May 3, 2017
TO: Colleagues within VPIT Units at the University of Georgia
FROM: Timothy M. Chester, Vice President for Information Technology
RE: Annual Planning Memorandum for FY18
Colleagues and friends, there is so much good to share with you in this year’s planning memorandum it is tough to know where to start. When I began here in the fall of 2011, we had three simple goals: replace legacy systems with commercial, off-the-shelf administrative and academic information systems; improve and increase services supporting faculty research; and become a more responsive, trusted partner with customers and stakeholders across the University. Over time, two other goals were added to our agenda: dramatically improve the University’s information security posture and reduce the use of personally-identifiable information; and help the University become more strategic in its use of data to support decision making. Across each of these strategic goals, much has been accomplished and now, less than a year from our first go-lives for our PeopleSoft applications, it is becoming clear that we either have completed, or we will soon complete, each of our strategic goals. As I have begun thinking about preparing this annual communication to you and to our broader community of stakeholders, I can’t help but have the feeling that the end of the current phase of our evolution as an organization is close at hand.
Next year, it will be time to begin engaging our key stakeholders and the broader campus community for a mutual development of the next set of strategic goals we should undertake. A new agenda naturally will require us to think about what type of organization we then should become, how we should develop ourselves to be successful, and how we should organize ourselves for the journey. I’m extremely proud of the versatility of our organization. Particularly, how each of you have worked to develop and hone your skills and competencies and the tremendous loyalty and devotion you show to the University of Georgia. Together, we will all have an important contribution to make in this next phase of our evolution.
In this year’s planning memorandum, in addition to reporting our progress on our strategic goals and our focus for the next year, I also want to begin laying the groundwork for ways to begin engaging the University community as we develop our next set of long-term strategic goals in about a year. We have scheduled an all EITS staff meeting for the morning of May 4, 2017, at 10:00 a.m., to discuss the goals, initiatives, and plans outlined in this annual memorandum. The meeting will be held in Master’s Hall in the Georgia Center.
Our day-to-day work is foundational: what we do today prepares the ground for tomorrow. In this sense, as we begin collaboration with our community to determine our next set of goals, we must recognize that completing our current set of goals sets the stage for future work. In much the same way, our work retiring significant amounts of infrastructure and middleware legacy technologies beginning in 2011 allowed us to move forward and successfully implement Banner and now PeopleSoft. In the research computing space, similar retirements of legacy network, storage, and compute nodes laid the groundwork for the implementation of Sapelo and our current set of high performance computing and storage services. Before we could ever make progress in improving our information security posture, we had to reprogram our legacy systems to end the University’s dependence on SSN data. Working at the same time, other teams in EITS established a greatly expanded network service (from 1gb to 20gb) that has been a prerequisite for many improved services, from the various digital initiatives supporting instruction to a myriad of departmental-provided services utilized by our faculty. Our completion of the PeopleSoft implementation next year, together with our previous success at implementing Banner, will provide the institution (finally) with one authoritative source for key academic and administrative data that will allow us to make considerable gains in strategic use of information as we pursue the University’s mission and goals. This is the work that we once undertook, it is what we build upon today, and as we complete our five strategic goals, it becomes the foundation upon which we shall build in the future.
Trust and respect is what fuels success, and it is a necessary condition for performing our work in a way that is rewarding for our teams, positive for our partners and stakeholders, and impactful to the institution’s ability to meet its strategic goals. Rest assured that we, as an organization, have been successful in building trust and respect (and maintaining it all along the way) as we have delivered on our strategic goals these past five years. There’s a simple way to know whether trust and respect exists between an IT organization and a campus community: answer the question “When is it that the IT organization is engaged on tasks, projects, or initiatives?”’ The earlier we are engaged in problem-solving, strategy setting, or solution designing, the more trust and respect exists between us and the others sitting around the table. If we are brought into these discussions at a later stage, particularly if key decisions have already been made and we are only there to receive our assigned tasks, this suggests that work is needed to build trust and respect with those partners. From my view – and knowing how all of us are constantly engaged for assistance with brainstorming new ideas, designing solutions, or cracking long-standing problems – we have considerable trust and respect with most of our University community. The challenge, as always, is to maintain that trust and respect. The only way to do so is simply “to do what we say we will do.” Often that is easier said than done, particularly if we have allowed ourselves to become overcommitted. Doing a fewer number of things exceptionally well, as opposed to lots of things in a mediocre or inconsistent fashion, is the key to always delivering on our commitments. Be mindful of the continual need for us to manage the scope of what we are undertaking, so that we do not find ourselves caught up in a vicious cycle of over-commitment and underperformance. Allowing our trust and respect with the campus community to erode would be devastating to our ability to be successful in the future.
State of our Current Strategic Goals
Let’s briefly recap our strategic goals, but look at them not in the sense of the projects we have delivered but from the broader University lens of why this work has been critical to the institution’s ability to meet its strategic objectives. Our goals have not been undertaken in a vacuum: they are aligned closely with the institution’s ability to continue advancing its missions and extending its long-standing position as one of the premier institutions of higher education in the United States.
Strategic Goal #1: Replace or renew the University’s primary academic and administrative systems for student information, budget, finance, human resources, learning management, and associated supporting systems to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and impact of the University’s work.
In this past year, the University of Georgia moved up three spots – to #18 in the most recent ranking of public undergraduate programs by U.S. News and World Report. This dramatic leap in recognized program quality reflects several strategic investments made by the University in the past two years, including the addition of dozens of new faculty members for reducing course section sizes and teaching “bottleneck” courses, the hiring of significant numbers of new academic advisors to help our students more effectively navigate program offerings and select the major that is truly right for them, and the provision of improved services for our students, particularly in the area of financial aid. Each of these new investments or improvements was intentional and targeted to meet a very certain need aligned with advancing the quality of our programs. These decisions were guided, in many ways, by the authoritative data maintained in our new Banner system. Without these data, these initiatives might have yielded less success. When we complete our PeopleSoft implementation, we can expect that better authoritative data on revenues, expenses, and personnel will help the institution make better decisions as it faces the continual challenges of maximizing its very limited resources, even as it becomes a stronger and more prestigious institution. The implementation of both Banner and PeopleSoft can be expected to pay these types of dividends for many years to come.
Strategic Goal #2: 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.
For the past two years, key indicators of research productivity at the University of Georgia have seen giant leaps. For fiscal years 2015 and 2016 combined, external support for research increased 21%, to over $175 million. For the current fiscal year, another giant leap is also expected. These increases in external funding are due to the University’s efforts to improve its ability to secure federal, state, and private grants for research. Staff reporting to the Office of the Vice President for Research have reorganized themselves to better support faculty in their pursuit of this funding, and new key technology investments in research information systems have been critical as well.
In parallel, our high-performance computing center (the GACRC) has successfully established itself as the preferred mechanism for UGA researchers working in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields who need advanced computing and storage services. Since 2015, the GACRC has added an additional 85 research groups, so that, today, a total of 297 research groups, from across 11 of our schools and colleges, are availing themselves of these services. Additionally, 26 of these research groups have invested over $500k for computing and storage infrastructure within the center. This investment has been matched by $373k of funds from EITS through our buy-in support program. These investments are yielding fruit, as last year’s cohort of GACRC users were successful in securing over $74 million in external awards. This $74 million represents 28.5% of the University’s total research expenditures during the same period. Investments in the GACRC and the University’s infrastructure is paying dividends, and the challenge is for us to continue these critical investments that support the work of our faculty.
Strategic Goal #3: 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.
Every major program area undergoes an outside assessment and program review every five years. A committee chaired by Dr. Maric Boudreau, head of Terry’s College Management Information Systems program, conducted this review for EITS last year. The results were very positive, with the committee finding that the EITS programs, services, and initiatives have become more closely aligned with the needs of University. More importantly, the committee also found that previously frayed relationships with many key stakeholders have been restored and that EITS overall is once again viewed as a trusted and respected partner across the University. As a result, we have seen dramatic gains in coordinating, and in some cases consolidating, support services within our schools and colleges. Five years ago, less than 30% of our departments chose to rely on EITS to manage their departmental and local-area-networks. Today, that number is over 80%, which has resulted in a better managed network service that is faster and more reliable. The primary barrier preventing others from joining this service is financial – and we continue to work to gain better efficiencies to make this service more affordable for the University.
One other indictor of our success with this goal is not well known: our success in evangelizing and leading the “People Skills” communication, collaboration, and teamwork training program. This program started as a professional development effort within EITS designed to help us work better with others to deliver on our strategic goals. Every new employee in EITS completes this training within their first or second year of employment, and existing employees benefit from refresher courses offered each year. What began as an internal EITS initiative has now spread across other quarters of the University, as our EITS certified trainers now deliver this training to others – as a course offered through the University’s Training & Professional Development Center, as special offerings within several of our colleges, and as courses for staff working together on major initiatives like the PeopleSoft implementation. Our partners across the University now come to EITS when they need expert advice and training on the basics of developing strong teams and enhancing communications abilities. To be able to say that the IT organization is now seen as a trusted and vital partner when it comes to teamwork and communication training is quite an accomplishment! It reflects our significant efforts to become a better organization for the University and our commitment to making it a better place to work, to collaborate, and to do great things.
Strategic Goal #4: 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.
Just this past week, the University announced the formation of an Institution for Cybersecurity and Privacy, a center that will lead interdisciplinary efforts across the University on both research and service initiatives in this challenging area. This program is housed in the University’s Computer Science Department, and Dr. Kang Li is serving as the inaugural director of the center. As EITS has worked this past five years to further develop its capabilities in the information security and privacy space, it has collaborated extensively with Dr. Li and others in the Terry College MIS program in developing security tools, delivering guest lectures, and working to assess new trends in this emerging field. The entire area of cybersecurity and privacy is providing our staff with the opportunity to further expand their services to the University community while engaging in mutually beneficial teaching, research, and service opportunities with our faculty. This is a high-demand field, and the University of Georgia has an opportunity to play a leading role in this area of growing importance. As these efforts expand, EITS staff will have the opportunity to influence this critical work while also benefiting from the innovation that is to come.
Strategic Goal #5: 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.
The University of Georgia prides itself each year on its ability to continue to admit an incoming class of freshman students that is more qualified than classes in the past. As those students progress through their degree programs, the University retains those students at a rate of 95.2% as they progress from the freshmen to sophomore years, and it graduates 66% of them in four years. At six years, 85% of these freshmen will graduate, a rate that is far above peer institutions and others in the SEC. New advising programs have enabled students to have a more personal, one-on-one relationship with their academic advisors, and requirements such as the experiential learning initiative ensure that students are well-prepared for successful careers upon graduation. The University of Georgia, each year, admits and graduates an exceptionally gifted class of students. If there is one constant, necessary condition for institutional achievement in student success, it is this: timely, authoritative data. With authoritative data, the University can continually admit a class of freshmen with high potential for success in our programs. Data and other indicators of student success help ensure that our students progress in a timely fashion through their degree programs. And it is strong data that helps our academic advisors reach out to students proactively, before problems in their studies becomes apparent, to help them make best use of the myriad of student success resources available at the University. Our chief data officer and our staff in the Office of Institutional Research are key players in using data to address these challenges, and the level of trust and respect that has been afforded them by the campus community is very high. When challenges or opportunities arise on which institutional data can be brought to bear, these colleagues are at the table for the first conversation between our campus leadership, key stakeholders, and our students. In doing so, our colleagues are building upon the solid foundation of consistent, authoritative data made possible by the institution’s new investments in academic and administrative information systems.
Charting our Next Set of Strategic Objectives
Our past and current success in supporting the institution in its pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and service will become the foundation upon which we discover, articulate, and begin delivering on our next set of strategic goals. One of the noteworthy accomplishments of my predecessor was an inclusive, stakeholder-led process by which our current set of strategic goals were derived. In next year’s planning memorandum, I will lay out for you the process by which we will begin in the fall of 2018 to do the same. Such work will allow us to develop a new long-range master plan for Information Technology at the University of Georgia, as the University begins in earnest to prepare for its 10-year reaffirmation of its regional accreditation. We should all expect that the challenges that await us in our next phase will be as every bit as fulfilling and impactful as our present work.
There are many possibilities that I find intriguing.
The digitization of . . . everything. It’s no longer right to talk about technology in terms of the Internet, or wireless capabilities, or mobile devices, as we have entered a phase of technology development and impact that can only be described as the digitization of everything: course materials, collaboration by small groups and teams, asynchronous innovation and content development, the capturing and preserving of relationships and experience, and how best to represent the intricacies of the physical world in the digital realm. Simply put, the physical world is increasingly represented in a digital world that has its own sets of rules for communication, collaboration, and socialization. It’s made possible and accessed by the screens and devices that we all carry with us everywhere (if you see me carrying my backpack, you can be guaranteed that I am carrying three such devices with me at that time). Across the University, there are many initiatives in this area, such as digital course materials, digital learning experiences, and research into these areas. As an organization, we’ve yet to make an impact in this area. Therefore, I expect there will be a stewardship and evangelism role centrally to be played in this space in the next five to ten years, as the field of higher education continues to evolve and change as it fully embraces the digital world.
Making bigger bets in the infrastructure and research support space. We have come a long way in the past five years in terms of investing, deploying, and supporting the use of high performance compute and storage services for our faculty researchers. Our buy-in programs have brought significant new investments from our faculty researchers themselves, which have extended the base commitments made by the Vice President for Research and my office. But as I look at what we accomplish each year, I get the feeling that we are doing a great job of just keeping ahead of our faculty’s most immediate, pressing needs in this space. It’s time for a much bigger bet: we need to put together a plan and shared funding mechanism to deliver, in the next 24–36 months, those infrastructure services that will make a giant leap in terms of our present capabilities. I don’t envision us attempting to be successful in the annual arms race of supercomputer size, but there is no reason why, today, we don’t begin building the foundations and deploying those services that will typically be available for faculty by 2025 or 2030. We have the willingness and intellectual capability to be innovative in this space, and this presents a huge opportunity for the University as it continues to become one of our country’s premier research institutions. We, as an organization, have much to offer in pursuit of this very worthy goal.
Being a “cloud first” organization. The information services and systems that we have deployed in the past five years will be the legacy systems and technologies that we begin replacing in the coming decade. They will all be replaced with “cloud first” technologies. Over this period, we will become a cloud-based organization, and I expect that we will begin aggressively redeploying new technologies and capabilities into the cloud as opposed to being deployed on-premises. This will require new skillsets, new sets of information security controls, and the development of new financial resources as expenditures become more “opex” as opposed to “capex.” We have done a good job when it comes to leveraging the cloud for systems and services that are on the periphery of our service catalog, and the time is nearing for us to do so with those systems and services at our core. Think Banner, PeopleSoft, identity management, and the like. Planning for this shift, developing ourselves to be successful with it, and proceeding down this path will be the next big technological shift underpinning our work.
Being more deliberate about “edge, leverage, and trust.” A very well-known colleague refuses to use the term centralized or decentralized when it comes to how IT services are organized at his institution (which is a very success aspirant institution for the University of Georgia). He uses the terms “edge, leverage, and trust” to describe these differences. At a research institution like ours, it makes no sense for the central IT services organization to run all operations at the edge (Unit level), because many times we lack the specialized knowledge necessary to add the most value there. But it makes great sense, where possible, to aggregate services (leverage) where there are economies of scale, cost efficiencies, or information security risks. Our gold network service reflects that type of thinking – which is why you don’t have a separate set of network circuits coming into each college or school from an outside provider. What makes both sides of this service equation work is trust, and I believe that our organization has accrued the necessary level of trust and respect to begin being more deliberate about where we allow services to operate at the edge and where we choose to build leverage at our core. Individuals new to the University of Georgia may characterize our current IT service arrangement as “highly decentralized.” While that is true in some areas, over the past five years we have embarked on and have had a considerable amount of success in building leverage over academic and administrative information systems. This has allowed us to be better decision makers because of easier access to timely, authoritative data. As these initiatives come to completion, it’s time for us, as an entire community, to be more deliberate and articulate about which technology services are right to operate at the “edge” and which ones pose new and increasing opportunities for University “leverage” in terms of efficiency, cost management, and information security. The cloud presents us with new technology capabilities that I believe will lead to greater leverage in many areas while allowing staff that support innovation at the “edge” to maintain the same high level of control and configuration over services that they maintain today. Figuring this out together is both necessary and an opportunity for the University in the coming years.
We’ll look and operate differently than we do today. If you look at us as an organization today, we’re dramatically different than we were five years ago. I expect that if you look five years into the future, we’ll look dramatically different than we do today. Five years ago, we weren’t well organized and prepared for successful deployment of ERP packages, and having a chief data officer and reporting relationship with the Office of Institutional Research were never considered. Neither was the People Skills training program or the types of campus-wide collaborations that we today lead or steward. I expect that there will be similar new ways of organizing and developing ourselves as we take on a new set of strategic goals. But there’s one thing that will not change, I can assure you: we will not revert to the more hierarchical mode for collaborating with each other that prevailed across most of EITS when I arrived. While an org chart is a necessary condition for managing a large organization, we collaborate with each other in a very atypical non-hierarchical, flat organizational fashion. I expect this type of non-hierarchical collaboration to continue, not only within our organization but with others across the University of Georgia. If we continue this, we will have gone a long way towards doing what is necessary to deliver on our next set of strategic goals.
Goals from the Previous Year
Last year, this memorandum set out several 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.
Current Status: This project is on time and on budget, and proceeding nicely as we continue the implementation. This past year, the project budget of $47 million was approved by the senior administration, we closed consulting contracts for the necessary implementation support, and we have been the key partners supporting the OneUSG implementation of a common PeopleSoft implementation. Today, there are over 100 individuals actively working on the OneSource Project as we approach our first go-lives in less than one year. Our communication program is strong, we have the right functional and technical leadership in place, we have strong performances from our consulting implementation partner, and the institution has committed the right level of resources to this project. We proceed, working on good ground, though the implementation and its countless dependencies across this very complex enterprise will be challenging, risky at times, and disruptive, as we dramatically change the way the University proceeds with its core administrative processes.
Current Status: These initiatives have been completed successfully during this past year. Funds supporting mainframe software maintenance have been sequestered to a separate account, which allows us to track them to be assured that those funds will be redirected to support the OneSource initiative once the mainframe has been decommissioned. These funds will be available when necessary to support the OneSource initiative.
Current Status: Significant progress has been made on this goal this year, which include the new SAGE student advising system. The SAGE team has continued to drive the project forward in collaboration with all stakeholders. The new advising system has been purchased and implemented, and the technical issues with the performance of DegreeWorks have been resolved. The new advising system is currently in pilot mode for the Spring semester and will be rolled out to additional Units this fall. This is an iterative project, but it is moving forward at a good pace and is expected to have a very positive impact on our students and their academic preparation at the University of Georgia.
Current Status: Working through a cross-disciplinary group of stakeholders, including both faculty and staff, the research archive Institutional File Storage (IFS) system was launched in June 2016. This new file storage option is available for UGA researchers through the IFS services, providing an affordable option for researchers who want a centrally-managed file storage option for large amounts of archive data. Researchers can share data with internal UGA colleagues and externally with non-UGA collaborators (with a guest MyID). Beyond initial technical failures, the overall usage continues to grow, with currently ~21 groups using the service with a total allocation of ~90TB of disk space.
Current Status: We have engaged in three activities this past year in order to address this goal. First, our faculty and staff guide to technology is now in its second edition, providing employees with information on the wide variety of IT services available to them from the University. Second, we have redesigned some services associated with eLC to make eLC easier to use. We have also taken steps to facilitate greater coordination for supporting the use of eLC between EITS, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and distributed IT units across the University. Finally, we have continued with our wireless matching program, providing funding to support more wireless access services for faculty areas. We have also collected data from faculty regarding the quality of wireless in their buildings and areas. Support for these initiatives will continue in the next year.
Current Status: We have selected and engaged Dell SecureWorks to conduct a security health check for EITS and other Units whose operations rely heavily on the use of sensitive data. Information Security is proceeding with these assessments, focused on Unit by Unit individual checks. Initial engagement is scoped specifically to EITS and consists of technical security architecture review, information security management system review, and server hardening assessments. Additional engagements for other Units handling sensitive data are schedule to begin in the summer, subject to availability. Other Units, particularly those reporting to the Vice President for Instruction, have agreed to participate. The initial EITS engagement has entered into the reporting and analysis phase, with a full report expected soon. This initiative will continue into the next year.
Current Status: Working together, network engineering and information security Units have selected and implemented Duo two-factor authentication service to replace the legacy Dell hardware token two-factor solution. As a modern, phone-based solution with a site-license for students, faculty, and staff, Duo enables rapid expansion of two-factor protection to different applications and to large and varied (and remote) populations of users. In all, two-factor authentication has expanded from ~2,800 legacy ArchPass users to ~6,200 enrolled Duo users, including all default VPN access and those piloting Duo-protected, Web-based applications. The use of Duo was required for default VPN access to the campus network on January 3, 2017. vLab is scheduled for two-factor authentication protection May 5, and the next steps will be to work with various campus stakeholders to roll Duo out for Web-based sign-on through the Central Authentication Service (CAS). These rollouts are expected to continue throughout the next year.
Current Status: This project has been launched successfully this past year. We have moved from a pilot phase, involving Marketing and Communications, Finance and Administration, Units from the Vice President for Instruction, and sites from the School of Public and International Affairs. Since this pilot, other sites are coming on, including those from the Terry College of Business and the University’s primary sites for the central administrative Units. I expect that, over the next year, we will continue to add new customers and sites to this service, given that we have now architected the solution in a way that will allow it to scale to support more users, while giving them the individual level of control they require to administer their Web sites.
Current Status: This project is going quite well. Over the past year, there have been a number of activities, in conjunction with colleagues in the Office of Institutional Research, aimed at better defining and standardizing essential elements for the institution and the larger University System of Georgia. We now have for the first time, as an institution, a comprehensive data governance program. Additionally, these standardized elements are more readily accessible to a wide variety of campus stakeholders through a series of new reports that have been available through the ConnectUGA project. Accessibility of these data has also been enhanced, through both Argos and the new Tableau software. These data elements are having an impact and have been instrumental in both the provost’s ability to cast her strategic vision through the UGA LEAD sessions, as well as other University-wide metrics such as those that make up the U.S. News and World Report rankings. The Data Management Web site (datamanagement.uga.edu), developed this past year, has been key to increasing transparency and visibility of the University’s information assets.
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. It’s an ERP deployment year for our organization, and you can expect that successfully completing our PeopleSoft implementations will consume every available resource that we have as an organization going forward. Managing and reducing scope in other areas will be key. As such, most of our goals for this next year encompass this realm or are extensions of previous goals. Or, they are limited in scope for the next year.
Your combined experience, wisdom, and expertise are our most important resources. We will continue to be successful in the way we plan, the way we deliver on our initiatives, 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 May 4th. I hope to see you there.
Cc: VPIT Monthly Status Report Distribution List