Information Technology Workgroup

This information is from the 2009 OIT Consolidation. It is kept here for archival purposes.

February 5, 2009

IT Workgroup Participants:
Kevin Ansel (Student Affairs), Mark Askren (AdCom Services), Bill Cohen (Computer Science), Liza Krassner (College of Health Sciences), Rhonda Louden (Education), Michelle Miller (Social Ecology), Sinqui Musto (Office of Research), Marie Perezcastaneda (NACS), Dana Roode (NACS), Deborah Sunday (Libraries)

Introduction

This document summarizes the conclusions of the Information Technology “Big Ideas” workgroup regarding opportunities to improve IT efficiencies and lower costs.  Increasing efficiencies will require compromise; individuals, work groups, and departments cannot all do things exactly the way they are accustomed; we cannot all have tools that are exactly what we want.  However, the end-result of increased sharing and coordination would be a highly effective campus approach to IT, more capable than what we enjoy today, and at lower unit cost.

Below are three “big ideas” for consideration, along with two additional areas of possible benefit.

1. Consolidate IT at UCI

Consolidate AdCom, NACS and all other IT groups in administrative areas into a single IT organization.  In addition to efficiently addressing central IT needs, provide commodity IT services to academic units through the new consolidated unit.  This will allow academic units to focus on the unique requirements of their respective schools.  Commodity services that could be provided include standardized desktop support, instructional lab management, application development, and Web site maintenance.

Because UCI is generally “lean” on overall IT resources, the consolidation would not immediately result in a large amount of direct cost savings.  However, the consolidation would:

  • Allow cost savings through staff attrition while reducing the impact of losing staff in currently unique, isolated positions; ensure that key IT talent is not lost through layoffs.
  • Most effectively utilize the range of IT talent on campus and ensure that it is focused on the highest priority campus activities, including those that leverage IT to reduce staff workload and reduce costs external to IT.  As UCI loses staff through attrition and layoffs, IT will be called upon to implement workflow automation systems to allow the campus to leverage the productivity of a reduced workforce.
  • Facilitate the consolidation of distributed data centers and departmental servers to save energy, maintenance, and hardware costs, while also providing stronger and more consistent security services.
  • Facilitate the creation of a consistent campus IT environment that maximizes efficiency and ease of use for campus faculty and staff; combine distributed help-desk activities to create a “one-stop shopping” experience for all central and commodity IT support needs.
  • Remove the current incentive for individual IT groups to implement and maintain local applications and services rather than taking advantage of shared services; put UCI in a better position to utilize IT services provided by sister UC campuses.
  • Ensure that we fully leverage the leadership, communication, and technical skills of UCI’s strongest IT managers; provide growth opportunities for highly skilled IT staff.  Improve staff effectiveness by facilitating the adoption of common development and application environments.

In addition to AdCom Services and NACS, independent IT groups exist in the following units, among others: University Advancement, Office of Institutional Research, Office of Academic Affairs, Parking and Transportation Services, Document and Delivery Management, Office of Research, Graduate Division, Student Housing, Admissions, Office of the Registrar, Financial Aid, Student Affairs Technology, University Communications, Athletics, University Extension, and the UCI Libraries.

UCI’s IT units are highly collaborative with collaboration facilitated by mechanisms such as the School/Unit Computing Coordinator group and the Student Affairs Technology Team.  Nonetheless, there are clearly opportunities to improve IT operations for the campus in terms of both cost savings and improved service.

2. Implement IT Solutions to Reduce Non-IT Staff Workload

As campus staffing declines due to attrition or layoffs, the remaining staff will require IT solutions to manage an increasing workload.  Part of this is using existing electronic tools better (for example, taking full advantage of electronic scheduling by letting the software schedule meetings rather than administrative staff).  Additional applications need to be developed or expanded:

  • Implement a new campus-wide automated system for tracking staff work and leave hours that replaces all use of paper timesheets.
  • Complete the currently planned Academic Personnel Online system implementation to automate faculty merit and promotion review.
  • Expand the use of Engineering’s Graduate Application Tracking System by providing campus-wide shared support for it.
  • Build on the efforts of Biological Sciences and others to develop student record management and work flow systems to allow student affairs offices in the schools to go paperless.
  • Replace UCI’s 27-year old financial systems with the community source Kuali Financial System, providing the campus and Medical Center with significantly enhanced functionality and efficiencies.

There is certainly additional opportunity to reduce workload through IT solutions.  A two or three person IT business analysis team should be assigned the task of interviewing departmental staff and recommending additional areas for development.  The goal would be to identify projects with relatively low development requirements and high return in workload reduction.  An example of this is the “rapid return” system implemented to scan graded exams and return them electronically through EEE rather than through staffed exam return rooms.  There may also be opportunities to expand the use of online training and documentation to improve the efficiency and timeliness of faculty and staff learning new tools and facilities.

3. IT Energy Costs

UCI spends millions of dollars on electricity each year with IT energy usage representing a significant fraction of the total expense.  Campus units need to be brought into the picture by informing them of their energy usage and providing incentives to cut back.

Further extend the 2009 campus Strategic Energy Plan by including the following actions in the IT component of a renewed campus energy savings campaign:

  • Set all desktop computers to enter power savings mode when not in use.  This requires support for waking computers up for remote file, backup, or software maintenance access.
  • Ask units to inventory all IT equipment in their area and turn off any device that is no longer in use.  Identify computers that can be replaced by “virtual servers” provided through a central service that allows equipment to be shared by multiple uses.
  • Provide power meters on major data centers and offer assistance in reducing energy requirements.

 

Additional Opportunities to Reduce IT Costs

4. Printing

We do not have a complete estimate of the total amount UCI spends on paper and printer supplies, but it appears to be several million dollars annually.  Greatly reduce printing by removing all campus requirements for paper forms by accepting everything electronically.  Expand the use of and consolidate document management systems that allow “virtual paper” to be easily shared and stored electronically.  The routing of paper in departments can also be completely replaced by routing .pdf files via email.  Duplex printing should be the default for all shared and individual printers on campus.

5. Software Licensing Fees, Drop-in Student Computing Labs

The campus spent between $1 and  $2 million on software licensing during 2007/2008.  Although it is unclear to what extent open-source alternatives exist for the range of commercial software packages used on campus, cost savings can be achieved by facilitating use of open-source.  This would require faculty, staff and students learning new software, with an initial training and lost productivity cost.

Another approach to reducing license fees is making software available centrally through license managers, or through central Linux/Windows based “application servers.”  This can also reduce the need for drop-in student computing labs whose primary purpose is to provide access to commercial software.  The requirement for scheduled labs for class sessions would remain.