From the CIO

From the CIO

Kelly Block serves as Interim Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the University of Illinois System.

For more information about Kelly, visit About the CIO.

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Business Process Improvement (BPI) uses a structured approach to analyze and improve processes, typically with a goal of reducing costs, eliminating unnecessary activities, reducing the amount of time it takes to do a task, or improving customer service.

I recently attended the first Business Process Improvement Showcase at the University of Illinois where I got the chance to see how units across the campus are working towards improving business processes at Illinois to deliver faster, better services to our faculty, students, and other stakeholders. This showcase provided an opportunity for those involved in BPI efforts to share their experiences, the successes they've had, and the lessons they've learned.

Improving business processes that provide a way to offset our current financial challenges while focusing on the core mission of the University is a goal of mine, and I would be interested in hearing from you about process improvement initiatives you have been a part of recently.

What challenges did you experience? What went well? What did you learn by being a part of that initiative?

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Sep 27, 2016 at 9:15 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

We expanded our GPPMO to include other components: business process improvement, records and information management, and customer relationship management. This lets us help our constituents analyze their processes before they decide they need to start a project. The records office helps constituents interpret federal, state and university policy, making it easier for individuals to store, manage, and dispose of the records generated during the course of business. Finally, the CRM office helps coordinate our social media, annual reports, and participation in events and meetings so that every member of the IT department has the ability to work with our customers.

How well have we done? To date, our ROI is three to one, meaning that for every dollar spent on a project, we create three dollars in efficiency over a five-year period. There have been 513 projects reviewed, 445 approved, 65 rejected or withdrawn, 395 completed, and 53 in progress. The demand for our projects has increased 53 percent over the last five years, and there are about 87,000 hours of approved work in the pipeline.

In the area of process improvement, we have made 84 recommendations with a potential savings of $8.1M and 7,800 hours annually and have directly engaged with 75 units on their own projects. We have trained over 800 people in lean and six sigma methodologies, partnered to create college based BPI programs, engage shared service participants across the university, and mediate between groups to make forward progress.

Even though we have a successful process, we are continually reviewing IT governance so it aligns with the campus strategic plans and business needs. We made several changes to our process over time, including realigning project selection to strategic plans, improving communication outside of the process by adding a CRM group, delegating decision making for “small” projects to make the process more lightweight, and creating a cross-functional prioritization committee at a lower level in the organization because we found that the higher level employees did not have enough time to learn about the nuances of the each project to effectively prioritize them.

There are many ways to set up an IT governance and project management framework. In our case, we maximize efficiency with a single GPPMO that guides the governance process, creates standards and requirements, manages our portfolio of work, reports on performance, focuses on integrated planning with IT and the customers, retains the capacity for large projects, and provides professional development opportunities for IT professionals throughout the university.

Are there any other campus IT projects that would benefit from collaboration with GPPMO? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Jun 09, 2016 at 9:15 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

After our ERP migration in 2004, we had a large backlog of improvements and integrations, so we established a specific governance process that consisted of cross-campus subcommittees representing the functions of finance, HR, and student business processes. Our customers can choose to participate in any aspect of this process. Some write their own proposals, while others add their own local development resources to the projects. All of the work is managed through the centralized GPPMO.

"A successful office should have all of these components, that is, a GPPM office: IT governance, portfolio and project management"

Regardless of the shape or size of governance, it needs to have something specific to govern, or else the process will become sparsely-attended with unfocused discussion that meander indefinitely. Our IT governance process has been sustained because it directly manages resources. Specifically, there are 70,000 hours of project time and $1.4M of annual funding managed by the governance group. The committees are active and engaged because they direct the allocation of centralized resources to their campus needs. Since the pool of resources is finite, the group must discuss and prioritize to achieve the greatest impact for the least cost.

In order to have effective guidance for the governance process, IT should be part of the planning process in an organization. The Society for College and University Planning defines integrated planning as a process to promote academic, financial, facilities and IT planning in a repeatable, rational, and collaborative manner. SCUP tells us not to plan in silos and then toss the latest draft of the plan from group to group. Plan together and be transparent. In our case, the Administrative IT Services (AITS) department developed strategic objectives that enable faculty and students by freeing up more of their time.

While it may be tempting to not have a governance framework, there must be something in place. If there is no process for people to decide and prioritize collectively, it will lead to an “order taker” mindset where individual customers feel free to ask the IT department for any type of project because they do not have the awareness of the requests from others. Consequently, every customer group will believe that their priorities are the highest priorities because they did not actively participate in the process of looking across business units to prioritize what is most important for the university.

A good portfolio and project management office knows what resources are available and when projects will start and finish. In our environment, the portfolio and project management office is well suited to facilitate IT governance. Additionally, the group manages and schedules resources, monitors and controls the portfolio, develops the corporate project management center of excellence, and completes projects. A successful office should have all of these components, that is, a GPPM office:  IT governance, portfolio and project management. This allows the same group of people to look from beginning to end of the project process.

Do you have examples of other ways to prioritize projects and ensure the right people are involved in the planning process? 

Learn more about expanding governance to include other business model components in Part III of this discussion.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On May 27, 2016 at 10:23 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

In a central IT department, someone has to build the strategic plan, manage the prioritization process, start and finish projects, and ensure that the customers get what they need. In many large IT organizations, the governance, project management, business process improvement, and customer relationship management are performed by separate groups. At the University of Illinois System IT office, we prefer an end-to-end approach where the same department guides all of these functions.

In our system-level IT organization, there are about 220 employees that improve and maintain the enterprise IT services used for transactional business processing, data warehousing and analytics, process improvement, and records management. The University of Illinois is a system of three campuses in Springfield, Chicago and Urbana-Champaign that serves about 79,000 students with about 25,000 employees. The university is highly decentralized, and there are centralized IT services, shared IT services, and local IT services throughout. In total, there are over 100,000 customers (not counting the 700,000 living alumni) and over 100 different IT groups at the university. Providing effective IT governance and planning in this environment is challenging.

IT governance defines the processes, components, structures, and participants for making decisions regarding the use of IT. It collects ideas, reviews and selects, and prioritizes resources in the most strategic manner possible. IT governance promotes transparency, strategic alignment of the university and IT, resource allocation, performance management, collaboration, standards and policy, and it encourages constituents to participate actively in the process.

As Gartner and EDUCAUSE suggest, IT governance should be only as complex as needed. In a small organization, one committee can handle the strategic and operational prioritization. In a larger organization, an executive committee or steering committees might be needed. Depending on what needs to be governed, committees can be focused on constituent types, like faculty members or students, or focused on functions like research or enterprise architecture.

In Part II of this discussion, I’ll share why we decided to move towards centralized GPPMO.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On May 11, 2016 at 4:32 PM

(guest post provided by Suzi McLain, Director of Strategic Human Capital, AITS)

I came across an article a while back tossing around the question of whether it makes sense to say, “Our people are our greatest asset.” It’s a common, widely accepted value statement for many organizations, my own included. In a similar vein, I was recently challenged by a colleague regarding the appropriateness of the term “human capital,” a common industry term, for the division of our organization focused on people-related programs and initiatives.

People should be viewed as the heart and soul of every organization. Right?  Does referring to the function as “human capital” or employees as “assets” infer otherwise? Hmmm… Perhaps, perhaps not. On the one hand, the use of the word “asset” (as an object of production that’s owned by the employer) elicits a reaction on an emotional level. On the other hand, one could argue that the phrase itself is less important than actions. If the leader of our organization talks about this value publicly (he does) and backs it up with his support for programs and practices that nurture employees’ health, knowledge, and engagement (he does), does that forgive the use of the word/phrase and remove or lessen its negative connotation?

I’ve pondered both questions. My conclusion?  It’s my opinion that both the claim and the phrase, while perhaps well-intentioned, may miss the mark, and there’s probably a better way to say it. Maybe “people are our greatest strength.”

What do you think?  True or false - are people our greatest asset? Give me your most compelling argument to support or refute.  And for extra credit points, how would you improve the value “our people are our greatest asset?”

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Mar 02, 2016 at 3:35 PM 1 Comment

(Reprinted in part with permission of

The "Internet of Things" or the "industrial internet" is making us part of the internet itself. Eventually, your house will know that your self-driving car is on its way. Your spouse (and the government) will also probably know where you are in the self-driving car, but let's focus on the positive side of the Internet of Things. Even though you might have to fill out three different paper forms to see a doctor, your phone and watch already can give some of your medical history as you walk in the door to the office. When the refrigerator tells the nurse that you pulled out ice cream five times more often than broccoli, you're in trouble. Hopefully you'll never have to call a repair person again, because everything will know when it should be serviced. At the University of Illinois, we developed a mobile app that uses your current location to help students find the right food at the right time within the various dining halls. Like it or not, we are part of the cloud, with little ability to opt out. How we embrace the Internet of Things as IT professionals will determine how comfortable our customers feel with using so much data from machines.

Is the cloud secure? Mostly, yes. Higher education has battled network and data security for decades, and will continue to balance open access with the protection of assets and also privacy with security, regardless of whether the service is inside the university or outside of it. It is more likely that you or one of your colleagues will click on a cleverly designed spear phishing email, get infected by malware from your kids, or put your credit card though a hacked point of sale before the next cloud breach gets announced.

While there's nothing that is perfectly secure, the cloud services providers have a financial incentive to not play loose with your data or the university's. So for today, I'm choosing to be for the cloud, with the cloud, and of the cloud. What choice to do I have?

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Feb 17, 2016 at 9:35 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

Expectation management is important with abundant cloud services. When the random vendor talks to the president of the university and exclaims that their company can save 80 percent of the IT budget by going to the cloud, who is there to ask, "Which budget is that?" The cloud does save money, and it takes careful analysis to determine where and when to move services to the cloud. Paralysis by committee and turf protection cannot guide the decision making. There needs to be a rational process that includes academics, budget leaders, IT professionals and the customer to provide input to the decision. Ultimately, the provost, chancellor or president needs to have enough comfort to make the right decision, and IT professionals can help with this decision making process.

While the cloud may help alleviate some infrastructure and software development costs, there is no end in sight for integration. Application administrators are still needed regardless of where the hardware lives, data scientists will work hand-in-hand with developers to provide cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-school integrations, mobile computing still needs to be supported, and customers will still expect everything to "just work." I'm not sure we've seen a time in history where there is more of a need for IT professionals than today.

Cloud-based planning tools are now available to facilitate the strategic planning process. There are workshops, focus groups, town halls and all sorts of collaboration that takes place during the planning process. Then, once you're done, you need to keep your plan alive and implement your priorities. When we did our last two IT strategic plans, we developed all of the strategic directions and initiatives in the cloud, and we assigned ownership of the initiatives to many people within the organization so that progress could be tracked. Once the plan was online, updating it was a collaborative update process, and you can click "print" at any time if you need to show an old-school planner the current progress report.

How we embrace the Internet of Things as IT professionals will determine how comfortable our customers feel with using so much data from machines. In part IV, I’ll offer my insight as to what choices we really have.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Feb 03, 2016 at 9:11 AM 2 Comments

(Reprinted in part with permission of

Higher education consortia are helping institutions gain access to cloud services. For example, Internet2's Net+ offerings make it easier to procure cloud computing, storage, data mining, two-factor authentication, and many more software-as-a-service offerings. Several vendors make great cloud services for data visualization, drilldown, discovery and analytics. These services let you configure pre-made graphics on top of your own data, which you can link directly to their cloud service. You can embed what you build into your own web applications, and this lets you spend more time playing with the data rather than deploying new tools. Of course, there are some scaling limitations with some of these solutions; however, these services can supplement typical industrial-strength business intelligence solutions.

In the past, the learning management system (LMS) collected syllabi and documents, displayed grades, had some basic communication capability, and was synchronized to the student information system so that only enrolled students participated in the class. Today, the LMS landscape has more competition, and the LMS is available as cloud service. Functionality now includes better features for mobility, personalization and adaptive learning. Moving forward, the demands on the LMS are to be a truly a self-guided digital learning environment allowing for exploration, real-time assessment and meaningful collaborations. With all of these choices, IT professionals can help by making sure that the academic objectives for a new LMS are clear and the institution isn't chasing the newest, shiniest tool for the sake of technology.

IBM believes that the first experience that babies and toddlers should have with education is with their parents - and Watson. Watson is not going to replace the parent, but Watson might be better than plunking the child in front of a video, a program or a website. While these may be "interactive," they certainly don't learn much from the child. Cloud-based, cognitive computing can learn and does learn. This isn't in a creepy, artificial intelligence way, but rather, it's related specifically to early childhood development. What could be better than a parental partner that was trained to recognize the difference between sleep deprivation, obstinacy, and autism? As cognitive computing becomes embedded in higher education, IT professionals can help departments utilize cognitive computing in innovative research and education.

How do we determine what to send to the cloud? In part III of this article, I’ll share my thoughts on facilitating the planning process.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Jan 21, 2016 at 9:42 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

My son has his head in the cloud. He plays a significant amount of Minecraft, and he loves Google Docs. I often find him simultaneously doing his homework, building Minecraft levels, and collaboratively editing books with his friends. The other day, I was rebuilding a new Mac Mini so that I could retire an older one, and I told my son, "I should use this old Mac Mini as a media server for the house." So, he asked me what a media server was. I explained that it's a place for us to put all of the stuff that we share, like music, video and documents. "Oh," he says, "it's like the cloud?"

It occurred to me that the difference between inside the house and outside the house was completely irrelevant for my son.

Like my son, business units throughout the university have access to more cloud services than ever. No longer does a department need to wait for IT to set up a virtual machine or upgrade software, and this changes the nature of the relationship between the IT department and the business unit. IT professionals can help the adoption of cloud services by providing pre-negotiated contracts, transitioning their own infrastructure to cloud services, and helping to get departmental units using the services in a consistent manner. On the flipside, someone needs to make sure that the cloud services are not an expressway to create a new set of duplicative services. This role can be filled by higher education IT professionals who can act as facilitators for cloud services and make sure that the right service is used at the right scale.

Watch for part II of this article discussing how higher education consortia are helping institutions gain access to cloud services.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Jan 06, 2016 at 2:40 PM
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