Weekly update 2008-04-04

Topics include: Restarting weekly updates; EPSCoR cyberinfrastructure planning; Senior leadership visit to Tech Park; New England Telehealth Consortium; visit with St. Michael’s College


Good Afternoon, All,
I’ve written this apology a hundred times in my mind — time to get it on “paper”.
I last wrote one of these weekly updates on August 4, 2006. When I started sending them in February, 2006, I knew that routine communication is the first thing to be abandoned when you get really busy, and I was determined not to let that happen. But it did. So I apologize for not communicating more routinely and effectively and have only my schedule to blame. I will try to resume weekly updates … and Wendy will help make sure they are on my schedule, too, I’m sure. :-)
I can’t summarize all the things that have happened in the last 18 months or so. So I’ll resume telling what I’m focused on week by week, and provide more detail on specific topics when I think the background might be helpful. I think it’s just helpful for you to know where I’m spending my time and why, as an indication of what I think is important for our organization’s success.
First, a couple of general things about meetings. I continue to meet with the ETS directors as a group for about 2 hours every week (Thurs noon), and I think those meetings have been very helpful in exchanging information about problems, coordinating solutions, discussing policy and planning, etc. I also meet with the directors individually every week or two to review activities in their areas. I meet with the Division of Finance and Enterprise Services (hereafter called DFES for short) VP and Associate VPs every week for 1.5 hours (Wed’s). I meet weekly with Ted Winfield to discuss the interface between the functional and technical sides of information systems support, primarily but not exclusively focused on administrative systems. The DFES Advisory Group, which we hope will be renamed to the University Business Council, meets every other week for 1.5 hours. Dean Saule and I meet every other week to talk about information resources planning and management, broadly defined. I meet for an hour or more every other week with the College of Medicine IS and ET managers and with the associate deans to whom they report to coordinate CoM and ETS planning and management. The pandemic planning meetings have slowed down but were taking quite a bit of time into the Fall. And I have routine but less frequent meetings with VP Gower, VP Lucier, and others, on ETS and general university business planning. And I sit in on the regular monthly meetings of a couple of the Faculty Senate subcommittees (Facilities and Physical Planning and Education and Research Technologies).
I serve on the Vermont Advanced Computing Center steering committee, and this year (again) I served on the VACC director search screening committee. I’m on the Board of VITL (Vermont Information Technology Leaders), the non-profit organization initiated by the legislature to design and implement a Vermont state-wide health care information exchange service. I’m serving as interim co-director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) bioinformatics program and participating in the screening committee for a search for its permanent director. I’m sure there’s something else in there, but I’ll mention it in subsequent updates.
It’s actually not as bad as it sounds from that description, but yes, I spend a lot of time in meetings.
I try to spend a day or more a week in my “office” in Colchester — actually, the corner of a conference room, but a very comfortable place to work (it even has windows!). I meet with Keith Kennedy and Michael Grundhauser there for our one-on-one meetings, and I’m able to catch up there a bit on my emails, in a quiet place. And it’s a good chance to visit with the EAS staff, around the coffee pot if nothing else.
So … what did I do with my week?
Well, OK, some background first. One of my major activities for the last 6-9 months has been working on external networking relationships. This started perhaps a year ago with discussions about improving support for research collaboration. The discussion was initiated, I think, by the Vermont EPSCoR staff. EPSCoR = Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. It’s a funding source that works in parallel with NSF, NIH, NASA, and perhaps others to help develop research programs (and infrastructure) in states that have traditionally not attracted much federal grant funding. The discussion started as the VT EPSCoR staff (who are UVM faculty) sought ways to improve connections to other EPSCoR states (ME, NH, RI, DE, and VT are the EPSCoR NorthEast “jurisdiction”). For the past year, I’ve been meeting with reps from those states (frequently by video teleconference — we eat our own dog food). The architecture we want to design is a fiber loop around New England: from ME, through northern NH, northern VT, down to CT/RI, and back up the coast to ME; DE would link in from some redundant connections from their local service.
But have you seen any fiber loops going over the mountains of northern VT and NH? Nope, I didn’t think so.
But there is a project called “Northlink”, funded at least in part with federal funds provided through Senator Leahy’s office, that is in the process of installing several fiber loops across northern VT. So I met Monday with the director of that project and with one of the engineers to talk about projects in which we’re interested and to learn what their project looks like and what its schedule might be. It was a very helpful meeting, and I think there will be some opportunities for us to work together as we work to build out connections from UVM. Note that we don’t have a solid plan, and we don’t have funding. Like much of my work, this is just one of several fronts I’m continuing to explore as possible ways to implement what our research scientists are asking for.
A different but related effort this week was to finish up paperwork associated with UVM joining the New England Telehealth Consortium, NETC. NETC is based in Bangor, ME. They submitted a proposal last April to the FCC as a part of the FCC Rural Health Care program. They proposed to link 555 healthcare sites across ME, NH, VT into a single private network for the purpose of delivering health care services and education. UVM/FAHC did not submit a proposal, and we were not one of the 555 sites. But after NETC was awarded $24M to implement the network, we learned about the proposal and the fact that some sites served by FAHC and CoM’s Continuing Medical Education program will be on the NETC network. VITL undertook to sign up more VT sites, and we joined. We don’t yet know that we’ll install a physical network connection, but those connections will be underwritten by the FCC for 85% of the cost for the first 3 years — a gigabit connection will cost $1500/mo rather than $10,000/mo. Since we’re already on Internet 2, we’ll have access to NETC (since we’re members of NETC), and may not need the physical connection. But we’ll look at possible services we might want to deliver and decide that later this summer, when we know actual costs. Meanwhile, we’ve finished our paperwork in order to be NETC members. And I spent time on that this week, reviewing papers and getting signatures.
One major activity this week was the visit of President Fogel, Provost Hughes, VP Gower, and VP Meyer to Tech Park. Mike Austin did a 30-min presentation about why we moved from Waterman, why Tech Park, and the design features of the site (high redundancy), then took us on a tour of the site. All were very impressed with the facility and are looking to bring back Senator Leahy (who sponsored the VACC equipment there), Governor Douglas, members of the Board. (After the description of the visit to my colleague AVP’s at our meeting on Wed, they want a tour, too!) The visit was very successful in showing how the investments we’ve made over the last two years have resulted in an enterprise-class facility to support research, teaching, and administrative work.
And, of course, it helped that VACC, PS, Banner, etc. — and the President’s email server! — were all resident. Kudos to the SAA, DBA, and Networking staff for their hard work in preparing for and executing those moves over the last few months. Much of their work was done at night and on weekends to avoid disrupting services to clients. My AVPs were astonished on Wednesday to learn that 90% of the servers are now located at Tech Park — “why were there no disruptions,” they wondered? Because the IT staff worked so hard to avoid them, I replied.
Nice job, all, and very much appreciated by the President on down.
Well, I’m up to half way through Wednesday and I’ve been at this about 90 minutes. You’re tired of reading, and I’m tired of typing. So I’ll send this off now and add “part 2″ over the weekend.
This actually is rather fun, and it’s very helpful for me to review and put things into perspective at the end of the week. For those of you who had the patience to get to here in your reading: thanks. Now go home, as I’m preparing to do.
More later.

Continuing with my weekly update …
About three weeks ago, I got a call from a client on campus about a problem with their networked printer. (No, it shouldn’t have come to me … but a surprising number do when the problems linger on.) Actually, the problem was that the printer’s ability to scan and email documents had stopped working. IKON was called for service, but they reported back to the client that it was a networking problem. Ultimately, after some delays that frustrated our client, it was resolved to be a setup configuration issue: the IKON service man who installed the printer had used the IP number for the SMTP server rather than the name SMTP.UVM.EDU, and when SMTP servers were moved and renumbered recently, the email send function on that printer failed. So it wasn’t a printer issue, and it wasn’t a network issue, and it wasn’t a systems issue: it was a human communication issue.
As seen by our clients on campus, support for printer service has sometimes been pretty annoying. There’s no single point of contact, and in a complex, networked printer environment, problems can be caused by any number of things. We (on the service side) end up pointing fingers at each other rather than providing first-class, seamless service for our mutual clients. Our clients don’t care what caused the problem: they just want the darned things to work!.
So when I heard that IKON was coming to campus this week, I asked for some time to meet with them. Dean was out with the flu, but Phil joined us. I suggested that we needed to work more closely, to cross-train on capabilities of the printers and architecture of UVM networked services, and to review and revise configurations to be more robust and more secure. (Yes, I know there was another security alert put out for the ImageRunner printers this last week, for example.) I suggested a 2-3 hour session with presentations by both sides as a way to get started — and offered to buy lunch. Phil and the IKON folks reviewed that idea with the distributed support providers in a subsequent meeting, and I understand that exchanges of information are already underway.
It wasn’t a long meeting and didn’t take much of my time, but it’s the sort of partnering with outsourced service providers that we need to be pursuing in order to serve our mutual customers well. If you know of other opportunities like this, please let me know.
Mike Austin and I met at Tech Park on Wednesday afternoon with Bill Anderson, CIO at St. Michael’s, and a couple of Competitive Computing staff (with whom SMC contracts for support) to talk about the possibility of offering SMC hosted space for disaster recovery in Tech Park. Developing such hosting arrangements is one of the items on my annual task list from VP Gower, but we haven’t been in a position to consider it until recently. Even now, space would be limited. But it appears that this might work out to be feasible with SMC since their requirements for DR are pretty small (1-2 racks) and since they’re already connected to TelJet (which provides the fiber ring around Burlington on which we’ve leased 12 fibers). There will need to be much more discussion about this before we know if it’ll work out, but this looks like a pretty good match.
This is just one thread in a series of efforts to help establish UVM as a helpful partner, primarily within the state, consistent with our role as the state’s flagship research and Land Grant university.
When Vice President for Enrollment Management Lucier joined UVM last Fall, AVPs Barbara Johnson (HR), Ted Winfield (Budgeting), and I (IT) offered to meet with him routinely, as a group. Our goal is to help him learn about current business operations and practice at UVM and to understand his plans so we can help with their implementation (since they’re likely to involve people, money, and IT). We’ve been meeting pretty routinely (disrupted in the last couple of months by travel and illnesses), and we met again this week. VP Lucier has announced his intention to deploy document imaging widely throughout his division over the next two years, for example, and that will require initial investments, changes in workflow within those offices, and implementation of new technologies. Another area of mutual interest is CRM (“customer relationship management”, “client relationship management”, or “constituent relationship management”, depending upon your situation). Such systems provide a common information base about interactions between constituents of the university (students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff) and various offices on campus (as one very limited example of what they do — they do much more than that). We don’t yet have a project to implement a CRM system, but within this group we’ve begun discussion of the possibility and we’re looking casually at what such systems could do for us.
From my perspective, it will be critical for UVM to manage it constituent relationships well as competition for students — particularly in the northeast — continues to intensify. It’s frustrating to call a business for example, and have to explain repeatedly the problem you’re having or the service you’re seeking — and to have the business apparently care nothing about your needs as a customer. Universities will continue to be highly competitive for the best students, faculty, and staff, and those who manage the services well in the background will help their staff provide the friendly and helpful service to constituents necessary to remain competitive. A CRM system may not be the solution, and a software system in itself would certainly not be the only part of a solution, but I think it’s likely to help a great deal — especially in an institution as decentralized as UVM is.
A note from the DFES Advisory Group (UBC) meeting this week: The University Planning Council (UPC) is continuing to work on the strategic goals for the next five years, and even the number of goals is still varying from meeting to meeting. The UBC is working on its planning matrix but will need to wait for the University plan to be a little more solid before becoming more concrete itself. Meanwhile, though, the UBC has begun to gel as a highly collaborative group of senior business leaders across campus, and I think it’s going to be a very helpful organization.
Finally (I think), I continue to watch fairly routinely the EDUCAUSE Live! webinars. These are usually on Fridays at 1pm, and I can watch these in my office while doing other work. This week’s session was on policies and practices surrounding web accessibility for those with disabilities. I invited a number of people to join me, but only Tom Mercurio (Legal Counsel) actually came. It was a very good session (available in the EDUCAUSE archives if you’re interested). It turns out that Cornell, which has a very strong law and policy group associated with IT, has been at this for years and still doesn’t have an approved policy for accessibility of web pages. This isn’t easy work. But Cornell is a great reference point for us to start — I think they’re probably national higher ed leaders in working through these policy implications.
All this reviewing reminded me of a number of other things I need to mention, but I’ll defer those to the next few weeks.
I hope you found this to be helpful. And again, my apologies for having not kept these up over the past 18 months or so.
David

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