Educause Midwest (MWRC07)

Our dean, working through our provost, asked me and a bunch of other folks from Western to attend Educause Midwest 2007 to learn some interesting things we can do to improve our IT climate. I’m not going to try to liveblog the conference (I’m spending my spare time grading, and wireless in the hotel is flaky anyway) but I wanted to put down a few quick impressions. (I’ll update this post with links later.)

  • This afternoon, an outstanding poster session on Linux-based wireless network infrastructure by Ethan Sommer, a sysadmin from Gustavus Adolphus. With a bunch of Linksys nodes, they created a secure and pretty robust wireless network for a fraction of the cost estimated by “proper” vendors–$16,000 instead of $92,000.
  • This morning, a good but discouraging session on the web accessibility of content management systems. Summary: Sakai, WebCT, and Desire2Learn all have pretty serious barriers to access, and though some are getting better, there’s a lot of work left to do. The good news is that folks like Jon Gunderson at Illinois are reaching out to vendors with the hope of getting some of the more serious problems resolved.
  • Yesterday, a very well-done talk from two folks at the University of South Dakota who’ve used a variety of measurement techniques (dashboard indicators, woo) to improve the quality of both everyday support (helpdesk) and major projects in IT. Two critical points: (1) every helpdesk call automatically gets a confirmation email when it’s initiated, and a customer satisfaction survey when it’s closed. (2) While at first IT staff mistrusted the tracking and reporting requirements, it soon became apparent they produced as much good news as bad; the measurement provides a way for IT staff to see palpable indicators of their work, and counter some of the Sisphyean elements of work in IT.

So far, a few lessons for WIU:

  1. We need a CIO. I don’t want to make a bazillion-administrator university, but our lack of leadership in this area is palpable. It seems like every other session included or mentioned a CIO, and one of the most frequent things I heard is, “We couldn’t have done X if our CIO hadn’t cut through the red tape…”
  2. We don’t do enough self-analysis of our IT culture (or lack thereof), nor enough to encourage the development of one. I’m not only talking here about helpdesk performance, but assessment in general: what are we doing? Why?
  3. The much-ballyhooed consolidation of IT needs to proceed. I’ve talked to enough folks who’ve done it successfully to realize the dangers far outweigh the benefits. Some offered to share their materials and methodologies. And it’s not like we’d be committed to one structure; over three to ten years the particulars of centralized IT administration could be fine-tuned.
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4 Responses to Educause Midwest (MWRC07)

  1. Dean says:

    “… every helpdesk call automatically gets a confirmation email when it’s initiated…” Common sense customer service. We have that capability with the present help desk software, but it is not being used.

    Your three lessons are good ones. I think that a CIO with an education background would have a huge impact on IT culture at WIU. A CIO who can talk about ‘six nines’ as well as the importance of IT in academics. Among the comments I receive from faculty is that assessment (measurement) is still missing in the publicly accessible draft of the IT plan. After earning two graduate degrees from WIU, and meeting a lot of faculty members in the process, I get a lot of comments directed my way. If the CIO does not come from an education background, perhaps it would be wise to have an associate or assistant CIO for educational technologies. Someone to bridge the gap if you will.

    There is a sizable gap between ‘corporate’ IT and ‘educational’ IT philosophy that is often overlooked. One is centered only on the IT area while the other takes the entire organization into focus. It’s amazing how people cannot tell the two apart. IMHO, of course.

  2. cbd says:

    Dean, yes, the software USD uses is good ol’ Frontrange HEAT. So whatever they do is likely possible at Western.

    I’ve been looking at peer institutions and several of them use the “two headed” model you speak of: one person with management/business experience and one faculty member. Some schools put the faculty member on top; others the manager.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean about an IT philosophy gap. Do you think schools should to take an organization-wide view of IT, but often don’t?

  3. Dean Roberts says:

    It isn’t a philosophy gap as much as it is a difference in philosophy. I should have slept more last week. Corporate IT likes to retain control within a relatively small group. That works better within a corporate environment due to the amount of control leveraged to IT by upper management. Most of the other people in the corporate organization do not necessarily have any input into IT decisions, and most may not even care as long as their desktops are in working order. Current research shows patterns of change within corporate IT, such as cooperating with other departments on IT decisions, having IT advisory panel input, opening up direct lines of communication between IT management and the organization, etc. I am working on a web page listing all of the IT management articles I read while earning my MBA so that others can have a roadmap.

    Higher Ed IT can be seen as the exact opposite. Faculty, staff, and students in higher education thrive on having the ability to help create IT policy and they expect an open line of communication between IT and themselves. Pete Siegel, Vice Provost for Information and Educational Technologies and CIO at the University of California at Davis, is an excellent example of a CIO who understands IT in higher education. Of all the CIOs I researched while earning my MBA, Pete Siegel stood out as an excellent communicator. He also reorganized all of the IT units at UIUC into an integrated information technologies and educational services unit when he was CIO on that campus.

    I hope that when the time comes for WIU to hire a CIO, the people tasked with interviewing the candidates are diligent. That is assuming that a CIO is hired and there is an actual search.

  4. cbd says:

    Thanks, Dean; I’d love to see that web page. Have you thought about using CiteULike? If you are getting things out of online databases, that make it easy. I’d love to see it in any form.

    You’ve pointed me to Siegel’s work before. Folks I know at UIUC speak highly of him.

    A national search for a CIO would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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