IT Consolidation Makes Life Easier for Higher Education
For the University of Miami, having multiple campuses within a single county at the tip of southern Florida is ideal for carrying out its academic, healthcare and research mission.
Less ideal? Having a separate IT department for three separate sites: the Coral Gables, Miller School of Medicine and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science campuses.
There was too little coordination between the various IT personnel, too much variety in tools and processes and too much redundancy.
“We had three help desks and three phone numbers, and that created a lot of confusion for the end-user community,” IT Director Rocky Pedroso says. “Each help desk had their own ticketing system and support tools, so if someone called the wrong help desk, we couldn’t open a ticket and automatically route their request to the right team. All we could do was transfer the phone call.”
That autonomous but disjointed environment was top of mind in 2011 when Miami administrators brought on Steve Cawley as the new CIO and vice president for information technology. IT centralization and consolidation immediately topped his to-do list.
“We all felt that going from three IT departments to one offered a real opportunity to streamline the process, create more efficiencies and better services, and support an IT modernization effort,” Cawley says.
Making Customer Service a Priority
The percentage of budget that the average university IT department has left over to spend on transformational activities
SOURCE: EDUCAUSE, Core Data Service Almanac, 2014
The new initiative began in earnest in 2013 and ultimately involved moving IT personnel into a single building; streamlining and consolidating the help desk and desktop support functions; standardizing services, desktop images and storage; adopting and migrating to Office 365 and other productivity tools universitywide; and centralizing IT purchasing.
The overall consolidation effort remains ongoing but has already delivered impressive results: IT now offers support to more users at a better cost, as the average user-to-technician ratio has already doubled from 250 to 1 to 500 to 1. IT personnel can also devote more time to innovating and improving customer service. Cawley expects even more benefits will be realized over time.
“There’s an economy of scale here that’s pretty significant once you standardize and consolidate,” he says. “Savings drive to the bottom line, and that allows the university to focus on the high-value support of faculty, teaching, learning and research while central IT takes care of all the utility work.”
All Under One IT Roof
Higher ed consolidation projects are becoming more common as institutions look for new ways to drive down costs, reduce redundancy and make smarter use of resources, according to Terri-Lynn B. Thayer, research director for higher education at Gartner.
Such efforts can take many forms: bringing together distributed IT personnel under a single IT department; creating shared services and infrastructure across disparate campuses; and consolidating autonomous IT teams into one following a university merger or acquisition.
“The driver around many of the consolidation or shared services initiatives has largely been around the underlying belief that consolidation will drive down costs,” Thayer says. “The concern for everyone else, though, is going to be quality: Can IT really commoditize parts of their service without diminishing quality?”
For the University of Miami’s help desk team, the answer was a resounding “yes.” Officials there viewed consolidation and centralization as an opportunity to not only streamline operations but also step up their game.
With input and buy-in from all help desk personnel, Pedroso and his team replaced three different rudimentary ticketing systems with ServiceNow, a comprehensive IT service management solution that provided new functionality, including change and problem management, a service catalog and a centralized knowledge repository.
A collection of individual remote support tools was replaced with a common new tool called Bomgar, which was chosen for its broad compatibility with ServiceNow and a wide variety of computing platforms, including Windows, Linux and mobile devices.
For the first time, service desk support can be offered to end users on a 24/7/365 basis, through one main telephone number.
“We have a much bigger perspective on everything because we have a lot more visibility,” Pedroso says, noting that incidents are resolved significantly faster, and the service desk has seen an increase in its first-call resolution numbers. “We have a better understanding of those things in our environment that keep breaking or causing issues. We can record sessions and review them for training purposes. We can track users and incidents effectively and know who’s working on what and what’s being resolved. Rather than always reacting, we are now proactive.”
Doubling Down on IT Consolidation
Quality was also the driving force for Kennesaw State University’s Information Technology Services (UITS) division, which has undergone not one but two consolidation initiatives in the past three years.
The team first consolidated internally. Then, following the university’s announcement that it would absorb the smaller Southern Polytechnic State University in late 2013, the two institutions’ IT departments merged.
While Kennesaw State had an IT division that was physically centralized, there were still silos that caused duplication of effort and redundancies in infrastructure and services. This challenged the teams in their efforts to work together cohesively.
One of the division’s four internal departments supported the majority of campus servers, but other departments such as Advanced Computing Solutions shared responsibility for servers with the same operating systems.
That meant each department had to have its own server administrators. Moreover, the Project Management Office was embedded within the Enterprise Systems and Services department, which made it difficult for project managers to take an unbiased role and manage projects effectively across the division.
With strategic guidance from CIO Dr. Randy C. Hinds, the IT division realigned units and created new ones, reshaping IT from four large departments into 10 specialized units.
“We moved technicians into roles that draw on their individual strengths and provide them with a much clearer focus, rather than expecting them to wear multiple hats,” says Lectra Lawhorne, associate CIO and assistant vice president of IT. “The new structure also gave personnel more opportunities to interact with IT leadership, which led to improved teamwork and understanding.”
The Beauty of IT Unity
The changes paid dividends when the time came for Kennesaw State’s IT team to merge with the IT department at Southern Polytechnic, which had fewer personnel but a different culture and organizational setup.
“We had already built a foundation with the new structure, and so we were able to map folks in and capitalize on their strengths based on these different verticals,” Lawhorne says. “Our project management office was huge in that effort, because they were able to manage expectations, facilitate communications and keep everyone on schedule and focused.”
The effort required, among other steps, consolidation of 604 Southern Polytechnic servers with nearly 2,000 Kennesaw State servers and standardization decisions on about 175 common platforms and applications. All stages had to be coordinated and approved by a larger consolidation committee.
The undertaking is now 99 percent complete and is viewed as a success, Lawhorne says. All projects were completed on schedule and the two departments combined into a single, 200-person IT division.
Moreover, the division has already realized a cost savings of a $250,000 on software renewals alone, even while offering more students access to applications.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it was worth it,” Lawhorne says. “We’re unified now and capable of doing some amazing things.”