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A New Approach To Information Technology Services

by Larry Gilbert, Ph.D.
Vice President & Chief Information Officer

You may have heard about the creation of the new Information Resources and Technology division, but you may not be familiar with the nature of the new approach to information technology it brings to Sacramento State. I’d like to take just a few minutes of your reading time to explain.

Today, it’s widely accepted as a fact that information technology is deeply embedded in almost everything we do in higher education. We just have to think back to the last time our computer broke down, our network connection stopped working, or our web browser crashed to understand how important IT has become to our work and study lives. We use IT for most of our communications, depend on it for much of our instruction and research, and use it every day for essential business processes such as hiring staff, recruiting/registering/grading students, collecting fees, and myriad other essential tasks. Simply put, information technology has become a critical strategic resource for our work in higher education. In addition, we largely assume that much of our IT resources (e.g., e-mail and networking) will operate as a utility, with the same reliability as our electricity and telephones.

The creation of the Information Resources and Technology division at Sacramento State recognizes this strategic impact of information technology by treating it as a critical institutionalized resource. To institutionalize resources means to address planning and implementation of IT resources in such a way as to always consider the strategic impact of those resources on a campus-wide basis. Following guidelines developed by the California State University System, Sac State’s first step in taking such a strategic approach to IT was to create a Chief Information Officer position (CIO), a Cabinet level position that participates first-hand in both campus-wide strategic planning and budgeting.

Some interpret institutionalization of IT as meaning that all IT resources will be directed by a single individual and organization. That is decidedly not the case. Consider the issue of web development. Development of websites is done on campus by dozens of staff members and hundreds of faculty members and students. This means that this and many other IT functions are so distributed that they simply defy control by any one group or person. Yet despite that inability to control web resources campus-wide, there’s still value in taking a strategic, campus-wide approach to planning web development. Such an approach allows us to take advantage of campus-wide economies of scale, develop standardized yet flexible and accessible web templates, purchase web content management software that’s out of the reach of individual departments, etc.

Largely due to this inherent dispersion of IT resources across campus, I agree with Brian Hawkin’s assertion* that being a Chief Information Officer is a lot like being the conductor of a large jazz ensemble. You don’t want everyone in your group marching in lock-step like a marching band. You rather want to allow the creativity and innovation of each part of the ensemble to flower and thrive. At the same time, the CIO can add value to the outcomes of the ensemble by setting general direction, finding common ground when it’s of value, planning for times when the subparts need to coordinate and work together, and making sure that each part of the ensemble has the resources they need. The overall role of the CIO is thus to ensure the whole has outcomes that are greater than the simple sum of the parts.

The values that underlie planning and implementation of this institutionalized model for information technology can be found on page eleven of this newsletter. Those values can be largely summarized by the phrases: strategic planning; focus on teaching and learning; customer service; balancing of campus-wide standards and local innovation; inclusiveness and collaboration; and careful listening to our clients. All of these IT values were developed based on planning by the IRT Steering Committee (see box below) and supported by a survey of all faculty/staff on campus.

The first strategic plan for information technology at Sacramento State is still under development, with release to the campus for review and comment expected later this semester. However, the key tenets of that developing strategic plan are already clear:

  • All IT resources will be effectively integrated into the teaching and learning process that is at the heart of our institutional mission. You can already see the outlines of this integration in the organization chart on the back page, wherein the Academic Computing Resources unit comprises the largest unit of IRT, with new faculty/student services for classroom/lab support, a Student Technology Center, portal and learning management system services, academic software licensing, and greatly enhanced web services already identified.
  • IT resources will be aligned with the university’s first three campus-wide Strategic Plan goals for focused support of: recruitment, retention and graduation of our students, evidence-based decision-making, and improved communications and collaboration.
  • Finally, emphasis will be placed on both improving business processes and on making more efficient use of scarce IT resources. For example, automated e-mail systems have been put in place that allow faculty to easily e-mail students in their classes without having to gather students’ personal e-mail addresses, and a plan is in process to create a campus-wide computer refresh program.

I hope you’ll take the time to browse through our newsletter and familiarize yourself with this new approach we’re taking to serve your IT needs. Please don’t hesitate to offer your comments and suggestions. Feel free to comment directly to larry.gilbert@csus.edu.

*[Brian Hawkins is the immediate past president of the national IT association Educause]

Do you have feedback for IRT? Email us at irtfeedback@csus.edu