Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite News Stories - 2011

My favorite tech-related news stories of the year:

The year of nature web cams
This was the year that watching nature via web cam caught my attention.  My favorite story was of Violet and Bobby, the red-tail hawks at NYU.  Watching Violet continue to sit after all experts said that the egg wasn't viable was heart-touching.  And when Pip hatched on Mother's Day, it was a "wow" moment.  And there were others:  the wonderful Decorah, Iowa eagles next, a hummingbird in Hawaii, and the Roosevelt Arch camera from the Yellowstone Association.  I am so amazed that I can go to the computer and watch wildlife, live, up-close and in natural settings.

Young people and meaningful messages
Meaningful personal stories shared by young people using YouTube as the medium really touched me this year.  Zach Wahls and Ben Breedlove had a lot to say about life and living it well, with open hearts and open minds.

People and gadgets
This was the year that iPads really took off, and iPhones and Droid smart phones became pervasive around campus.  The willingness to carry a gadget everywhere you go surprises me.  The guru of understanding the connection of people and technology, Steve Jobs, passed this year.  The story of his life was like a walk down my own tech memory lane.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Break - Slowing Down

We started a tradition a few years ago that has become a part of our culture.  The last work day before the break is designated as "Cleaning Day."  We stop work on projects and we don't go to meetings.  We bring in coffee and snacks, and we provide pizza for lunch.  Staff are encouraged to dress casually.

We provide a variety of cleaning products and suggest that everyone pitch in and clean up.  This is physical as well as virtual.   The result is a winding down of activity to the break.  There's laughter as we find really old software diskettes or manuals.  There's a lot of "Why did we keep this?" talk.  And we leave the space really fresh for our return in the new year.

The list of suggested activities includes:

  • Update all assigned help and project tickets with current status and clearly described next steps.
  • Update any status reports.
  • Update the wiki or other documentation.
  • Clean up old email and reorganize your labels. 
  • Review and delete unneeded files from your desktop or laptop computer.
  • Delete and organize files on shares.
  • Reorganize your desk and drawers.
  • Backup your computer.
  • Clean out and drop in the shred bin paper files and documents from your desk.
  • Wipe the coffee and pop spills off your desk - we provide cleaning spray and paper towels.
  • Dust off the tops of cubes, window sills, window blinds.
  • Wipe off door knobs, your phone and your cell phone.
  • Join in the clean-up of common areas such book shelves, refrigerator, microwave, kitchen and such.
  • Note that the refrigerator and freezer will be emptied and anything left will be thrown in the trash.
  • Recycle old periodicals.
  • Clean up areas we'll identify, reorganize, put everything in its place.
  • Take time to review university emergency response materials here
  • Go through the short online training for Preventing Workplace Violence on campus:

  • If you have any departmental rituals for your organization, please share.

    Happy holidays!

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Forming Phase: IT meets HR

    Our senior IT directors and I have started regularly scheduled round-table meetings with key university Human Resource leaders.  Our first two meetings have been something like “clearing of the air” meetings, broad discussions about the challenges we face.  We’ve learned some things already.

    One of the first things we learned is that our IT leaders and HR leaders have  different perspectives on absence management.  IT leaders view high absenteeism as a disconnect that makes it difficult for an individual to keep up with changing technology and assigned projects.   We look at the outcomes.  Someone who is missing a lot of time misses out on how technology is changing and can’t keep their skills current.  We don’t typically reassign work unless we have a confirmed leave, so projects can get far behind schedule.  We were surprised to learn that our HR organization does not monitor for high absenteeism across the university, and we’ve learned this is something we have to do as directors.  That also means we have to define the level of absenteeism that is disruptive and above average for our organization. 

    Our HR department considers scheduled and unscheduled absenteeism a measure to track; when we asked about monitoring, they want us to monitor how often someone calls off at the last minute.  This surprised us, because with project work that spans months, it doesn’t matter if someone calls off at the last minute or if they schedule the time off.   It is the absence that is disruptive, not the type of absence reporting.  It seems that our HR looks at the last-minute disruption as important, because they thought work would need rescheduling.  We had a discussion about how we can’t reschedule the majority of our work given a last minute call-off, as the work is project-based.    And with online calendars, tracking last minute call-offs is problematic.  The result of this discussion is that we are re-thinking how we look at absenteeism in our department and how we want to approach conversations with the employee. 

    Another issue where our perspectives differ is employee retention.  I like this short description at BrightHub of an overall view on employee retention: 

    We work hard to hire the right people.  We know that potential employees who value balance between work and personal life often like working in the university central IT organization.  Our benefits for managed time-off (vacation, personal, sick) and flexible scheduling are strong recruiting tools.  Employees who value salary above managed time-off will not likely stay working with us over the long term, as our salaries are not competitive with area business.   

    We are often surprised when there’s occasional university talk about reducing benefits to be comparable with some  businesses in the area.  In terms of overall compensation, we are competitive, but the balance between salary and benefits is different in our university compared to area business.  If we reduce the benefits and don’t correspondingly increase the salary, we will not be able to attract the IT talent we need for the projects defined by university leadership.

    Our university HR discussed retaining solid employees, and particularly engaging in activities to support retention of employees with five years or more seniority.  However, from an IT perspective, five years is an eternity; that’s at least two technology change cycles.  We had churn in about half of our professional positions about a year ago.  We have 40 positions in central IT; of that 40, 20 have been with the university 5 years or less.  Of the remaining 20, 13 have changed responsibilities within the last 5 years.   Much of this churn happened after June 2010.  We agree we want to retain employees, but we'd like to see retention efforts  occur earlier and not five years into employment.

    In an earlier blog, I posted about the technology sea change we are observing and the need for technology skill development and retooling to keep current.  We are at a point of investing thousands of dollars into skill and professional development.  If we are going to see return on that investment, we need to keep technically talented staff longer that 3 years.  This can’t be an ad-hoc “lazy-loser” system, where the default retention keeps those too lazy to look for another job or those  too technically out-of-date to find another job.  Our reward mechanisms need to favor those who are enthusiastic about university technology initiatives, adopting and excelling in the technical skill areas that we really need to move university projects forward.  The retention strategy needs to align with supporting technical change.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Staffing and Technology Shift

    I'm giving a lot of thought to the change drivers that I've written about and the impact on staffing, organizational portfolio, and professional development.  We need to make sure that our staffs are ready, and our IT organizations are structured, to handle the technological changes and shifts that we are experiencing.

    The technological changes are affecting our organization in several different ways:

    • We analyzed the announced platform shift for Banner, the growth of apps, and the changing enterprise systems portfolio.  We need developer/integrators with strong Java skills, an understanding of REST-based services, and ready to learn things like Groovy and Grails.  PL/SQL skills seem to be fading in need.
    • We need network engineers who understand wireless density management, VLAN management and edge device management.  Our network engineers must add strong understanding of VOIP to their skill sets.
    • We need systems engineers who can handle the growing systems architecture around huge storage environments.  Systems engineers need to understand that storage may be a blend of in-sourced and outsourced solutions, and they need to work and manage growth in that environment.  The best systems and systems architecture engineers will understand end-to-end services:  where do data start, how are they moved, how are they edited, and how are they transmitted over the network.  It isn't enough to tell someone "Yes, you can store that 5 gig file here."  The best systems engineer will ask "How does that file get here?  Once it is stored, what do you intend to do with it? What are the bandwidth implications?  What are the security implications?"  We need to provide strong assistance on selecting appropriate storage locations.
    • We will see more of the BYOD environment.  On the services side, we need to be ready to react to consumer-driven decisions that we cannot control.  For example, we are trying to plan and implement changes now that will avoid network connectivity issues for Christmas-gift Kindle Fires when these come to campus in January.  
    • We also need to think about new services for this environment.  What about a new service such as "App Finder"?  You tell us what you need in an app, and our service operation will research options for you.  How about "Energy Advisor"?  We provide services around analyzing energy use, ranging from planning for charging stations to analyzing the power management for all aspects of IT.  How about "Mobile Security Specialist," so we can assist with all aspects of working securely in a mobile environment?
    These changes are pervasive throughout the IT organization.  How are you looking at this in terms of staff implications?  Our initial responses are:
    • Identified training plans for all professional staff members and developed a projected training budget.  We expect our training budget needs to increase by almost 50% this year.  We are reallocating funding originally targeted for technology upgrades to staff training and development.
    • Reallocating funding for consulting on specific projects involving new technologies to make sure we get started in the right direction.
    • We started a monthly meeting with our University Human Resources to discuss HR aspects of this changing environment.  This part is proving to be very challenging.  Part of this may be the very different focuses of HR and IT organizations, but we seem to have very different value structures.  
    Please do share any insights or great ideas as you explore these changes.  My next post will be more on the HR challenges.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Seven Impacts

    My thinking is consolidating around seven impacts that are significantly changing how we integrate information technology into our educational environments.  These are disruptive change forces.   I want to explore this in more depth in future posts, but for now, here is the introduction:

    1. Trust
    2. Consumerization
    3. Sourcing
    4. Big Data and Big Content
    5. Storage
    6. Cloud
    7. Mobility
    A brief definition of each is useful:

    There is a crisis of trust in higher education.  Employers do not trust that our graduates are adequately prepared for the workplace.   This perception is not limited to undergraduate degrees (see the New York Times on legal education).  Parents question the investment needed to get students through college.  Students are concerned about the amount of debt compared to the employment value of their degree.  We see an increase in state and national mandates for data reporting, with funding linked to graduation rates.  In some cases, this translates into new mandates for reporting data to external agencies in new formats and using new methods.

    While this crisis of trust expands externally, we also feel internal pressures.  As students, parents and legislators ask "Why is the cost of tuition so high?", we ask this question internally of our own operations.  Our universities are increasingly asking, "Why is the cost of technology, software, hardware, and networks, and the provision of these services, so high?"  We need to be able to answer questions that come from external and internal sources.

    For technology organizations, we use established standards and protocols so that we can clearly explain costs and provide transparency to our budgets and processes.  We use the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library to clearly manage and communicate our projects and services.  We create strong governance models to make sure our projects align with the university mission and strategic goals.  We respond with measures about accountability and efficiency.

    BUT.... that leads us to Impact 2:

    While we try to create an orderly, transparent and accountable structure for the IT organization, the campus community is "going shopping."  There's no IT strategic plan for that app that someone wants to purchase.  We are increasingly dealing with individual decisions that do not scale and do not provide the accountability or efficiency we need to deal with the trust issues.  Consumerization is more than discussion about the impact of iPads and BYOD (bring your own device).  We need to include conversations about how decisions are made, particularly for procurement, planned support models and scalability.

    That brings us to sourcing models.  We are using a right-sourcing model that utilizes many different sourcing paths:
    • Traditional competitive procurement with vendor-supported solutions
    • Traditional internal development
    • Open source
    • Community source
    • Individually selected (either through a BYOD model or a university funded model)
    • Freemium
    Combine the above with the device proliferation we are experiencing and we have many platform configurations to handle, such as:
    • Individually owned devices with a mix of personally purchased applications and university purchased applications.
    • University owned devices with a mix of personally purchased applications and university purchased applications.
    Big Data and Big Content
    "Big Data" is characterized by data sets so large that the traditional activities around capture, storage, search, sharing, analytics, security and visualization are difficult.  I'm thinking there's another corollary to Big Data that I'll call "Big Content."  A sample of that type of content may be in this request we received:

    One of our doctoral students is using a large number of photos in his dissertation. It is about half written at this point, and is 442.3 MB.  The faculty adviser just wrote to us looking for a way to both work on it (so the adviser can comment and edit and the doctoral student can continue to work on the same document). The dissertation will include embedded links to original music composition and will perform as part of the analysis and findings.   Also included are visual images that he created so that the color and light in the photos are important qualities in the image, from an artistic perspective and cannot be downgraded.

    Big Data and Big Content require new tools and technologies to manage, but also, we need to think differently about how we interact and present in these environments.  We are still trying to make things fit into files and pages.  We need to rethink the environment and move beyond the boundaries presented by files and pages.  The interaction needs to be interactive and immersive;  I perceive as more like moving through a current role-based online game rather than reading a book.  Even our e-books need to be redesigned for a different approach that is more suited to the technology.  It is an experience and the experience must be emphasized or enhanced.  Experience is also constrained by our traditional campus time-management tools; experience doesn't know the boundaries of term and academic year.  A side read to prep us for rethinking and the depth of change:  Planned Obsolescence:  Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy

    (Thanks, Catherine Yang, for sharing).

    If we have Big Data and Big Content, where will we put it all?  And we have to recognize the growth of visual content and the space needed; the Art Exhibit of the Day (thanks, Mark Zocher, San Diego, for sharing) recently brought this to some understanding with an exhibit of printing photos.  How will we store it all?  Where will we store it all?  And how will we preserve what we've stored?  IBM recently announced the Yellowstone Project to support research into weather, climate, oceanography and related fields.   What does disaster recovery look like when you have a computer capable of 1.6 petaflops?  This is not about scalability of recovery, but about rethinking what recovery means.

    The concept of cloud computing will provide some solutions, and will give us a variety of agile and effective choices.  There are issues with labeling and understanding Software as a Service, hosted solutions, Information as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, cloud storage, purchased computing cycles, and all the permutations of what we can buy.  Join the cloud concepts with the trends for consumerization and sourcing models, and we have a very complex technology model to build and manage - all within the model for building trust.

    We are operating in orbit.  Our data, our content, our devices, and the faculty, staff and students using all components, are all in motion, and may be on different orbiting paths.  Adding motion to the complex technology model previously described is yet another layer of complexity.  If everything is in motion, then the expectation is for access over wireless networks, and I've written about those challenges already.  The growth of the "mobile only" generation, that group that never or infrequently uses desktop Internet, will further push us to rethink what we deliver and how we deliver content and services.  There has to be "real value by being relevant in a mobile moment."  That means segmentation of content, data and services, full utilization of communications streams, and provision based on location-aware and context-aware technologies.

    How does all of this impact us?
    We need different technology solutions.  We need different tools and maybe tools that haven't been invented yet.  We need to move away from place-centric thinking and consider the impact of motion.  We need to approach procurement and solution selection differently.  We need to rethink the learning experience involving data and content and unconstrained by terms and academic year.  We need to quickly identify and remove obstacles.  We need to enhance agility.  We need to change our organizations and our human resource structures.

    I need to keep working at this to wrap my brain around the full picture.

    This is a fresh summary of ideas originally presented at the Fall ACM SIGUCCS Management Symposium, San Diego, November 2011.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Wireless Networking Challenges

    There has been a convergence of talk about the challenges of wireless.  The scatter-points are:
    • Growing, feeding and managing wireless networks on our campuses, as discussed at the October Educause conference.
    • Some additional chatter at the ACM SIGUCCS conference, which is just starting in San Diego.  The focus here is on service provision.
    • CIO discussion on the Educause constituent group list about supporting drop-in and walk-thru wireless access by non-identified community visitors.  Many campuses feel they cannot support casual drop-in use by unknown campus visitors due to cost and regulatory requirements, while other campuses feel that to not provide such access means to be left behind in the market.
    • Lowell McAdam, chief executive of Verizon Communications, wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York times describing the need to reallocate wireless spectrum to meet telecom wireless capacity demands:
    • Joe Sharkey writing in the New York Times about the problems with hotel ISP iBahn keeping up with demand generated by iPads and iPhones:
    • Gartner predicts the number of iPads sold to reach 100 million by 2012.
    • Network Neutrality is generating more political talk.  What if tiered-pricing models become the norm?  We see this type of pricing growing in hotels.

    Challenge:  How do we grow and maintain the campus wireless network in a way that meets the service expectations of students, faculty and staff, and meets the objectives for mobility?  As devices proliferate, and service expectations grow, we expect demand for wireless network access to grow.  If we continue to grow mobile services, we need to plan network accessibility accordingly. 

    A short summary of the issues:
    There are two types of wireless in use:  cellular data plans (3G / 4G service) and wi-fi, such as what we provide on campus and what hotels and conferences provide when we travel.
    Will we continue to use both on our campuses?  Or do we move to BYON?
    There is enormous wireless growth due to iPads, iPhones, video and the proliferation of devices an individual carries.
    Devices and services are using more bandwidth. Voice and video are big bandwidth consumers.
    Cellular providers are having difficulty meeting growth due to lack of wireless spectrum.
    Local wi-fi providers are having to expand access points, increasing costs.
    Events, such as conferences, come with pervasive wireless coverage expectation.
    The wireless technology itself is limited by current technology capabilities and physics.

    We need to be aware:
    When our community complains about "slow wireless" or "no wireless available" or "need more for a conference", that translates into costs.  The only response is to increase wireless access point density by adding more access points. 
    If we are going to deliver services and educational content via wireless, can we expect our students to receive the content?  What if content delivery moves to a tiered-pricing model?
    Access points have a life of about 3-5 years, so this is an ongoing budget renewal item.
    More access points means greater aggregation at wired points, translating to purchasing bigger and more costly building network electronics and a more costly infrastructure.  For many campuses, this also means purchasing more bandwidth capacity.
    If costs are increasing, as the CIO, I feel the need to restrict the service to those who pay for it, and not give it away to guests and visitors.
    All of this translates to a growing network budget.  This ultimately contributes to the higher cost of education.

    Conferees, Discussers and Commenters Wanted

    I like to think about information technology and what we do with information technology, particularly when our use of technology brings about change.  Change is interesting and exciting. At times change is also fatiguing and discouraging.  I like to share ideas about technology and change, and hopefully you do, too.  I'm starting this blog to engage in discussion.  A good place to start is by listing my values:

    • I value discussion and flowing ideas.
    • I value diverse perspectives.
    • I like to organize, synthesize and restructure ideas.
    • I value change, because I believe that we can use change to make learning and education, and ultimately the world, better.