Reallocating Scarce Resources to Improve Infrastructure Reliability
CIOs in higher education face several barriers, most notably the decentralized IT structure and vertical integration of services. When I joined the university over 10 years ago, many administrative and academic units managed their own servers, performed much of their own technical support and hired students to develop applications for basic business functions. Within Central IT, Service Owners operated in silos, managing the entire service, from server deployment, to software installation, to training and customer support, themselves, which created unreliable infrastructure, inconsistent level of support and inefficient use of resources.
The first step in addressing the problem was introducing specialization and standardization in Central IT: creating teams responsible for server administration, application delivery, customer support, etc. Consistent server builds performed by a group of experts increased infrastructure reliability and freed up valuable resources to take on new initiatives.
The second step was consolidation of services. That entailed trust building with the units across the campus, convincing them that Central IT can provide higher quality support at reduced cost, and delivering on that promise. This positioned us for server virtualization, which over the years resulted in a considerable cost savings.
Over time we were able to improve the reliability of our infrastructure while reallocating scarce human and capital resources to new initiatives. We began with addressing foundational initiatives, which, if designed properly would not only address campus needs at that point in time, but would position us for the future, such as rollout of campus wifi and deployment of sophisticated account and access provisioning system.
For any CIO the goal of aligning IT organization and services with strategic priorities of the enterprise may present a challenge. In public higher education campus it is even more challenging, since our institutions do not operate on the ROI principles, and since many decisions are decentralized and driven by departmental and sometimes individual initiatives. To address this challenge, we developed strong IT Governance and robust Strategic Planning process, seeking as broad representation of the needs and ideas as possible, frequently surveying our constituents to identify trends.
We also understood that while we were aligning our services with the needs of the majority, the innovation often occurs at a small group, or even at an individual level. To foster innovation, we partnered with faculty and staff and invest a modest amount of resources in pilots and trials. Some ideas succeeded and got incorporated into a campus-wide service, some remain niche technologies and serve a select group of customers (like Student Response System), and some fade (like Second Life).
In summary, reliable infrastructure, limited budgets, and growth and innovation are not mutually exclusive. All three goals are achievable, as we seek efficiencies in our operational budgets, reallocate saved resources to new initiatives, and foster partnerships at all levels of the organization.