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CNC Proposal to Establish an Office of Information Technology (1998)

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The use of information technology is evolving at a remarkable rate in all areas of society, and has become essential for the functioning of research universities. Many universities are re-examining the manner in which they organize the delivery of information technology services, and it seems timely for UCSB to do so also. The Campus Network Committee recommends that UCSB establish an Office of Information Technology, which would report to the Executive Vice Chancellor. This Office would be responsible for strategic planning and the provision of services in those areas of information technology that are campus-wide in nature.

UCSB has developed a highly distributed model for the provision of information technology services, and it is important to retain the many positive aspects of it. The uses of information technology differ significantly among disciplines, so it is advisable to maintain control at the department or college level to the greatest extent possible. Nevertheless, there are information technology issues which are truly campus-wide in nature, and which therefore need to be dealt with at the campus level. They include the external connections to the Internet, the campus backbone network, the networking of classrooms, directory services, and computer security. The Office of Information Technology which we propose would have responsibility for issues such as these, and would provide a platform for strategic planning and integration of services which is currently missing.

Description of the Problem

UCSB does not currently have a single organization responsible for the planning and implementation of campus-wide information technology services. The Campus Network Committee has the responsibility of advising the Executive Vice Chancellor on campus-wide networking issues, including a number of the ones listed above, and it has even played a role in implementing some of its recommendations. However, it has become painfully clear that information technology issues are too complex and too important to be handled by a committee whose members have other full-time responsibilities. There are several organizations, and a number of individual volunteers, who provide campus-wide information technology services. In general, each performs its specific functions in excellent fashion. However, the missions of the involved organizations and individuals do not necessarily mesh with each other. The lack of integration of responsibilities, and the absence of clear lines of authority have created a number of serious problems.

Because no single organization has responsibility for campus-wide information technology services, it is very difficult to set priorities and to organize coordinated efforts to meet campus goals. Development or restructuring of services is frequently iterative, reactive, and slow, particularly when significant voluntary participation is required.

The highly distributed nature of information technology services has resulted in variable levels of service and support, including lack of service when responsibility has not been delegated or assumed. There is confusion on the part of faculty, staff, and students as they attempt to identify the services and service providers available to them. Problem resolution is complicated by the number of providers responsible for interdependent elements of a given service.

Campus-wide information technology policies are nearly non-existent, except for those instituted by the Office of the President. There is not a well-known framework for the evolution and approval of new policies. Lack of clear policies ultimately affects the consistency, understanding, and fairness of management decisions.

The cost of information technology services is difficult to estimate due to the diversity of funding sources and organizational participation. Providing "end to end" cost estimates is often impractical. The distributed nature of services makes it difficult for the campus to achieve economies of scale, and to enter into potentially beneficial collaborative relationships with outside agencies.

The lack of a central authority for information technology makes it difficult for the campus to fully participate in UC-wide collaborative efforts, which are becoming increasingly important. The campus has often been represented by volunteers who lack policy-making or budgetary authority. Members of the campus have been told on several occasions that UCOP does not know whom to deal with on many information technology issues.

The general problems just cited have led to a number of specific ones, which are not receiving the attention they warrant.

External Connection to the Internet: As a result of the need for major increases in bandwidth and changing market conditions, the cost of the campus's external connection to the Internet has risen markedly in the past year, and is likely to continue to do so. No funding source has been identified to pay for the campus's Internet connection beyond December 31, 1997.

Campus Backbone Network: Approximately 15% of campus departments are not connected to the fiber optic backbone cable plant. When Communications Services closes down the broadband network on December 31, 1997, those departments will be restricted to very low bandwidth connections to the campus backbone network. No organization has assumed responsibility for extending fiber to buildings that do not currently have it. Furthermore, no organization has assumed responsibility for maintaining the fiber network, for repairing the fiber plant if it should be damaged, or for upgrading it as technology advances.

Directory Services: UCSB does not have an accurate and complete email directory. A voluntary effort by David Alix (Information Systems & Computing) has merged contributions from various systems administrators. The voluntary nature of this effort results in omissions and inaccurate information. This hinders the exchange of email (both on and off campus), which is surely one of the most fundamental information technology services.

Networking of Classrooms: Networking of classrooms requires that many issues be addressed, including cabling, routing security and scheduling. Resolution of these issues will require integration with campus physical cabling, network management, and scheduling organizations. Most building cabling has been installed and is maintained by individual departments, thus greatly increasing the coordination efforts required. Departments are under no obligation to provide service level guarantees, so utilization of local networks may not be practical for providing classroom networks.

Security: The growing use of networks to access faculty, student and staff records, and the Library's increasing dependence on electronic subscriptions to journals and databases, require a much higher level of network security than the campus currently possesses. Yet, no efforts are being made to define, produce, maintain, or implement network security policies at UCSB. It is not part of anyone's job description or authority. Work is in progress at the system-wide level to develop the Open Software Foundation's Distributed Computing Environment to provide UC-wide authentication services. It is essential that UCSB participate in this effort, and be prepared to implement the software that will emerge from it. Furthermore, the incidence of computer break-ins is increasing, and campus computers are in some cases being used to attack off-campus sites. Again, no person or organization has responsibility for dealing with this problem.

Site Licenses: Site licenses and purchase agreements are typically handled by a volunteer who solicits contributions from campus departments. As a result, license agreements are not tracked or maintained in a coordinated manner. In addition, media distribution can place a time burden on the volunteering organization that could be more efficiently handled by a central one. Occasionally departments become dependent upon a piece of software, only to discover (after the fact) that the license has been allowed to expire because the original purchase coordinator did not have the time, interest, or funds to maintain the license. Furthermore, negotiations for these licenses can involve contractual obligations for which an individual or department cannot represent the campus, thus precluding certain types of licenses.

An Office of Information Technology

We are convinced that issues of the type cited above would be best addressed by an Office of Information Technology. The mission of this Office should be to carry out strategic planning in information technology, and to create and maintain the campus-wide infrastructure that UCSB needs to remain a first-class research university. The Office should report to the Executive Vice Chancellor in order to ensure that the development of the information technology infrastructure is guided by the academic priorities of the campus. The head of the Office of Information Technology should be the chief advisor to the Senior Officers on information technology issues, and the campus representative and point of contact in system-wide information technology discussions. The Office should have a budget and staff consistent with its responsibilities.

Those successes which the Campus Network Committee has had have stemmed from its ability to bring together diverse members of the campus community to work on issues of common concern. We recommend that the Office of Information Technology continue such cooperative efforts. In order to enable it to do so, and to receive input from users and service providers, we recommend that the Office of Information Technology establish an advisory committee as broadly based as the Campus Network Committee.