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Organizational Change: Model Citizens

Truly visionary CIOs are now attacking IT reorganization on campus with all the zeal of corporate wunderkinds. Here are three, along with their strategic models. Take notes.

MOST ACADEMIC INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENTS, much like the technologies around which they are built, exist in a constant state of flux. As systems and networks and programs evolve, so too must CIOs transform their IT departments, growing and shrinking the superstructure to maximize efficiency and minimize expenditure. This is a difficult balancing act, one with which many colleges and universities struggle. Three schools, however—Louisiana State University, the University of Georgia, and Santa Clara University (CA)—seem to be especially good at getting things right. CIOs at these schools recently have mixed centralization and delegation to recreate IT departments that mirror corporate models for efficiency and commitment to excellence. The approaches are all different, but the result is the same: reorganized IT departments that are leaner, meaner, and better than ever before. Here are their stories.

All for One

In April, when Brian Voss arrived in his new position as CIO at Louisiana State University, he determined right away that the school’s IT department was in need of an extreme makeover. The department was being run by four different directors: The person in charge of user support also was in charge of machine room operations. The individual in charge of the data center was pretty much disconnected from everyone else. Team members managed responsibilities successfully, but there was no sense that individual functions belonged to part of a greater whole; no organizational dynamic. Privately, staffers joked that the administration’s job was to keep the wheels of IT on the road. Voss, an engineer with extensive experience in both the higher education and corporate IT worlds, saw his job differently.

“IT is an asset, not a necessary evil,” he says. “While once, all those here saw their responsibilities in IT as simply taking care of business, I wanted to help them navigate through the growth and strategic development necessary to get their wheels off the ground.”

Voss set out to accomplish his goals with a rigorous plan for centralization. First, he unveiled an overarching Office of the CIO, which assumed responsibility for operational IT functions over areas that included financial resources, human resources, communications, planning, security, and faculty and student relationships. He then developed this office for all of the functions that formerly fell by the wayside; missioncritical functions that frequently got overlooked in the rush to accomplish larger goals. Voss put all HR and financial resources under one deputy, and consolidated security and IT policy under another; in addition, he recruited and designated an individual to focus on IT planning. Voss is also working closely with LSU’s new vice chancellor to handle communications more holistically, and to help develop a means by which IT strategies are broadcast to a user base of 30,000 students and roughly 5,000 faculty and staff.

Reorg Strategy to WatchA “student liaison” position will help one CIO interact with student users and convey IT strategy directly to them. He’ll recruit the liaison from the student government, pay an hourly salary, and hire a new liaison every year to help explain how IT will be using the student technology fee.

With his Office of the CIO thus constructed, Voss was free to turn his attention to everything else. To enable that process, he developed an IT Services umbrella organization and devised it with three operational subsets: 1) User Support and Student IT Enablement, 2) Networking, Infrastructure and Research IT Enablement, and 3) University Information Systems. Under the User Support and Student IT Enablement division, Voss assigned a deputy CIO to monitor support, education, and training for the general user community, as well as oversee all classroom technology. Under the Networking, Infrastructure and Research IT Enablement division, he combined voice and data networking, data center operations, and research computing. Finally, under the University Information Systems division, he brought together course management systems, research administration functions, and other aspects of administrative computing.

Brian Voss

“By becoming the ‘best,’ we will improve our institution’s ability to meet its fundamental missions.”

Brian Voss, CIO, Louisiana State University

Perhaps the most innovative facet of the reorganization plan revolves around the way Voss expects his Office of the CIO to handle faculty and student relationships. When Voss centralized functions under his immediate domain, he created a liaison position to help him interact with student users and convey IT strategy directly to them. To fill this role, Voss says he plans to recruit a student from the university’s student government, and pay an hourly salary. As he explains it, the student liaison will be commissioned to explain how the IT department plans to use the school’s student technology fee, which meets nearly one-third of the IT budget. As students come and go, so too will liaisons—Voss says that in order to keep a fresh perspective in the role of student liaison, he’ll hire a new person for the job each and every year.

“We all like to think that since we went to college, we know what it’s like to be a student,” he observes. “The truth is that a person in his 40s or 50s d'esn’t have any more knowledge of what it’s like to be a college student in the 21st century than we understand how to relate to our kids.”

Despite these good ideas, Voss knows his plan isn’t without its challenges, the largest of which is the issue of adoption.Because Voss is a relatively new CIO with a plan for sweeping change, IT staffers who have worked at LSU for years might be skeptical about embracing the new strategy right away. Already, Voss says he’s listened to water-cooler doubts and questions pertaining to just about every part of his plan. When employees bring these concerns straight to him, he says, he tries to respond to each one personally, asking employees to be patient, giving them a copy of a document that outlines his vision for IT at LSU, and imploring them to give the new approach a chance. (Voss promises results by this time next year.) If faculty and staffers can’t buy into this vision (and he stresses this point explicitly) he’ll help them find other jobs, no questions asked. These are strong words, but Voss has a reason to be so confident: backing from LSU administrators.

These administrators, the very same group that plucked Voss from his position as an associate VP under Indiana University CIO Michael McRobbie, have made clear their commitment to IT from the beginning. They vocalized a goal of improving IT infrastructure and strengthening IT services in the 2005 strategic plan, and earmarked more than $20 million in the 2006 budget for IT and telecommunications. LSU administrators have told Voss they feel they need to spend an additional $5 to $13 million on IT over the next few years, to make sure that his plan is a success. The CIO notes it’s going to take just about that much to help his IT organization reach maturity.

“The whole idea is to create a cohesive approach, generate excitement about IT on campus , and get people thinking forward,” Voss says. “At the end of the day, by becoming the best, we will improve our institution’s ability to perform its fundamental missions in teaching, learning, and service.”

The Silo Buster

Voss isn’t alone with his plan for radical reorganization; a similarly revolutionary transformation is underway at the University of Georgia, where Barbara White, the school’s new CIO and associate provost, is in the middle of a project to develop a federated planning model for core IT initiatives, and to focus those divisions under her supervision on core functions that support the missions of the institution. (White joined the university in 2004, to help italign the individual IT divisions toward a common core—an approach she used at Utah State). So far, White’s wizardry has worked wonders; the no-nonsense leader has used exhaustive research to carry out a comprehensive IT strategy that revolves around serious metrics and a lasting plan for the future.

Reorg Strategy to WatchOn one CIO’s campus, a new building will house all of the university’s technologists in a central location, to promote “one-stop IS shopping.” Students will no longer have to run or call all over campus for information or help.

White began her regime with a period of methodical research. Over the first six months of her new job, she met with more than 100 different user groups on campus so that she could understand the campus culture and how her constituents relied upon IT. During these meetings, she asked users what systems, networks, and services they used most frequently. She queried them about what kinds of improvements in systems, networks, and services they’d like to see in the immediate future. She called this process “positioning the core,” and hailed it as the most important part of the effort to get to the heart of what the institution expected from IT. Based on feedback from campus officials, she determined what the core must reflect and how she would align IT staff, money, resources, and efforts to best meet user needs.

“Once we identified the core, it was important to align all of our units, staff, and resources to support it,” she says. “But that first step of identifying it— that’s the step most schools neglect.”

Reorg Strategy to WatchOver six months, one CIO met with 100 groups on campus, to find out what systems, networks, and services they used most frequently, and what improvements they’d like to see. With the “core” results, she is determining how to best align IT staff, money, resources, and efforts.

Finally, in April, White put her findings into action. Much like Voss, her first move was to separate organizational functions from routine functions, moving mission-critical operations such as the Business Services and Human Resources departments under an Office of the CIO, while operational functions (connectivity and functionality) were aligned with an associate CIO for Instruction, Research, and Outreach. Within an Enterprise ITS division, White further aligned IT’s core functions under six divisions: Client Services and Campus IT Partnerships; Research Computing; Communications; Information Security; Operations and Infrastructure; and a brand-new group, Decision Support and Planning.

The Decision Support and Planning division was focused on internal metrics, an area to which minimal attention had been paid. The focus of the division is on evaluating IT decisions, investigating performance, and calculating the value of investments. White also has implored these deputies to work with the school’s research community to plan for bandwidth usage down the road, and has asked them to keep in contact with representatives of other divisions to prepare for security issues, portal technologies, and similar initiatives. The goal, White says, is to provide senior vice presidents with precise answers when they ask IT about the value technology can add, or the return on investment (ROI) that may come from a particular technology.

“This isn’t a self-efficacy thing or an effort to prove our worth,” she insists. “It all comes back to the question of being at the table and being a part of the president’s cabinet with the power to sway important decisions for the university as a whole.”

In her more personal moments, White says the new approach is designed to prompt constituents to start thinking of Georgia’s IT department as an enterprise. Still, like Voss, White says her biggest challenge to date has been cultural— getting her constituents to change the way they perceive and plan for IT. To overcome these obstacles, White says she has paid close attention to the way her changes are perceived. One way she’s trying to mitigate the sense of exhaustive change is by changing the name of the operational side of the department from “Enterprise ITS” to something that implies less of a corporate ideal. Though White says she d'esn’t have an alternative name just yet, she plans to hatch one as the transformation unfolds and wins over believers by addressing an increasing number of core services.

Ron Danielson

“As a dynamic and unified department, it’s a lot easier to enact any kind of change.”

Ron Danielson, CIO, Santa Clara University

Another way White plans to garner support is through an overarching commitment to simplification. When she assumed her position as CIO, the university had technologists spread across campus in eight different buildings, making collaboration and cooperation difficult. Over the next few months, technologists will be housed across three buildings, a much more manageable layout. White redistributed these resources shortly after she reorganized divisions, and plans to smooth the adjustment by putting into place two-way videoconferencing between buildings so technologists can interact with each other visually as well as orally. This simple touch, imperceptible to some, should have broad impact, fostering a sense ofteamwork among employees who would be even further isolated under the old approach.

“I don’t know if there’s a right way or a wrong way to reorganize IT, but I know that the system I’ve planned for Georgia is right for them,” she says. “Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’ve just got to be patient and let the changes take hold.”

Mr. Consolidation

White may be on to something, as physical consolidation has been central to the reorganization strategy at Santa Clara University (CA), as well. There, CIO Ron Danielson is piloting a massive restructuring effort of the school’s Information Services department that will end with all of his group’s technologists and technology efforts operating out of one building by 2009. Danielson, an associate professor of Computer Engineering who has served as CIO since 2000, had pushed for the centralization of Santa Clara’s IT personnel for years. Finally, when the school began planning a new $85 million library, the technology leader got his wish. Under the plan, IS workers will move from field offices in five different buildings across campus into one spot in the new building. For Santa Clara, the future is now.

This consolidation effort g'es hand in hand with an organizational strategy that Danielson calls “coalescence.” As CIO, he has responsibility for IS, which includes administrative computing, networking and telecommunications, as well as the university library and all of the school’s media services, which includes classroom and instructional support, and Web services.The way Danielson sees it, this strategy is designed to approach technology as a student might, blending information from a number of different sources in order to solve problems and get results. With this in mind, the new building will promote a one-stop-shopping approach to information services, allowing students to avoid running all over campus for information, and to get everything they need from the same support staff in the same place.

“The way students go about getting information d'esn’t really fit into the classical boundaries of our administrative structure,” Danielson says. “We figured the best way to respond to this was to change our administrative structure itself.”

The nearly 200,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open in 2009, will combine technology and library services in one building, housing the infrastructure and data centers next to administrative systems development, media storage, telecommunications equipment, books and other information resources, and more. In addition, the school also plans to consolidate help desks: Whereas Santa Clara currently has four help desks (one for classic IS issues, one for students only, one for media services, and one for the library), in the new facility, the school will have a single, central help desk with support staff who are equipped to answer the majority of questions about anything computer- or information-related, and can refer other inquiries directly to the appropriate experts.

The changes aren’t just about improved help desks. Consolidating the already coalesced environment under one roof might make uniformity of service delivery more of a logistical reality, says the CIO. Secondly, he believes that by having one set of support staffers trained to tackle all technology questions, IS staffers will collaborate more, both with each other and with professors and students who come in asking for help with particular projects. Finally, with all of his staffers in one spot, Danielson hopes to expand department hours from 18 hours a day to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Like most IT reorganization efforts, however, the Santa Clara project won’t be free of potential pitfalls. For starters, training a diverse group of help desk personnel on new technologies or information resources is challenging under any circumstances, Danielson points out, and if some staffers need to learn five or six new areas in a matter of weeks, it could become dicey just to maintain a modicum of comfort. For that reason, Santa Clara began prototyping parts of this combined services environment in September. Finally, Danielson says it may take his organization a while to respond to the increasingly consumerist viewpoint of students who are accustomed to “instantly” purchasing books and CDs online via sites such as These activities will need to be supported, and non-campus-system IT challenges will have to be met.

“As the program gets older, we may have to move into customizable responses for people,” Danielson says of the consolidation effort. “It d'esn’t really matter what we decide we have to do; together, as a dynamic and unified department, it’s a lot easier to enact any kind of change, and that’s what has us excited for the future.”

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