IT Strategic Plan

Goal #1: Improve CMU's technical infrastructure and operations.

Initiative #1: We will review CMU's model for provisioning and staffing information technology.

Before 1997, the Office of Information Technology was the only information technology (IT) unit at CMU, and all technical support was provided by OIT.  In 1997, however, CMU implemented its version of Responsibility Centered Management (RCM), which placed considerable budgetary responsibility in the academic colleges and changed many of the budgetary practices of the institution.  At the same time, largely because of these budgetary changes, the first information technology resources began to be created in the academic colleges and large administrative units.  Today, the IT model in place at CMU consists of a centralized IT group (OIT) that provides services that reach across CMU, while independent IT units exist in each of the academic colleges and a number of business units.  This distributed IT model was last reviewed in 2005.  Feedback and data collected during our planning process suggest that it is again time to conduct such a review.

CMU participates annually in the ECAR Core Data Survey, maintained by the Educause organization, US higher education's primary technology professional organization.  In comparing CMU's IT staffing against that of the CMU's Office of Institutional Research's official benchmark institutions using data from the 2013 Core Data Survey, there are two inescapable conclusions to be drawn.  The first is that IT at CMU is generally understaffed compared to its benchmark institutions (CMU - 137.50, Benchmarks - 163.23).  The second is that IT resources at CMU are considerably more distributed than is the case in its benchmark institutions.  At CMU, the percentage of IT staff reporting to OIT is 47.30%, while the percentage of IT staff at our benchmark institutions that report to the central IT unit is 76.10%.  
There are undeniable benefits to the distributed IT model currently in place, not the least of which is that it has brought a large number of highly qualified, highly skilled IT professionals to CMU.  Because the distributed IT groups report directly to their business unit (including colleges), the needs of the business unit are foremost in the distributed IT group's responsibilities.  There is no doubt that the closeness of the relationship between CMU business units and their IT groups have allowed our business units to address the needs of their students, faculty, and staff in very direct and responsive ways.  It's also important to note that the relationship between IT units is generally very good, and satisfaction levels for existing services are high.

But there are also significant problems.  Beyond the reality that the juxtaposition of the two data points noted above suggests that OIT may be unable to deliver the university's centralized services at levels commensurate with those at our benchmark institutions, there are also a number of campus-wide services that OIT simply does not have the funding to deliver.  This manifests itself in significant ways that are directly reflected in the criticisms of campus IT collected as a part of our strategic planning.  

As an example, many of the criticisms spoke to the reality of IT inequities across campus, like those found in the provision of support for computers, tablets, mobile phones, and other technology devices.  Many of the distributed IT groups have plans established and funding set aside for the annual replacement and maintenance of the devices used by their faculty and staff.   A staff member in one of these units expects to have a technician at their desk in short order when they have a problem, and, because the cost is borne by the business unit, they don't have to be concerned about (and don't see) the cost of that service.  Most of the business units that do not have their own IT support, though, particularly smaller administrative offices, rely on OIT for their support.  Because the OIT service is not funded, but paid for entirely by charge-backs to the business unit, the resulting perception of staff in these units is that they have to "pay" for IT support while others don't.  This leads to the unfortunately reality that many administrative offices don't plan or budget for technology refresh, and they don't call OIT for support until they face absolute disaster.  It is a reality at CMU that we sometimes find our most important business offices using technology that will not effectively run the most recent versions of our centralized administrative software.

We also find ourselves unable to provide training on the technologies most visible on campus.  This is one of the most reported criticisms of faculty and staff in the feedback collected .  Perhaps, as the metrics suggest, IT at CMU is simply not funded adequately to provide the training that faculty, staff, and students require.  It is certainly the case that OIT does not have the funding to provide training, Human Resources and FaCIT have eliminated much of their support for technology training through past rounds of budget reduction, and distributed IT groups are not charged specifically with training responsibilities related to centralized IT systems - though many do provide this service when they can find time.  This can be a particular problem regarding the academic use of technology, where there is no single provider or solution path available to faculty.  While the IT community has found ways to manage most of the challenges that result from this arrangement, faculty are sometimes frustrated with how difficult it can be to find a technical solution for something they want to do in their classes or to support their research. 

Our broadly distributed IT environment also creates significant confusion for students.  Students report being totally baffled by the differences that confront them as they move between various campus labs - where the login process, the look of the desktop, and the software that's installed might all vary significantly from one lab to another.  When faced with these differences, the explanation that the labs are managed by different groups is simply meaningless and frustrating to them.

While some of the problems identified above might be addressed by additional funding, the budgetary realities of the coming years suggest that this approach is not practical. Instead, during FY14, we will engage a consultant to assist in examining the roles, responsibilities, staffing, and service levels of the various CMU IT groups.  The goal of this examination will be to identify and recommend an IT provisioning model that best provides the widest possible range of services at the most reasonable cost and balances the centralized IT needs of the institution with the more unique needs of the individual business units.  Appropriate follow-up steps stemming from this examination will be scheduled for FY15 and FY16.

Finally, as we discuss the provisioning of IT across campus, we cannot lose sight of the growing IT needs of the new College of Medicine (CMED), whose curricular, clinical, and research expectations are reliant on a highly-capable information technology infrastructure.  During FY13, the Office of Information Technology collaborated closely with CMED to prepare for the arrival Fall 2013 inaugural class. During FY14, we will work closely with the administration of the College of Medicine to develop a plan for appropriate technical staffing and resourcing to support CMED operations through FY16.  The ultimate goal of this plan, which will be heavily informed by the outcomes of the general provisioning review, will be to determine a way to deliver IT services to CMED faculty, staff, and students in as highly leveraged and cost-effective a manner as possible.          

Initiative #2: We will improve the reliability and effectiveness of CMU's network and primary systems.

Conduct regular reviews of critical enterprise applications

It is critical to CMU's success that it has a portfolio of IT services that work for the institution and for its community. For this reason, we will conduct regular and systematic reviews of the primary components of our service portfolio to ensure that we are providing services of adequate quality that meet the needs of our community at acceptable cost.   
During FY14, we will initiate reviews of the components of our online teaching and learning environment (Blackboard, podcasting, web collaboration and conferencing, and/or the CMU Virtual Lab) and some or all components of our primary student-related administrative systems (student records, financial aid, housing).  Should a determination be made to move forward with any of these components, they will be scheduled in subsequent years of this plan.

Increase the reliability of primary systems

There are two primary contributors or aspects to the reliability of IT systems.  The first, the focus of this particular initiative, is the physical assets themselves, as well as the manner in which those assets are configured within the university's IT architecture.  The second aspect, called out in the following initiative, is the manner in which IT processes are structured and the ways in which IT staff respond to those processes.  In the fall of 2013, we are bringing a Gartner consultant to campus to help us better understand our current options for architecting and operating Blackboard in a more reliable way.  We expect this visit to inform both this and the following initiative and anticipate following up on this visit with the construction of a FY14-FY16 roadmap for implementation of any resulting recommendations.  This roadmap will almost certainly include plans for adding additional systems redundancies, making adjustments to network design and traffic, and implementing single sign-on (SSO) more broadly. 

Refresh the CMU network 

The CMU network requires considerable investment in coming years if it is to continue to provide reliable, high-quality service.  In FY06, the value of the CMU network infrastructure was about $7 million.  Through the opening of new academic buildings and residence halls, a major network overhaul in FY06-FY07 that brought wireless networking to campus, and the rapid increases in wireless density required to keep wireless networking functional and relevant since its installation, the current value of the CMU network has more than doubled and now sits at just under $15 million.  The next five years will require the replacement of all of the infrastructure put in place in the FY06-FY07 project as well as much of the equipment installed between FY07 and FY12 - a projected total replacement cost of $10,343,254 through FY19. OIT has approximately $300,000 in network funds and augments that budget with service order revenues whenever possible, but this funding may not be adequate to maintain the network at present standards and quality.  

Revise our facilities plan following opening of new data center

FY14 will see the occupation of our new data center, completed in June of 2013.  We expect this new facility to provide relief from the unanticipated downtime we've experienced over past years in Foust Hall as a result of facility related failings in HVAC, electrical, and environmental systems.  The Office of Information Technology moved all of its assets into the new data center on July 4, 2013, and most distributed campus IT units will move their servers and storage into the new data center before September 1, 2013.  Other FY14 facilities-related projects include the remodeling of the vacated machine room space in the basement of Foust to accommodate OIT use, as well as the installation of final security and networking redundancies in the new data center.  In FY15, we expect to explore the transfer of our disaster recovery assets from their current Southfield location to a new machine room planned in CMU's East Campus facility.  In FY16, f small machine room there, we will relocate our disaster recovery site from Southfield to East Campus.

Leverage Microsoft Office 365 to develop and deliver a campus-wide storage strategy

OIT migrated students and alumni into Microsoft's online offering, Office 365, in August of 2013.  In FY14, we will examine selective incorporation of two of the additional services available through this offering at no cost to CMU - the possible move of faculty and staff into the email service and the positioning of SkyDrivePro in the university's storage environment.  Alongside our consideration of the positioning of SkyDrivePro, we will build a plan for the overall university storage environment to provide secure, reliable storage for the university's HIPAA and research data, as well as scalable, general purpose storage for campus-wide use.  Any actions recommended in this plan will be scheduled and implemented beginning in late FY14.

Prepare for the replacement of the telephone switch

A significant focus of this initiative will be the eventual replacement of the existing telephone switch, which has been pronounced end-of-life.  The switch is functioning very well, we have a large number of replacement parts, and we anticipate that support will remain available for some time.  Unfortunately, our switch is built on old technology, and any replacement will require not only new Voice over IP (VOIP) technology, but added budgetary consideration for ongoing licensing (not a part of the model supporting the current switch).  In the fall of 2014, to prepare ourselves for the inevitable migration to VOIP, we will begin a pilot of VOIP technology with selected campus partners.  During FY14 and FY15, we will prepare a plan for broader campus rollout of the VOIP technology and finalize a new telecom service cost model to support the introduction of new VOIP services.
The projects in this initiative support all priorities within the CMU Strategic Plan but tie most directly to Infrastructure Stewardship.  Also, each shift in technology infrastructure allows us to address strategic opportunities to enable the mobility of faculty, staff, and students; better manage our data; and find more effective and/or less expensive ways to deliver our services.  We will use benchmarking and survey results to determine the effectiveness of this initiative.

Initiative #3: We will streamline our internal work, placing an emphasis on getting things done and communicating effectively with campus.

Process review 

It is certainly important that we design and deliver reliable IT systems to campus, but campus satisfaction with IT services also requires a complex mixture of communicating clear expectations concerning the delivery of those services, working as efficiently as possible to deliver them, and communicating effectively with the campus about changes.  
Managing the delivery of and the communication about our services to our community is difficult when those services are supported in one respect or another by more than one IT group.  Regardless of whether a service is offered by a single campus IT group or shared among two or more, our messaging to the campus community regarding engagement with the service must be clear and unambiguous.  Beginning in FY14 and extending over the life of this plan, CMU will organize the work conducted by campus IT units into a revised, written Service Catalog containing publicly available service delivery outlines that will identify reasonable expectations for each IT service, provide simple instructions for engaging with the service, and clarify responsibilities of all parties involved in its delivery.
Because most IT communication is an outcome of an IT process - management of projects, management of incidents/outages (planned or unplanned), or management of changes to the university IT environment, as examples - the improvement of IT's communication with campus necessarily requires that IT review the way it conducts its day-to-day work.   We expect the Fall 2013 consultant's report noted above to recommend a number of changes to our core work processes.  Our subsequent review and alteration of those processes will provide an opportunity to identify and address the communications failings of those processes.  Following receipt of the consulting report, then, we will construct a roadmap for process review and revision designed to implement both the recommendations of the consultant and improved communications outcomes.
Systems uptime and availability, as well as survey results, will be used to document the success of this initiative. Also, as each process is redesigned, we anticipate the construction of metrics designed to track the effectiveness of the process itself.

Automation of systems maintenance and monitoring

Over the past three years, through a dedicated effort to identify and automate our routine work, we've made considerable advances in workload reduction.  The upkeep of many campus servers managed by OIT is now automated and all critical production systems are extensively and actively monitored.  Over the life of this plan, we expect to expand both the automation of our routine maintenance and our monitoring environment through leverage of the Microsoft Systems Center Operations Management product (SCOM) - available to us at no additional cost through our Microsoft Campus Agreement.  SCOM is already running in our environment, and we expect to engage with consulting later this year to build a plan for integrating it more thoroughly into our environment.

Similarly, we are planning to further explore Microsoft's Systems Center Configuration Management product (SCCM) - also available to us through our Campus Agreement - as a solution that might be leveraged across the campus IT environment to address a wide range of technology-related maintenance issues  - expanded software deployment services, management of critical patches, power management for energy savings, management of technology inventory, and management of critical licensing.  SCCM has been part of the campus IT environment for a number of years, and we plan to engage with Microsoft Premiere Services and all campus IT units later this year to build a plan for integrating it more thoroughly into our environment in a way that respects local control and management preferences.
The projects in this initiative support all priorities within the CMU Strategic Plan, but tie most directly to Quality Faculty and Staff (in support of any training needs) and Infrastructure Stewardship.  Systems uptime and availability, as well as survey results, will be used to document the success of this initiative. ​