4 cornerstones helped Ithaca College transform its IT organization [Educause 2016]
The institution's current and former tech chief discussed their efforts with a packed room last week in Anaheim
In a Thursday morning session at last week's Educause conference in Anaheim, CA, Ithaca College Interim Associate Vice President & CIO David Weil and University of Richmond CIO Keith "Mac" McIntosh, Ithaca's former CIO, discussed how they turned around the New York institution's IT structure.
The session drew a crowd that left standing room only, and while the transformation is still underway, it focused on the following four cornerstones that can serve as a blueprint for other institutions looking to streamline operations across any number of departments.
Organization & people
Streamlining operations is never a particularly easy process. Shortly after joining Ithaca in 2014, McIntosh was tasked with eliminating a number of positions to flatten the organization — something he saw as the first test of his leadership.
Upon his arrival, IT existed in five silos: "Technology & Instructional Support Services," "Infrastructure & Comm Services," "Enterprise Application Services," "Information Security" and "Project Management."
Following the reorganization, these were narrowed to just four:
- Teaching and Learning with Technology - The silo directly impacting instruction and faculty
- Engagement and Implementation - The department's “front door” with the campus
- Architecture and Infrastructure - Anything the department does behind the scenes
- Information Security - The work the department does to secure campus data
This shift also saw the IT office renamed "Digital Instruction and Information Services," as well as the elimination of all "manager" level positions. McIntosh makes it clear, however, that he eliminated positions and not people, and that many employees were shifted elsewhere in the organization.
Overall, the focus was on shifts in philosophical approach from service provider to service broker, from tactical focus to strategic focus, from one size or speed fits all to bi-modal, from technically-focused to service-focused, from reactive to proactive, and from on-site to cloud.
IT & project governance
“This is about aligning the work that the IT organization does with the institution,” Weil said, introducing the second cornerstone. This involves better transparency about IT decisions and processes, better project and resource management, and better alignment of project review and approval with college budgeting office.
Previously, the institution had "a bunch of islands" with a few specific area steering committees doing IT planning, but nothing connected them. The department set out to address the situation, implementing a three-tiered governance structure.
- Tier 1: Institution-Wide Strategy and Decision-Making
- Tier 2: Specific Areas of Focus - Strategy and Planning
- Tier 3: Operational Coordination
At Tier 1, the IT Steering and Advisory Committee, or ITSAC, connected with the President’s Council and institutional budget committee. Tier 2 currently includes Teaching & Learning and Enterprise Systems & Infrastructure groups, though an analytics committee and others may be added as necessary. At Tier 3, service coordination teams round out the tactical level of putting services in place.
New requests go to the project management office, and a grid helps determine the level of a request and which tier it goes to. Projects with the biggest impact and highest amount of effort to carry out, for example, go straight to ITSAC.
Much of the tier model was based on Yale, which Weil said is doing a great job in IT governance.
When it came to the new strategic plan, McIntosh and his team crammed its development into only 327 days. Let that sink in for a minute.
“I would never do that again in my life. That was crazier than all get out," McIntosh said.
With four themes, 17 goals and 65 objectives, the plan was shaped and informed by external and internal factors, including a listening tour and survey, and is designed to be carried out over 5 years. At the core of its themes is "Organization, Infrastructure and Services," providing a solid foundation for efforts around "Teaching and Learning with Technology," "Campus Engagement," and "Operational Innovation."
McIntosh utilized an inclusive and comprehensive process, aiming to create and implement a strategy that provided a framework for the college to transform — and he mandated that everybody on the team have a hand in it. At the end of the day, the plan had to develop a roadmap for employing tech resources focused on institutional priorities, improve services and support and focus on campus communication.
“I gave a lot of responsibility to a lot of different people,” he said.
The full strategic plan can be found on the Ithaca DIIS website.
Weil admitted to those in attendance that the service catalog is the cornerstone with the least amount of progress made thus far. But the efforts behind it are helping to clarify to the rest of the campus what exactly the IT office can do.
The background may sound familiar to a lot of administrators: Over the years, the department continually added services without assessing or eliminating old services, and it reached a point where people both inside and outside of IT didn’t know what services it provided.
Rethinking that list of services, however, can also be critical in informing an organization’s redesign. So McIntosh and Weil did extensive research of what other schools were doing, finding additional support in the Educause Center for Analysis and Research Higher Education IT Services Catalog report published around the time work on this cornerstone began.
The formal process to identify and catalog all services IT provided is ongoing and has included a fair amount of debate over what exactly constitutes a service.
Part of that process has involved defining four categories of services: External (provided for campus), foundational (internal services to enable external services), processes (which support the above), resources (which support processes). From there, services have been sorted by themes, and those deemed unnecessary eliminated.
Though the effort has been on hold, Weil hopes to get back to it in the spring in addition to identifying the best platform for publishing and distribution.
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