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April 30, 2015 Volume 36, No. 29

Transition project strives to balance IT needs across campus

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Beth Chancellor, shown at the Staff Open Forum earlier this month, is the MU associate chief information officer and the chair of the IT Transition Project's core committee. Photo by Mikala Compton.

The IT Transition Project

An open forum will be held 2–4 p.m. May 7 in Jesse Wrench Auditorium

In many ways, the IT Transition Project is about resolving the Goldilocks problem.

When are MU unit information technology personnel too removed from the central Division of Information Technology? When is the central IT division too removed from unit IT personnel?

When is the balance not too hot and not too cold but just right?

Striking a balance is a positive for the university, information security and IT personnel, Beth Chancellor, MU associate chief information officer and chair of the transition project’s core committee, said in an interview April 16.

The IT Transition Project’s objective is to have department IT continue to work in their departments while also reporting to and being integrated into DoIT. “It’s about building communication and governance structures so central IT isn’t working in a bubble and IT in units aren’t all on their own,” Chancellor said. DoIT and departments will share responsibility for hiring, goals, personnel evaluations and other management functions. No layoffs are expected.

In July, 75 information technology staff in the College of Arts and Science, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the health academic units (health professions, medicine and nursing) and MU Operations are scheduled to begin integration into DoIT. The integration will continue probably for a year or more. 


Transition benefits university and employees

At many universities, it is not uncommon for departments to hire their own IT personnel. At MU, this practice resulted in division IT and unit IT having nearly the same number of workers. DoIT has 278 workers, employed either with MU or the University of Missouri System, and unit IT has 281 employees.

The advantage of IT personnel working within specific units is that they learn firsthand the technology challenges and needs of faculty and staff. But the down side is the lack of a central management structure. Career paths for IT workers aren’t always clear, performance reviews can be unorganized, training in new information technology can be lacking, and back-up IT personnel aren’t always in place, Chancellor said. 

By better connecting outlying IT workers to DoIT, employees will be within a structure that creates a clear potential career path, more IT training, opportunity to do more work that interests them, and more consistent titles and pay, Chancellor said. 

Meanwhile, DoIT will be able to improve delivery of core services by receiving more input from unit IT personnel, since they will now be conversing regularly with DoIT administrators. “DoIT will have access to a larger number of IT staff who have insights into the daily challenges of academic and administrative units,” she said. 

Other institutional advantages are streamlining processes for efficiency and offering departments better backup service when normal office personnel are unavailable, Chancellor said. Research and teaching are also expected to benefit. 

Plans for reorganization began last fall when Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin asked Gary Allen, UM System vice president for information technology and MU chief information officer, to oversee integration of DoIT with IT personnel working in units across campus. Earlier this year, a core committee for the IT Transition Project formed of 17 staff and faculty. The committee oversees several subcommittees assigned specific tasks within the transition project. The total breakdown of core committee and subcommittee members is 22 faculty, 16 non-IT staff, 31 distributed IT staff and 17 Division of IT staff.


Transition means implementation of more best practices

Lori Popejoy, an associate professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing, joined the transition project’s core committee because of her interest in data security. She characterizes herself as the “naive questioner”  — the person who asks the practical questions when the conversation goes down the rabbit hole of tech talk. 

Popejoy said the reorganization would create a systematic way of keeping IT employees trained on the latest technology, something lacking when personnel weren’t communicating with DoIT. “IT changes so rapidly, it is difficult to keep a handle on it,” Popejoy said. 

Also, because of the transition, a greater number of best practices are likely to be implemented. “If employees can talk to one another, they can figure out where the challenges are” and come up with solutions, Popejoy said. 

The committee also would like students involved in the transition project. Leaders at the Missouri Student Association and the Graduate Professional Council have been asked to supply candidates.

“We want to be the organization that other higher education institutions look to and say, “ ‘They are really doing it right and they are getting the most out of their people,’ ” Chancellor said.

• Feedback and questions on the IT Transition Project can be submitted by going here and clicking the tab Feedback Form.

• An open forum will be held 2-4 p.m. on May 7 in Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Union to discuss the transition. All are invited to attend.