The University Record, February 15, 1999

‘Federation’ to plan and manage U’s IT

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Jose Marie Griffiths, university chief information officer and executive director, Information Technology Division, announced this week that the University will move to create a “federation” of university information technology organizations to better plan and manage the University’s information technology infrastructure and services. Griffiths explained that the federation will evolve as she and others identify how best to “configure new working relationships and responsibilities.”

“Information technology is now a major resource for this institution in carrying out our strategic initiatives,” she said. “We need a coherent community of all our information technology experts who can assist us in identifying the threats and opportunities that information technology [IT] poses for the endeavors of an academic community and how best to manage this critical University resource.”

Griffiths said that the new direction in coordination of information technology services follows the recommendations of the Information Technology Strategic Directions Group, a group of deans and executive officers’ representatives. Last year the group charged the Information Technology Architecture Committee with creating a plan that takes into consideration “the role of central and unit-based IT organizations” and asked the committee to address “the potential for a ‘federated’ IT organizational structure and governance.”

The IT Architecture Group reported its findings in November, recommending “the establishment of a more formal ‘federation’ of the information technology providers from across the University to better plan and manage the University’s information technology infrastructure and to provide an increasing quality of service to the entire University community.”

Griffiths will take steps to convene a Federation Executive Committee that will be “responsible for continuing to identify the shared needs and available resources for IT across the institution,” she said. As an example of shared needs in information technology, she cited recruitment and retention of skilled staff and the issue of how best to deploy scarce resources.

The committee also will be asked to determine those services that are best provided centrally and those that are best provided locally. When the University moved to a distributed computing environment in the mid-1990s, many units moved to their own electronic mail, word processing and database management applications, including taking on the responsibility of upgrading and maintaining them. This also involved being responsible for security on departmental networks and individual computers. That distributed computing system replaced the previous very central one in which most of the work in information technology was accomplished at workstations or terminals connected to one giant computer that was maintained by the Information Technology Division, including nearly all campuswide applications.

Griffith recognizes the still-growing importance of information technology to both students and faculty and notes that the some 1,500 individuals across campus working in information technology point to several opportunities to “re-examine how we have distributed resources to different parts of the institution.”

“Access to technology tools is so critical to all of our students and faculty that we must find ways to maximize every IT investment we make and leverage its capabilities to as much of our community as possible.”

The initiative is supported by the provost. “Just as we emphasize the value of interdisciplinary and collaborative work in other University endeavors,” says Nancy Cantor, “we also recognize the benefits of this approach for IT support and services.”

Griffith’s approach to gathering IT resources and expertise will guide the U-M to a less widely spread and more efficient use of those resources, but she understands that change takes time and is sometimes difficult.

“I recognize that it is easy to say that we will move now to a federation, but it will be difficult to behave that way for some time. We will all need to work together to grow the federated activities and structure, and to design something that will take into consideration all the various needs and interests of our diverse and extensive institution.”