The first program I attended at this year’s NASPA conference was presented by two gentlemen from the University of Connecticut’s discussing the centralization of IT services in their student affairs division. Tom Bloom, Director of Student Affairs Information Technology (SAIT), and David Clokey, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, presented the session entitled “Consolidation of Information Technology Services in Student Affairs: A Case Study.” The session was well-attended (20-30 attendees) given the very focused topic.
As the title suggests, the program discussed the history, impact, challenges of the IT centralization process that has occurred at UConn over the past 4-5 years. They also discussed lessons learned from the process and its impact on both culture and technology within their student affairs division.
Their journey began in 2003 with the commission and delivery of a consultant’s report regarding the state of IT support and resources in the UConn division of student affairs. At that time, some departments the division employed a handful of IT staff dedicated primarily to only that department and some departments had no IT staff at all. Therefore IT work in the division was piecemeal and lacking in coordination. Many Web sites and resources were not hosted on centralized, secured servers presenting not only security but also disaster recovery challenges. Many critical applications were dependent on only one person.
Based on those issues identified by the consultant (the presenters later mentioned that it seemed to be important for an outside party to conduct this assessment to help obtain honest answers without departments feeling threatened), the division began to centralize their services. Although the decision was made early in 2004, it was not until a year later that a director for the new department was hired. This gap between making (and announcing) the decision to rearrange staff and services and hiring the director of this new department was cited as a shortcoming. Throughout 2004 and 2005, the division’s IT staff were consolidated in one department and then in one physical office.
As mentioned earlier, the creation of SAIT and centralization of IT services changed not only the technology of the division but also the culture. SAIT used the newly-created SAIT Oversight Committee to help establish priorities and manage the new processes that were created. Initial priorities included many related to personnel, internal processes, and external issues.
The presenters asserted that the gains far outweighed any losses. Business services were established and improved. production and support services were improved, application and web development services were improved, support services were changed and improved, and collaborative relationships were built within and without of the division of student affairs. However, the new department also opened up new demands for services and support along with a need to educate the division regarding the new business processes. In addition, routine maintenance and support occupies most of the SAIT department’s time, contrary to (unrealistic?) expectations. Importantly, the presenters noted early in the presentation that the goal of the centralization was not to save money but to invest it wisely.
During the closing question and answer session, one audience member explained how his campus was going through this transition but some departments are resistant to the change. The presenters’ response was that hiring someone to be the face of the new department and to listen to the resistant departments seemed to be critical. Another audience member noted that many institutions seem to be going through the same process and collaboration and communication between those different campuses may be very helpful.
The session was tightly focused and well organized. I have not written about all that the presenters or audience discussed but those who are going through or about to begin going through a similar process should consider contacting these presenters. The apparent growing trend of employing IT personnel in student affairs divisions and departments poses many challenges and opportunities; deciding exactly where and how to place those employees in the organizational structure adds to the complications and challenges. Centralizing these personnel and their services appears to be a viable path for some institutions.