Friday, September 25, 2015

Top ten campus needs

I recently found a past issue of EDUCAUSE Magazine and I was pleased to discover an article written by a colleague, Advancing without new resources. The article discusses the increasing resource constraints for higher ed. As Kraemer says in his introduction, "No one is going to show up with a wheelbarrow full of money to address all of our institutions' IT wants and needs." As always, we must find ways to do more with less, to advance without new resources.

We will do this by leveraging the Cloud and finding other ways to Simplify, Standardize, Automate, and Innovate. But where do we focus our resources, to deliver the greatest impact with little new investment? Kraemer's article provides a top ten list of IT needs that he believes will drive future investment:

  1. Teaching and learning support, as faculty adjust their teaching styles and use more digital content.
  2. Emerging services, to identify the new trends in technology that may better support our institutions.
  3. Staff readiness, to grow capacity in our teams.
  4. Analytics, to base decisions on data and trends, to better visualize the future.
  5. Identity management, as we move beyond simply securing access to provide access to people, services, and technology.
  6. Mobile, as more of our users bring devices into our networks—or their own networks through 4G.
  7. Digital production, in finding new ways to support education outside the textbook.
  8. Information and infrastructure architecture, to support growing demand for loosely coupled systems and applications that can be easily tuned to institutional needs.
  9. Legal, to understand and respond to new threats and security models.
  10. Security, as increasingly complex security issues emerge.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Desktops as a service?

In years past, we've managed the desktop as a box, a singular machine that users interact with through physical hardware. But we've moved on from this paradigm with our servers: for years, organizations have virtualized servers, and more recently shifted systems to the cloud through SaaS or Software as a Service. Yet the physical user computer remains, whether a stationary desktop or a more mobile laptop or tablet device.

At Morris, we have examined virtual application hosting, a variation of VDI. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine (VM) running on a centralized server. VDI is a variation on the client/server computing model, sometimes referred to as server-based computing. Virtual applications are similar; the application launches on a centralized server, and displays on the user's desktop.

In my vision, we can drastically simplify our campus computer labs through virtual applications. We have several computer labs with separately-licensed software; our lab in Imholte Hall has GIS software, for example, because that it where they use it. The DICTION rhetorical analysis software only exists in the HFA Media lab, because that is where we teach rhetoric. The Science lab has other software to suit those disciplines' needs.

But why should we expect a student to go to one computer lab to do their homework, then pick up all of his or her belongings and move to another computer lab to finish their homework? It would make more sense for the student to stay in one computer lab, to have that option.

Cloud applications are one way that we provide this service to students. For example, we are a Google Apps for Education campus. Students can use Google Apps (such as Docs, or Spreadsheets, etc) no matter where they are. They can start a document, or pick up where they left off. This provides a great deal of flexibility for our students. Similar Cloud applications will continue to drive this.

Not all of our software can be moved to the Cloud. So that is why we look to application virtualization and VDI, together, as a way to expand opportunities for our users.

A recent article in the Summer issue of Ed Tech Magazine discusses this topic as dueling for real estate on users' desks. The article describes the growing trend of DaaS as offloading "the task of managing software and infrastructure to a cloud provider. Similarly, virtual desktop infrastructure offers institutions an option for hosting desktops in their own data centers." Together, Daas and VDI mean greater flexibility for our users, or our computer labs.

The article provides a table describing and comparing VDI and DaaS, which I will summarize here:
Tech: On-site. Purchase and run in-house. Hosted service by an outside provider.
Cost: Big up-front costs due to software and hardware. Could be high costs now, but costs may drop over time as more competitors enter the market.
Users: Used by institutions that wish to centralize and decrease IT support costs. Used by smaller organizations or institutions with straightforward setups and Cloud apps, with many BYOD users.
Pros: Enterprise has complete control of desktop. Proven technology. Enterprise-level security. Allows desktop customization. Quick implementations. No infrastructure required. Security managed by DaaS vendor.
Cons: Implementation cost can be too much. Added complexity of support. High usage events (logins, etc) can impact performance. Possible latency in data access. Not all applications can be DaaS. May have high latency. An outage at the provider means all users are down. Network is critical; DaaS organizations should implement redundant network.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On customer service

An article in the October issue of Customer Relationship Management describes how to become a multispeed organization. Much of the article is about customer account service, such as issues surrounding customers who switch providers due to poor service, but the overall topic is equally important to any service organization. In higher education, IT serves the needs of the faculty, so I encourage you to consider your own organization's customer service.

The article reveals three key tips for improving customer service in a modern digital landscape. Allow me to translate these to higher educaiton:

1. Focus on the customer
Every faculty has unique needs, and while we cannot meet every unique need, we can put focus on the customers in front of us. "How can I help you?" should be the opening line. As we engage with our academic customers, we need to identify the needs behind the request, and meet the customer's intention rather than the ask.
2. Find the right mix
From the article: "Before adding new services or channels, listen to what customers truly value, and customize offerings for each customer segment. Instead of offering all options to all customers, choose a group you know you can make a difference with and make an impact there first. It’s about finding the right mix of digital and traditional to improve the customer experience—one group at a time."
3. Tailor experiences to drive loyalty
In higher education, perhaps unlike other industries, our users have great freedom to try new things outside our control. As much as we might think otherwise, faculty are not loyal to us, they are local to the experience, to personalization. We cannot always assume a "one-size-fits-all" enterprise model; where possible, consider tweaking offerings to better meet faculty needs.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Engaging IT conversation with professional communication

Many CIOs arrive at their role after having spent years in an IT organization. So it is perhaps not uncommon for CIOs to have difficulty in communicating technology concepts to those outside of IT. But arguably, we need to be more effective in this area, because those outside of IT are our customers. To support our clients, we need to be better communicators.

An increasing trend is for CIOs to hire a professional communicator to help bridge the gap between the technical details of IT issues in a way that others will understand. As Beth Stackpole writes in "How CIOs can create the voice of IT" in a CIO Magazine article, adding a professional communicator vastly improves perceptions of customer service. From the article:
Not only does a dedicated communications person help change the nature of IT communications, they are also instrumental in changing the tenor of how information is delivered and ultimately received. For example, instead of blanketing users with IT-related emails, Cooley [Patrick Cooley, senior manager, IT marketing and communications, EMC] says he's worked hard to target users and refine messaging to fit with specific audiences. "People are constantly being bombarded with too much email that's too intrusive and too jargony," Cooley says. "I can help look for ways to better leverage social media and target people with the best [communications] vehicle."
Effective communication is an important skill in leadership, moreso in IT. In rhetoric, "code words" are terms and phrases that carry specific meaning to one group, but are confusing or opaque to outsiders. In IT, we tend to pepper our communication with code words. One typical example is this email we received about a speed boost from a major local residential Internet provider: (excerpt)
Customers can take advantage of this speed increase beginning Thursday morning by ‘power-cycling’ their cable modem with the reset button on the device, or by unplugging the modem power cord from the electrical outlet, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back into the outlet.
That is a long sentence, but what's actually being said here? This statement has a lot of specificity, and uses some technical jargon that is familiar to many of us in IT but may opaque to others: "power-cycling" is just turning the device off then on again.

This statement can be made much clearer by writing instead:
You can get the speed boost simply by turning off your cable modem, waiting a few moments, then turning it on again.
How you communicate with your customers is different from how you communicate with your peers in IT. Consider for yourself how to simplify your language and make things clearer to the people you support.
photo: Chris