Table of Contents
Overview of the IT Strategic Plan and Guiding Principles
ITS Advisory Committees and Campus Input
3-Year Goals by Service Category
The new IT Strategic Plan for the University at Albany sets the tone and direction for technological advancement across the institution for 2022-25. Based on an overarching set of guiding principles, the Plan will advance University strategic goals and priorities, and develop the technical infrastructure to fully support the institution’s competitive R1 status and future growth. Spearheaded by Information Technology Services (ITS), the Plan was iterated with representative groups from across campus, followed by an open comment period to assure input and engagement from all constituencies. Highlights of the Plan include:
- Extensive planning and preparation for the replacement of PeopleSoft, the University’s current ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, including the implementation of an API (Application Programming Interface)-led data integration system and a low-code development platform to modernize administrative business processes.
- Replace Blackboard, the current LMS (Learning Management System) with Brightspace, advancing the SUNY system-wide initiative to enhance the online learning environment with new features, increased accessibility, and 24x7 support for students and faculty.
- Continued partnership with the Division of Research and Economic Development, with emphasis on the Albany AI Supercomputing Initiative.
- Immediate functional improvements to key student-facing offices, most notably Financial Aid and Student Accounts, to reduce processing delays, use resources more efficiently, and improve the student experience.
- Numerous infrastructure and information security initiatives to assure the technical environment can grow with the University’s evolving needs while protecting valuable electronic assets.
High-level timelines for each strategic goal are identified throughout this document and consolidated in Appendix 2 – Measurable Outcomes.
This is a time of exponential increase in need for information technology services at the University at Albany. The last few years have demanded changes as never before, with technology playing an integral role in every aspect of university life. From recruiting and retaining students, to bringing state-of-the-art facilities online, to complying with health and security mandates, Information Technology Services (ITS) addresses change by following its long-established practice of working collaboratively with campus partners. This IT Strategic Plan offers a clear path to better understand multifaceted needs and establish technical direction across this dynamic research institution. It also plays a key role in meeting Middle States requirements by aligning efforts to increase campus engagement and fostering transparency in IT decision-making.
ITS is enthusiastic about this Plan and looks forward to advancing these goals with the campus community. While many of these represent actions ITS has been anticipating and/or planning for some time, others are new initiatives, often representing the vision of campus leadership. Notable features of the planning process are the ongoing input and feedback from relevant advisory groups, which will help ITS keep abreast of specific campus needs in directed areas, and the Annual Review process, which provides periodic opportunities to assure consistency with the University Strategic Plan, offer relevant updates, and needed flexibility.
Overview of ITS
ITS is the centralized provider of campus technology. The mission of the organization is to anticipate and provide sophisticated information technology services that deliver inclusive and engaged user experiences to the campus community. Led by the Chief Information Officer (CIO), ITS employs ~100 staff who provide a wide range of services and support across all three campus locations. A central business office, project management office, service portfolio manager, and a communications strategist support ITS staff in these key areas. ITS is part of Finance and Administration, with the CIO reporting to the division vice president.
ITS has adopted the Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) industry standard for work management, which is used by many other IT organizations in higher education. This approach offers a holistic technology experience by focusing on customer needs and continuous improvement across eight service categories:
- Administrative and Business
- Communication and Collaboration
- Desktop and Mobile Computing
- Information Security
- Teaching and Learning
- IT Professional Services
Nearly all work in ITS is aligned by these service categories. Staff are assigned to dedicated service teams where they engage in a wide range of activities. Service management work encompasses the requests, incidents and other operational activities that support offerings provided by ITS. Projects, on the other hand, represent the initiation of new offerings and solutions, along with enhancements and improvements to existing services.
The ITS Project Portfolio currently contains over 250 projects. More than half of these were initiated by ITS to advance campus technologies; the remaining 45% represent requests from other units to meet specific departmental goals and priorities. In nearly all cases, these departmental initiatives cannot succeed without significant commitment from ITS. As the demand for technology typically outpaces ITS staff availability, this often results in competing priorities. One of the most important benefits of the IT Strategic Plan is the opportunity it presents to secure agreement and unify the campus in establishing direction and priorities.
Over the last few years, ITS has made tremendous progress in capturing and reporting on our work. While these efforts are currently internal, ITS expects that in the coming fiscal years, this evolving practice will further inform organizational efforts to define goals, prioritize projects, and share new insights about IT decision-making and resource allocation.
Overview of the IT Strategic Plan and Guiding Principles
The IT Strategic Plan forecasts campus IT direction for the next three years. Defined by a set of guiding principles and goals, the Plan aligns with the University’s strategic plan and corresponding values. Technology is an integral part of the institution’s core priorities of student success, research excellence, diversity and inclusion, internationalization, and engagement and service, and ITS has a long history of supporting these critical areas. While all five priorities are addressed in the IT Strategic Plan, student success is featured the most prominently. Given the University’s current focus on enrollment and measures of academic success, many ITS goals and initiatives are directed at modernizing student-facing services, engaging new capabilities, and designing processes to better meet academic and administrative needs across the institution.
The University’s research excellence priority is a close second to student success in prominence. The University has many opportunities to showcase its R1 status, and the IT Strategic Plan outlines the development of services and infrastructure to support institutional growth and funding opportunities across the research arena.
To assure continued alignment with the University Strategic Plan, ITS has developed an open, engaging process to solicit ongoing input from representatives across the campus community. At the end of each fiscal year, ITS conducts an Annual Review to capture progress over the past year, highlight recent accomplishments, and update goals. Over time, as goals are accomplished and guiding principles evolve, they will be refined and amended to keep reflecting the progressive technology needs of the campus community. By establishing a continuous cycle of planning, execution, and recalibration, ITS expects to foster deep engagement with the University and increase transparency about how IT decisions are made.
The following guiding principles strongly influence ITS’s tactical direction:
- Advance campus partnerships by increasing engagement, reporting, and transparency using a service-based focus.
- Improve responsiveness by introducing rapid delivery tools and reducing the use of technologies that require ITS staff to spend time on low-value work.
- Operate vendor-supported hardware and software.
- Workforce role realignments are expected in IT as both campus needs and technologies change.
- Support the University’s commitment to sustainability.
ITS Advisory Committees and Campus Input
One of the most essential elements of the IT Strategic Plan is the opportunity it provides for campus engagement. Continuous feedback from across the community is critical to ITS for planning purposes and improving the end-user experience.
In January 2021, ITS established ITS Advisory Committees to align with three of its customer-facing service areas: Administration and Business, Information Security, and Teaching and Learning. These groups are composed of representatives from across the institution to provide input on ITS projects and services. Agendas cover a wide range of topics, such as updates and changes to existing services, projects in the ITS portfolio, resource availability, and other issues or concerns.
In the area of research, ITS solicits similar input by leveraging existing campus groups. These include the Vice President of Research and Economic Development and activities sponsored by that office, such as the Research Coffee Hour, the Research Data Security Working Group, and the Research Data Governance Council. ITS maintains relationships with various centers, institutes, labs, and individual researchers, who may also be called upon to provide information and feedback. The Albany AI Initiative, referenced several times in this document, offers an additional avenue of significant collaboration in the research arena. An AI Supercomputing Cluster Building Advisory Group has been formed to provide advice and guidance across the entire AI program.
All ITS Advisory Committees recognize the need for ITS to develop a strategic plan and are aware of the valuable role they play in the process. These committees understand the opportunities and challenges ITS faces in delivering an increasing number of projects, services, and competing priorities. The process for leveraging each Advisory Committee to develop shared goals and objectives, and review and report on progress, is still in its infancy. ITS will adjust and refine that process to establish a cycle of continuous improvement. Over time, ITS expects that engaging committees in the complexities of IT decision-making will provide new perspectives and deepen a shared understanding of the challenges associated with staffing, funding, and prioritization.
As part of the planning process, iterations of the IT Strategic Plan were shared with ITS Advisory Committees for feedback and updated to reflect their input. In May, it was shared with the President’s Executive Council, followed by a month-long open comment period for campus community feedback. At the conclusion of the comment period, the Plan was finalized and sent to the President for approval. Going forward, ITS will continue to refine the calendar for advisory committees to ensure that on-going feedback is routinely solicited and incorporated throughout the planning process.
See Appendix 1 for ITS Advisory Committee membership.
IT Strategic Plan Timeline
January – February 2022
Develop IT Strategic Plan, Guiding Principles, and Goals. Introduce and iterate with ITS Advisory Committees
March – April 2022
Continued iteration with ITS Advisory Committees. Present to divisions and key stakeholders for feedback
May – June 2022
Present outline to President’s Executive Council. Complete draft plan based on feedback. Share and finalize with ITS Advisory Committees
Continued development and preparation of document for Campus Comment period
Campus Comment period. Finalize plan based on feedback
December 2022 – March 2023
Plan finalized and approved
Publish and disseminate IT Strategic Plan
Update IT Strategic Plan with recent accomplishments, highlights, and forecast future activities.
3-Year Goals by Service Category
The IT Strategic Plan consists of 3-year goals for each service category representing priority and direction in each area. Influenced by the University Strategic Plan and core priorities, all goals were established through an iterative process with their respective ITS Advisory Committees (where applicable) and ITS leadership. Within ITS, goals are influencing the development of new 3-year roadmaps for each service area which, in turn, will inform future projects and initiatives.
In addition to establishing goals for each IT service category, ITS has identified a goal to advance diversity and promote new skillsets among our staff.
Administrative and Business Services Category
This service category, more than any other, directly impacts University priorities and initiatives related to recruitment, enrollment, and student success. These services encompass an enormous range of activities that impact every member of the campus. From students to faculty to researchers to staff, a tremendous number of transactions and processes are conducted every day, with many of them relying on aging, unsustainable technologies. Modern, faster, and more user-friendly systems and applications are needed to respond to demands more quickly and efficiently for the University to remain competitive.
All goals in this service category were reviewed by the ITS Administrative and Business Advisory Committee.
Within the next several years, UAlbany will convert from using the complex PeopleSoft infrastructure installed in the campus data center to a cloud-based (vendor-hosted or vendor-provided systems outside the campus network) system or systems. The move is required, in part, because companies are fundamentally changing the way they provide applications.
The complete move will require significant campus commitment and will unavoidably take several years. The current system, utilized by innumerable offices, is highly customized and includes approximately 1,500 integrations with other systems, 2,500 customizations of the product, and 16,000 custom queries. While the University only runs PeopleSoft’s student information system module, the system has been heavily customized to house business functionality beyond the scope of a student information system. Cloud-based systems will not accommodate the type and scope of customizations currently in place.
Over the next three years, the campus needs to capture and define future needs for administrative and business systems and develop a strategy to achieve that long term vision. While ITS will coordinate the effort, considerable time and dedication is required from many offices. To fully appreciate the totality of this activity, it is important to recognize how long, and how deeply, the University has relied on PeopleSoft. This technology sufficiently met campus needs 20 years ago but has become cumbersome and unwieldy by today’s IT standards and expectations. For the past two decades, applications were built directly in PeopleSoft simply because it was the technology we had, rather than moving to newer, modern tools, each of which would introduce a new expense. Given this practice, numerous campus offices, including many that are student-facing, must evaluate their business processes and work with ITS to transition to entirely new applications and platforms.
While ITS expects to make continuous improvements to recruitment and enrollment services in the near term, the longer-term PeopleSoft initiative remains a massive undertaking. Planning in the form of extensive requirements gathering and thorough needs assessments are the prominent activities during this 3-yr timeframe. These preliminary efforts are critical in defining the new technical environment to successfully support necessary technical changes, now and well into the future.
Y2 – Draft RFP and engage ERP planning consultant
Y2-3 – Campus works with consultant to identify gaps and needs; campus responds to report and establishes ERP direction
Many departments have requested and would benefit from a tool to help automate and/or expedite processing activities. This would enable offices to collect information from students or customers via a web form and automatically move that information along to the appropriate office or staff through a defined workflow. Common scenarios might involve multiple handoffs of that information in sequence, gathering approvals or spawning related processes along the way. General availability of this capability is essential for departments to digitize or automate business processes and more expeditiously transition from paper-based or other dated collection/submission practices, which is consistent with the University’s sustainability goals.
In many cases, such tools enable departments to adjust simple business processes independently, without IT staffing resources. In more complex cases, the automation of a business process may require ITS to integrate with existing systems to pull or store data or may require business process analysis prior to implementation. In both situations, appropriate tools will facilitate faster improvements to business processes, and assure that ITS staffing directed toward this goal are used efficiently and effectively. This initiative has tremendous implications to enhance recruitment and enrollment, as it empowers student-facing offices with increased access to real-time information, and the ability to adjust business processes accordingly.
Y1-2 – Define needs, select the tool(s), procure, and implement the tool(s), and initiate usage
Many of the University’s administrative platforms and processes rely on older technologies. Various system and application interfaces that students and parents use appear dated and would benefit from a modern look and feel. ITS will partner with campus offices to identify ways to improve the administrative experience and minimize any processing delays. Activities will include recognizing areas that will benefit from business process review, automation, and innovative technologies. Faster turnaround times in these vital areas will make the University more competitive with its peers by providing admitted students with clear, accurate information to encourage commitment to and remain at UAlbany and improve overall student satisfaction.
While this goal has far-reaching implications for recruitment and enrollment initiatives, technology alone cannot accomplish these resource-intensive activities in a vacuum. Focused attention, commitment, and willingness on the part of campus partners to evaluate long-standing departmental business practices—with an eye toward change—are critical success factors.
Y1-3 – Address and implement improvements for Financial Aid and Student Accounts (100+); begin addressing/implementing improvements in other student-facing offices
The health and safety of the campus community is of paramount importance. The University has called for technological improvements that support this priority:
- Expanding commercial cellular coverage in areas with weak or no signal, including podium basements and tunnels on the uptown campus. Verizon Wireless is expanding its coverage, and ITS is encouraging other providers to follow suit.
- ITS will deploy full WiFi coverage in the tunnels on the uptown campus. In addition to commercial cellular expansion, this will make the University network available to the campus community when they traverse the tunnels. At least one network must always remain available for communication services (mobile phones, campus safety apps, etc.) to function.
- ITS is working closely with the University Police Department (UPD) on a variety of safety measures, including continuous review of blue light emergency phones and the addition of Rave Guardian, a modern campus safety app.
Y1 – Expand commercial cellular coverage; design and propose full Wi-Fi coverage in uptown campus tunnels; deploy Rave Guardian in concert with UPD
Y2 – Implement full WiFi coverage in uptown campus tunnels
Retire/replace all unsupported systems
Reliance on old, unsupported technologies is a poor practice that invites a host of risks and vulnerabilities. The University needs to move away from systems that have already reached end of life as defined by vendors and identify modern, secure replacements. These include the following:
- Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS). ITS is collaborating with the Registrar’s Office, Purchasing, and SUNY System Administration, and a replacement system has been identified. The project is currently underway.
- The Hyland Nolij document imaging system will migrate to an on-premises version of Hyland OnBase as a near-term resolution. The project is currently underway. In the long term, a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution is preferred and will be explored in the future.
- The system behind the MyUAlbany student and employee portals has reached end of life and needs to be replaced. ITS is working in collaboration with the Office of Communications and Marketing to identify a replacement solution appropriately aligned with UAlbany’s web presence.
In all cases, the continued use of outdated technologies reflects poorly on the entire institution. Replacing these systems presents additional opportunities to modernization with fresh, user-friendly interfaces, timely information, and other enhancements to improve the overall University experience.
Y1-2 – Replace DARS, Nolij, Colleague Advancement, Colleague Finance
Y2-3 – Replace MyUAlbany
Teaching and Learning Services Category
Teaching and Learning is at the heart of the academic mission. This exciting space is continuously evolving as the University introduces new areas of study, undertakes fresh initiatives, and explores innovative ideas to deeply engage students. All goals in this service category were vetted with the ITS Teaching and Learning Advisory Committee.
The University’s contract with Blackboard ends in December 2023. SUNY System Administration has a contract for Brightspace, a new digital learning environment that is being implemented at institutions across the SUNY system. UAlbany participated in system-wide discussions about the implementation to understand options and make decisions to best serve our students and faculty. The University is planning for our own implementation of Brightspace managed by ITS, with the following timeframe:
- Fall 2022 – Planning and preparing for pilot and migration
- Spring 2023 – Brightspace Pilot
- Summer 2023 – Production (full cut-over to Brightspace from Blackboard)
- December 2023 – Termination of Blackboard contract
The move to Brightspace makes a significant contribution to academic success for students and faculty alike. The new platform boasts an intuitive, user-friendly interface, modern features, and 24x7 support. ITS is working closely with campus groups to ensure that all faculty, student, and staff needs currently addressed by Blackboard will continue to be met, either within the new Brightspace system or via other means, particularly in cases where the current LMS (Learning Management System) is being used for non-academic purposes.
Y1 – Implement Brightspace
Y2 – Archive and retire Blackboard
Equitable access to campus technology has long been an area of concern and is an important part of the University’s commitment to an equitable, inclusive environment. Fortunately, this issue has gained traction among vendors of technology tools, who are increasingly building accessibility features into their products. In Year 1, the implementation of Brightspace and Panopto will provide the campus with built-in accessibility tools that significantly enhance the user experience, including automated closed captioning. This will offer ITS opportunities in Years 2 and 3 to review current third-party tools that address additional needs and make informed decisions about which products are essential for ensuring appropriate levels of accessibility.
Y1 – Implement Brightspace and Panopto
Y2-3 – Additional accessibility improvements, including support of SUNY-wide initiatives
While ITS has a wealth of experience delivering enterprise-wide technologies for teaching and learning, supporting the unique needs of individual faculty members is sometimes challenging. Ideally, ITS should be positioned to respond positively to faculty requests to provide innovative resources and/or environments to meet the evolving needs of our faculty, particularly as they aspire to incorporate unique technologies into their curricula. Improving the ability to respond quickly and affirmatively is an important next step for ITS to continue meeting the teaching and learning needs of the campus community.
Y1 – ITS to measure and characterize unique needs and present findings to Academic Affairs
Y2-3 – Prepare joint recommendation with Academic Affairs on how to staff, prioritize, and respond to such requests.
Research Services Category
There is tremendous growth in the research arena. In April 2022, President Rodriguez announced the inclusion of $75 million in the state budget for Albany AI, a multifaceted plan to bring government, educational, and industry partners to expand AI supercomputing resources to the forefront of next-generation chip design. Albany AI is part of the broad vision introduced by the Vice President for Research and Economic Development to leverage computing power to tackle enormous societal challenges, transforming the institution in the process.
There are innumerable facets and opportunities in this groundbreaking work, many of which are in the discovery phase. Exploring the myriad ways technology supports innovation in emerging fields is a practice with which ITS is intimately familiar. The organization is committed to supporting the necessary facilities, equipment, knowledge, and expertise to support growth in this exciting area. While there are many implications for technology bundled in this initiative, considerable discovery must take place before firm commitments and timelines can be established. The goals outlined below represent several unique opportunities to enhance research excellence and work collaboratively to improve the research environment.
The Albany AI initiative represents a tremendous campus-wide commitment. ITS will continue to expand the general-purpose HPC (High Performance Computing) cluster and expand that to include GPU cluster nodes to accommodate the immediate needs of the research community. Concurrently, ITS will continue working closely with the Research and Economic Development division to plan for the design, procurement, and implementation of the AI Initiative to dramatically improve the technology available to the University research community over a longer term. In keeping with the University’s sustainability goals, this will include the identification of lifecycle tools and best practices to inform and improve sustainability as the research environment evolves.
Y1 – Design and procure Phase 1 AI supercomputing infrastructure; launch data center design study
Y2 – Implement Phase 1 AI supercomputing system
Y3 – Implement data center upgrades; design and procure Phase 2 AI supercomputing infrastructure
ITS recently completed a pilot project to provide researchers with a NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) 800-171 compliant environment. Compliance is defined by meeting a total of 110 controls to secure and protect data. As the pilot transitions to operations, ITS is working on the documentation and details to assist researchers in understanding what is currently available in the University’s existing research environment and begin projecting future needs. A NIST-compliant environment significantly increases the University's eligibility for grants and other funding opportunities.
The goal is to provide a similar environment and set of controls that would allow researchers to operate within HIPAA requirements. It has the potential to be an important aspect of the Albany AI initiative, as well as other research endeavors. This will accelerate research excellence by complying with federal requirements and increasing eligibility for faculty pursuing grants and other funding opportunities.
Y1-2 – Partner with Research and Economic Development division to perform gap analysis and deliver proposal for accommodating HIPAA-related grants
The high-performance computing (HPC) cluster available to the UAlbany research community includes many open-source applications. As Albany AI grows and becomes infused across the curriculum, software offerings will need to grow with multi-disciplinary demand. Additionally, a user-friendly, web-based interface will be selected to encourage and facilitate widespread usage of AI. As HPC usage continues to expand and the AI clusters are designed and deployed, gaps in the software library will be identified. The existing general-purpose cluster will be used to introduce new applications identified as an early step in the emerging AI program.
Y1 – Assess, propose, and implement new software to meet anticipated AI research needs/expectations; assess and propose base implementation of user-friendly, web-based access to the cluster
Y2-3 – Expand software offerings based on need and scale base implementation
Current planning for the Albany AI Supercomputing Initiative is focused on building an AI cluster for use across UAlbany schools, colleges, and departments. In the coming months, the University will hire a new director for the AI Institute. Among the primary responsibilities of this position are the opportunities for research efforts to be incorporated into teaching and learning activities. ITS will continue working with the Research and Economic Development division and the new AI director to focus on service and support to ease and shorten the on-ramp for faculty and researchers to utilize the new AI cluster(s). This initiative encompasses a wealth of implications for advancing the University’s research excellence and student success goals.
Y1 – ITS to hire two new Research Technology Analysts; additional positions defined
Y2 – ITS to hire additional positions as defined
Information Security Services Category
The University continues to advance an active information security program for the campus community. Failure to remain vigilant in this critical area would represent an unacceptable level of risk for the University. The most successful programs are those that recognize and accept that information security is everyone’s responsibility.
The information security landscape is subject to dramatic changes. Many institutions of higher education, and UAlbany among them, are adopting a “not if, but when” philosophy when it comes to assessing security risks. Industry best practices put measures in place to identify and respond to security breaches as quickly as possible to avoid costly fines and damage to institutional reputation. Goals in this category are a mix of operational measures internal to ITS, along with activities to help the campus prepare and respond to incidents. Both avenues are critical to achieving success in this service area.
Just as the information security landscape changes, so too do the tools that are used to protect it. ITS must continuously assess the value and overall effectiveness of the applications, systems, and tools in the security program.
Identity management is a critical aspect of any information security program. The University currently uses Microsoft Identity Manager (MIM), which allows organizations to manage user identities, credentials, related policies, and what systems everyone can access based on their institutional role (i.e., student, faculty, staff). As MIM is reaching end of life, and identity management systems are tied in with numerous other technologies, ITS is conducting a design-and-propose project to identify a modern replacement that meets the University’s needs. The selected solution may impact other technologies in place, including the multifactor authentication platform – another critical tool in the University’s identity management arsenal. Given the importance of managing access to institutional data, it is critical to select products that work in concert to maintain the University’s information security posture.
Y1 – Select new identity management system to replace MIM
Y2 – Procure and deploy new solution
The ability to evaluate security incidents both in real-time and after-the-fact across multiple systems and platforms is increasingly important. Tools that quickly identify and respond to potential security incidents help reduce the impact of cyberattacks.
ITS currently monitors security using a wide variety of tools. Ideally, this telemetry should be consolidated so all anomalies can be viewed concurrently. Once ITS can examine security events across all platforms, search and alerting capabilities may be expanded. Machine learning and AI are some of the tools that may identify relationships across events. These advancements will enable ITS to identify potential incidents, not just vulnerabilities. The faster ITS can identify events, the less likely an event will become a major incident.
Y1-2 – Conduct needs assessment for centralized logging
Y2-3 – Recommend and implement new solution
While a variety of emergencies have the potential to disrupt technology, cyberattacks are an increasingly likely threat to the University. A high-severity security incident that requires shutting down IT systems and services has the ability to stop all campus activities for an unknown period of time, possibly days. It could require millions of dollars and countless hours to remediate, notify affected parties, and engage in other reporting and restoration activities, severely damaging institutional reputation in the process. Given the potential impact of such incidents, it is critical to develop a broad understanding of the impact on campus and how recovery efforts will proceed. ITS is working with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to prepare the campus to better understand the impact and response to a range of security incidents.
Y1 – Develop ITS playbook with OEM for potential high-severity incident, informed by participation in tabletop exercise
Y2-3 – Conduct tabletop exercises to address other security incidents and update OEM playbook(s); develop/refine procedures to better respond to campus security incidents; further develop ITS recovery efforts and strategies
Infrastructure Services Category
The University network, server, and storage infrastructure are the backbone of the campus. Every department relies on enterprise technologies, with many depending on specific platforms and applications unique to their area. This is true not only across the campus, but also in ITS, where staff with infrastructure responsibilities balance several activities, including membership across a variety of service teams. High profile initiatives, such as Albany AI, have tremendous implications for IT infrastructure.
It is imperative that ITS make wise decisions about deploying human resources and setting realistic expectations for what can be achieved in specific timeframes. It is equally important to recognize that infrastructure projects often represent critical dependencies for future campus-driven projects. While this may not always be readily apparent, seemingly innocuous technical projects may be precursors to implementing high-priority strategies for campus partners. Infrastructure is far-reaching, and it is vital to recognize the technical complexities involved in helping the University achieve its goals.
Reliance on the University network is exponential and meeting demand is a significant undertaking. Capacity enhancements are critical to keep up with the increasing density of devices across campuses. While the University’s WiFi footprint has grown by 78% over the last five years, the desire for expanded coverage continues to grow amongst students, faculty, and staff. The reach of the network will continue to grow during this period as a strong connection between the University Data Center and the former Albany High School is implemented to support the future needs of CEAS (College of Engineering and Applied Sciences) occupants and assuring appropriate redundancies to the data center. There will also be additional connectivity work in ETEC to meet the needs of the xCite Lab. In addition to continued expansion of WiFi, ITS is replacing the entire wireless network with new WAPs (wireless access points) that rely on cloud-based controls, which bring significant increases in functionality, capabilities, and performance to this critical service.
Y1 – Improve wireless coverage, capabilities, and performance by growing the campus wireless footprint by 6% and replacing 10% of legacy WAPs
Y2 – Complete network connections for FAHS (Phases 4 and 5) and identify timeline for Phase 6; implement redundancies to Downtown Campus; complete switch installation for Xcite Lab; grow wireless footprint by 10.5% and replacing 23.5% of legacy WAPs
Y3 – Continued expansion of campus WiFi, growing the footprint by 5% and replacing 31% of legacy WAPs
All University data is stored on-site in either network attached storage (NAS) or in the storage area network (SAN). ITS currently keeps multiple copies of that data here on the campus network. Consistent with new industry standards, ITS has initiated a project to implement off-site, cloud-based backup and storage to protect copies of all enterprise data (non-research data) in a cloud-based system outside of the University network. This practice represents a crucial preparatory step in recovering from ransomware attacks. Note that it would be cost prohibitive to store a copy of all research data in a cloud-based system.
Y1 – Deploy cloud-based backups for all NAS-based production, enterprise data (80% of enterprise data)
Y2 – Deploy cloud-based backups for all SAN-based production, enterprise data (20% of enterprise data)
The University needs to adopt modern technologies to manage the way data is shared across enterprise systems, including the student information system, the digital learning environment, and many other systems. The first step was to implement MuleSoft, an infrastructure application providing a modern, low-code method for passing and accessing data. The platform enables real-time integration, which allows data to be integrated quickly and reduces the need for ITS to write and maintain custom code for this purpose. With MuleSoft in place, ITS will use it to address all new integrations, no longer using legacy methods. Over the next three years, ITS will begin converting the 1500 customized PeopleSoft integrations to MuleSoft. This is a crucial precursor in the PeopleSoft migration to a cloud-based environment where the use of modern data exchange technologies is expected.
The second step in this goal is to procure and implement a low-code development platform. This will provide the campus with opportunities to collect and work with data outside of the PeopleSoft environment, enabling ITS to build modern apps/solutions more quickly. This sets the stage for making much-needed improvements to business process workflows for many campus partners faster than ever before, and it will end the use and dependence on PeopleSoft as the tool for this growing need.
Y1-3 – (Integration platform) Begin systematically converting PeopleSoft integrations over to MuleSoft
Y1 – (Low-code development platform) Procure low-code development platform
Y2-3 – Implement and begin using platform to re-develop applications that cannot be replaced with commercial solutions
Desktop and Mobile Computing Service Category
Creating a consistent computing environment can be challenging, particularly in areas where desktop support has not been centrally managed. In recent years, ITS has taken on increasing responsibilities for campus computing, which will ultimately lead to a more consistent user experience, improve security and compliance, and define equipment lifecycles and standards. To accomplish this, ITS must understand the full range of academic, research, and business computing needs, and have an inventory of university-owned, ITS-managed devices. This information will position ITS to make continuous improvements to the campus user experience, provide equipment standards and lifecycles, and ultimately inform efforts to foster more efficient, effective spending strategies. An additional benefit is that much of this work will also advance on-going work with Facilities Management to meet energy and sustainability goals for university equipment.
ITS is actively building an asset inventory using a recently deployed application that gathers information about ITS-managed computers on the University network. Collecting this data is the first step in ITS’s broader asset management strategy. Once the information is gathered, it can be used to establish a baseline equipment standard and recommended lifecycle for university equipment. Standardization will improve the user experience with greater consistency and functionality. This, in turn, will allow the University to predict annual hardware replacement costs with greater accuracy and explore strategic spending options.
ITS currently believes that many faculty/staff (~85%) are currently using computers with standard configurations, while far less (~15%) likely require computers with specialized configurations. Building an asset inventory will inform the accuracy of this assessment, as well as help ITS evaluate the current recommendation of a 5–6-year equipment lifecycle. A clear understanding of how many computers can use a standard configuration has significant implications for purchasing equipment efficiently and effectively, while an established lifecycle determines the frequency with which computers are replaced. Collectively, the improvements realized by this asset management strategy will lead to informed decision making about the life expectancy of campus devices and increased accuracy in budgeting cyclic replacement costs.
Y1 – Complete asset inventory of ITS-managed computers
Y2-3 – Establish standardized hardware configurations and recommended lifecycle for university workstations
Standardizing the device experience is challenging, as the purchase and support of equipment is a decentralized responsibility that cuts across divisions and departments. Increasingly, security concerns and disparities in the customer experience warrant a more centralized approach to desktop and mobile device support. Ensuring that equipment is properly patched, supported, and updated provides a level of consistency and security that is important for all members of the campus community.
Y1 – Apply consistent security settings to all Windows and Mac workstations; apply consistent user experience settings to all ITS-managed machines
Y2-3 – Extend device management capabilities to workstations that are not managed by ITS; apply consistent user experience settings to all university-owned machines
Communication and Collaboration Services Category
ITS saw a significant uptick in the utilization of Communication and Collaboration Services during the COVID 19 pandemic. Tools that enabled online meetings, document sharing, and other activities that enhanced interaction were quickly adopted by the campus community. Remote options demonstrated efficiencies and other benefits that now represent lasting changes to the campus culture. ITS will capitalize on the progress made during the pandemic to further promote and utilize a common, secure set of tools across the campus community. Using common tools is an important first step in establishing a standard for the campus. Standards are an important part of creating a shared, common experience for all members of the campus community.
ITS is actively exploring modern, cloud-first options for telephone-based services in campus call centers and the University operator. The next iteration in telephone technology is the elimination of desk phones in favor of computer-based solutions, such as Jabber or Teams. The University’s current Cisco phone system contract ends in Year 3. In anticipation of this, ITS will explore various telephony options in Year 2. Internet-based solutions offer greater efficiency and better pricing, as they will eventually reduce or eliminate the need for phone servers housed in the University Data center. Over time, these will represent significant cost savings for the campus.
Y1 – Participate in SUNY unified communications pilot
Y2-3 – Implement new system
Expand campus cellular coverage
ITS has been working with Verizon to expand cellular coverage in areas where access is limited. While Verizon is the only carrier exploring cellular improvements on campus at this time, ITS expects that additional carriers will follow their example as this technology evolves. WiFi calling is much more dependable as we expand WiFi coverage across the campuses, which will provide members of the campus community with the WiFi-calling option as well.
Y1 – Deploy Verizon cellular to all podium buildings, tunnels, and basements
Y2-3 – Enlist other major carriers to utilize the same distributed antenna system (DAS)
ITS Organizational Goals
Improve recruitment and grow the IT workforce to meet evolving technology needs and increase diversity
ITS is continually evaluating workforce needs. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant, long-term impact on staffing, especially in the technology field. Work from home has altered employee expectations, retirements have increased nationwide, inflation is causing additional salary pressures, and skilled IT staff are in high demand across the globe. The University has long enjoyed a reputation for providing a safe, stable environment and low turnover among staff. While many employers cannot offer the same level of job security available at UAlbany, they are often able to attract high-performing individuals with higher salaries, greater flexibility, and other performance-based benefits.
Many ITS vacancies are due to retirements, and the departure of long-term employees offers opportunities to evaluate job responsibilities and skillsets, ensuring that new hires have the right mix of talents to meet current and future IT needs. Several new ITS positions contribute to the number of vacancies in ITS. New strategies are needed to improve recruitment efforts and attract qualified, experienced candidates. ITS is working closely, both internally and with campus partners, to ensure that new positions are aligned with campus needs and initiatives. Finally, any new position creates an opportunity to improve diversity within the department.
Y1 – Continue efforts to refine job descriptions to attract a broad, diverse pool of candidates to fill current vacancies
Y2-3 – Track progress on evolving staff diversity and identify additional improvements to recruitment process; fill the large number of ITS vacancies
To be successful, technology cannot operate in a vacuum. Just as the campus relies on technology to accomplish many of their strategic goals and objectives, ITS needs input from across the campus to ensure that time and funding are invested appropriately, and services are on point. Working together is always the best path forward.
ITS thanks the members of its Advisory Committees and all campus partners for their time, attention, and candor. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of all ITS staff and recognize their dedication and commitment as the backbone of our success.