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Describe the strategic issues of Information Technology.

Describe the strategic issues of Information Technology.

Major issues
Over the past decade, Information Technology organizations  have made steady progress and have managed to maintain a satisfactory level of service despite limited resources. Significant improvements have occurred in the area of external networking, web applications, consolidated funding for IT Utilities, and system standardization across affiliate . However, much remains to be done. This section outlines the major issues that are confronting  and which drive the prioritization of goals, strategies, and actions.
•   Infrastructure
o   Data centers
o   Network
•   IT culture and management
•   Academic and research computing
•   Enterprise computing systems
Staff support

Funding for IT across the company  provides for steady state operations and maintenance, perhaps not at the level desired and not consistently across sectors, but with some success. However, that funding does not cover major upgrades that must occur to ensure the IT infrastructure can support 24/7 operations with minimal downtime.
Portions of the central IT infrastructure are now past the vulnerable stage and well into the risk stage, posing a threat to business continuity and the security of  intellectual property. There are also significant inefficiencies associated with the use and maintenance of out-of-date environments and equipment. The primary areas of concern are the central IT data centers in the core network.
Data Centers
Data centers, facilities which are specifically designed to house servers, network equipment, and storage devices, are the hub of information technology activity that impacts the work and study life of every campus constituent. Depending on the level and redundancy of power, network connectivity, cooling, environmental controls, and security, data centers are rated as Tier 1 through Tier 4.

Compounding the data center problems  is the fact that there are 21 additional data centers on , maintained by distributed IT personnel. Each of these centers requires space, energy, and dedicated personnel. Resource sharing, in terms of data archival, virtualized servers, and systems administration, is currently not part of the enterprise IT culture
A major network project over the past several years has been the implementation of the provides high-speed connectivity , both nationally and internationally. This very successful project has shown network leadership at the national level.  

The issue that the  faces is that the core campus network capabilities are not adequate to take advantage  to the fullest extent possible. Funding for core network upgrades such as the replacement of core switches and a new firewall is virtually nonexistent. Central IT funding covers operational costs but significant capital expenses are problematic and often delayed beyond the equipment’s expected lifespan.

IT culture and management
Two major objectives of the IT strategic planning process are to examine the role of IT and to determine ways in which IT can be better organized, advised, and funded. With the infusion of technology in all aspects of  life and with the rapid change in the availability of tools and services, it is clear that IT can play a stronger role on campus, partnering with the various sectors to understand and implement appropriate technology. The questions for IT at UM are whether and when to move towards a stronger leadership role. With increasing financial and competitive pressures, we must investigate ways to improve the decision-making process to avoid redundancy and, where possible, share resources across the enterprise. Organizational and governance structures are at the heart of this issue and must be addressed in the IT plan.
While there are exceptions, Information Technology  has not reached beyond the level of a service center into the role of true partnership with the academic, research, or student life sectors. The SWOT exercise indicates that, even at the service center level, enterprise IT must make significant improvements to ensure efficiency, reliability, and consistency of service.
From a service delivery perspective, IT processes and procedures err on the side of ad hoc versus formal and group-specific versus standardized. Service level agreements are beginning to be put in place but are not the norm. Multiple problem tracking systems are in use and communication with customers is not consistent. Systems for tracking servers, network equipment, and other assets along with their status are not in place. Finally, collaborative working groups involving staff across enterprise IT are in their infancy. Trust between the various IT groups must be built over time to foster these emerging working groups.
Traditionally, though again with exceptions, the culture of IT  has been one of service rather than leadership. While partnerships between other sectors, are commonplace, collaborative projects between other sectors and central IT are occasional. For IT to become a true partner, contributing the full potential of technology in support of institutional goals, a culture shift will is required at all levels, from staff to management.

The organization of IT  is not very different from peer institutions. For example, central IT continues to manage two academic labs and one open lab while Academic Affairs manages sixty five academic labs.
As important as organization, the IT governance structure of  aids in the prioritization of resources and can lead to a more collaborative, as well as potentially more efficient, approach to IT decision-making. IT advisory groups, tasked to view IT from a campus perspective, can help balance the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ environment associated with a silo approach to technology.
Currently the IT governance structure  is limited. The academic, administrative, and identity advisory committees have not met for several years There is a serious need for a robust IT governance structure, one that is more comprehensive in scope and more collaborative in terms of enterprise IT involvement.
While a broad review of enterprise IT funding could be valuable, the most pressing requirement is a reassessment of the means by which central IT is funded. The current model for funding central IT activities beyond certain state salary funds is campus chargebacks for telephone and network services. In particular, the port charge is an irritant on campus. To avoid a port charge, departments are opting for wireless service which is cheaper but provides far less bandwidth on a per person basis – often insufficient for departmental needs. With intent to maximize network resources, so critical to today’s work environment, a funding structure that results in better decision-making should be found.

Resources for research computing are controlled entirely by the research organizations. With a lack of centralized IT support it is understandable that well-funded research groups would develop their own computing environments. However, the result of a totally decentralized approach to research computing is a dearth of resources for new and less well-funded research activities. Discussions regarding research computing requirements, the need for secure computing facilities, and the potential for shared use of high performance servers and data archival facilities could result in a consolidated quest for the requisite resources.

Enterprise Computing Systems
There are several issues associated with enterprise computing systems . The first is the lack of governance. The second is the lack of a standard interface to Banner—enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. And the third is the degree to which Banner has been modified, leading to an enormous ongoing investment in UM-specific code.
The purchase and management of enterprise applications is widely distributed at UM with the various sectors taking responsibility for systems most pertinent to their area. While there may be inefficiencies associated with the provision of support for each of these systems across the campus, the primary issue is the lack of a campus-wide enterprise application advisory group. The purpose of such a group would be to ensure that each proposed application met certain criteria relating to security, identity management, and Banner integration and to prevent application redundancy. For example, it  is currently supporting twelve room scheduling systems, four email systems, and multiple reporting systems, all of which could be consolidated to free up support resources across the sectors. Without cohesive oversight there is little/no short or long term planning for the enterprise as a whole. As an example of a short term issue, central IT has no sign-off on the purchase of systems but is often expected to provide both identity management and Banner integration services without prior knowledge of the coming workload. From a long term perspective, there is no clear campus direction in terms of the procurement or implementation of application functionality which in turn enforces the sector approach to the fulfillment of requirements.
Over time, with the implementation of numerous systems that require an interface to Banner, multiple approaches to that interface have been developed. As systems are upgraded, the individual interfaces must be maintained. There is a need to assess whether a standardized, service oriented architecture, could be developed.

The third issue relative to enterprise computing systems is the degree to which the UM Banner system has been modified over the last twenty years. Early on these modifications were required to provide the functionality desired by the campus but the practice of adding code rather than adapting business practices has resulted in a system that is far from baseline. A large department is required to maintain these modifications as the system moves through version upgrades and transitions in operating systems. Moving to a baseline system would free up resources to be used to support the increasingly complex array of enterprise systems .

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Leo Lingham


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