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CIOs and Campus IT: Summer Technology Projects, by Theresa Rowe

Theresa Rowe is CIO at Oakland University.

Summer is a busy and exciting time for advancement of new tech initiatives and tech renewal projects. Campus CIOs generally expect to handle a mix of change-oriented projects during the summer, despite many programs and courses operating all summer. The mix of good weather in many parts of the country and reduced expectations for traditional support make summer an ideal time for change. CIOs shared their summer tech projects in an Educause CIO list discussion.

New Academic Building Construction/Building Renovation

Despite all the online learning initiatives on our campuses, new and renovated academic facility projects are very popular. Construction for academic buildings involves both technology infrastructure and systems projects. Often we spend the first summer in planning and design, and the second summer actively finishing IT projects in the new building, and we shared news about both project stages.

Technology infrastructure involves providing network connectivity to the campus backbone, wiring for voice, data, video, environmental, security / alarm systems, and wireless access. Planning for the right number of ports is just the basic plan. We have to implement the right network architecture, create network design suited to purpose, manage VLANs and firewalls, and evaluate the density of wireless access, in buildings that have a mix of classrooms, offices, labs, and learning spaces.

A specific type of academic building will bring customized IT requirements. Bill Betlej at Mary Baldwin College reported opening a new 60,000 sq. ft. home for the College of Health Sciences. Oakland University opened a similar facility, a Human Health Building, in 2012. Rob Paterson at Molloy College and others report planning comparable buildings. These modern facilities require the implementation of new specific systems and solutions; at Mary Baldwin College, ten new software systems were added to their support structure. Programs moving to new facilities expect lecture capture, simulation labs, telepresence or web-conferencing, updated classroom presentation and podium systems, digital signage, electronic door access controls and integrated security systems, and unified communication or voice-over-IP telephones. On the Oakland University campus, even the new Elliott Bell Tower needs a network connection.

Opening a new building can quickly multiply the number of systems the IT department supports, as back-funding to bring the entire campus up to the new building standard is often not available.

New Residence Halls

Campuses report building and renovating residence halls, too. Lifestyle networking expectations are different from academic expectations, given increases in Netflix viewing and multiplayer gaming. Network bandwidth and capacity planning are difficult challenges. Some campuses are reporting network outsourcing as a way to meet service expectations.

Security Architecture

We are actively improving the security on our campuses. Several campuses shared projects involving new systems for door access controls, integrated with ID card systems or integrated with intruder detection and alarm systems. Updated or new Network Access Control systems are included in active security projects. Shared project talk includes upgrades to firewalls. Several CIOs mentioned reviewing or advancing identity access management projects.

How does parking fit with technology? Parking presents an updated view of security and security systems. When campuses renew parking areas or build new parking structures, IT security projects are involved, including surveillance camera systems and emergency phones. These systems run over the campus IP network and require network planning and extension.

Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade

How many upgrades can we get done in a summer window, planned around vacations and holiday breaks? A wide variety of software upgrades are generally accomplished.

Learning management systems are often upgraded. Campuses report upgrading Moodle to releases 2.5 or above. Sakai has an active community involved with implementation of the new release 10.0. Other campuses are evaluating the next steps on their learning management systems path.

If course schedule offerings are reduced in summer, many CIOs take advantage of easy classroom access to do classroom technology upgrades. This is challenging, as we need to make sure we allow time for faculty to learn new functions before the start of classes.

The campus ERP solution will typically require several module upgrades, such as Student, Admissions, or Finance; the underlying database will also require upgrades (on our campus, we are tracking over 25 separate ERP module upgrades).

We are upgrading portals and implementing content management systems. Some report redesigning campus websites. Responsive web design and mobile initiatives are driving these changes.

Many campuses run Microsoft technologies, requiring upgrade, such as upgrades to Exchange 2013 or SharePoint 2013; some are migrating to Office 365.

New Services and Capabilities

There’s a bit of risk in changing services too much, too fast, or introducing new processes that disrupt fall reentry. Gary Schwartz, Director, Communications & Middleware Technologies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, shared approaches to communicate summer changes to the university community.

Those summer changes can affect every constituent. Collectively, we are implementing self-service request processes, such as online transcript requests. Online billing systems are actively being updated.

New integrations among systems, designed to improve efficiency, are being implemented. Document management projects are underway on several campuses. Process efficiency is a popular project goal.

Universities report implementing or upgrading constituent (customer) relationship management systems (CRM). These systems typically target student recruiting or alumni. Some report CRM implementations that take a campus-wide view. Initiatives that improve connections with our communities are popular.

Infrastructure Behind the Curtain

We are engaged in many infrastructure and technology projects; we are working to keep the data center relevant and operational. Selected server replacement, implementation of load balancing, adding or upgrading hardware in virtual architectures, and implementing new SAN or storage upgrades indicate technology renewal and capacity expansion projects.

We are implementing increased network bandwidth. We are engaged in wireless upgrades to the 802.11ac standard, but also increasing the density of wireless access points to meet service expectations.

Even if we don’t have a new building driving it, we still are evaluating the direction of our campus telephone systems and services, making sure we get the best rates on our PRI, and planning transitions.

Summer is a time to replace or upgrade client computers in both offices and labs. Even a perceived stable service, such as print management and pay-for-print, is being reevaluated and restructured on a few campuses.

The IT Organization

Several CIOs mentioned leadership transitions on their campuses and reviewing governance models. Not all change planning is technically oriented. CIOs shared news changing spending management approaches and funding model review. Overall, CIOs are over-seeing and planning for all kinds of changes.

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Did anyone have time for a vacation? It sounded like a very busy summer on our campuses.

© 2014 Theresa Rowe