The University Record, February 4, 1998

Campuswide IT plan coming, Griffiths says


By Kerry Colligan

The Information Technology Strategic Directions Group was formed to draw up a technology plan applicable Universitywide. The committee, including Jose-Marie Griffiths, University chief information officer and executive director of the Information Technology Division (ITD), and others is "taking a higher level look at information technology for the entire institution," Griffiths told Senate Assembly members at their Jan. 26 meeting.

Their recommendation, Griffiths said, will allow ITD to make better use of its resources. "If we can agree on a direction," she said, "we can put resources in the right areas. We have to have an approach to information technology at the U-M that is a federated approach. We can't do it all, and we shouldn't try to do it all." According to Griffiths, this approach quickly is becoming a reality in light of the increased costs of ownership, increasing faculty and student needs, and a movement toward a "one-size-fits-all" workstation.

Griffiths expressed concern about effective use of ITD resources. "We're not leveraging our purchasing power. We need to optimize the investments that we make." As an example, Griffiths told the Assembly that last year the Medical Center negotiated a contract to purchase workstations for approximately $1,700. Shortly thereafter, the same workstations were being purchased on Central Campus for $2,200.

To combat this problem, Griffiths suggested that the entire University may need to work together to negotiate one contract to drive the price per unit down. Additionally, Griffiths said, it may become necessary to move more quickly toward a "one-size-fits-all" model. "In certain areas, we may have to give up some of the 31 flavors to have the specialized functionality that we need."

There are other scenarios on the table. One suggestion posed to her is to move away from centralized student labs toward a distributed system where each student would have his or her own laptop. The primary problem with such a model, she said, is the expense. Turnaround on machines would likely be rapid--much more so than the eight year turnaround currently in place at ITD--driving costs even higher, she said. One potential countermeasure, Griffiths noted, is to lease machines. Presently, the IT Strategic Directions Group is looking at leasing options.

Regardless of the strategy, Griffiths said, there is one constant. "In the near future, ITD must make a series of decisions that are critical. Consistently now, there is an understanding that a basic level infrastructure is going to support everything, from M-Pathways, to e-mail, to student, faculty and staff needs."

In that environment, some members of the Assembly expressed concern about the security and reliability of the system. Griffiths acknowledged that we are "moving toward an environment that is less secure." However, she added, ITD is taking steps to tighten security and prevent major problems from occurring.

The following is a letter to the editor correcting statements made in the article above.

February 4, 1998

In the Feb. 4 issue of The University Record, the article titled "Campuswide IT Plan is coming," describes a presentation I made to the Senate Assembly on Jan. 26. While the article projects a positive statement about the formation of and issues facing the IT Strategic Directions Group, it unfortunately includes several incorrect quotes and misinterpretations. I would like to share with you what actually was said and provide some clarification.

The article states in two places that we plan to move toward a "one-size-fits-all" workstation and model. These statements are the opposite of what I said. We plan to move away from a "one-size-fits-all" environment, offering those who use technology a choice.

The article says that the University should "work together to negotiate one contract." To conserve our resources, it would be to our advantage to collaborate by negotiating one contract per vendor for the entire University community, instead of each unit working with vendors to obtain needed equipment. The author missed my point that there may be many contracts negotiated with many vendors. We may indeed see a tremendous savings in hardware and software purchases, as well as staff time used to develop individual contracts, by leveraging our purchasing power.

There is an implication that we are considering a plan to provide laptops for the students instead of providing computers at student labs. A quote attributed to me says that the turnaround on machines would drive costs higher. This statement is simply incorrect. The issue of requiring students to own computers is one which surfaces periodically. It is a complex issue and relates to the future network, sites, software distribution and support services we provide. The article further states that the IT Strategic Directions Group is looking at leasing options. This group has not discussed leasing options for the University of Michigan. The group has just been formed and will look at information technology directions and strategies for the University community as a whole.

It is the general feeling across the University that ITD should provide the infrastructure for the University community. This infrastructure must be robust and have the capacity to support what needs to be supported, now and in the future. It must be reliable, available, and consistent for all who use information technology at the University of Michigan. That is just what we intend to provide to you.

Jose-Marie Griffiths, chief information officer and executive director, Information Technology Division