Oct 31 2006

Q&A with Annie Stunden, Annie Stunden of University of Wisconsin

During her 46-year IT career, Annie Stunden, CIO of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has seen it all. But the goal is still to ensure that technology enables services and supports the mission.

Annie Stunden is the CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the university's division of information technology, a position she has held for six years. Prior to that, Stunden spent four years as director of academic technology at Cornell University, and from 1991 to 1996, she was director of academic technology and network services at Northwestern University. Stunden started her career in 1959 as a developer of operating systems and compilers.

ET: During your career in information technology, how have you seen the role of IT and the role of the CIO change?
Stunden: For starters, there was no such thing as a CIO when I began my IT career. This is my first CIO job, and I've been CIO here for almost six years.

In the past, the CIO first focused on being sure that hardware was working and that administrative systems were in place. The critical consideration was that the big administrative applications were working.

Twenty years ago in higher ed, some of the CIOs were also busy trying to get the first higher education network in place, but the campuses were not paying a lot of attention to that. CIOs have always focused on the services that the campus needs and the technology to support those services.

Today's challenge is that the technology expectations and needs are much wider. The portfolio of technologies and services is so huge that the CIO's campus role has increased significantly. At the same time, many of us are working to ensure that the next-generation national and global network is in place in front of the demand for it.

ET: How so?
Stunden: I think our organization's primary job is to provide the best technology infrastructure we can to support the university's key missions of teaching, learning, research and outreach. We also must support the business processes that are necessary to do the work of the university. We are still bringing up big enterprise applications, getting them working and keeping them current. But user involvement in this is much larger than it's ever been before. Part of the job of the CIO is to figure out how to balance the infrastructure technology requirements and meet and even exceed the users' requirements. That is tough.

ET: How are you attacking this issue?
Stunden: We are taking the first steps to implement a service-oriented architecture. We hope that such an IT architecture will make adding new technology and services easier and more secure. Even as that is the stated and agreed upon direction, we find users who want an application implemented that won't conform to that architecture. We need to figure out how to do the work of convincing users that, if they define their requirements, the technologists will identify the technology solution to implement those requirements. We are far from being there.

We are also working hard to improve the reliability of our technology infrastructure and services. Expectations of 99.999 percent uptime are a bit scary. The network used to be able to come up and down. Now, people want it up 24 x 7. For example, when I talk to the deans about e-mail versus phone service, they think e-mail is more important than the phone. It's still easier to keep the phones reliable than it is to keep e-mail up and running at all times. We've gotten good at it, but we've got to get even better at 24 x 7 services.

ET: Have you implemented wireless?
Stunden: There's wireless all over, what some of us call rogue wireless … People have implemented their own wireless, and it is usually not secure. We're in the middle of a major network upgrade, which will be completed next summer, and we've included secure wireless as part of this upgrade.

ET: Will you have nodes throughout the campus?
Stunden: Yes. All network closets on campus will have wireless nodes in them. So our campus community will be able to walk into any campus building and log on. We are implementing authentication services on our wireless network.

ET: With more technologies being implemented and networked, how do you address policy issues?
Stunden: We don't want to move forward [on a project] until we have the right policies in place. Most times, the technology is easier than the policy. Before we move forward, we work on a policy buy-in from the campus community.

ET: The security policy was harder than the technical implementation?
Stunden: Right. There is a lot of walking and talking on campus to build policy consensus that our community can agree to and live with. And once a policy is in place, we still find folks who will try to work around it.

ET: As CIO, do you work with all the department heads? Do you look at their needs? Do you spend more time on budgeting and looking for funding for projects?
Stunden: Funding drives a lot of the priorities. So, when we have people who have money, we respond to that because that money keeps our staff employed. We work for the University of Wisconsin system, too, and the system has a list of IT objectives and funding, so they set the priorities for how we use the funding that they have with us.

ET: What technologies interest you today?
Stunden: We've got to tie our major applications together with service-oriented architecture. This SOA encompasses the identity management and security services. That's really high on our list of initiatives.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Founded: 1848
Enrollment: 41,169 students
Notable alumni: Jim Lovell, astronaut; Joyce Carol Oates, novelist; Allan Bud Selig, commissioner, Major League Baseball
Notable fact: Nation's first Scandinavian studies department, 1857
Location: Madison, Wis.

Tom Halligan is the editorial director of EdTech.