Oct 31 2006

University of Florida Making Major Moves in Information Technology

One of the country's largest public universities is taking major steps toward revamping its IT organization.

With a long history of integrating technology into its operations, the University of Florida knows that garnering support from all corners is invaluable as its IT reorganization moves forward. Receiving the backing of top university officials is crucial, and communication with various constituents in the UF community helps balance the central and local distribution of IT services to meet diverse needs.

The University of Florida is a large land-grant institution with a central campus in Gainesville that is home to more than 50,000 students and approximately 12,000 staff, while extension offices in all of Florida's 67 counties provide a distributed presence across the state. Sixteen colleges give a wide breadth of academic and research activities.

With a history that extends more than 150 years, UF has used IT to support operations, teaching and research for more than 30 years. It began using some of the first computer programs to assist with teaching in the early 1980s, followed by Internet use in the late 1980s. From these beginnings, IT has grown organically, and the university strives to integrate IT into its strategic plans.

The local units (colleges and departments) have driven and managed the identification of opportunities and funding sources. Central IT handled large student systems, telecom and external networking. Over time, it has added services not handled by the local units.

Many local departments, colleges and units provide e-mail, Web hosting and other services for the faculty, staff and students associated with that unit. Numerous areas provide services with a high level of quality and leading-edge features, but that is not true for all areas and services.

Historically, local units provided all funding and resources for local IT services. Central services were funded primarily through fees associated with mainframe usage. However, now that an enterprise resource planning system is in place, there is lower use of the mainframe and less revenue for central IT services.

Gaining Support

In the last 10 years, the administration has led the university through several steps toward reorganizing its IT strategy. The UF administration recently recruited new talent into top posts, such as the position of provost. In 2005, as the interim associate provost for IT, I suggested to the provost that the university would benefit from a formal reorganization process. With the support of the provost, we created a draft plan that suggested a framework for reorganization in late 2005.

The plan called for hiring a CIO, reorganizing central services, improving governance structure and additional services. The proposed reorganization also included reviewing existing advisory groups, creating additional advisory groups, developing service-level agreements for all existing and suggested services, assessing existing IT resources, and comparing services and best practices.

After reviewing the draft plan, I prepared a formal proposal, which I presented to the provost, vice presidents and president. This presentation included a recommendation for the new CIO position and a full reorganization. With their support and sponsorship, the office of the CIO was created under the office of the provost. I was appointed interim CIO, and my early efforts toward reorganization involved informal and formal discussions with key unit and opinion leaders for IT services and users across campus.

The original intention was to explain the ideas from the draft plan, solicit feedback and suggestions to improve the ideas, and create a more formal plan. This communication and collaboration process provided a wealth of information and raised important issues.

Initial responses to the draft plan from UF community members were mixed. The plan presented some interesting ideas, but many people were concerned about the details of the implementation. Primary concerns included issues related to IT staff assignments and the potential reduction of IT staff positions.

Secondary concerns involved fears of poor-quality central services replacing high-quality local services. Also, the community thought that the plan was too much of a draft and said more effective communication was needed.

To address these concerns, we broadened the use of other communication channels. First, the office created a “Myths and Facts about the Reorg” document that discussed the top concerns and provided answers. Second, I embarked on an outreach effort to the units and organizations on campus. At these events, I presented the ideas of the plan and discussed their concerns. These efforts were publicly recorded and presented on the IT reorganization Web site (www.it.ufl.edu/reorg). Our additional communications demonstrated a commitment to a transparent, collaborative, inclusive and responsive reorganization process.

The First Steps

Moving forward into the initial stages of the formal reorganization process, we created a temporary logistics group that included individuals with diverse campus and professional backgrounds, who were on loan to the project. The charter for this small group was to help the university navigate the reorganization process by providing some basic services.

The first formal step in the reorganization process involved convening a retreat of representatives from all major campus units and organizations to begin the strategic planning process. More than 50 business units from across campus were identified, and the leader of each was asked to nominate a representative for the retreat. Directors for major IT service-providing units were also invited to participate as resources for the business leaders. Deans, directors, faculty and others agreed to attend the retreat.

The logistics group handled the behind-the-scenes planning and organization needed to create such a large event. Throughout the daylong retreat, a professional facilitator led the participants as they discussed topics such as the current state and purpose of IT at the university. The discussion resulted in recommendations for what IT at UF should become.

After the retreat, a full report of the proceedings was prepared by the logistics group and reviewed by the participants. This report was presented to the provost and senior vice presidents, and was posted on the reorganization Web site.

Based on the retreat report, I prepared a “UF IT Planning Retreat Recommendations Action Plan” document with the support of the logistics group. This document summarized the full report and included analyses and categorization of the recommendations, as well as action items and next steps for moving forward.

Based on these recommendations, the next steps involved the creation of three task committees. One will focus on IT assessment, another on IT services and a third on IT governance. Each task force will work to bring about collaborative, transparent and inclusive change for information technology at the university.

There are many steps remaining in the full reorganization process, and progress will continue to occur slowly and steadily. The end result will be a sensible IT structure that supports the strategic goals of UF and its units, while providing a balance of central and locally provisioned services.

Marc Hoit is interim CIO and a professor in the civil and coastal engineering department at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Previously, he held numerous administrative positions at UF, including director of student PeopleSoft implementation and associate dean for academic affairs administration.

Six Steps for Successful Reorg Planning

1. Seek support from the top. Secure buy-in from the university president and other top-level decision-makers.

2. Solicit suggestions. Ask members throughout the university community for their feedback on potential plans.

3. Address concerns head on. Broaden communication channels to address early concerns and myths about the potential reorganization.

4. Publicize plans. Create an IT reorganization Web site to demonstrate your commitment to a transparent, collaborative and inclusive process.

5. Create a logistics committee. Pull together a small, diverse staff to provide basic services throughout the process.

6. Organize a retreat. Invite key stakeholders and other representatives to an offsite retreat to start the strategic planning process.


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