Q&A with Susan Malisch of Loyola University Chicago

At Loyola University Chicago, Information Technology Services supports two metropolitan campuses and one overseas campus.

EdTech: You're relatively new to the position at Loyola. What are your initial impressions and goals? 

Malisch: The early part of the job was getting the lay of the land and understanding what's going on. We have about 80 ITS staff members in the division, and I have met with all of them. It was a great opportunity to get to know one another, and share information, goals and aspirations. I wanted to understand the general perceptions within the division of the technologies and methodologies we use and the quality of our services. From the discussions, we learned that we have a solid base of talent and potential. We also developed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis from this feedback that drives many of our internal development projects today.

In the past six years, Loyola has experienced a tremendous turnaround, including moving from a significant deficit to an operating surplus, and from major declines in incoming freshmen to enrollment records. As part of this transition, there are ambitious goals for where we plan to go from here, and technology will play a key role. We're excited about that.

EdTech: What are some projects you've seen move along at a good rate in the time you've been at Loyola?
Malisch: There are a number of areas where we've had good momentum. Based on student feedback and support from Student Affairs, there was a need to upgrade some student technology, including everyday technologies such as instant messaging and e-mail, as well as quality-of-life improvements, such as networking the laundry machines to provide messaging notification to students when laundry is done or a machine is available.

Additionally, with students sharing the same e-mail platform as faculty and staff, we improve scheduling and message tracking across these groups, and allow faculty and students to communicate seamlessly via a secure instant messaging solution. We've formalized the expansion of wireless access on an enterprise solution with input on prioritization of future locations from faculty and students. We already see the popularity of this offering in usage statistics.

We launched a new School for Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) on August 1, which offers a non-credit continuing education program entitled “Continuum.” We delivered the e-commerce Web site to enable students to browse, register and pay for those classes online. That was a collaborative effort with ITS, SCPS and our marketing group. The project had a tight timeframe and was developed in 10 to 12 weeks over the summer.

EdTech: How has technology been infused into other initiatives on campus?
Malisch: At first glance, many new initiatives don't appear to be technology-focused, but they very often have a technology component. One is the Information Commons (IC), a new building slated to open in spring 2008. It's a technology-based library, and we have a significant role to play in the success of this project. It's an exciting opportunity for our staff to be involved in a construction project with extraordinary technology needs. In addition, a tremendous investment has been made in updating our current classroom infrastructure with the latest electronic capabilities, which has had implications for ITS from installation and maintenance to support and training.

EdTech: How do you measure IT success?
Malisch: We added an enterprise architecture role to take a “planful” approach to our technology framework and mapping to institutional goals, and we launched a project management office to put more rigor, process and consistency around the execution and delivery of projects. Coupled with those efforts are improved and more consistent ways to estimate the costs of doing a project and to capture institutional benefits and return on investment.

We have quarterly review meetings with each of our major stakeholders. We also review project status and have conversations to uncover upcoming opportunities, so we're evolving a more proactive approach to identifying future projects in the pipeline. We also map our major initiatives to the 10 goals in the university's strategic plan to ensure that IT investment is aligned with this plan.

EdTech: Isn't competitive advantage more difficult to measure because there isn't a hard number?
Malisch: Yes, but you can build a business case based on industry data. For example, we can look at what other institutions are doing in a specific area and figure out where we need to be to stay competitive. It's more of an art than a science, but we are improving how we qualify these opportunities.

EdTech: Since Loyola is in a major city with other institutions and Jesuit universities nearby, does information sharing occur?
Malisch: We have a number of venues for information sharing. My colleagues at other Chicagoland institutions are good sources of information, and I anticipate becoming more active in the Illinois CIO Exchange, in which a number of higher ed leaders participate.

We also have the benefit of being one of the 28 schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and we have regular meetings and discussions on topics of mutual interest, such as developing a mentoring program across our universities. And, since Marquette is in close proximity, and we share similar interests, we're connecting on several projects: serving as backup sites for each other for our Web presence, and sharing lessons learned and best practices regarding change management and our similarly configured wireless solutions.

EdTech: You're responsible for the Lake Shore, Water Tower and Rome Center campuses. What are the challenges of supporting the Rome Center campus in Italy?
Malisch: The distance and time zone differences are challenges for providing proactive support, and for creating the appropriate relationships and the right frequency of communications. That said, we're cultivating a collaborative approach to service enhancements with our European colleagues, including assessing wireless expansion opportunities, cross-training programs and upgrades to Internet connectivity – perhaps migrating to a direct connection to Chicago. We hope these efforts will improve the overall quality of service there.

EdTech: What is your approach to security and protecting sensitive data?
Malisch: A typical university environment is more open than many others, but we do work to protect sensitive data on key servers. We use a single registration process for wireless access, so we know who's on our network.

We're concerned with securing various mobile devices because they have a tendency to get lost and aren't secured. We worry about things like USB keys, as well as laptops and PDAs [personal digital assistants]. A new awareness and education campaign is under way to make people aware of the risks, particularly in areas where they have access to proprietary data. We're also reviewing reasonable security measures to encrypt that data and make it more difficult to get into.

EdTech: What tech trends are on your radar?
Malisch: The evolution of service-oriented architecture and Web 2.0 services, which offer online communities, networking and collaboration, are heavily influenced by “digital natives” joining the workforce and spending time at universities first. Students are very comfortable with these virtual tools, and these technologies are impacting their expectations in the workforce. We have the potential to achieve cost savings with these technologies, but we'll get far greater benefits in areas such as faculty, staff and student productivity and creativity, and customer satisfaction.

EdTech: How important is it for IT to have a seat at the table?
Malisch: It's a critical success factor. One of the biggest challenges is demand management. How do you address demand management without a prioritization process and frequent conversations? We have to maximize the opportunity to spend the IT investment on areas that will further the institution's strategic plan, and that's a broader discussion we prefer to occur with a governing body/steering committee and the university president and other institutional leaders. Our Plan of Record should be openly shared, regularly revisited and guided by this process.

Loyola University Chicago

Founded: 1870 as Saint Ignatius College

Enrollment: 15,194

Campuses: Lake Shore, Water Tower, Maywood (Loyola University Health System) and Rome, Italy

Notable Fact: One of 8 percent of American colleges and universities with a Phi Beta Kappa honor society chapter

Alumni Facts: More than 120,000 alumni

Jim Silvestri, managing editor of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education, recently sat down with Susan Malisch, vice president and CIO, of Loyola's Information Technology Services (ITS) department. Malisch oversees IT operations at the Lake Shore, Water Tower and Rome Center campuses. Prior to taking this position, which she has held for about a year, Malisch worked at Novell after it acquired consulting firm Cambridge Technology Partners.

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Oct 31 2006

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