Last week marked 5 years at Queen’s in my role as CIO/AVP. I was very aware that this date was coming, but it still stunned me when the first congratulations came in on LinkedIn. The fact the LinkedIn publicizes such anniversaries still bothers me a bit. Don’t get me wrong – I did appreciate all the notes (and nice comments) from people who took time to offer congratulations, but deep down I feel I have lost a bit of control there. I don’t let Facebook know my birthday, so I get a lot fewer best wishes than my friends, but that is ok – those who should know, know.
So what do you do when you reach one these types of milestones…. I find the older I get the more I need to reflect. On a personal level, I find that at these times I crave much more “me” time and that means long walks and listening to music. I am not sure my family notices, but I do. I am going to write down some of these reflection in my blog. I am going to move away from the more formulaic approach that poses a question, tells a story and draws a conclusion, to a longer set of reflections. Maybe this is as much for me as for “you”.
I recently had a good chat with a trusted colleague who I have known a long time, and who I have gotten to know much more while here at Queen’s. They suggested that I should formally identify what I have achieved during my first five years. I decided that my achievements are to a great extent reflected in what the ITS organization has accomplished, and how we have advanced information and technology at Queens since I arrived. The idea sounded very intriguing, but also daunting. An IT organization in Higher Education is in continuous flux, with ever changing priorities and successes almost every day. How could I possibly summarize all of this? It is a challenge I run across frequently. We don’t want to leave out anybody’s contribution, but we can’t have a list that goes on and on, or people will lose interest. This paradox, where stakeholders say they don’t know/understand what we do, yet aren’t sure they have time to engage in understanding the whole picture, is felt by every CIO I know, and can be oh so frustrating for people working in IT. Communications has become such an important piece of the modern day IT organization and something we have been emphasizing here in ITS. We are doing some good things in this area, as is Queen’s and University Relations, and I hope to see us do even more. The eternal optimist in me says that eventually we will find the right balance.
In 2013, ITS developed a 5-year ITS strategic plan that defined our roadmap up to the end of 2017. We have begun discussing the next iteration, but I envision this one to be more of an IT@Queen’s Strategic Plan (or maybe even a digital strategy for Queen’s), rather than being limited in scope to just ITS. Bringing IT planning to this next level will require increasingly more engagement with the community and the Senior Administration.
The ITS Strategic Plan establishes four high level pillars listed below, with some highlights and measures of success from each.
Attract leading talent and keep them engaged and empowered by committing to staff development and professional growth through clear career paths and recognition.
In the areas of talent attraction, retention and development I think we have accomplished a great deal. We have a sound staffing strategy that is leading us in the right direction. We have moved most of our staff to continuing appointments where it was evident we had a sustained requirement. We have undertaken a market value assessment in the areas where we had recruitment and retention challenges, and have provided opportunities for growth and development, especially in leadership and management roles. We are closer to having all positions filled, but know that in the IT field there will always be some turnover. We have actively tried to “grow from within” and it has worked very well for most roles. We continue to develop a talent management plan and will need to continue focusing on total compensation, along with a robust rewards and recognition structure. We need to take more of a community view around recruitment and retention and work with local groups and partners to make that happen.
Forge a shared sense of purpose and priorities, employ unified and coherent processes, and develop leadership aptitude to build an enduring service culture across the organization.
I believe we have seen a great deal of growth within the organization on this front. There is a lot more cross-team awareness and collaboration and there is growing trust within the ITS team. Five years ago we identified a goal of having more contiguous space to facilitate greater cross-team collaboration, and we have come much further with this than I thought possible. We have moved from multiple locations on campus (and off – Princess St), and as of Winter 2017, ITS will be in just two locations (Mac-Corry and Dupuis). The nature and quality of our space has also changed and mostly for the better. Given the age of the campus there are things that we will not be able to change and things we will continue to work on. The next phase includes renovation on the first floor of Dupuis to consolidate the admin group and to create a Network Operations Centre, and I am especially looking forward to relocating the Help Centre from Stauffer to “Main Street” MacCorry. The intention here is to create a dynamic and accessible “hub” for people to get help and to build more integrations with the Centre for Teaching and Learning. Feedback about this move from many parts of the campus has been very positive. We want it to be a hub of activity and innovation and we are taking it to the “streets” to make that happen.
In terms of developing an evidence based culture a lot has been accomplished. We worked with Educause to help them re-define a key part of their Core Data Service benchmarking instrument. Queen’s also championed the creation of a set of Canadian IT Benchmarking metrics, based on the Australian CAUDIT model. Most of our Canadian peer institutions participate in one or both of these programs, which render some valuable organizational metrics, providing a much better sense of how we are doing relative to other schools. We also participate in various other studies and surveys and have reported out on many of these. There are links on the Assessment page of the CIO website.
In the very near future we will start publishing various KPI’s that we have been developing. This will give the community more insight into our services and ensure alignment with our SLA’s and community expectations.
Develop partnerships on and off campus to introduce innovative and costeffective ways to meet campus IT requirements in a changing environment. Build trust in service decisions through transparency in planning and budgeting.
A lot of work has gone into building relationships and partnerships. Queen’s is very much a federation of IT support centers built on Common Vision, Shared Governance and Joint Accountability. Not everything is perfect, but there is a good deal of regular dialogue, and trust is developing across the different parts of the federation. There is more work to be done on transparency, from both the enterprise and the distributed IT units, but this is coming. Fine tuning our communications strategies will help.
Over the last few years we have built strong vendor relationships and have forged some strong partnerships with a group of these vendors. We have also contributed to the growth of CUCCIO (Canadian HE CIO’s) as well as the resurrection of an Ontario HE CIO’s group. We have advocated or encouraged various cross-institutional collaborations, such as the Knowledge Content Centre, a Shared Responsibility for PeopleSoft initiative, a Shared Storage solution, and a shared CISO/Security infrastructure concept. These collaborations are difficult and need a lot of time to develop the necessary value and trust. ITS has made significant contributions towards these initiatives.
There has been consolidation of services on Campus through such things as Office 365, OnQ, Virtualization of IT infrastructure, and Data Centre Management. This consolidation has yielded a more consistent and familiar foundation of IT capability for Queen’s students, faculty, and staff. Further planning and projects will be undertaken to ensure we continue to find efficiencies in IT at the University.
As mentioned earlier, elevating IT planning to the campus level and establishing a Queen’s IT Strategic Plan, with which we and our campus partners can pursue an IT@Queen’s vision with a strong focus on creating a digital strategy for Queen’s will be a major focus. We need to ensure we prioritize the right projects for Queen’s overall, and that we meet the needs of the community the most effective and efficient way possible.
To be seen at the fore among Canadian universities, ITServices must select new technologies and service delivery methods that effectively support the university’s business requirements. It must also learn from and share learning with the Canadian university community. ITServices can maximize efficiencies through training, automation of overheads, and (where needed) retirement or replacement of ineffective services used at Queen’s.
Queen’s has embraced “the cloud” and introduced a number of new “cloud-based services”, such as Office 365, OnQ, and Travel and Expense. In all cases we have made sure we have exercised due diligence in addressing risks related to the protection of privacy, IP and our information resources in general. In most cases, these initiatives were less about saving costs, and more about finding ways to meet the ever increasing demands of the community in the most effective way possible. Most of these cloud-based services provide functionality and robustness of service that is expected and needed by the community, but that we simply could not provide on our own.
I think we can do more to retire aging services, although we have done a lot of this over the last few years, like shutting down the mainframe, replacing old identity services and eliminating dial-in modem access. The later was more symbolic than material, but it shows how hard it can be in an academic environment to shut down services that only a few people depend on. The next big decommissioning will be Queen’s Telephone System, which has been with us for over 25 years.
On the financial side we have moved a long way towards creating sustainable funding for infrastructure renewal, refresh, and growth although there are still gaps to be filled. We continue to be challenged with the conflict between operations and projects and there is risk in several of our operational practices that needs addressing.
Among the many successes ITS can feel proud about over the last 5 years, several are particularly significant:
- People Soft
Five years ago Queen’s was nearing the end of the initial PeopleSoft implementation and there was still much to do to mature these systems to the level of functionality and stability needed by the University. Working closely with our partners in Finance, the Registrar’s Office and HR, we have completed 3 significant upgrades on-time and on-budget. These were major undertakings, and succeeded because of the hard work by our partners and our teams. The ITS PeopleSoft team’s competency with, and understanding of the technology, is now much stronger, and this has allowed us to move to a Continuous Development model over the next 18 months, which is expected to be less disruptive and more efficient in terms of resources.
Most universities have ceased running email and calendaring services in-house, but doing so has not been without challenges. Today, in addition to meeting the core needs for email and calendaring, Office 365 is providing the University with a richer suite of collaborative tools that continues to grow. The Office 365 migration also enabled us to develop an Authorization to Operate (ATO) process for evaluating cloud based solutions and assessing and mitigating the associated risks with other vendors. A remaining challenge is developing awareness and understanding of the vast productivity tools within O365.
The creation of the Project Portfolio Office has had a significant impact on how the University prioritizes, sequences and undertakes major systems projects, as well as how effectively they are delivered. There is significantly better awareness of what is being done, greater accountability around projects, and more opportunity for collaborative or convergent approaches. Work continues on improving the associated governance structure and surfacing more projects.
The last area I want to talk about, all on its own, is Information and Cyber-Security, a pressing focus and responsibility at Queen’s and virtually every other university. A couple of years ago the Electronic Information Security Policy Framework was established and has given us a strong foundation to build on. More recently, we have successfully recruited an experienced Information Security Officer, expanded our security team, and begun a special project to tackle immediate challenges related to IT hi-jack in the coming months. A more comprehensive IT Security plan will be developed in the year ahead and I am confident we will significantly enhance our security posture.
There are many achievements within ITS and across the University that cannot be acknowledged here, but this does not diminish their value. As CIO and Associate Vice-Principal, my best days are when I either observe, or am fortunate to be part of, a creative or complex process involving both IT and non-IT people – some project or decision – which, at the end of the day, makes the lives of our students, faculty and staff somehow better.