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Wednesday April 16th, 2014

Town Hall Meeting: Questions and Answers
April 20, 2010

The questions are presented, in italics, as they were asked. The answers are summaries of the critical and most relevant parts of the responses given, with additional clarification added in some cases.

For front line services supporting students directly, how or what assurances can be made that this will remain a priority?

The consolidation is strengthening services directly supporting students by bringing together groups with strong commitments to these services. For example, Student Affairs IT Support and ResNet within it are now being integrated with other student-oriented groups in OIT. Educating students is a critical part of UCI’s mission; supporting them is a critical part of OIT’s mission. The former NACS has served students since the advent of IT services.

What happens to the salaries of people moved to OIT?

On an administrative financial level, when positions move from one administrative unit on campus to another, funding for the positions moves as well. This is what is happening with positions moving to OIT.

While this doesn't represent any change from the perspective of the individual, consolidation highlights the problem of IT staff salary equity. Differences in compensation for IT professionals across units is a difficult problem. The current financial situation limits our ability to address the situation as immediately or as effectively as we would like, but it is a longer term goal.

How does OIT plan to improve user IT skills especially for tech-phobic users in a rapidly changing environment?

The key to improving skills is training. Also, the development of campus standards and focusing on common versions of software across the campus not only makes training a more manageable challenge but also helps create situations where co-workers and friends from different units can share knowledge. Also, through standards, training in one job or unit becomes more readily transferable.

Has OIT created savings thus far?

Yes, OIT has created savings in terms of efficiencies and making things happen to reduce workload of other staff including some tasks that were previously long delayed. In terms of budgetary savings, the consolidation itself has not created them. Instead, substantial savings have come from reductions in staffing through attrition and the hiring freeze. What the consolidation has done is to help minimize the impact of losing staff in key IT positions.

As a manager, I can vary the amount of resources allocated to IT and to other activities. As IT moves into OIT, how will I be able to maintain the previous agility?

There are two answers to this question. One is that the pool of talents in OIT gives units greater flexibility in undertaking projects. The second answer is that the consolidation does lessen to some extent the flexibility of individual units but it increases the campus's overall ability to adapt to the challenges it collectively faces.

For units that may move off campus, how does OIT plan to support those units if a system goes down? Logistically with OIT on campus, how will that work?

Given how geographically dispersed the campus is, this is a problem which is already handled successfully. Where physical presence is necessary, there are vehicles for moving people and equipment. OIT includes the staff and organization (NACS) that has supported the campus telephone system for the past 25 years and the campus network since it was created. In addition, a fair amount of IT support activities can be done remotely especially when systems are set up ahead of time to facilitate this. OIT is among the units that have staff that may move off-campus, and it is likely there will be some IT support staff proximate to any large off-campus staff populations.

If virtualization of common office software occurs, how will power users and those who need more horsepower for photo editing, etc. be accommodated?

Thus far, we've not virtualized desktop applications to any large extent. Even as this use of virtualization is being considered, there's no intention to use virtualization in all situations, only in those where it makes sense. Similarly, a standardized set of desktop applications is simply a core around which to build. "Power users" and specialized applications represent important needs that will continue to be met on an individualized basis.

How will requests for IT projects be prioritized for non-degree granting units?

Projects are prioritized by the units that need them. The IT staff that worked with the unit before consolidation maintain that relationship and support others in the unit in understanding, defining, and prioritizing projects. A common misconception about consolidation is that staff coming into OIT are put in a pool from which they are assigned projects based upon priorities set separately from the unit from which they came. This isn't how consolidation is working. Every application on campus has staff dedicated to it and consolidation is not changing that or the prioritization of projects based on unit and campus needs.

Will the campus commit to upgrading standard office apps and supporting hardware/software broadly and on a more consistent and timely manner so that UCI stays on pace with the general business community?

There are a number of parts of campus where we have have not kept pace with the general business community in terms of the currency of software applications and equipment. Often this has been a matter of staff resources to do upgrades. OIT is aware of this problem and while financial and logistical constraints prevent solving it immediately, we are making reasonable progress. It will be important to address this over time.

When working on creating or revising an IT project that more than one unit will use, how are the functions determined? How much say do the units using them have?

The units using an IT project collectively determine its functionality, with IT staff supporting the process. Collaboration across units typically yields a better product for all units. It is true, however, that such collaboration may require some compromises and will not work if every unit insists on having exactly what it thought it wanted going into the effort.

I use a special application that only my local IT guy knows how to fix when it breaks. How will OIT be able to support me?

OIT support for all applications, special or common, is actually better than that provided by any single individual unless that single individual never gets sick, takes vacation time, uses furlough time or ever is not available when assistance is needed. OIT uses a variety of means to make individual expertise and experience available through other channels than the originating individual. In addition to personal cross-training and documentation, there are collaborative tools like wikis for sharing information, technical points, and special situations. Each request for help is logged and tracked to resolution both to assure that nothing "falls between the cracks" and for subsequent reference if a similar problem comes up again.

I have an annual operating budget for licenses, service contracts, new hardware, etc. What will happen to that money?

When an expense is transferred to OIT, the funding for the expense is transferred as well. If the expense stays with the unit, so does the funding. How this specifically applies is worked out on a case-by-case basis by the unit and OIT. Generally speaking, the unit will retain budget/expense for end-user equipment and software, while server-side/shared budget/expense will move to OIT.

When will academic units be brought into OIT?

Starting this fall, there will be conversations to identify what makes sense to be shared among academic units and how to organize to support what is to be shared. Meanwhile, OIT and the academic units are in active discussions focusing on improvements in existing services and what are new services that OIT might provide which the academic units would like to use. The goal with both existing and new services is to provide offerings that help the units to avoid duplication of efforts and to enable IT staff in academic units to focus on needs specific to those units.

We've heard how things have gone with the first units to participate in the consolidation. How will this be evaluated and used as a basis for units participating later on?

Every unit involved in the consolidation is distinct and treated as such. The general approach used with the first units is not necessarily one which is appropriate to other units. Integration of additional staff will be done gradually and carefully in keeping with the Prime Directive: "Do not disrupt operations in the unit or elsewhere."

A lot of our clients use cell phones. What are the laws that require that we have wired telephone service? Would going with cell phones instead of wired line service save money?

One issue with reliance on cell phones is the ability to provide 911 service. As to cost, going entirely to cell phones would be a significant increase in cost, unless the unit has already issued staff both cell and wired telephones. One need only look at the typical monthly cell phone bill and compare it to the cost of a campus phone. In addition, a very substantial amount of phone use on campus involves intra-campus calls and transferring calls from one extension to another. At some point, cell phones may make economic sense for the entire campus and UCI is joining with other UC campuses in on-going evaluations of current trends, projections, and realities. Meanwhile, since cell phone service is a reasonable alternative in some situations, a more immediate challenge is to integrate the use of such services with the campus telephone network.

What's the long term plan to ensure that the units have adequate budgets for their IT needs?

This is less a budgetary question than one of whether the unit has the IT resources necessary to do its job. Some units have not had adequate resources and we are looking to correct that over time. Consolidation enables us to make better use of staff but adequate staffing remains a major problem in the current economic climate. It will continue to be a problem as this climate improves and with it employment opportunities outside the campus, challenging our ability to retain and attract the necessary staff. Every professional unit on campus needs to have the right level of IT support or that unit's staff will spend time in ineffective ways.

How does one avoid having larger units subsidizing smaller ones?

It might look that way or the reverse to some while others look at the campus as a whole and don't see "subsidize" as word that is appropriate here. There's only so much money and it important that it be spent as well as possible. One of the things that IT consolidation is doing is raising the visibility of IT on campus. That visibility is helping people see how IT is leveraged on campus and that inadequate investment in IT means wasted money in other areas. UCI has to invest in IT to save money overall as a campus. That is, investment in IT means savings for the campus, savings typically in areas other than IT.

Has OIT been given adequate resources to create the appropriate facilities for the consolidation of servers?

There are not enough resources today. Things are very tight with some problematic areas. A particular challenge is providing for research users. The campus is aware of the situation and there are plans to improve matters, but they await the funds to implement them. Meanwhile, at the moment, needs are being met adequately by making the best use of available data center space in distributed campus locations.

The IT applications in different units are built using many different programming languages and environments. How will the consolidation handle this?

OIT already has expertise in many different programming languages and environments. There are no plans to change this. Aside from the value and strengths this variety represents, changing important applications just to decrease this variety would be a great waste, even if it were possible. A greater challenge is replacing legacy applications which depend on programming and operating environments that are no longer current. While different environments offer different strengths, going forward OIT expects to concentrate on a subset which collectively offers the greatest range of applicability. As was once said "Variety is the spice of life, but there's such a thing as being too spicy."