Texas A&M University is currently in a time of great change, especially within the area of information technology (IT). Numerous assessments of and recommendations for the IT enterprise have been made over the last eighteen months. Concurrently, the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) has finished the strategic goal of consolidation outlined in the 2011-2015 strategic plan and undergone a recent Comprehensive Program Review (CPR). The CPR final report states:
“The focus of DoIT since it was created in 2008 has been towards IT consolidation across the Division and[the creation of] efficient and effective division-level IT systems and services[…] In this regard, DoIT has mostly satisfied the goal of infrastructure, applications, and personnel consolidation for incoming departments as outlined in the Division of Student Affairs Strategic Plan 2011-2015.”
Customer expectations have also changed. With greater availability and quality of service come greater customer expectations for service delivery. Forrester Research recently commented:
“Business leaders are driving the speed of execution and adaptation to astonishing levels because customers demand such performance… Demand has irreversibly exceeded the capacity of traditional IT…Entrenched behaviors are hampering the ability of IT to accelerate the speed of delivery. Technology solutions are now profoundly valuable, but they are useless unless the people are prepared to exploit their capabilities. Behavioral inertia causes IT practices to change too slowly [emphasis added].”
Clearly, DoIT is ending one phase of growth and entering another. This calls for an adjustment in the focus of our work to better serve our customers for the foreseeable future.
Radical changes have greatly affected the external IT landscape. These changes include:
- An explosion in mobile devices: Smartphones and tablets were uncommon devices just ten years ago; today students and employees frequently carry multiple wireless devices with them regularly.
- The ubiquity of online information: A decade ago, research for a student meant a trip to the library. Today, a student is more likely to hop on Google or Wikipedia and the library is seen as a place to socialize and work on group projects.
- The changing social landscape: The rapid growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter have dramatically changed how students engage with others — leading to dramatically changed expectations from the university IT environment.
- The consumerization of technology: IT services like storage, email, or video conferencing no longer require permission or assistance from IT support staff. Students and faculty can simply create a free account with Dropbox, Gmail, Skype, or many other cloud services to fulfill their needs. This creates complexity in data security and may not align with state and university IT rules.
The internal IT landscape has also provided its own set of challenges, including:
- Increased competition for budget: Recent efforts at the university leadership level support a view that budget and resources should be shifted away from administrative enterprises and into academic functions. This has been seen in recent outsourcing activities and supported in numerous assessments that have included IT.
- A shift to commodity shared service models: Numerous projects are currently underway to centralize so-called “commodity services” into shared service providers. The value proposition for edge operations such as DoIT will not be defined in the future by commodity services such as hardware, email, web, file, print, disaster recovery, and ID management.
- Increased demand for specialized services: Closely linked with the shift to commodity services, our customers expect flawless operation in commodity IT and demand innovation in specialized services. These specialized services span all current service domains including service desk, systems, application development, and project management.
- Increased compliance requirements: IT rules and procedures at both the state and institutional level continue to expand. Effective risk and compliance management will have a strategic impact on success for all of our service domains.
An effective strategic plan must honestly evaluate where DoIT is now, while adjusting to the changing external and internal challenges we face. In so doing, we must acknowledge that competition exists for many services we have traditionally provided. By shifting our perspective, we can take advantage of our position as a provider of specialty IT services.
The vision of DoIT, as defined in our 2012 Common Purpose Statement, is:
We create an environment for student success by providing dependable technology solutions for student affairs professionals.
I propose we change this statement slightly to better align with customer expectations:
We create an environment for student success by providing specialized and dependable technology solutions for student affairs professionals.
ITIL defines value as having both utility (functionality) and warranty (availability, capacity, continuity, and security). And so, this new perspective more closely aligns with what our customers’ definition of value is.
Specialized Technology Solutions
What does “specialized technology solutions” mean? For DoIT, a specialized solution or service in one that provides a differentiating position, i.e., one that sets us apart from our competitors by providing a highly tailored service to a specific target market.[ii]
Services in our current portfolio can be divided into the following categories:
- Market niche specialized services: These can be custom or vendor provided services, or specialized knowledge-based services. They are differentiated by the business value to our customers. These services are most valued by our customers, both staff and students. Examples are OneHouse, Fusion, StuActOnline, MaroonLink, FishCampOnline, BigEventOnline Tier-2 service desk, technology facilitations.
- Best-in-Class non-specialized services: These services are highly valued by our customers, but may not be differentiating services. They may currently be best-in-class at the university. These services should be evaluated for continued inclusion in the service catalog, transition to a shared service provider, or spun off as a center of excellence. Examples are surveillance cameras, digital signage, virtual applications, accounting applications, project management.
- Commodity services: These services are non-positioning should go through an evaluative process to determine if they should be maintained, transferred from the catalog to an outside provider or retired. Examples are email, virtual machines, disaster recovery, software licensing, and IT sourcing/purchasing.Related CPR Action Plans:
- Theme 2: Identify and Establish Core Technology & Services
- Theme 8: Assess Quality and Reach of Service
- Theme 9: Review Broad ITG Process
- Theme 10: Review and Adapt to the Changing University IT Landscape
Customer Relationships and Communication
Many of the recommendations in the CPR report focus on our customer relationships, both internal and external, and communication. Indeed, our differentiating services always come from our customers. Providing the highest quality customer service cements our value and ensures effective and efficient dialog as services mature. Processes such as customer service, business relationship management, departmental feedback, internal communication and organization, and governance are all critical processes for this position.
Moreover, our ability to understand the specialized needs of our customers differentiates our position from other service providers without the history.Related CPR Action Plans:
- Theme 4: Communicate IT Information and Direction
- Theme 5: Facilitate External Communications
- Theme 7: Communicate with Staff – Value Input and Plan Accordingly
While not strictly a position, ITIL joins the two halves of our position together, and provides a value to our organization which differentiates us from our competitors. We are currently positioned as the leader in ITIL implementation within the TAMU community. This position may not differentiate us in the long term, but it is a critical differentiator in the short to medium term given the current political climate for IT across the university and the system.Related CPR Action Plan:
- Theme 1: Develop and Implement an ITSM Framework
Many of the tasks for each theme addressed at the retreat are delineated in Appendix A: Department Goals. These tasks have been aligned with recommendations from the CPR report in such a way that completing them will accomplish the majority of recommendations in the CPR report. One CPR theme area – Funding Models – will be delayed until at least 2015 for review. The remaining CPR theme area – Evaluate HR Initiatives and Structure – will be split into several different groups. For example, Shared Knowledge and Capacity Management are both ITIL processes and will be added to that theme. New roles and positions will be handled by the management team rather than by a larger departmental team.
Theme champions will be identified for each CPR theme area. The responsibilities of the theme champion are:
- Oversees the theme and works with teams to coordinate efforts
- Develops a schedule for theme tasks in consultation with team managers
- Informs, publicizes and markets the key aspects of the theme both internally and externally as appropriate
- Reports theme status to senior management
- Coordinates support of theme tasks upon completion
The senior management team will be responsible for the overall integration of the plan among the different working groups.
Areas of Assessment
Overlaying this plan are four assessment area themes. These have been identified as key areas of assessment to be developed in the coming year:
- Implementation of ITSM workflows and tools
- Customer satisfaction at all levels (SD, Apps, Networking/Systems, PM, Liaisons)
- Effectiveness and communication of IT Governance
- Role of Business Analysis in our future Service Catalog
[i] The Future of IT at Texas A&M. http://itacwiki.tamu.edu/The_Future_of_IT_at_Texas_A%26M
[ii] ITIL Service Strategy: Principles of Positions.