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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(Reprinted in part with permission of evolllution.com)

I’d like to see a dashboard for the student that provides not just the daily facts like assignments and due dates, but also personal and comparative progress bars that show how they are similar or different from their peers. We already have the data available to tell a student that 75 percent of the students that had their course load this semester graduated on time. We might be able to tell them the most likely employers for people with their current GPA. With mobile phones and beacons, we know who is studying where, and while it borders on creepy, it provides a way to find the right place to study any time of the day.

In higher education and in government, there is often a different group of administrators for each function. The same state government knows my driver’s license, registered vehicles, LLC information, professional registration, yet I must know either the physical location or the website for each of these so that I can do them separately. My son attends two colleges, so he has registration, financial aid, advising, ID card, payment, learning management systems and all sorts of other services duplicated. This unnecessary duplication drives students crazy.

Shouldn’t all of the available services be available to the student in one location? This does not mean to simply make a portal or a list of links. It means integrating the data so that it can be used together. There are already companies that use near field communication for payment in the cafeteria, and if Hilton can let you open the door with your mobile device, then why not residence halls? Theoretically, I should be able to register for class, transfer my financial aid to the bank, receive my football tickets, and open my door from the same device that I just used to ordered dinner and an Uber.

This is all in the realm of the possible, and states like Illinois are making it a priority. The Illinois’ “smart state” initiative is trying to simplify working with government on behalf of the citizen. Many universities have integrated gateways and new ID card systems that support some of these functions. However, as our students mention on what seems like a daily basis, some is not enough. We need a concerted effort to empower students to use their own data to personalize their higher education experience inside and outside of the classroom.

What are you doing to improve the student digital experience at your campus? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 22, 2017 at 1:02 PM
  

(Reprinted in part with permission of evolllution.com)

Much of higher education is still based on a step model where you progress from grade school to high school to college, and then to better employment. While the education system treats the process as a step-by-step, that is not how people think or learn. In the wide world of education, students participate in online courses, continuing education modules, certificate training, short courses that result in badges, educational gaming, mentorship opportunities, and full degree programs. Furthermore, once you have one of these credentials, you need to prove to an employer that you achieved it. At the University of Illinois at Springfield, they are looking at blockchain to solve the credential puzzle. Rather than add a new line to your resume, your achievements can be added to a decentralized digital ledger. Education providers can make an entry when the student finishes an achievement, and that student can give permission to others to view it, which not only helps the student but also the HR office.

Personalization is prevalent outside of the university, and students are used to progress bars, tracking accomplishments, and self-motivation. After I buy Florida Georgia Line tickets for my daughter, I can guarantee that I’ll know about every country concert in the greater Chicagoland area. Every day, data are aggregated for students, and their mobile device tells them hundreds of bits of personal information. If we could combine this level of personalization with college registration data, grades, the degree audit system, and the career center, then I could give it to Watson. I’m certain that Watson would love to help students find the perfect job based on their personalized education path.

Would a student be willing to let personal information travel between departments and between internal and external education providers? Would they allow people to determine how their experiences ranging from extracurricular activities, scouting troop participation, high school education, college education, and work history could be translated into a better job or a higher salary? I’ve worked with many who say there is no way we could possibly violate a student’s privacy in this way. Meanwhile, that same student clicks away privacy on social media and playing mobile games. If you could click a button that said, “Share my data to improve my salary at a job I love”—would students do it? Yes, I think they would.

Tune in next time to read my thoughts on the use of dashboards and data integration as a “one stop shop” experience for the students.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 07, 2017 at 1:43 PM
  

(Reprinted in part with permission of evolllution.com)

I was watching a student presentation the other day, and they pointed out how difficult it was to schedule a study room. While many colleges and libraries have study rooms that can be reserved online, they are not necessarily reserved using the same tool, and you need to be a member of a specific community to use some of the rooms. There isn’t an Airbnb for empty conference rooms or other shared spaces. More often than not, spaces are managed by individual colleges, and resources do not share easily across departmental boundaries. This adds unnecessary work on the student’s end.

Universities must do a better job of redesigning their business processes to be centered on the person that matters the most in a university: the student. The student is the customer and main driver of the economic engine of the university. By redefining the business process around the student, we can change the bureaucratic experience.

The diagram shows some of the interactions that a student has with the university. Time and time again, students want these interactions simplified. There are already some vendors that sell integration and aggregation platforms that simplify the processes. Nonetheless, it is rare that a student experience would include useful analytics about their current progress and their future job prospects in addition to easy ways to complete the numerous transactions. This is the goal, though.

What other ways do students interact with university information technology?

In part II, I’ll share my take on combining personalization with university technology to enable today’s students to use their personalized digital experience how they see fit.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 01, 2017 at 12:16 PM
  

Being in a place where you aren’t fluent in the language can be both intimidating as well as frustrating. Now, imagine having that feeling during an important meeting or as a client looking for a new service. These are just a few of the circumstances that continue to reform the technological language and the jargon used in the IT field.

So, what’s the problem with the IT speak that many of us commonly use? The understanding of these vague technical terms, acronyms and umbrella expressions is missing to many employees whose roles may not include a daily dose of IT speak. Using more commonly known phrases and displaying the acronyms following the aforementioned phrases will help to give understanding to those feeling out of the loop.

As a department, we are here to offer our services to faculty, staff and students across the University System. With a broad demographic of potential customers, our services need be understood by someone who may have little to no knowledge of IT jargon. Without understanding our functions, our functions lose their value. To battle this issue, more descriptive and less “techie” terms and expressions are being used to describe the services that AITS offers.

 

The goal of this initiative was to provide across-the-board clarity for individuals within AITS as well as for external customers using our services. Something as simple as changing the words that we use can make all the difference.

Is there any other terminology at AITS that could use some clarification? If so, let me know. Comments, suggestions and feedback are always welcome.

Posted by Michael Hites  On May 22, 2017 at 1:41 PM
  

Technology changes. The stakeholder’s demand for technology changes. We know it. That’s what motivates IT professionals to keep going, right? How we handle this change, however, is what makes the difference between innovation and just going through the motions. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” So, what do we do when we’re faced with change? At AITS, we adapt and keep moving forward.

In recent posts, I’ve shared how AITS has embraced the changing IT needs of students, faculty and staff through strategic planning, and how we adapt to the changing landscape of IT in higher education as outlined in the annual EDUCAUSE report of Top Ten IT Issues; but, how do you plan for changes in leadership?

The image below provides a visual representation of the extent of the leadership changes during my time at AITS. As is often the case, a change in personnel likely translates to change in IT focus, priorities and strategy, which, at times, can make strategic planning seem more like an exercise in futility.

Actually, I have experienced the opposite to be true. The constantly changing environment of higher education is precisely the reason IT strategic planning is so important because it plays a vital role in the success of the university and the primary stakeholder, our students. At AITS, change does not deter our focus on supporting our strategic directions of saving time, fostering ease of use, improving speed of delivery of IT services, delivering targeted and pervasive information for users, and collaborating with units throughout the University of Illinois System. We embrace it, plan accordingly, and keep moving forward.

Have you had similar changes in your organization? How did you navigate those changes and was strategic planning a part of your process? Next time, I’ll share how small changes in IT speak versus customer speak have positively impacted our ability to communicate with the stakeholders we serve.

As always, comments, questions and other feedback are welcome at any time.

Posted by Michael Hites  On May 22, 2017 at 12:00 PM
  

Since the original AITS Strategic Plan was developed in 2012, a number of things have changed for the University of Illinois System, its universities and AITS. As well, the information technology needs of faculty, students and staff that AITS supports have changed.

The AITS Strategic Plan for FY16-FY18 reflects this changing landscape through its goals and initiatives. The top issues affecting information technology in higher education have evolved quickly over the past four five years since the original plan was created.

EDUCAUSE annually publishes its Top Ten IT issues derived from research by leaders in higher education IT. The most recent Top 10 list for 2017 has changed dramatically from 2012 and coalesce into four related themes:

  • Successful Students
  • Effective Leadership 
  • Data Foundations
  • IT Foundations

For 2017, AITS is ahead of the game. When comparing EDUCAUSE’s 2017 list to the AITS FY16-FY18 Strategic Plan, one can expect to see some overlap. Out of the 10 issues, AITS has stated initiatives that address four of these issues and are actively pursuing their completion. Check out the topics below to see how AITS is combating these concerns.

Information Security: Developing a holistic, agile approach to reduce institutional exposure to information security threats.

AITS Initiatives:

  • Audit and compliance capabilities have been improved.
  • Implementation of more secure infrastructure to protect user and administrative accounts from theft and exploitation by attackers.
  • Prevention of installation, spread and execution of malicious software on user and infrastructure platforms.
  • Enhance network monitoring apparatus to further discover and alert upon potentially compromised accounts and computing systems.

Student Success and Completion: Effectively apply data and predictive analytics to improve student success and completion.

AITS Initiative:

  • Begin feasibility study for the replacement of the Banner ERP system.

Sustainable Funding: Developing IT funding models that sustain core services, support innovation, and facilitate growth.

AITS Initiatives:

  • Pursue new revenue opportunities where they are beneficial and cost-effective to the University.
  • Partner with other organizations to investigate offering shared services to the university community that are cost-effective.
  • BPI Shared Service will expand fee-based services, providing units able to cover costs with more timely services for a fraction of the cost of similar services offered in the external marketplace.
  • Analyze and develop a support and ownership model for all shared services. Where new resources are required for AITS, identify the source of new resources or the associated tradeoff with current services.

Data Management and Governance: Improving the management of institutional data through data standards, integration, protection, and governance

AITS Initiatives:

  • Promote and support IT governance that is empowered, accountable, and transparent in order to better support the mission activities of the University. Continue participation with the UIC, UIS, and UIUC IT Governance committees.
  • Perform a periodic assessment of the Information Technology Priorities Process.
  • Enable Self Service Business Intelligence (BI) for the University community.
  • Update Development Process for Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Warehousing (DW) solutions.
  • Develop a service model for Business Intelligence solutions. Complete an internal inventory current dashboard tools and create capabilities matrix.

For a full review of AITS’s initiatives, action items and their statuses, please view the AITS Strategic Plan Annual Progress Report for FY16-FY18. Comments, questions and other feedback regarding the AITS Strategic Plan for FY16 – FY18 are welcome at any time.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Apr 19, 2017 at 12:10 PM
  

Recently, I participated in the CIO.com Quick Takes as one of 30 IT leaders asked to talk briefly about strategy. In this version of CIO Quick Takes, they asked  the question: "What is your strategic focus for 2017?" 

We use an early 2000’s vintage ERP, and we are an institution where business process and data custodianship is determined on a department-by-department basis. Yes, we have mobile applications, web portals, and first-rate integration between applications. We don’t have students that say, “Alexa, register me for Computer Science 125.” I also can’t say “Alexa, stop” in meetings where everyone instantly becomes quiet and is never offended, but that’s beside the point. Our challenge is to re-focus our business practices around our students so that admissions, registration, advising, housing, concert tickets, extracurricular activities, parking, and career searching are not only blissfully intuitive, but integrated in a way where you don’t need to know what a bursar is. I want my daughter to spend no more than a few sentences with Watson to apply for college and get her scholarships, then four years later, I want to hear “Alexa, get a me job starting June 1, 2022.”

Be sure to check out the full article, "CIO Quick Takes, What's your Strategic focus?", to see what other IT leaders are focusing on this year.

Reprinted with permission of CIO.com.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Apr 04, 2017 at 9:14 AM
  

I was invited to give a briefing at AGB's National Conference on Trusteeship in Dallas, Texas, next week on cybersecurity for colleges and universities. Here are a few of my thoughts leading into the presentation.  

About once a week, I receive a new email message touting "top 10 cybersecurity risks" or "this year's report on cybersecurity shows more attacks than ever" or some other tactic designed to make me want to open it. I've yet to get one that is a cyberattack disguised as a cyber-defense message; however, I'm sure that's next. Mostly, these messages focus on two topics: the new threats and the new methods to combat the threats.

Just in the past few years, the increase in the use of mobile devices has created new ways for criminals to get your personal and corporate data. At universities, we tend to be a bit more open with the bring-your-own-device mentality, so the problem is amplified. It used to be that hackers would need to break into centralized on-campus systems. Now that it is popular to host university data off campus in the cloud, the bad guys have a choice to use malware on a personal computer or mobile device, or they can break in to hosted services without sneaking into your campus.

The current thinking is that containment, simplification, and automation are the keys to combat these threats.

Make sure that your critical data are constrained so that criminals have fewer options to get it. Simplify your security operations so that you don't have a different solution for every piece of software or data that you use. By simplifying the number of tools and procedures that you have, you can practice them more often and be more successful at implementing them. Automation is the critical when the breadth of threats increase. You can't just keep hiring more and more people every time something new appears, so buy tools that can watch your systems and data for you.

But the most critical aspect of cybersecurity is still the human.

Criminals will focus on the biggest vulnerability, so if your employees can't easily distinguish between legitimate online content and malicious content, you will become a target. Fortunately, this is preventable, and when you train your staff to be suspicious, the hackers will avoid you because the return on their investment is low.

Reprinted with permission of Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. To view the original blog post, visit https://www.agb.org/blog/2017/03/14/cybersecurity-for-colleges-and-universities.  

Posted by Michael Hites  On Mar 27, 2017 at 9:24 AM
  

At AITS, we provide a wide range of administrative software and services to the University of Illinois System that are accessible, reliable, accurate, efficient, and responsive to business process needs. We collaborate to proactively identify opportunities, manage risks, plan future initiatives, and solve problems by leveraging our collective information technology resources and knowledge. We continually measure and evaluate our services in order to optimize them for the University of Illinois System community. 

 

This is our mission statement, and we hope that our customers help us evaluate whether or not we have aligned our services with our mission. If you work with us and find that our service does not match our mission statement, please let me know. It’s important to me that we align our actions and words.  If you don't know much about our work and would like to learn more, we have posted our draft annual review materials

 

Welcome back, and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving break.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Nov 28, 2016 at 12:13 PM
  

(Reprinted in part with permission of CIOReview.com)

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
  
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