept change in many ways – organizationally, procedurally, financially, and in how we engage and communicate with others. First and foremost, please accept my thanks for your efforts in making this change occur and my congratulations on the success that we are enjoying today.

We have scheduled an all EITS staff meeting for the morning of April 14, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., to discuss the goals, initiatives, and plans outlined in this annual memorandum. The meeting will be held in the Pharmacy South Building, Room 201.

Our Strategic Plan for IT at the University of Georgia
During my first year, I inherited a near-completed draft of an information technology master plan (ITMP) that we have been working under for the past five years. This master plan contained dozens of initiatives across ten separate strategic directions for information technology at the University, and many (if not most) have been accomplished or received some attention. As I begin my sixth year of service to the University of Georgia, I tend to see the overall directions of the ITMP within five broad strategic goals:

Replace or renew the University’s primary academic and administrative systems for student information, budget, finance, human resources, learning management, and associated supporting systems in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and impact of the University’s work.
Reorganize and revitalize the University of Georgia’s central resources for research and higher performance computing, the Georgia Advanced Computing Research Center (GACRC), so that its services more closely match the needs of faculty and researchers as they engage in innovative work that impacts the state, the nation, and the broader world.
Reorganize and revitalize the University of Georgia’s central IT services organization, Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS), so that its services are delivered more consistently, with more reliability, and in a manner more closely aligned with the needs of the University’s academic and administrative units. Restoring mutual trust and respect between the organization and the broader community is a critical step to improving the delivery of technology services effectively to students, faculty, and staff.
Focus on improving the University’s information security posture by undertaking initiatives to reduce the use of personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers, while improving incident response and management capabilities and implementing new technical solutions that reduce information security risks. Work to eliminate, to the degree possible, the routine occurrence of security breaches of sensitive information or system outages that once existed.
Improve the management of University data and enhance reporting and analytics to provide better support for decision making, by better aligning the work of our Office of Institutional Research with the Units responsible for originating and reporting University data and those who require it to carry out the mission of their organizations.
I expect that we will begin the development of a new long-range master plan for Information Technology at the University of Georgia beginning in 2018, as the University begins in earnest to prepare for its 10-year reaffirmation of its regional accreditation. Until that time, I will begin to articulate and advocate for the work of our organization as understood through these five goals. Some of these goals, particularly #1 and #5, will take some time over the next few years to fully realize (more on this later in this memorandum).

Goals from the Previous Year
Last year, this memorandum set out six strategic goals for EITS. Let’s review our progress towards these goals over the past 12 months. For each of these goals, I feel that progress has been made, but work remains for some.

1. Develop, implement, and support better technology mechanisms that enhance the academic experience of our students. Leverage the University’s previous investments in the Banner student information system by delivering additional mechanisms to support enhanced degree planning and forecasting (DegreeWorks) and by using mobile technologies to improve the connections between students and their academic advisors. In implementing these mechanisms, do so in a way that delivers better data to support academic decision making across the University (Strategic Goal #1).

Current Status: These projects are on track for completion later this year. There have been some delays, such as the software flaws within DegreeWorks that prevented the planner functionality from calculating student degree options under UGA’s degree plans. The work directed towards identifying, procuring, and implementing a new advising system was delayed while the Office of the Vice President for Instruction (VPI) searched for new leadership over the advising area. In the last three months, progress has picked up: a purchasing initiative is now ongoing to procure and implement the new advising system; and, with the leadership of the Office of the Registrar, we have had success in getting Ellucian, the vendor for DegreeWorks, to begin work to eliminate the software flaws that prevent our degree planner installation from performing adequately. Other work in this area has been impressive, particularly the work undertaken by the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) to support the VPI’s strategic initiatives for improving student success, which has provided a key analysis of how students navigate from majors across the University. This work, which yields particularly helpful insights when evaluating how and why students navigate in and out of the STEM fields, was very well received by the UGA deans earlier this year. The advanced visualization of the analysis made the data very accessible to lay audiences. As we prepare for the next year, we have the resources and strong collaboration with the VPI and others to continue to make some very significant strides that will facilitate greater student success at the University of Georgia.

2. Support the Vice President for Finance and Administration as he and his teams seek to improve processes, increase business efficiencies, and enhance University-wide decision making through the use of financial data. Continue preparation for implementing new enterprise-wide information systems for finance, payroll, and human resources functions. Deliver data warehousing and reporting capabilities that will provide deans and other executives with improved access to financial data. Explore ways to improve efficiencies, possibly through the use of digital signature and electronic document routing technologies (Strategic Goal #1).

Current Status: These projects are on track. The University has approved a four-year plan to implement the PeopleSoft applications for finance, human resources, and payroll. This is called the OneSource project. More information is available at We have successfully prepared RFPs for the consulting services required for these implementations, we have evaluated responses, and as of this writing, we are close to signing contracts with the selected vendors. A very strong project team is taking shape, as the project leadership team, as a whole, has done an exceptional job of evaluating the challenges and successes of the ConnectUGA project and applying those lessons learned to the PeopleSoft initiative. Overall, I feel the University is starting this initiative in a much stronger position in terms of personnel, experience, and large project management expertise relative to the previous, very successful Banner initiative. At the same time as this work has been undertaken, we have also had success in creating the beginnings of a financial and human resource data warehouse for storage of that data within the same physical and virtual spaces that will allow it to be merged with academic data stored in Banner. We have also implemented a new Query system (Simpler Systems) for financial data that improves college and Unit access to financial reporting data. We have also successfully completed a pilot test of digital signature technology (DocuSign) and this has now been recommended by business areas for campus-wide implementation (with a financial resource request pending with the University for FY17). Our teams have worked very hard to support these initiatives undertaken by the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration (VPFA) and I expect that we will see continued progress over the next year.

3. Enhance University-wide capabilities for data-informed decision making, particularly when it comes to the use of academic information. Work with the senior leadership of the University to clarify the roles and responsibilities for data analysis and reporting. Work across the same organizations to better define and standardize the data definitions necessary to support academic decision making by the provost and other senior executives. Streamline internal processes and reporting relationships necessary to improve the efficiency and accuracy of data analysis and reporting that cross the boundaries of organizational units across the University (Strategic Goal #5).

Current Status: Progress has been immense in this area, with many of these tasks now complete. In the past year, we completed the data management structure by identifying data stewards and trustees and their associated roles and responsibilities. In doing so, we met the new requirements for data governance established by the University System of Georgia (USG). We also created a new Data Management and Governance Committee. This committee is working to clarify data definitions, resolve cross-domain data issues, promote consistent and widespread use of core University data elements, and share best practices on data standards and data access. These standards, as well as other information on available data sources and reporting tools, are being compiled into a University Web site that will be made available later this year. In the academic strategic reporting area, considerable progress has also been made with the identification of, and agreement on, the definition of over 90+ core data elements critical to academic and business processes. This work has been accomplished through two data cookbook workshops with key leaders across the University, and future sessions are also expected to yield further progress. When it comes to the effective and efficient use of data to inform decision making at the University of Georgia, our past preference for customized, siloed data systems has made success difficult to attain. However, this past year, the implementation of Banner, the hiring of our University’s first chief data officer, and the promotion of a culture that supports cross-domain collaboration have resulted in the successful establishment of a stable foundation that will serve us well in the future and as we implement the new PeopleSoft systems for finance, human resources, and payroll.

4. Take advantage of the additional resources made available through the past four years of expense reduction and resource reallocation to make selective, targeted investments in new personnel in key areas reporting to the VPIT. The primary focus of these reinvestments should be in the areas of academic information support, new initiatives supporting improved financial and process efficiencies, and the reporting and analytical use of data to inform University-wide decision making (Strategic Goals #1 and #5).

Current Status: These tasks have been completed successfully. Through our 20% expense reduction and reallocation initiative, we have succeeded in identifying and reallocating $3.2 million in resources to support our strategic goals. Previously, this has included campus-wide technologies supporting network infrastructure, virtual computing for students, and information security. We have also identified, in this past year, $2 million in reallocations that will be made available to support the ongoing maintenance of the new PeopleSoft applications, beginning in FY21. Specific to the goals outlined last year, we have reallocated salary dollars to support critical needs of the teams supporting the VPI student success initiatives (2 positions in OIR, 1 position on the Web / Mobile / Portal team) and an additional investment in OIR to support new leadership for the office. Overall, this represents a reallocation of $310k in existing resources to support our University’s most strategic initiatives in the areas of academic and student success.

5. Continue the development and use of the 5 why defect analysis and elimination program implemented over the previous year. Work to further evangelize and engrain this program throughout all operating areas that report to the VPIT, ensuring that defect elimination remains a core part of the working culture of these organizations. Demonstrate and advocate for use of this program across the different organizational boundaries of the University, influencing the development of similar programs across those areas (Strategic Goal #3).

Current Status: This initiative has been a rousing success. In 2015, EITS supported services have not experienced any unplanned outages or disruptions to production services that were the result of poor planning, change management, or lack of testing. We have been very successful in creating a culture of continuous improvement and defect elimination, and the improvement in the reliability of our core campus-services has been noted by many, including the committee of peers that just completed our five-year program review. Our challenge for the coming year will be to continue to nurture and support this culture, even while many of our resources are focused on the implementation of the new PeopleSoft applications for finance, human resources, and payroll.

6. Complete the hiring of new senior leadership roles, including the Chief Technology Officer and the Associate CIO for Data Reporting and Analytics (the Chief Data Officer). Work with the internal leadership of EITS to reorganize reporting lines consistent with these new roles, freeing the Vice President for Information Technology so that he can better support the provost and other senior leaders with more strategic use of information and technology (Strategic Goal #3).

Current Status: These initiatives have been completed successfully. Earlier this year, Michael Lucas began serving as the University’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and Sharon Logan began serving as the University’s Chief Data Officer (CDO). Both of these individuals have been instrumental in the success of many of the projects and initiatives mentioned in this section of the report.

Goals for the Next 12 Months
Let me lay out for you our most important priorities over the next year, and provide you some context for each of them. Given our five strategic goals, I would like to see our organization collectively focus on these specific initiatives listed below over the next twelve months. Know that I am counting on everyone across our Units to play an important critical role in supporting, leading, and delivering on these initiatives.

First, as the ConnectUGA project has now successfully drawn to a close, it is time to focus on renewing and replacing the University’s core administrative systems for finance, human resources, and payroll. The lessons learned from the Banner project are immense, and have prepared us for what will be a larger and more complex undertaking.

1. Continue to support our PeopleSoft implementation of the finance, human resources, and payroll systems, as part of the OneSource project. Work, to the degree possible, to support the USG’s implementation of a shared human resources and payroll system (called the oneusg project), while also ensuring that resource conflicts and drains do not pose unnecessary risks to our own implementation of PeopleSoft finance. At the same time, continue the present work to implement more specialized systems for enhanced financial reporting, academic and financial data warehousing, and digital signatures (strategic goal #1). I have assigned this goal to Michael Lucas, Chris Wilkins, and their teams.

2. Work to identify, track, and preserve savings that are now accruing from UGA’s reduced use of the mainframe so that those funds are available to support the University’s new PeopleSoft systems for finance, human resources, and payroll. EITS has committed to providing $2 million in annual support for these new systems, beginning in FY21. As these savings become realized now, ensure that they are not spent in a recurring way on other initiatives so that they remain available as expected (strategic goal #1). I have assigned this goal to Pam Burkhart.

At the same time, we must continue to focus efforts on maximizing the return on investment we receive from the Banner implementation. Extending these gains into the domain of advising and student academic support is a key, strategic initiative for the University of Georgia.

3. Continue to provide the support and expertise, as necessary, to support the Office of the Vice President for Instruction as it embarks on new services to enhance the advising experience for students. This includes technical support, advice on project management, mobile development support, and communications support. I expect, over the course of the next year, the initiative will include resolving issues with UGA’s use of DegreeWorks, the implementation of a new advising system, and integration with the UGA Mobile App (strategic goal #1). I have assigned this goal to Michael Lucas.

Beefing up the University’s central resources supporting faculty research, particularly in the storage area, has been identified as a key need. As we add additional services in this space, we should continue to work closely with our faculty partners to identify and offer other key services that are needed by our researcher community as the University works to increase its research activity.

4. Continue advancing our services that support faculty and student research by expanding offerings under the GACRC to included shared disk storage. Continue the current activities of the GACRC to include increasingly more training opportunities for faculty to take advantage of our HPC resources. Work to strengthen mechanisms that allow faculty to influence the direction of infrastructure services at the University through the use of informal and formal groups, focusing particularly on our new cohort of faculty hired to support the University’s informatics initiative (strategic goal #2). I have assigned this goal to myself, Michael Lucas, and Lynn Wilson.

5. Continue progress in ensuring that University and college-level IT services are more closely aligned with the needs of our faculty. While our annual TechQual+ survey shows that students and staff alike have very positive impressions of IT services, our faculty continue to have very poor impressions of those same services. Continue to build on our work this past year with the new faculty IT services guide by completing a companion Web site. Conduct further research based on this year’s TechQual+ to better understand faculty perceptions of IT and then work with other IT leaders and professionals to take the steps necessary to begin bridging this gap (strategic goal #3). I have assigned this goal to Lynn Wilson.

While the University has made some very significant strides in improving the information security posture of our systems and services in these past five years, we must not become complacent in this area. In fact, we have to do much, much more than that. We have to continually put ourselves in a position where we are persistently researching and becoming aware of the most recent threats against large enterprises, regularly reassessing where we are against these evolving threats, and making new investments in tools and infrastructure that are more resilient. To begin, this next year we should reassess where we are in regards to protecting sensitive and restricted information, and take additional steps as necessary to build on the gains we have realized previously.

6. Engage a third-party information security consulting firm to provide the institution with a health check regarding its use of sensitive and restricted information, to ensure that the University’s information security posture continues to mature and that we are doing the maximum possible to reduce the University’s exposure to both internal and external computer threats. This assessment should be similar to third-party reviews conducted in 2012 and 2013 after information security breaches occurred. The focus of the review should be on those areas that have a legitimate business need for regularly handling and using sensitive and restricted information. Post-review, begin to work with departments across the University to act on recommendations that come forth (strategic goal #4). I have assigned this goal to Brian Rivers.

Our ArchPass system has been a critical tool in reducing our information security risks, and it is time to begin to extend the system to Web-based systems used by the University at large. Most of the major exposures in higher education in the recent past have been because of passwords lost to phishing scams or malware. The ArchPass system significantly reduces the risks associated with those threats for the University of Georgia.

7. Expand the ArchPass system to include multi-factor authentication for Web-based applications through the University’s Central Authentication Service (CAS). Implement new infrastructure that is capable of supporting multi-factor authentication by all students, faculty, and staff at the University of Georgia. Begin testing this new infrastructure by identifying and piloting access to systems in use by smaller groups of University constituents, while developing plans for a fuller, campus-wide implementation in the following year (strategic goal #4). I have assigned this goal to Brian Rivers.

Further in the information security space, the plethora and diversity of Web sites (thousands) and Web content management systems (dozens) in use at the University of Georgia make this space a prime target for those who would do the University harm. In the past year, we have had several instances where University Web sites have been exploited or re-exploited because of freeware or open-source content management systems that are not regularly updated or patched. It’s time for the University to begin move in a more coordinated manner regarding Web publishing and Web content management to begin reducing these risks.

8. Launch the OmniUpdate content management system with selected partners across the campus. Expanded use of OmniUpdate will provide departments across the University a fuller and better set of tools for Web-based communications, as well as helping to ensure that the tools that we use benefit from ongoing (and vendor supported) research, development, and the latest security protections. Additionally, with its integration into cloud-based hosting for UGA Web sites, this will help ensure the availability of these communications platforms in case the Athens campus loses its power or Internet connection (strategic goal #3, #4). I have assigned this goal to Lynn Wilson and Michael Lucas.

And for our last goal, we should continue to build on the gains of the past year when it comes to leveraging data to more fully inform decision making across the University of Georgia.

9. Continue to work to enhance University-wide capabilities for data-informed decision making, particularly when it comes to the use of academic information. Continue efforts to better define and standardize essential data elements across domain boundaries, while improving the availability, efficiency, and accuracy of data reports provided through the Office of Institutional Research. Support the new leadership over OIR as they work to further the relationships necessary to ensure that the office’s work has a stronger impact on University decision making (strategic goal #5). I have assigned this goal to Sharon Logan and Paul Klute.

Our success over the past five years has been due to your combined experience, wisdom, and expertise. These attributes are our most important resource. We will continue to work over the coming months 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. I like what I see each day and I look forward to our continued journey together.

Thank you for all that you do, and know that you can call on me at any time when I can be helpful to you. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the contents of this planning memorandum with you and to answer your questions when we meet in April 14th. I hope to see you there.

Cc: Jere W. Morehead, President

Pamela S. Whitten, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

Information Technology Managers Forum

University Information Technology Professionals