Uni CIO achieves higher IT governance

Faced with a disparate IT landscape, increasing expectations for service delivery, and capacity-lagging infrastructure, Anne Dwyer, the University of Technology Sydney’s CIO, believed increased corporate governance would ensure the demands of a changing business climate could be met through technology.

Dwyer, who joined the UTS more than four years ago, came in “when unis were changing”.

“I was on a roll for two years getting all the legacy out.

"We are facing a very different financial situation now compared to the time of the IT peak when it was hard to find staff,” Dwyer said.

“Unis have all the commercial requirements [of an enterprise] like financial and HR systems, as well as the student administration requirements, such as online content, which are fairly new.

"As fees go up, expectations go up, and as a result demands on services are going up.”

Dwyer was forced to “shore up” core support from the university’s board to get the “right kind of investment in IT”, as there was a requirement for “more extensive” IT services to students.

For Dwyer, IT governance involves how to have a conversation with other executives that conveys what the organization wants to achieve and what must be done with technology.

“Due to the nature of our courses and location [Sydney city], the university lends itself to flexible learning, particularly post-graduate, and was very much pursuing the idea of ‘mixed mode’ part face, part online delivery,” she said. “There wasn’t an understanding that all students are doing something online, nor a connection between our technology and the resources required.”

Although professing that she “wasn’t an evangelist” and that the university’s board had an understanding of the role of IT, Dwyer said the institution has come ahead in “leaps and bounds” in past years due to investment in technology.

“The university could no longer be viewed as an experimental institution and hadn’t really done any forecasting before,” she said.

“A maturing of the use of technology as an institution has happened, particularly around how technology can be provisioned cost effectively.” Dwyer said it is “fair enough” to question IT investment, but having started her career as an accountant understood the value of business-driven purchasing.

“I’ve been in IT a long time and not so long ago ‘investment’ was a dirty word,” she said.

“As government funding declines we need to be more businesslike and the Nelson reforms mean more change.”

As a result of developing sound governance for technology direction, Dwyer has seen the once “silo-driven” IT department consolidate.

“We had many autonomous IT departments around the university for providing local support,” she said.

“We still have a fair bit of local support for good reason, but they are now satellites of the core. IT now has centralised control strategy and direction.”

In appreciation of the changing nature of higher education, Dwyer acknowledged a competitive student and IT staff marketplace.

“Today we compete for student places as well as IT staff,” she said, adding that the market collapse of the last two years was a boon for staff employment.

"However, we are unable to employ IT staff at market rates so we provide all staff with development and support. This is about our own staff development and if you don’t do this they will go elsewhere.”

On the topic of vendor management, Dwyer is happy with the level of competition for the university’s requirements.

“The vendors compete and we decide,” she said. “The tendering process can be onerous but the rules are not inappropriate.”

As previously reported in Computerworld, the UTS migrated its core financials system from Sun to a Dell-Oracle cluster running Linux earlier this year.

“It was a big decision for us to go to Linux as we were not an early adopter,” Dwyer said.

“Sun has had a fairly good time at unis and although we've just recently purchased more Sun infrastructure and are committed to the platform, Linux is changing the scene and makes it easier to move.”

When asked why Dell-Intel was chosen over Sun-Intel, Dwyer said: “Dell has made a lot of ground with us and Sun was not hungry for our business.”

When undertaking large projects such as a systems migration, Dwyer said management is “incredibly important”.

“Know when you’ve got a project on your hands,” she said. “Manage your change agenda and how projects are assigned to small jobs. IT is about people, process and technology. If you start at the other end you can’t make it work.”

Dwyer is now “very happy” with her management team and the division as a whole and understands that “you can’t do everything at once”. “Universities are a very difficult and complex environment that we need to provide services to without breaking the bank,” she said.

The UTS at a glance

Number of Screens: 6000
Number of Servers: 200
IT Staff: 180
IT users: 28,000
Annual IT budget (operational): $18 million
Platforms: Linux, Solaris, Windows, Apple
Core enterprise apps: Oracle, Student One
Network: The UTS is the NSW university hub to Aarnet. Infrastructure includes Alcatel, Cisco, and Cabletron
Legacy systems: Sequent, others used in research

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