Hilary J. Baker
Feb 01 2011

Working It Out Together

By using technology to collaborate across campuses, IT is helping institutions more effectively manage through the California budget crisis.

The ongoing budget crisis in California has made it very clear to the CIOs of the state's 23 California State University campuses that we must evolve the way we deliver technology offerings and services to students, faculty and staff. There's nothing like a continuing state budget deficit of $25 billion and student fee increases of more than 40 percent during the past three academic years to propel change.

One positive development is that the budget crisis coincided with yet another wave of technology innovation. The emergence of cloud computing, Web 2.0 and virtualization has provided new tools that allow us to work collaboratively in ways not previously possible.

In October 2009, the CIO group for the California State University system began talking about steps we can take to cut costs and become more efficient – both on our individual campuses and collectively as a system. We chose the term “synergy” for these multicampus technology initiatives. 

One of our first projects was to create a Virtual Information Security Center (VISC). The security center became fully operational last July with eight participating campuses. The concept behind VISC is to share the delivery of security services across participating campuses by using existing staff and focusing on security services that can be delivered virtually. The VISC team comprises staff located on multiple campuses, led by an information security officer, and operates under a uniform governance and management structure. Participating campuses benefit by leveraging institutional and/or skills-based knowledge, uniform practices and procedures, and cost sharing.

Today, the security center offers a full range of services, including risk assessment, policy implementation, incident management and vulnerability scanning. It has been so successful that we eliminated an IT management position at California State University, Northridge, and allocated those dollars to other projects.

Virtual Catalyst

The further maturation of virtualization technologies has been a major driver in our ability to work across campus boundaries. One of our projects is a virtual computer lab built using the open source code developed by North Carolina State University.

The virtual computer lab in California began as a pilot project between Cal State East Bay and Cal State Northridge. The VCL gives students and faculty access to specialized lab and course software applications without time or location boundaries because the software can be accessed via the Internet from the student's or faculty member's computer. Thus, students don't need to purchase specialized math and science applications, which can be very expensive to own, and they can access the applications whenever it is convenient for their schedules.

There are also numerous steps we took at Cal State Northridge to cut our technology costs and increase efficiencies. For example, we transitioned from using two learning management systems to one. We also consolidated our domain controllers and patch servers, transitioned to a campuswide enterprise architecture for our web servers, and deployed thin clients in the smart classrooms to reduce computer refresh costs. Our campus transition of student e-mail to Google Gmail saved approximately $200,000 in annual licensing costs. These campus technology cost savings and efficiencies required extensive collaboration across many campus departments.

Although cost savings are a major benefit of these initiatives, I can't stress enough that equally important are the campus efficiencies and transformational thinking that have resulted from our focus on these projects. One of our real successes is that we have evolved the thinking at the California State University system regarding how campuses can collaborate and have demonstrated that IT can play a strategic role in helping address the budget crisis. In many ways, it's not about the technology, it's about the change in mindset.