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Strategic Directions and Priorities for 2014-2015

May 6, 2014


TO:              All EITS Employees

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

RE:               EITS Annual Planning Memorandum for FY15

This will be my third annual planning memorandum to each of you, the employees in Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS), since I began my tenure at the University of Georgia in 2011. The goal of this annual memorandum is to highlight for the record our successes over the past year, discuss our progress towards our strategic goals, present our organizational priorities for the next year, and share my thoughts on challenges and opportunities that I see along the way.

We have scheduled an all EITS staff meeting for the afternoon of May 9, 2014 at 3 p.m. to discuss these plans. The meeting will be held in room 329 of the Boyd Graduate Studies center. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the contents of this planning memorandum with you and to answer your questions. I hope to see you there.

As I look across the EITS of today, I see a dramatically different organization than I saw two years ago. We are an organization whose reputation and credibility have grown, owing to our investment of both time and effort in strengthening relationships across the University of Georgia. I see an organization that delivers stronger technical solutions – or better yet, one that leverages others to deliver the technology while we focus on working with our students, faculty, and staff to make better use of the technology. Two years ago, we announced new programs in communications, planning, and staff training and I believe those investments are producing results today.

As I review our technical operations, I see IT services that are less prone to glitches or outages; and I see a core stack of IT infrastructure that is on par with that of any peer or aspirational institution that we routinely compare ourselves to. Our focus over the past twenty-four months on implementing best practices in change management, upgrading our network infrastructure and capacity, and developing a better defined approach for estimating project requirements and cost have been crucial to our enhanced reputation for stronger service performance and delivering value. The best evidence of this can be found in the growth of our cost-recovery lines of businesses. We are now contracting for cost recovery services with some Units that would have never considered EITS before.

Our annual TechQual+ survey also shows strong IT service performance, particularly among students. This year, our survey once again shows that students have a positive perception of 12 of the 13 core IT services covered on the survey. These findings are statistically significant. Perceptions of IT service quality of faculty and staff are not nearly as strong. This year I will ask our Assessment and Advisory committee to focus its efforts on identifying ways University IT groups can improve IT services for these vital constituencies (more on this subject later).

We have made considerable progress towards the strategic directions and goals outlined in the University’s 2012 Long-term Plan for Information Technology (ITMP). Last year, my office convened a series of focus groups to discuss progress towards these goals and discuss challenges that could arise over the next five years. The focus groups also conducted a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis regarding their respective domains.

To date, EITS has engaged in activities focused on over 80% of the goals and initiatives outlined in the master plan, including: Implementation of the Banner student information system and the Desire2Learn learning management system; major investments in personnel, connectivity, and hardware and storage for research computing; new investments in EITS staff training and professional development resources; and implementation of the ArchPass, a multi-factor authentication system protecting University information systems containing sensitive and personally identifiable information. Far from being a static document sitting on a shelf, our strategic plan is a living, breathing document that has guided our previous goal setting and will continue to influence our planning in the future.

One of the most important goals of this master plan remains the development of our most important asset – the employees of EITS. Since 2011, we have made it a priority every year to spend no less than 3% of our annual budget on training and professional development activities. This amounts to just over $1 million in training and professional development experiences to ensure that EITS staff have the opportunity to participate in events that strengthen their skills and competencies required in order to be successful. What is equally impressive is that these investments are stewarded at the grassroots level by our Training Council. Composed of early- to mid-career professionals within EITS, this council, in my view, has made wise and prudent investment decisions over the past three years and will continue to do so as the University embarks on several new initiatives, such as the replacement of our HR and Finance information systems, as well as developing new analytics capabilities for student and faculty data systems. Developing a pool of strong and capable leaders for EITS will remain one of my most important personal goals in the coming years.

Goals and Priorities for the Past Year

Last year, this memorandum set out five strategic goals for EITS. Let’s review our progress towards these goals over the past 12 months.

  1. Successfully complete the major academic system overhauls for student information (Banner) and learning management (Desire2Learn), hitting milestones for both time and budget while minimizing to the degree possible the disruptive effects of technological and process change required by these implementations (ITMP Strategic Direction 3, Goal 1, 2, 3, 4).

    Current Status: These projects are on time, on budget, and have been successful in minimizing the possible disruptive effects that these implementations have caused at other institutions. The Desire2Learn (D2L) system became the University’s official Learning Management System (LMS) in January of 2014, replacing the previous Blackboard Vista system. As of today, the admissions, registrar, and financial aid modules of Banner are live for the processing of Fall 2014 academic data and we have registered over 20,000 students for Fall 2014 courses using the Banner Web system for the first time at the University of Georgia. When you combine both of these implementations, hundreds of thousands of hours of effort have gone into the planning, implementation, communication, and training activities required for these successful implementations. When you talk to our students, they will tell you that both these systems are providing them with improved access to information and services that make their work much easier. Kudos to all involved in these projects.

  2. Continue bringing student computing services into the next generation by supporting cloud-based services for accessing student computing labs, printing, and other technologies at any time, from any place, and on any device. Begin developing a set of operating principles for supporting University processes for students and employees from their individually owned computing devices (i.e., BYOD support) (ITMP Strategic Direction 2, Goal 1, 2).

    Current Status: These initiatives have been completed successfully. Last fall, we observed the 10th anniversary of the Miller Learning Center and each of the computers within that facility have been replaced with our new vLab technology that allows students to connect to our computer lab resources from any place at any time. Additionally, EITS has installed over 25 cloud-based printing kiosks across the University, which affords students the convenience of printing documents from any place at any time and retrieving them from one of these convenient locations. We have delivered a set of services that disconnects the physical computer lab from the wide variety of computing resources EITS provides students. By doing so, we now allow them to access these services at any time, from any place, and on any device. We have now brought our student computing services in line with the latest technological advancements, while also working within our present budget constraints and without expending additional university resources.

  3. Successfully complete two required upgrades of the campus email platform, as Microsoft migrates its systems from Live@EDU to Office 365. As the second phase completes sometime in 2014, begin implementing a shared portal and storage effort using Sharepoint and OneDrive Professional, which are aimed at reducing the need for and dependence on distributed file servers across the University supported by decentralized units. In doing so, lay the groundwork for a future initiative to consolidate servers across the University (ITMP Strategic Direction 6, Goal 1, 2, 3).

    Current Status: This project has been completed successfully and I believe that it serves as EITS’s finest moment since I have been at the University of Georgia. This was an incredibly complex and potentially expensive project, but the teams responded to the challenge to identify less complex and less costly solutions for this migration and it was completed with minimal impact on our students, faculty, and staff. It simply could not have gone better than it did. Please know that I am impressed with the way our leadership brought the teams together around this challenge and the way they all delivered. Beginning this summer, we will commence the next phase of this project to make expanded services, such as Office 365 ProPlus through the Microsoft Student Advantage program and OneDrive Pro available to our community.

  4. Continue current information security efforts related to reduced reliance on the SSN and on the adoption of multi-factor authentication to add an additional layer of protection around information systems containing sensitive information. Finish efforts to reprogram legacy systems for HR and Finance, so the SSN is no longer required as a primary identifier, and begin efforts to work with decentralized units to end their dependence on the SSN as well (ITMP Strategic Direction 3, Goal 2, 3, 4; Strategic Direction 5, Goal 4).

    Current Status: These projects have been completed and we are on track for phasing out other legacy applications that depend upon the SSN, such as BigCard. Other units on campus are working, where possible, to phase out their use of the SSN or place their systems behind the ArchPass – our secure network that provides additional protection for these systems. Over 1,700 ArchPass tokens have been distributed across the University of Georgia and each of the five phase 1 systems has been placed behind this additional layer of network protection. I am also pleased how we have been able to place other key systems – ones with sensitive or restricted information – behind this system. Several times, Units have come to us proactively to request that we extend this service to protect their systems. Together, these projects have allowed us to dramatically reduce the University’s risk profile in regards to sensitive information and again, we have completed them using existing resources and have not required additional investments from the University.

  5. Continue to focus on internal reallocation, making steady progress towards the four-year goal of reallocating $3.2 million (base) into strategic priorities, including information security, data center and networking, student computing, the GACRC, professional development, and organizational transformation (ITMP Strategic Direction 8, Goal 1, 6).

    Current Status: We are ahead of schedule in terms of reaching this goal. As we decommission the mainframe over the next few years, we will cross the finish line – possibly sooner. As of this year’s budget hearing, we have successfully redirected $2,755,877, which is 87% of this goal. Focusing on economies of scale, reducing legacy technology debt, and maintaining day-to-day stewardship have been key factors. These efforts must continue. I believe that our total budget today will remain the high water mark for IT resources at the University of Georgia for many years to come (ITMP Strategic Direction 8, Goal 1, 6).

I am very, very proud of this work. There is so much more that I could mention, if not for the limits of space. If everyone feels like they are now completing a marathon sprint, they should. In 2011, the University set out for us some very big goals, and since then we have worked very hard and we have achieved them. Over the coming months, we should also step back and acknowledge and enjoy these accomplishments. Everyone needs to take a very well deserved vacation from their work this summer, knowing that we have stepped up where we have been asked to and that we have been successful accomplishing some very difficult things in these past three years.

Assessment and Continuous Improvement Activities for Next Year

I believe that we have taken steps towards developing both a nimble and flexible approach to continuous improvement, led by our Assessment and Advisory Committee. This committee is charged with annually analyzing the data from our regular TechQual+ survey and formulating recommendations based on this assessment. The work of this committee continues to be very influential on my thinking, along with those of senior leaders across the University, as we map out our priorities each year. This next year, I will ask our Assessment and Advisory Committee to focus on these questions.

  1. Student perceptions regarding the quality of PAWS-Secure wireless network are much lower than previous years. Certainly this can be attributable to the fact that Paws-Secure currently supports twice the number of devices that it did a year ago. But problem areas need to be identified where student satisfaction with wireless is at its lowest so that current wireless investments can be redirected to these areas. What are the problem areas on our campus that cause the most problems for students and result in poor satisfaction with PAWS-Secure?

  2. Student perceptions of the overall quality of campus IT services is very positive. At the same time, faculty perceptions of the overall quality of campus IT services are extremely negative. What are the differences in service performance, expectations, or values that lead to these dramatically different evaluations of IT services at the University of Georgia? What steps can be taken to bridge this gap?

  3. Employees desire better tools for streamlining and automating business processes, as well as better tools for more effective collaborations with their colleagues across the University. What tools or investments should the University consider to improve employee perceptions regarding the core IT services they are provided in order to perform their roles?

  4. Most faculty members rely on IT support and services that are provided by their College or Unit. Does this decentralized approach to IT service and support contribute to poor faculty perceptions regarding core IT services? If so, what efforts can be made to standardize and improve IT service delivery to faculty? What efforts can be made to improve faculty perceptions of the quality of UGA IT services?

Analysis of the TechQual+ data will help yield insights for each of these questions. I am confident that our annual continuous improvement process will steadily help improve our organizational performance and improve IT service delivery across the University of Georgia. I look forward to receiving the committee’s responses to these questions later this year.

Goals and Priorities for Next Year

Let me lay out for you our most important priorities over the next year, and provide you some context for each of them.

Now that we have implemented new academic information systems – Banner, DegreeWorks, Desire2Learn – we have a more standardized base of authoritative information on students, courses, and instruction. Now that we have this type of data, it is time to make better use of it. Over the next 12 - 24 months, I expect that there will be several academic analytics initiatives to do so at the University level. These initiatives will form the next phase of these projects.

Organizational Priority #1: Develop and implement plans to ensure that EITS operations are in full compliance with the University System of Georgia’s IT Handbook. While some sections of this book are yet to be completed, we have the full opportunity to engage the USG staff to make sure that compliance with the IT Handbook does not overburden EITS operations. Each associate CIO is responsible for ensuring compliance of their operations with the IT Handb0ok, and that audits should have zero findings. Ensuring compliance should be a group collaboration across the different teams within EITS (ITMP Strategic Direction 1, Goal 2; Strategic Direction 5, Goal 1, 3). Each Associate CIO is responsible for completing this goal within their Unit.

Organizational Priority #2: Develop and implement, in conjunction with the EITS Leadership Council and Manager’s Advisory Board, a comprehensive root cause analysis program for major outages and service delivery issues based on the 5 Why approach. We need to work to ensure that defect identification and elimination remains one of the most important values of the EITS culture. We should develop a standard process, much like we have with change management, that isolates the 5 why’s of each major service issue; includes peer review internally (and, where appropriate, externally to EITS), and documents root causes on a common template that is forwarded for review, if necessary, by the senior leadership of the University (ITMP Strategic Direction 5, Goal 3). Michael Lucas, Larry Malota, and Brian Rivers are responsible for leading efforts regarding this goal.

Organizational Priority #3: Develop a new global model directed at better managing demand for IT services and keeping work in progress (WIP) at appropriate levels. This will require working closely with the EITS Leadership Council and Managers Advisory Board to more fully understand the demands on EITS staff resources, how work flows throughout EITS, and how we can better visualize and manage the flow of work in order to be assured of solid organization performance and minimal service disruptions. Developed properly, this will become a framework for engaging critical stakeholders across the University in the prioritization of work across EITS (ITMP Strategic Direction 1 Goal 1, 2, 4; Strategic Direction 8, Goal 4). Lynn Wilson is responsible for leading efforts regarding this goal.

Organizational Priority #4: Continue the focus on internal reallocation, making steady progress towards the four-year goal of reallocating $3.2 million base budget dollars into strategic priorities, including information security, data center and networking, the GACRC, professional development, and organizational transformation. Each associate CIO is responsible for doing more than simply defending the needs of their unit in terms of resources, but should actively think above and beyond their unit to ensure that actions, individually and collectively, best meet the needs of EITS as a whole. I am asking all Associate CIOs to work together over the next 12 months to reduce our collective salary expenses next year by 3% so that these resources can be further reinvested in strategic activities (ITMP Strategic Direction 8, Goal 1, 6).

Our success over the past three 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.

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