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June 1, 2009

Change

I've had a few other articles in the works for a few weeks, but I cannot seem to get my mind to the point of finishing them. Instead, the thing that is on my mind is the way that the University community is reacting to the changes that we must face. I've been following the auto industry's travails and I think the University is on an identical trajectory.

GM and Chrysler chose to ignore the reality that they were not competitive. What we are seeing with them now is the inevitable crash after years of running their businesses in unsustainable ways. Ford fared better because they realized they were headed for a brick wall a few years ago. They started correcting their course before the bottom dropped out of the industry. GM and Chrysler, meanwhile, refused to acknowledge that their ways of doing business were outdated and they've suffered for it considerably more than Ford.

At the University, at least in the little corner where I work, it seems like there is a similar refusal to accept that things have changed. I started in 2000 at the Carlson School of Management and moved to the Office of Information Technology in 2006. We did fine while things were good, but now that our funding sources are diminishing we are facing some challenges. I remember being amazed both when I started at CSOM and later at OIT at how lax the policy was on acquisition of hardware and software, and how careless people were with those resources. What is more amazing, or maybe it is more unfortunate, is the refusal to acknowledge and accept that we can't continue that way.

The way things were done at the University last year or last decade are no longer viable. We cannot throw money at problems any more. We need creative solutions to problems in OIT. Isn't that why we're in the IT industry? Adding disk space or buying a bigger server are not IT skills but they are common solutions to problems here. It seems like we reactively do these things because that is the way we have always done it. And tuition will go up and people will be laid off as a result.

It is a brick wall. The longer we avoid dealing with it, the harder it will hit. The game has changed, so the sooner we accept that the better we will be able to cope.

April 7, 2009

Gettin' Planful

I've heard or read people using the word "planful" at the University lately. It's not really a word, but ignore that for now. One of the things I noticed in coming over to central OIT a couple years ago is the lack of planning in the allocation of resources and time. Is it too harsh of me to put it that way? It seems like everything is done as a reaction to something rather than as a proactive activity.

That brings me to my point. I would like to become more proactive in solving problems here. We react to problems when they happen. But I can say I think the challenges that we will be facing in the not so distant future are things like OIT acting more as a whole-University IT department rather than just one for the central administration, less money for new hardware, and data security threats that we cannot afford to ignore. A brainstorming session among a group of people would identify a lot more. So why can't we be proactive and start working toward solutions now?

The Google Apps/GMail project illustrates the point. Nothing against the people who are working on that project, but it is a reaction to stirrings by people in certain departments external to central OIT. I am sure it will be successful, but maybe it would have been better if we had predicted the need and started working on it before people started asking for it. It is not as hard as it might seem to predict trends and act on them. I would include that as a function of management strategy.

Google Apps could be considered a part of a mobile device strategy, since the apps are available from any device from a laptop to a netbook to a smart phone. We should have a mobile device strategy. We should have had one two years ago, when Blackberries, iPhones, and Android started showing up and Google was snapping up mobile technology companies. We can predict the trend of smaller, network connected devices from various activities in the industry.

On the Oracle database front, we know that demand for centrally-hosted databases is coming. We haven't begun to test Oracle 11g yet, but we know it will be in demand soon. We know that hardware budgets will be smaller, but we're not really planning for having less to work with yet. With as lax as some of our security practices are, I feel comfortable in saying that a breach is not only probable but imminent. We can be planful about these things so that we are prepared for them when they come. It will make our lives so much easier.

UPDATE (4-13-2009): I may have spoken too soon on the mobile strategy. It appears that there is one brewing (requires login). That is great to see and I look forward to following it. Why do other people get to have all the fun? :)