In 2010, Chicago State University went through the process of upgrading its IT infrastructure and revitalizing its technology.
The goal was to better serve the student body, which had grown in size and technological sophistication. Additionally, CSU leaders wanted to enhance the learning and teaching experience. Of course, the IT team had to do all this on a tight budget.
For other organizations facing a similar challenge, these five tips can help drive up the return on investment from campus IT operations.
1. Virtualize, virtualize, virtualize.
This is a trend you can't sidestep – nor should you. Virtualization improves utilization of shared resources and offers a great opportunity to streamline change control and automate provisioning. That speeds up service for users and eases management for IT.
2. Centralize operations and support.
By centralizing operations and support, a campus IT organization can increase operational visibility and control, which in turn provides better leverage of resources and improves support response. (It also helps organizations stay within a constrained budget.) Most important, this will let the IT staff move from a reactive mode to a proactive mode, focusing on potential problems and shortening response time when there's a need to react.
To support centralization, management tools need to be as robust as the organization can afford, simple to learn and use, and capable of providing a single point for viewing IT systems across the enterprise.
3. Invest in integrated monitoring.
Disparate suites of IT management tools can really interfere with an organization's goals of virtualizing, centralizing and improving service levels.
Like many university IT departments, CSU had been using a loose collection of popular management applications and open-source utilities, but our organization quickly outgrew this approach as the total cost of ownership rose, and we did not necessarily have the tools we needed to solve problems easily. The IT team needed to catch problems before they impacted users and reduce the time needed to resolve those problems.
After researching leading solutions, the CSU IT department selected a comprehensive platform that allowed us to converge four categories of IT management applications: network performance, systems availability, network asset management and security management. It also supports virtualization monitoring. ROI is expected in less than one year, including a 25 percent reduction in TCO and a significant increase in our monitoring capabilities.
4. Commit to delivering on business service levels.
Nearly every class and student at CSU depends on the delivery of data as an integral part of the learning process. When there are problems with the IT infrastructure, those hiccups can affect not just the university's support operations but also the delivery of educational services.
To minimize the potential for such disruptions, it's critical that IT organizations commit to service-level agreements that encompass the entire business service perspective (starting with the end user), not just from an IT point of view. It is extremely useful to be able to define the organization's business services and have a topological view of IT elements that make up those business services. The business service view should be tightly woven into the IT monitoring systems to be effective in delivering on service-level commitments.
5. Focus on effectiveness and job satisfaction.
It's no secret that in many IT departments there are monotonous jobs and tedious problems that are costly to solve in terms of staffing. At the same time, finding and retaining talented employees can be quite challenging.
Thankfully, pursuing quality and efficiency improvements in the CSU IT organization has meant not only enhancing its processes and tools but also advancing its people. Upgrading and centralizing IT operations has allowed the university's IT group to converge staff responsibilities and increase collaboration between staff members, resulting in a more efficient and effective team. The result has been job enrichment and higher ROI.