The University Record, March 15, 1999


ITD not a sinking ship

In the March 8, 1999, letter to the editor, titled "ITD needs to be managed as a business, not an academic enterprise," Neil Haldeman compared ITD to a "sinking ship." Mr. Haldeman retired from ITD and the University in 1995, before I was appointed in September 1996. His comments seem to be based on several assumptions about the status of ITD that are no longer the case. Because there may be others who have similarly retrospective views of ITD, I prepared a response, which gives me the opportunity to discuss how ITD has changed.

Upon arrival in Ann Arbor, I realized there were problems in ITD that needed correction. I set in motion a series of changes that continue today. Before I discuss some of the highlights of ITD's progress, I feel obliged to address some misconceptions in Mr. Haldeman's letter.

1. ITD might soon be managed by a 'federation'.

Mr. Haldeman refers to the announcement in the Feb. 15 issue of The University Record, "'Federation' to plan and manage U's IT." This announcement described the creation of a "federation of university information technology organizations to better plan and manage the University's information technology infrastructure and services." This is very different from a federation to manage ITD. ITD, while certainly the largest central IT unit at U-M represents well under half of the IT staff at the institution. The federation is a community of IT professionals who work in concert to assess, design, develop, implement and maintain IT services in support of the University's mission.

2. ITD cancelled the Y2K project. . . ITD sold its soul to PeopleSoft . . .

The Y2K effort is, and has been, a major concern for the University. The University became aware of the pending Y2K problem in 1979, one of the first organizations to recognize its significance. In 1982, informal staff discussions were conducted to begin assessing the Y2K impact on University systems. We created a multi-year formal project plan in 1992 to inventory, assess non-compliance and investigate alternative solutions. Since that time, we have aggressively addressed the Y2K problem-including a redirected emphasis on distributed computing with the decision to go with PeopleSoft in 1995.

The recommendation to select PeopleSoft was made by a team led by the registrar, which was accepted and endorsed by the executive officers at that time. PeopleSoft solutions for financial and student systems continue to be supported by the administration.

3. Moving ITD . . . down deep into the bowels of Academic Affairs . . . was a gruesome mistake . . .

ITD was created in 1986 to bring together the Data Systems Center and the Computing Center under the purview of the provost. I report directly to the provost. However, I interact on a regular basis with all the executive officers on many matters involving IT. The positioning of any unit under the banner of Academic Affairs in no way implies the lack of a business-like approach. It simply reflects the need to set priorities and make decisions according to the academic needs of the institution.

In improving ITD, we established a new leadership team consisting of three directors, down from the 10 members of the previous team; we reduced the number of mid-level managers by 23 percent; we brought our expenditures in line with the budget, and reduced costs and prices; we focused on areas that have direct interactions with our customers in order to improve relationships and collaborations; and we improved our systems and services to ensure the provision of reliable, robust and stable services, resulting in 99.9 percent availability. We continue to seek opportunities for improvement.

ITD is an increasingly streamlined vessel that is navigating its way through the ever-changing waters of information technology. Unlike the Titantic, ITD is not alone in these waters. It is one ship in a fleet of other information technology providers who travel together to enhance information technology services for the University community.

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