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Memo on the Organization of IT Services (1998)

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Date: March 18, 1998
To: Donald Crawford, Executive Vice Chancellor
From: Robert Sugar, Chair, Campus Network Committee
Re: The Organization of Information Technology Services

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. This development provides major opportunities for academic institutions, but also creates difficult organizational problems. Many universities are therefore re-examining the manner in which they deliver information technology services, and it seems timely for UCSB to do so also. To start this process, the Campus Network Committee has held an extensive series of discussions over the past several months. In this memorandum we present a set of recommendations which we believe would greatly strengthen the planning and delivery of information technology services on campus.

UCSB has developed a highly distributed model for the provision of information technology services, which has many positive aspects. Because the use of computers and networks differs so markedly across the campus, choices of hardware and software, and the operation of specialized computer laboratories are best left to individual units. Similarly, the introduction of information technology into the classroom is best handled by individual colleges, departments or faculty members. 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. For example, our distributed computing environment could not exist without networks, so they impact the campus as a whole. Thus, planning for and management of our external connections to the internet, the campus backbone network, off-campus access to campus computing facilities, directory services and computer security are functions which must be provided at the campus level. Another example of campus-wide issues arises from the growing movement to integrate information technology into the classroom. It is not possible for the faculty to require the use of computers and networks in course work unless all students have adequate access to them. Formulating plans and policies for universal student access to computers and networks is a challenging campus-wide problem, as can be seen by the length of time it took to develop a plan for student access to email, certainly the most basic network service.

The distributed nature of our computing and networking environment handicaps us in dealing with issues such as those enumerated above in a number of ways. We do not have a mechanism for strategic planning at the campus level, or for ensuring that the plans of individual service organizations are coordinated and consistent with academic priorities. We do not have a mechanism for ordering priorities or for assigning responsibilities to the various service providers. Members of the campus community often do not know what services are available or whom to go to for information regarding them. Finally, the campus lacks an individual with the specific assignments of advising the senior officers on information technology issues, representing the needs of this area to the senior offices, and representing the campus in system-wide forums.

These are not new problems. In 1987 the campus solicited an external review of computing, with a particular emphasis on academic computing. The review committee, which was chaired by then Assistant Vice President Richard West, was clearly taken aback to find that "No strategic documents or any plans that described an academic computing strategy were provided to the review committee." If the review committee returned today, it would still not find any. The first recommendation of the committee was to "Create an infrastructure for research and instructional computing," and it indicated that the first step in doing so was to "Create a strategy and planning process for academic computing." The second recommendation of the review committee was to "Create an 'advocate' for instructional and research computing who reports to the Academic Vice Chancellor." Eleven years later these recommendations still constitute good advice.

What is needed is an organizational structure for information technology which will allow us to deal effectively with campus-wide issues, while retaining the autonomy for individual units required by our distributed computing environment. The Campus Network Committee has discussed at considerable length how to meet this need. We make the following recommendations:

Establish an Information Technology Board. The Information Technology Board should be appointed by and report to the Executive Vice Chancellor, and should consist of senior administrators and knowledgeable faculty. It should be charged with ordering priorities and approving strategic plans for the development of campus-wide information technology. We believe that it is essential that senior administrative offices be involved in the planning process, and that the campus take advantage of faculty expertise in this area.

Establish an Office of Information Technology. The Office of Information Technology should be headed by a full time director at the Assistant or Associate Vice Chancellor level. The director should be appointed by and report to the Executive Vice Chancellor. This person should serve as the Chief Information Officer of the campus, providing advice to the Senior Officers on information technology issues, and represent the campus at the system-wide level. He/she should have overall responsibility for developing plans and proposals for consideration by the Information Technology Board. We are convinced that information technology issues have become so large and important that they require the attention of a full time person with expertise in this area. The Office should have an analyst to assist in the planning process. We recommend that the units responsible for campus-wide communications and networking services report to the Office of Information Technology. We believe that telephone and data networking services are converging, and should not be separated. Furthermore, the Director will require the assistance of the technical staff involved in campus-wide networking and communications work for assistance in the planning process.

Establish an Information Technology Planning Group This group should consist of technical staff from throughout the campus, and should serve as the technical support staff for the Information Technology Board. It should examine the feasibility of proposals being considered by the Information Technology Board, and provide information regarding technological developments and campus needs. It would also serve as a platform for coordinating work on specific projects. The Planning Group should be chaired by the Director of the Office of Information Technology and co-chaired by the Director of Information Systems & Computing. The successes of the Campus Network Committee have come about because it has been able to obtain the input and cooperative efforts of the most knowledgeable technical staff on campus. The creation of an Information Technology Planning Group would guarantee that the campus would continue to benefit from such cooperative efforts. Because of the scarcity and high cost of technical staff, it is essential that UCSB continue to take advantage of the expertise of those employed by individual units in addressing campus-wide issues.

Establish a unified Data Network Support Group. At present the backbone network is operated jointly by Communications Services staff and the Campus Network Programmers, who report to the Campus Network Committee. We recommend that a single Network Support Group be formed within the Office of Information Technology with, at a minimum, responsibility for the current functions of the Network Operations Committee and the Campus Network Programmers. These functions include operation of the backbone network, directory services, security and other campus-wide applications work.

There is a consensus within the Campus Network Committee in favor of the creation of an Information Technology Board, an Information Technology Planning Group and a unified Data Network Support Group. A substantial majority favor the creation of an Office of Information Technology, as described above. However, a few prefer a "Committee Model" in which an Office of Information Technology does not exist, and most of the functions proposed for its Director are assumed by the Director of Information Systems & Computing. In particular, in this model the Director of Information Systems & Computing would have primary responsibility for preparing plans and proposals for the Information Technology Board, and would chair the Information Technology Planning Group. In this model Communications Services and the unified Data Network Support Group would report to the Director of Information Systems & Computing. Organizational charts of the two alternatives are attached.

The majority believes that the campus needs to invest considerably more time and effort into the planning and management of information technology. They think there are a number of major areas which need to be addressed with the most critical at the moment being the networking infrastructure that supports all campus units, and campus-wide academic computing. The majority is convinced that the large scope of the problems and the crucial importance of information technology warrants the creation of a new office to focus on these issues. They consider the creation of an Office of Information Technology to have the following advantages: A senior administrative officer reporting to the Executive Vice Chancellor would be the best way to bring campus-wide information technology and academic computing issues to the forefront. Reorganizing the location of the operating units responsible for campus-wide information technology infrastructure and applications would facilitate the exchange of technical information between the operating and planning units, and would provide a more effective conduit for the plans to go to those responsible for their implementation. And finally, the new organization could provide leadership and coordination for campus-wide information technology issues which go beyond the creation and maintenance of the physical infrastructure. Those favoring the Committee Model believe that our major problems are in the area of infrastructure. They argue that we have sufficient expertise and staff to deal with these issues, and that what is needed is a modest change in organizational structure.

Clearly the campus has a major decision to make. I hope that the recommendations of the Campus Network Committee will form the starting point for a broad discussion on planning and organization in this vital area.