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:
- 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…”
- 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?
- 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.