Early in my career, when I was a senior process controller in the private sector, my job was to improve IT processes in an effort to operate as efficiently as possible, improve services and save money. It’s an objective that I’ve continued to concentrate on in my 20-year career as a CIO in education – and that’s to do more with less, particularly as IT budgets get smaller.
To succeed, it’s crucial for an IT leader to innovate and be open-minded to new technology and new ways of doing things. To make sure I’m on top of the latest technologies, I read, do online research, attend events and talk to my peers. But it’s not a solo endeavor. I also regularly meet with my IT staff, and we brainstorm ideas and strategies on how to more effectively manage IT.
There are many technologies universities can implement to improve efficiencies, save IT staff time and resources, and ensure a good return-on-investment. Here are some of the technologies I’ve deployed:
You would think every enterprise has already consolidated its servers with virtualization since the benefits are well known, from better utilization and simpler management to cost savings and improved disaster recovery.
Our virtualization project has provided the university great dividends: Each physical server has 80 percent greater utilization. We’ve reduced capital and operations expenses. And overall, we’re saving thousands annually for each server virtualized.
Server virtualization is also speeding up disaster recovery. Snapshots of virtual machines and data are regularly copied to the cloud. So, if a disaster strikes and takes down our main data center, my team and I can quickly restore services through the cloud.
Remote Desktop Management
In the past, the IT team walked to every desktop PC to troubleshoot or to install new applications, software upgrades, and security patches. It was a big waste of time. For an IT administrator, upgrading 30 to 40 computers could take all day.
To save IT staff time, implement a desktop client management suite that allows your team to remotely access and troubleshoot technology devices. It should allow users to install software themselves. And when PCs need software updates or security patches, it can schedule it and have every PC automatically upgraded in the middle of the night. The software should automatically take inventory of every device and the applications that reside in it.
Accelerated Active Directory User Provisioning
Think of the thousands of new students and hundreds of new full-time or adjunct faculty members that join the university every year. It used to be a full-time job just to make sure the user accounts were created.
Implementing an identity management system is crucial for automated provisioning and de-provisioning of user accounts. User accounts will be automatically created when new employees are hired and new students are enrolled in the university. Using their new credentials, they can have access to email, shared drives and a multitude of network resources quicker than ever.
Implement a tool that monitors your network and applications in real-time. And if an outage or problem occurs, it will alert you immediately through an email or mobile text messages, so you can quickly resolve the issue and keep IT operations up and running. Don’t forget to include your uninterruptible power supplies, because you’ll want to be notified if a power outage occurs.
On a Tight Budget
If you need to do more with less than here are my 9 tips on how to revamp your technology.
1. Get support. It's critical to have the support of the president/superintendent, but you also need to meet with the stakeholders. Learn what their needs are and develop a plan to meet those needs.
2. Assess the IT situation. Take inventory of the organization's technology to determine the scope of your project.
3. Standardize. Develop new IT standards for the organization, such as minimum computer requirements.
4. Review IT, staff. Assess your staff to determine whether they have the necessary training and expertise. If not, get them training or make staffing changes.
5. Create new procedures for IT staff. If no uniform policies are in place, you must develop them. For example, if no policy exists for requesting and handling help desk support, create one.
6. Prioritize projects. When you're on a limited budget, focus on improving the hardware and software infrastructure first. Take a phased approach and give yourself several years to complete projects.
7. Invest in faculty training programs. Don't just teach instructors how to use technology. Train them to incorporate technology into the curriculum.
8. Shop for deals. Find savings by reviewing existing IT maintenance contracts and doing comparison shopping when you buy new technology. Review outsourced IT work to determine whether you can do the work in-house for less money.
9. Assist departments/schools in securing grants. Many tech companies donate money or technology for projects.
To conclude, the effort to improve IT processes never ends. My staff and I are always looking at how we can bolster performance, and we continually ask ourselves: does it make financial sense to keep doing things the same way? Is there a better way?