Reaching Others University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content

Information Technology Transformation

Frequently Asked Questions

The following FAQ’s have been compiled and condensed from a collection of IT Town Halls, questions submitted to the UB 2020 web feedback form and other organizational meetings. Additional FAQ’s will be added (at the bottom) as events & feedback questions are received.

Will I keep my job?

I want to assure you that no one will lose his or her employment at UB as part of this reorganization. As we continue to implement UB 2020, our commitment to preserving employment continues while we align IT resources with university priorities

How will my job change?

The IT reorganization will provide an opportunity for many of us to work in a focused and a disciplined IT organization with more opportunities for career development and growth. It is almost a certainty that many staff will be able to develop additional skills that will increase their productivity and enhance their value to the university. Initially, most IT staff will continue to serve faculty, students and staff delivering many of the services they now provide. There will be consolidation of resources, particularly those resources devoted to infrastructure and sharable overhead.

Over time, professional responsibilities will evolve to advance the overall goal of best serving the needs of our university by leveraging the strengths of IT staff. We will do what we can to match an individual’s skill, experience and interests with the roles and job assignments required to fulfill the IT work at hand. It is certain that you will be working differently in the future as we change processes and procedures. It is important to remember that this transformation will affect all IT staff members—in the nodes and in the office of the CIO.

To whom will I report?

Initially, staff will continue to report to their current managers. As we implement the reorganization, we will work closely with each unit manager to make sure we assign a job fit for each employee based on the university’s need and that employee’s core strengths. It is also my intention to flatten our future UB IT organization in accord with the model included in my presentation. Until there is a formal change in reporting relationships in your unit, you should continue to perform your duties serving UB’s teaching, learning and research missions as you always have—with a commitment to excellence.

How will staff members be backfilled if they're moved to new projects and processes?

This is the most difficult part of the negotiation with the deans--classifying and negotiating IT vs. non-IT work and working through the details that ensure that processes and services currently in place are not disrupted.

How will you handle units that expect a higher level of service beyond baseline services?

We want to make sure we maintain all the service levels that are currently provided. If campus resources continue to shrink, regardless of what unit you're in, something will have to give overall. If we take a service that's currently supported 9-5 when the unit feels it should be supported 24x7; that would require more resources, so we need to understand the consequences of those decisions and align the available resources to the unit and university needs.

When working in an IT environment that has a mix of research and state-funded employees--all working together on faculty support and IT work--how do you manage that?

There are maybe 10 people currently funded through RF dollars providing general unit IT support who are not allocated to work on a specific grant. Their work will not change and they will be part of the UB IT transformation. Those who are currently supported through grant research funds and allocated to a specific grant project will not be part of the new IT organization. The funding source is important, but the type of work they do is equally important. Through the MOUs, we'll work with the deans and VPs and the individual staff impacted. If you're currently funded through research funds, there are no plans to move you to a state-funded line, or vice versa. The work and reporting relationship may change, but the funding source will not.

How will the IT reorganization mesh with the shared service desk project that I'm hearing about?

It's an important component, perhaps even a pre-requisite. We are on the path toward implementing tools to manage the shared service desk. The software is purchased and installed, so when I was talking about service metrics in the presentation earlier, this initiative will help.

Service desks operate with ticket systems. How do you decide who to assign the ticket to?

The service desk team has been working on exactly those kinds of issues. The short answer is that we're building a service catalog into the system. That will help classify the work and in some cases allow for some automatic responses. The idea is for support teams and services to be properly identified, then link the two together. The tickets will be managed through team-based routing--not individuals-based routing. We're working through those issues.

How will we be able to provide "local" services when all our staff will be reassigned to infrastructure activities?

That assumption is incorrect. Staff members will largely continue to do the same work they do today; changes will only take place after acquiring a better understanding of the needs and skill sets of the staff. Our goal is to create a job fit and meet the needs of the university.

Is it necessary to reorganize and change how we provide IT without examining all the details about how IT is currently provided?

That is exactly what we are doing now. We are evaluating the data we have collected to make sure our decisions are based on facts and documented through the MOUs. I hope everyone now has a better understanding of the MOUs and how this process examines all the details directly with the stakeholders. I'd be happy to address any more questions about the MOUs.

Is the University Support Services (USS) IT consolidation an example of how the rest of the consolidation will be managed?

Yes and no. It depends on the type of services and systems the unit currently provides.

Mac penetration has passed 30 percent and is on its way to achieving a 50-percent rate. If you could say a few words about how Apple and Macs fit into deployment plans on the academic side of the house, it would be appreciated.

We've passed the 30-percent penetration rate for incoming students, but this is not true campus-wide. However, I think the spirit of this question is the need for the university to provide support for the Mac environment in a general. We now have seven different Macs available through the campus standards, so we need to figure out how to better support them, and we are working on that issue.

What will happen if this plan fails (or is partially implemented)?

I'm not thinking about failure; I'm spending time on how it's going to work. I think this community has sincerely shown that there is no challenge that we're not up to. Failure is not an option.

This transformation is primarily predicated on cost savings. Would you be able to share with us the data senior administration has used to come to the determination that such savings are real, where they are located (break out by savings anticipated for each unit in the new structure) and also the time frame over which those savings are expected to be realized? To be frank, there is little confidence in the IT community that current service levels can be maintained while savings are realized from "efficiencies" that will be gained simply by consolidating services. Dispelling this skepticism with the objective data senior administration must have used to come to this decision would be a very productive step to take.

There was no specific financial model used to launch the initiative. Other realities drove the initial transformation, but since the reorganization was originally announced, budgets have become a huge driver. Universities around the country are dealing with similar issues, including the University of Florida, which is implementing its IT transformation as we speak.

One of the drivers is still to make sure we have an IT organization that can effectively respond to the new realities--today's needs and tomorrow's needs. Our current organization was put in place more than 15 years ago to address the issues at that time. Since then, technology has evolved; student, faculty and staff needs have changed. It is only natural for organizations to also evolve and adapt to meet current and future needs. (Note: financial data was displayed as part of the response.)

A core part of the 2020 initiative is to make UB a better research institution. What has happened to research computing support? This was identified as a key area of focus in the IT retreat you held a year or so ago, but seems to have disappeared from the IT support model.

If I have my way, the divisional IT units will be providing even better support for research computing. Once we move some of the enterprise responsibilities to core infrastructure, there will be an opportunity for greater research and academic focus in the divisional IT units.

Can the administration talk about the IT transformation without using such euphemisms as "resources" and "portfolios," and trite phrases like "the train has already left the station?" We are people, not resources, lest you forget. It is a disgrace, especially at a time when UB is striving to become one of the top 100 places to work. This transformation affects the work-life quality of so many people, both directly and indirectly. People are really concerned about their livelihoods and their continued ability to perform their jobs in an efficient manner. So much of the information that is being shared by the administration is in sound bites and catch phrases that serve to humiliate and trivialize, rather than inform.

I use the phrase "that train has left the station" all the time--it's one of my favorite phrases, so you'll probably hear me say it again, though I certainly didn't intend to offend anyone. I want to assure all of you that I care deeply about how people feel about these issues. I respect and understand people's concerns and fears. I would be concerned, too, if I were sitting in this audience, and I share many of your concerns. That's why I choose to hold meetings like these town halls to try and keep people as informed as possible as the process unfolds and to encourage your input. But that said, I hope this is the last time we talk about the "why" we are doing the IT transformation and instead focus on the "how."

Given the additional budget costs, please review the top 10 IT priority projects and the budget impact, if any.

IT Strategic Plan 2009-2012

A tool that some of you may be unaware of--Clarity--enables the tracking of projects and resources. In the new organization, we hope to have all projects documented in this manner. I'll share some examples of how useful this tool is. Are all of you aware of  this link off the CIO Web site?

Another link that you may want to review is the Strategic Plan for IT. Note that it's not entitled the "IT Strategic Plan"--rather it's the university's plan for IT. The plan informs how IT will be used to support campus-wide teaching, learning and research.

The value of tracking resources and projects in Clarity is that we can demonstrate to our campus where we stand in terms of supply and demand. For example, in this case, I looked at the number of hours and projects being tracked in just two units: EIS and OSS--our core infrastructure folks. We currently have approximately 110,000 available people-hours to address infrastructure needs, but 74,000 hours are spent just keeping current services running. At the same time, we have 42,000 hours of priority project work under way and 50,000 hours of deferred projects. We need those 42,000 hours in order to get campus priorities met, but we face organizationally the same challenges and decision processes that individuals face: What projects do we work on today?

This requires examining where the capacity lies, and with the reorganization we can begin to balance the portfolio. We'll be able to better meet some of these demands through IT consolidation.

Are budget cutbacks impacting our ability to provide reliable services?

The challenge is having enough hands on deck to do the work. Sometimes it's easier to find one-time money, but it's much harder to find permanent dollars and people for the long term. It's challenging to fill vacancies. That's why the MOUs are critical. We need to keep examining the consequences of decisions and hold ourselves and the university accountable for those decisions. Having data like this and being able to drill down into it is critical to the decision process.

We are currently experiencing network sluggishness. Is this a technical problem or a resource problem, or both?

We predicted our bandwidth needs back in 2007 based on anticipated growth and capacity needs. We currently have a 600Mb connection to the commodity Internet. To make a long story short, we awarded a contract to have the service upgraded, but when the state budget shortfalls hit, the contract got tangled up in the procurement and legal process in Albany for more than 18 months. The original contract for service was for four years, and we've already lost two years on it. We untangled this about two weeks ago, and the network upgrade will be done on Dec. 2 to increase capacity from 600Mb to 1Gb. We hope this will address the congestion issue.

You mentioned sending out an e-mail regarding the IT strategic plan, but I don't recall receiving that information. How do we make sure we're on the distribution list?

Eldayrie deferred to Kerri Jasen, who explained that the current listserv is a "superlist" of three separate lists: CIT staff, the self-subscribed DCC listserv and the IT help listserv that was created from the staffing lists submitted to the Office of the CIO as part of the inventory. Anyone not currently receiving information, such as the IT announcements or the new Reorganization Newsletter launched earlier this month, should contact Jasen at cabana@buffalo.edu or at 645-5808.

You described earlier the project needs with a slide that illustrated the number of hours necessary to complete work. But as part of the services inventory, we all agreed that the nodes are under-resourced, similarly to the central units. How do you allocate part of a distributed person's time to the backlogged projects without impacting services overall or to the divisional units?

That's the toughest part--the divisional units governance process--where the priorities and resources will be defined and any capacity hours will be allocated to university projects and priorities. Depending on how local or global the issues are, they will need to be addressed at all levels--from IT staff to the ETAG and deans.

As a follow-up to the previous question, if resources are transferred to the CIO, who advocates for local support?

When staff vacancies occur, I have to go back and justify the need for each line and make the case for refilling the lines. When new needs occur that haven't been resourced in the original MOU, the deans/VPs and I will need to negotiate and update the MOU to ensure proper allocation and support. This is why it's critical to identify priorities at the unit and campus levels so our leadership can make the necessary tradeoffs and align funding with priorities.

How do you figure out which aspect of Web Services is important, the marketing aspect and web presence?

We are moving ahead with a web content system. Content providers design the look and feel, but the infrastructure to deliver it can be a shared service. We think the marketing piece can be done by the campus. It’s that layer between content creation and delivery that we need to have further discussions about.

How do you know if the service expectations are working or not?

As we move forward, we are creating an organization that is built on data. The data will help us make decisions and determine if we are meeting the expectations. We will be assessing and adjusting according to the outcomes reported, in large part, by the customers.

Are you going to keep service centers at different locations, particularly south?

The model calls for local IT support to continue. We will make sure that support will remain as relatively close to everyone as it can.

What do you envision happening if a unit determines that they want to hire an IT person?

If people start doing that, then the need isn’t being met. We have to do better in these areas. We don’t want to go back to units creating these things. We will gauge these conversations on the Memorandum of Understanding which will be reviewed annually.

There are government mandates, particularly in health care. What are the plans for complying with federal mandates?

Federal mandates are mandates. We have to address them. We have to do the same for State mandates.

We’ve tried centralization in the past, and it hasn’t work. How can we learn from the past to not make the same mistakes?

IT goes through cycles, in 10 years someone will come into an office and say, “What were those guys thinking about? We need to decentralize the organization.” But in the past, a totally centralized model was about people being walled off, and being dependent upon the services provided. This reorganization is actually more of a hybrid model.

Are we looking at peer institutions – what are a couple of things we can take away from them?

We spoke with about 20 schools from around the country with similar size and complexity - including medical centers and professional schools. The single uniform problem we saw was how committed the leadership was to the change – it needs to be a focused change. You can’t change your mind every month, you have to create a plan and stick to it. This approach is based on facts, principles, and rationale rather than on people, the model is more sustainable – it goes beyond any of our time here.

How will professional development and reporting structures fall into place. I’m not an HR person, but your record will follows you from an administrative point of view, and the HR line remains intact – is this the case here?

It’s the same as moving today. If you stay within your State title, everything transfers. If you change state title, then you go through a new probationary period.

This is more of a statement rather than a question, but going back prior to 2000, it sounds like this plan is much less of an “us vs. them” philosophy – and it sounds likes it’s going to create a more functional, encompassing organization. As a financial person, the clarity of where the money is going makes me feel less like the IT funding is a huge black hole, and that there’s more accountability.

We’ve already realized some annual cost savings with IT PSR reductions – resulting in 1.7M in savings. That’s been realized through 34 FTE’s who were in IT jobs in 04, but are no longer here – we have unfilled lines. We hope to redeploy that money for other needs on campus.

The Student Services Transformation (SST) and IT reorganization will be happening in parallel. It seems like there is a lot of change happening at the same time.

SST was born out of the service mapping – there were lots of compliance issues with our systems. We’re 3 years into SST currently, and it will take another 2 years or so to complete. We can’t afford to NOT do the transformation. Is it difficult? Yes, but is it doable? Yes. It’s a tight contract and timeline working with the consultants. Some of this is outside the current IT reorganization work.

Will we have an opportunity to look at the MOU’s – with an eye toward the services we don’t currently have but would like?

Good question. There will be periodic reviews of the MOU’s , which are not be set in stone – we’ll make sure that services reflect the needs.

We see that you’re organizing steering committees and hosting Town Halls, but how will you keep the “worker bees” involved? This will help build trust and continue to keep people engaged.

We hope people will take good advantage of the opportunities for feedback and dialogue. We are confident that the trust factor will diminish over time. Thank you for today’s invitation, and I’d like to have the opportunity to chat some more.

After all the projects are complete, what comes afterward - maybe a big party?

I think we need to find a way to celebrate our wins. What’s coming after that? In IT, it’s always changing. Every 18 months, something changes. As organizations evolve, we need to respond to the challenges. There’s always something to do.

 

Questions and comments raised at future Town Hall meetings will be answered in this space. Your interest is appreciated.

Last updated: February 23, 2010