Archives: Information Technology Transformation

UB IT Environment Transformation Report

Executive Summary

Information Technology has become an integral part of the life of all Americans. In a leading research university, the role of Information Resources[1] is even more pervasive. This situation is not unexpected. A university is society’s locus for the creation, preservation and transmission of knowledge, and information is the raw material for this knowledge industry. In the contemporary world, much of this activity is enabled by technology. The university confronts a changing environment of technology and information resources – changing expectations on the use of technology, changing regulations about the use of technology. In examining the technology environment at the University at Buffalo, we must be mindful of the multiplicity of roles to which it is called.

The greatest IR asset of the University is its intellectual capital. Indeed, the institution relies on innovation and creative thinking to make its reputation. Yet our greatest weakness is the disconnect between IR planning and decision making and that intellectual capital.

We contend that IR is not simply a resource to be ‘managed’ in a traditional business sense. Rather, to the extent that the University identifies itself with innovation and creative activities, IR is an asset to be leveraged, to mark UB as a Top 25 public research university.

The UB IT Environment Team finds that the University under-invests in technology and IR, relative to leading public research universities. The University IT effort is shortstaffed for the number of faculty on campus, compared with support numbers at other leading public research universities. Given this under-spending, the challenge for the campus is to develop an institutional culture that brings about an environment of collaboration and cooperation.

“The key to future competitive advantage will be the organization's capacity to create the social architecture capable of generating intellectual capital.”[2]

Can the leadership of the University foster the milieu in which creativity can thrive?

The Team summarizes all findings in the document entitled “Potential Opportunities” attached to this Report, a list of actions and areas by which a change in operation may better position UB’s IR activities. Each “opportunity” must be fully explored and evaluated – both on its own terms and relative to the other “opportunities” – to determine its net realizable effect.  This list is designed to suggest ways to free staff time from routine activities, allowing them to assist faculty with the research and instructional activities that bring distinction to the University. Moreover, several of the opportunities should be viewed as interdependent, making sense only if the other opportunities in that suite are also adopted. Four areas drawn from that opportunities list deserve special mention.  

  1. Governance The most revolutionary opportunity for change in the campus IR operation is to establish a broadly-based and transparent governance structure for UB. This governance structure must transcend the central-distributed divide, engaging the senior leadership and the deans and VPs while being attentive to the voice of IR staff and the end users – the faculty,  professional staff, and students.  
  2. Administrative Systems By far, the area offering the largest potential gain in efficiencies and productivity is administrative systems. The campus has stated clearly that it is looking for a comprehensive solution to this challenge, a solution
    that integrates personnel and financial systems with appropriate connections to student systems. Piecemeal fixes will not answer the campus’ demand for improvement. At the same time, addressing the needs in administrative systems cannot preclude progress on other recommendations that also must be supported.
  3. Workstations The provisioning of workstation services, including purchasing, imaging, security, patching and backup could be profitably restructured. We recommend the campus adopt an IT Bill of Rights that provides a well communicated support model for workstation users, that guarantees a minimal refresh cycle for hardware and software, establishes basic faculty/staff workstation standards, and defines and employs standard images (which can be customized for specialized needs) maintained centrally for all machines while retaining a diversity of computing platforms and operating systems. These changes must be viewed as interdependent.
  4. Core Activity Support and the Support Staff Further changes to the operation of information resources should be undertaken, the goal of which is to expand and improve support services for core research and instructional activities, by freeing existing support staff effort, by developing the skills of all staff members, and by targeted new investments in support staff.  Efficiencies and improvements may be found in: (i) expanded and improved instructional and classroom support services, (ii) expanding the offering and use of the server “club room”, together with offering a robust suite of software for remote server management, (iii) consolidating web services, including marketing and web publication services, together with a flexible service agreement; (iv) developing a consistent IT staff position description system, compensation system and promotional plan; (v) expanding the opportunities for professional development for IT staff. 

[1] Information Technology is the most commonly used rubric to describe the computer, network, software
and other data resources. Especially on a university campus, given the large role of libraries and other data
repositories, we suggest that Information Resources might be a more apt descriptor. Reflecting this
expanded role, we mostly refer to IR in this document, although IR and IT may be viewed as largely

[2] In “The Leadership Advantage” by Warren Bennis, Leader to Leader, No. 12 Spring 1999