Staying Power

When the outspoken M. Lewis Temares talks about priorities, it’s security, VoIP, and—most of all—listening to his ‘customer’ that top his list.

There’s nothing typical about M. Lewis Temares. As VP of IT at the University of Miami, Temares’ track record as an IT professional is virtually unmatched in higher education. He joined the university in 1980, became the first CIO in higher education in 1989, and gained VP-level distinction in 1991. His keen focus on business continuity helps the university to survive fierce hurricanes, and his unconventional view of the software sector has saved the university millions of dollars in licensing and consulting fees (fees that Temares says he just can’t justify). What’s next for UM’s CIO? Veteran technology journalist Joseph C. Panettieri, who first met Temares while reporting for InformationWeek in 1993, recently spoke with him about his quarter century at the university, and his IT priorities for the 2004-2005 academic year.

Campus Technology: Most CIOs survive less than five years in the position. What’s behind your longevity at the university?
Temares: In higher education, many people cringe when you use the word “customer,” because it sounds so businesslike. But what better way is there to describe your students, your provost, your faculty, and your staff, than as customers of IT? You can call them “users,” but that sounds terrible. With these thoughts in mind, I’d attribute my longevity as CIO to my organization’s focus on our customers. We’re always listening to them.

CIOs frequently struggle to establish strong working relationships with their university president and administration. Yet you enjoy a thriving professional relationship with UM president Donna E. Shalala. How did your mutual respect develop?
I’ve known Donna since 1971 when we met at Baruch College (NY); we also worked together at Hunter College (NY). I think the key to successful working relationships is aligning IT with the university’s mission and broader goals. Accordingly, we have put together a bunch of advisory committees that meet and discuss IT priorities in a cordial, collegial way. For instance, we have a Business System committee and a Student System committee. They determine what they need in terms of application priorities. We are listening to them—our customers—all the time. Telecom and networking requirements are slightly different challenges, though. In those cases, you need to know what your customers need because they don’t have a feel for the bits and bytes of networking issues. They say they want access, but what they actually need is secure access.

Some CIOs struggle to gain access to the university’s boardroom when critical IT projects are up for debate. Do you interact directly with the board of trustees?
For anything that involves a large IT purchase, or comprehensive planning and design that requires board approval, I’ll present to the trustees.

What are your leading IT priorities for 2004-2005?
My biggest priority is security and secure access. We need to keep the system up, and avoid downtime related to things like distributed denial of service [DDoS] attacks. [A DDoS attack involves multiple PCs or servers flooding a Web site with traffic, thereby blocking legitimate users from visiting the site.] We’re particularly concerned about internal threats. Most universities celebrate when they enroll a top engineering student with a 1600 SAT. Yet that student can wind up being a brilliant, curious hacker. Every corporation has to worry about internal threats—but not as intensely as universities need to worry. D'es Wal-Mart worry about an internal programmer taking down the University of Miami? Probably not. But do universities have to worry about students who will take down Wal-Mart? They certainly do.

The decision to move to an ERP suite shouldn’t be made by the CIO. It should be made by a controller who says the staff d'esn’t have the tools they need to get the job done.

What about specific apps? Regarding your student portal called EASY, what new services are you adding there?
We just added credit card support that allows students to pay for tuition. We had it some time ago, but gave it up because costs were too high. But as costs came down, we’ve ensured that all of our eCommerce efforts accept credit cards.

The enterprise market—Oracle (www.oracle.com), PeopleSoft (www.peoplesoft.com), and others such as Lawson (www.lawson.com)—appears poised for consolidation. Would consolidation impact your IT strategy?
We periodically review the ERP (enterprise resource planning) marketplace, but the costs of migrating, configuring, and integrating are prohibitive, so we’ve stuck with a legacy system running Computer Associates’ (www.ca.com) IDMS database on VMS. PeopleSoft is the leading candidate if we went with an ERP system, but it would be a $100 million migration-and-integration project. Anyone who says less is lying. And we think the functionality would be less than the functionality we have from all the custom programming we’ve added to our current system.

So what business drivers would prompt you to modernize and embrace an ERP suite?
The decision shouldn’t be made by the CIO. It should be made by a controller who says the staff d'esn’t have the tools they need to get the job done. (An uprising from the masses should direct you!) But there is no uprising about our applications, so they’re fairly satisfied.

If the software market d'es consolidate, how do you see things shaping up?
Prices may go up when they consolidate. You can’t negotiate without competition. Plus, the enticement to enhance systems is lessened without competition.

Let’s talk convergence: Do you have voice-over-IP plans?
There’s absolutely no question that voice-over-IP is the future. We use it in some remote facilities right now. But we already have a big investment in seven switches. Until we complete our return on investment with those switches, we won’t make a broad move to VoIP. Plus, all the hacking you see today is done on data networks, not traditional voice networks. So with voice-over-IP, I’m concerned about security of telephony on IT networks. We’ve got a hospital and medical school; imagine if both their voice and data systems went down at once.

That brings us back to your big theme: Security.
Yes, security and—as I said—secure access. That’s our big focus for 2004-2005.

Joseph C. Panettieri has covered Silicon Valley since 1992, writing for such publications as eWeek and
InformationWeek.

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