Laura Patterson, associate vice president and chief information officer at the University, spoke to the leading faculty governing body yesterday about the future of information technology at the University.
Patterson told members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs that the University hopes to improve the technologies used to support administration, learning and especially research at the University through a new program called Next Gen Michigan.
She said University officials thought up the program in response to the “decentralized” nature of information technology at the University, adding that the University has not offered much technological support for researchers.
“We, in some ways, have almost missed a generation of computing,” Patterson said.
Patterson noted that other universities have surpassed the University in terms of their information technology resources and said the University is currently considered to be middle of the road in this area.
One initiative to bring the University back to the forefront of information technology and save money at the same time, Patterson said, is to combine three information technology groups — Michigan Administrative Services, Information Technology Security and Information Technology Central Services.
Patterson said the consolidation of the three organizations “went live” last April in the form of IT Services.
“The goal of bringing that organization together was to look at how the central groups could rationalize their services and cut costs,” Patterson told SACUA members.
The consolidation of the three groups has cut $7 million from information technology yearly expenditures. However, Patterson said she is looking to cut costs in other ways as well. She stressed the importance of “rationalization” a University-wide initiative to determine the best source of information technology service and at the same time, identify ways of reducing “redundancy.”
“When you hear about IT rationalization, it’s an initiative to look at a whole list of services and determine what is the best source of the service for the University at the best price point.” Patterson said.
One way this initiative could be put into action is through consolidating e-mail services on campus into one system run by one unit, like the University’s Hospital, or to outsource it to a third party vendor. Currently the University’s e-mail is not managed by one system.
Patterson also said the University spends about $300 million a year on information technology services and she believes it wastes money on “redundant activities.”
Patterson said the University could reinvest money it saves through information technology cost cutting measures into a “more robust infrastructure” and useful tools like video conferencing and more advanced forms of communication.
Patterson said the current infrastructure of the University’s information technology operations would be an issue when the North Campus Research Complex opens because it could make it difficult for those who work there to collaborate.
Because units like the University’s Hospital and Medical School operate differently than other units in terms of information technology, partnerships may be more difficult.
Patterson said that in order to improve all areas of information technology, a consultant has been hired to provide “third party eyes.” The consulting group, Accenture, will make recommendations to the University as a whole as well as the deans of specific units about the best ways to reduce costs. According to Patterson, the deans have the option to accept or deny the recommendations, unless the provost decides to intervene.
Patterson said she also plans to create committees and groups within the University to help improve information technology on campus.
“What we have tried to do it is to look at decision-making for information technology, not looking at the University’s traditional hierarchy, but by looking at domains of shared interest or domains of the mission of the University,” Patterson said.
To consolidate these interests, four domains will be created that reflect four areas to research improvements in information technology at the University.
The four groups will be research, libraries and digital repositories, clinical care and learning and teaching. An expert in the area will head each division. For example, Dean of Libraries Paul Courant is expected to lead the libraries and digital repositories domain.
Patterson said there will also be a “technology council” comprised of about twelve members. The council will make recommendations to the executive officers on the priority of information technology investments and help to develop the vision for information technology at the University.