Office of Research IT

Office of Research IT

The Office of Research Information Technology group (OR IT), now part of OIT,  goes well beyond managing servers and sustaining a robust IT infrastructure for administration of campus research.  The entire process of shepherding research proposals from initial review, through Contracts and Grants, and finally to the various funding agencies is handled electronically using tools developed and managed by OR IT.  OR systems process between 5,000 and 6,000 new grant proposals, and manage between 3,000 and 4,000 current awards totaling $320 million in a year.

OR IT programmers, along with Accounting, OIT, and Research Administration staff, are also working on the implementation of the Proposal and Budget building module of the Kuali Coeus system.  Kuali Coeus is based on the MIT Coeus system, which is an open-source solution for research grant submission and administration currently in use by 50 universities.

OR IT maintains the Faculty Profile system which allows UCI researchers to maintain an online curriculum vitae, and identifies campus experts who can meet various public and media needs.

OR IT also supports the activities of key OR subunits, including University Lab Animal Resources (which cares for university research animals), the Office of Technology Alliances (which connects primary UCI research results to corporations which can develop and market them), the Institutional Review Board (which is responsible for ensuring UCI researchers comply with regulations for human subjects research), and UCI’s new Stem Cell Research Center.

As part of OIT, OR IT will now have access to additional expertise and resources to support this vital area of activity.

IT Consolidation at UCI

Information Technology (IT) services at UCI are presently delivered by diverse groups which have arisen in various ways as needs were identified.  UCI is now undertaking a consolidation process with an eye toward the most efficient use of resources and more consistent IT support to faculty, staff, and students.

The plan, announced by EVC and Provost Michael Gottfredson on June 22, is now being developed and implemented by the Office of Information Technology (OIT) with the assistance of an IT Oversight Committee with broad campus membership:

  • Ramona Agrela, Associate Chancellor
  • Kevin Ansel, Director, Student Affairs IT Strategic Planning
  • Bill Cohen, Director of Computing Support, Information and Computer Sciences
  • David Leinen, Assistant Dean, Social Sciences (Academic Senior Manager Representative)
  • Frances Leslie, Dean, Graduate Division
  • Rich Lynch, Associate Vice Chancellor, Budget
  • Paige Macias, Associate Vice Chancellor, Administrative and Business Services
  • Marie Perezcastaneda, Director of Business Services, OIT
  • Lynn Rahn, Assistant Vice Chancellor, University Advancement
  • Dana Roode, Assistant Vice Chancellor, OIT
  • Sharon Salinger, Dean, Undergraduate Education
  • Mark Warner, Associate Vice Chancellor, Office of Research
  • Ted Wright, Associate Professor, Cognitive Sciences (NACS Faculty Advisory Representative)
  • Brent Yunek, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Enrollment Services

Goals for the consolidation process include:

  • making the most effective use of IT talent across campus, focused on the highest priority activities
  • allowing cost savings through staff attrition while mitigating the impact of losing staff in currently unique, isolated positions
  • creating a consistent campus IT environment for greatest efficiency and ease of use for faculty and staff
  • finding and implementing solutions to common problems
  • leveraging the leadership, communication, and technical skills of UCI’s IT managers
  • saving energy costs through consolidation of server maintenance in data centers

The consolidation process will result in the creation of a single IT support organization for administrative units, the Office of Information Technology.   OIT will also make available commodity IT services to academic units and provide other support through mechanisms to be discussed.  Regular consolidation progress reports will be shared with the campus, including publication here in IT News.

First Steps Toward Consolidated IT

UCI’s new consolidated IT organization, the Office of Information Technology (OIT), is just over two months old.

Administrative Computing Services (AdCom), Network and Academic Computing Services (NACS), Office of Academic Affairs Computing Services, and the Office of Research Information Technology group joined forces on July 1 as OIT.  Graduate Division IT has now joined OIT as well.

The AdCom and NACS Directors constitute the OIT senior leadership team and have been meeting regularly since late June:  Marina Arseniev, Cheryl Ast, Shohreh Bozorgmehri, Brian Buckler, Steve Franklin, Marie Perezcastaneda, Carmen Roode, and Allen Schiano.   Assistant Vice Chancellor Dana Roode serves as the department head of the Office of Information Technology.

In July, many discussions among the management and staff of the consolidated units took place to get to know one another and exchange information about job function and organizational structure.  Several teams were created to identify immediate opportunities for integration.

An initial integrated organization became effective on August 3rd.  The first of several planned combined groups have been formed: Desktop Support (see article later in this issue) and the Help Desk.  Complementary functions in AdCom and NACS have each been moved under a common OIT director (electronic security, help-desk, data-center services) to work toward integrating them.  An organizational chart is available online.  The OIT organizational structure will continue to evolve over time.

We have been interviewing representatives of new OIT client groups and are using a survey to enhance our understanding of their needs.  We have also been meeting with the leadership of administrative units with IT groups outside of OIT to discuss their participation in the consolidation effort.

A draft plan for including administrative IT groups in OIT is under development and should be available for review in the October timeframe.  Whereas the expectation is that all administrative IT groups will become a part of OIT over the next year, the nature of the affiliation with OIT in each case will vary depending on the needs of the clients served.  The physical location of IT staff will also depend on client needs, and staff may remain proximate to the units they serve in many cases even after becoming a part of OIT.

All of this is subject to the development of the consolidation plan, review by the IT Oversight Committee and units, and approval by Provost Gottfredson.

OIT Desktop Support

“Desktop Support” refers to the maintenance of desktop computers, laptop computers, smart-phones, and peripherals as well as assistance to the faculty, staff and students who utilize them.  Desktop support keeps operating system and application software current, keeps systems secure through patches and anti-virus software, and resolves problems that occur.  Desktop support is among the first IT activities to be consolidated.

Jeremy Paje, manager of OIT Desktop Support, began his IT career as a student at UCI in the late 90s.  After a few years helping develop a national help desk system for an outside company, he returned to UCI to work in desktop support for Administrative Computing Services (AdCom).  In 2008, Jeremy was promoted to AdCom’s manager of desktop support, where he supported 600 clients and 700 desktops with a team of four staff.

Jeremy supervised the roll-out of the Thunderbird email solution featured in the previous issue of this newsletter.

This year he was given responsibility for desktop support in the new central organization, OIT.  He wants his team to continue to be seen as “the friendly IT people” as their client base grows.  The consolidated unit will benefit from many of the tools and automated systems developed by AdCom’s desktop support group.

Jeremy’s team has long experience creating a quality desktop experience for staff.  A key tool, LanDesk, allows his team members to distribute software updates (“patches”) and other software over the network, and enables remote access for investigating and resolving system problems.  Through LanDesk, Desktop Support can also grant staff the ability to install custom software without administrative privileges.

OIT Desktop Support also manages a Sophos Enterprise Console system for distribution and update of antivirus software.

A new technology that OIT Desktop Support is promoting is virtual desktops.  This allows staff to use modest hardware on the desktop, and connect to a server for the operating system and computational power.  Advantages include access to one’s personal desktop environment from any console, centralized backups of business data, simple restoration of a non-operational program from a known image, and quick replacement of broken hardware because the data is safe on the server.

OIT Desktop support secures discounted software for staff through the Microsoft Consolidated Campus Agreement (MCCA), and develops hardware and software standards which promotes simpler troubleshooting and more consistent support.

Jeremy believes that standardization is an essential element to effective and economical desktop support.  Through standardization, Desktop Support can deliver lower-cost service, quicker turn-around time, more security, and more predictable outcomes.  At the same time, he understands that one size does not always fit all and occasionally exceptions to standards must be made to deal with special needs.

Why Consolidate?

Information Technology consolidation is about making IT more efficient and effective. The benefits of this effort encompass all services and activities enabled or supported by IT: research and education, campus communication and collaboration, business processes, data use and reuse, staff training, and more.

Information Technology at UCI has been heading in the direction of greater integration for quite some time.  IT professionals long ago realized that they all serve the same clients – UCI’s faculty, students and staff.  However, the seams between different IT units hamper efforts to provide service: inter-unit processes cannot be fully automated; user interfaces vary from application to application; data does not flow smoothly from its point of origin to distributed systems where it is needed; campus leadership does not have universal access to information that facilitates decision making.  Provost Gottfredson’s consolidation directive will allow us to pick up the pace of integration and reduce redundant activities, focusing on those that require more attention.

Every unit has its own business processes; while some relate to unique business functions, many could be the same from unit to unit.  Despite such similarities, each unit has been left to implement its own business automation.  Examples of this include time and attendance and local budget management and tracking systems.  Each unit configures the software used on desktop computers by its staff in its own way, has its own desktop support operation, does its own security patching, and has its own file and application servers, server rooms, and other IT infrastructure.  Several units operate their own email systems rather then using central email services.  Many units operate their own instructional computing labs, even though they all provide the same basic function (with the exception of specialized software needs).  The majority of this infrastructure can be shared, resulting in higher quality at the same or less cost.

Small IT groups on campus face significant challenges in keeping up with evolving demands.  It is not uncommon for a unit’s few staff to be expected to handle all aspects of IT:  routine desktop services, smart-phone support, server and information security management, and software development or maintenance.  On top of this, they must be experts on all applications the unit requires to operate.  The reality is that IT is a complex and ever-evolving area that requires specialized expertise that is most readily available in a larger organization.  A key example is information security, which demands more and more attention due to an evolving Internet environment and threats that change daily.

No one expects IT consolidation to be easy or to happen overnight.  It will be a challenge to create a large, central IT organization with responsiveness on par with that now enjoyed by some departments in today’s distributed model.  The current poor budget climate will not make the effort any easier, although it certainly makes it more important.  Successful consolidation will require creative organizational approaches, as well as excellent communication, flexibility, and assistance from all parties.

In the end, IT consolidation is about making IT, and the breadth of processes and activities it supports, significantly more efficient and effective.  It would be difficult to put a dollar amount on the savings or cost avoidance that will come from IT integration, but fully leveraging every hour our IT professionals put into support activities will have a significant benefit to the overall productivity of the campus.