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Notes: Being Responsible and Creative in Financially Challenging Times Discussion Session at Western Regional Conference

NOTES for the "Being responsible and creative in Financially Challenging Times" discussion session (WRC09)

Notes provided by Mark Cianca, Director, Applications & Project Management, Information Technology Services, University of California, Santa Cruz

Facilitators:       Mark Askren, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Administrative Computing Services (UC Irvine) and Helen Chu, Director, Academic Technology (University of Oregon)

Format:               Starting with questions, rather than positing ideas. After the initial group forms, introductions.

1.       First Question: Who experienced a permanent budget cut this year. ALL

2.       Next Question: Who expects another permanent budget cut next year. ALL

3.       Next: Who has a hiring freeze on campus this year? All, with most expressing “special exceptions” as needed.

4.       Next: Travel Cuts or Freezes: All

Introductions: Name, Title/Focus, Institution, and Greatest Concern

Summary of concerns in current environment

Retention issues

How do you deal with projects in place

How can I be financially responsible while not devastating the services I choose to cut? The communication mechanism relative to this activity doesn’t seem to exist.

We’ve been lean for so long, how can we continue to absorb reductions?

Folks look at IT as a big expenditure, therefore as a source of “cost savings”. Though there are efficiencies, there isn’t money to give back.

How do we keep staff motivated and engaged in the work when there are cuts coming? How do we do less with less?

An IT consumer wanted to talk about how best to talk to IT about the functional office’s needs when there are fewer resources available.

There’s a need to keep the emerging technologies active. This school cut 1% more than was asked for so that they could create a fund to continue funding the most important points of innovation.

It’s critical that IT stop making the decisions about what we keep or don’t keep. It’s critical that we bring our constituents

Not sure how I respond to ANY of this since I’m the idea guy who is always looking for ways to get my ideas funded.

How do we get past the fear of the recession? There is a deep emotional connection to this event that makes this personal in a way that previous recessions haven’t.

Mark observed that the demand for services in the past was a little easier to accommodate. The freezes on hiring and travel is tough on morale. Our ability to recruit the best and to retain them is curtailed. How far does this go til the majority who can get other positions chose to do so?

It’s possible that we’ve seen a permanent shift. Maybe the model we’re used to (the 10 year cycle) is no longer the same. We will have a recovery, sure, but it’s possible that we’re not going to recover in the same way.  He thinks we’re at a crossroads. We can either continue our fiefdoms or we can change and survive. Look at commodity services and differentiate those from the services we really need to provide at the University.

How do we not only cope with this situation, but are there ways we can learn from each other and find new ways of doing business? Is this the time we look at the sacred cows afresh? We’re at a point where we can no longer get the easy wins. We have to reduce head count, do less with less, and still apply the creativity that Higher Ed is known for.

If ever there was a time to be aligned to the strategic mission of the institution, this is it. Best practices need to give way to good enough practices. Collaboration is critical and needs to be a huge focus.

Helen talked about her experiences with a non faith based funding model. She’s worked in CSU and in Oregon since then, and her experience still shows that a great argument presented regardless of the financial climate, means you will get the funding you really, truly need.

The folks from Nevada, now that they are armed with a service catalog, have rationalized the costs associated with each of the services that they offer. Creating metrics around services doesn’t guarantee that the host institution will know how to read or react to those figures.  Metrics provide data, they don’t track value, which is where the institution really needs to weigh in on the process.

The conversation turned a bit to the fact that as a practice, Higher Ed IT doesn’t have a common set of IT service delivery metrics that would allow an apples to apples comparison of service delivery costs (what’s the per transaction cost for HR in Michigan vs. Oregon vs. California?)

On the topic of keeping staff motivated:

Give them challenging work that also provides value and meaning to the University. We all want to feel that our work is making a difference. Don’t lose sight of this in the budget conversations.

On the topic of getting staff to accept the notion of doing less:

How do we empower staff to say “no” to their clientele? The Registrar rep from UCB talked about how they have set expectations that the functional reps go meet with IT staff now, not vice versa.  Other than this, not a lot of ideas generated in this topic.

On the topic of innovation:

CalPoly did something called iWeek, or innovation week, in their library IT operation.  This week was declared with little advance notice, and folks were asked to clear their calendars to make this happen.

The hour passed quickly, and we were reminded that the notes would be posted at the conference web site.

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