Campus creates a collaborative IT culture

University of Maryland, Baltimore Vice President and CIO Peter Murray discusses how he achieved that goal.

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Peter Murray, CIO for the University of Maryland, Baltimore, tells how he improved collaboration over four years while facing a daunting set of enterprisewide IT projects.

When Peter Murray arrived as the new CIO for the University of Maryland, Baltimore four years ago, he faced a daunting set of enterprisewide IT projects that were just getting underway.

Peter Murray, CIO, University of Maryland, Baltimore

There was no formal structure for effectively organizing and deploying these projects across the UMB campus's numerous IT groups, which included a 250-person central IT organization as well as local IT units in the university's schools and departments, the highly regarded medical center and an affiliated organization of doctors.

Network World Senior Editor John Cox talked with Murray to find out how he made collaboration possible. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Why did the university need some kind of special effort for IT collaboration?

It's not that collaboration did not occur before I arrived. We just took it to another level, a more formal level.

It was recognized that the response to [enterprise IT] issues was disjointed; it was difficult to bring the key IT activities together, define them in common plans and make them work across the various campus organizations.

What's a concrete example of the problems you encountered?

One of the first questions I got when I arrived was "what e-mail system do you want to use?" And I said, "What do you mean?" There were 21 separate, disparate e-mail systems in operation at UMB. One of the first things I did was to create a task force to tie together these systems so users could have a global address list to find anyone in the system and send them an e-mail and be certain it got to that recipient.

You refined this approach in coordinating the various help desks around campus, correct?

There was no campuswide help desk. Various organizations had their own. I created the first campus help desk, hired people to staff it and found a space for them. Then we organized formal meetings of a task force composed of people from the various local help desks.

The university's School of Medicine was using help-desk software Remedy. We just added some more software licenses to that for the campuswide desk. Through Remedy, we collect data on what are the most common questions and problems and address them. For example, we knew we were getting a lot of questions about the Apple Macintosh. So we spun off a Mac users group. We realized we could use this same approach for other IT initiatives.

How did you flesh out this approach to collaboration?

What I did was to create formal structures for collaboration (see graphic). We had the IT Steering Committee already in place, but I changed the whole composition. Originally, it was mostly administrative and technical people. And it wasn't really focused on major IT goals, objectives and action.

I invited faculty and non-IT staff, each one able to represent their specific area or department. Now the Steering Committee touches everyone on the campus. It meets quarterly, and we talk about updates to the overall IT [strategic] plan, what's been done to meet plan objectives, and new issues that are emerging. There's a yearly review of the entire IT plan, deciding what are the key IT issues, priorities and action items.

How are these action items actually tackled in this new model?

In a group of offshoot committees or task forces. The Steering Committee is in the center, like a hub. Task forces are like spokes from the hub, each one based on a separate priority. For something like campuswide wireless or IT security, we create a task force that brings together experts drawn from all the groups on campus to work the actual project.

Do the various local IT groups, for the schools such as medicine or nursing, still have their own funding and planning?

These IT leaders typically are associate deans reporting to the dean of their respective schools. There are so many activities that happen in a school or other organization that it wouldn't really work if I had to make decisions on expenditures, for example, in all those areas.

You applied this new approach in a security task force. What happened?

At first, they had a hard time with this new concept of collaboration. Their initial discussions weren't very productive. They struggled with the language of the draft policies, with who should write what, and how. But once they had the first one or two drafts of the policy completed, it really picked up speed.

Why? What changed?

They were creating a core group of security liaisons, who now stay in touch all the time, both inside and outside the task force. They were working together effectively both on operational issues, such as installing a new release of Microsoft Windows patches or a looming virus threat, and on strategic issues, such as introducing a new IT security technology.

Did this shift to a collaborative IT model lead to savings or downsizing?

We have had some savings, but I'm not comfortable trying to come up with a single dollar amount across all the organizations. What we did achieve often was cost avoidance. We redefined IT responsibilities, moving some to central IT, and freeing up more time and resources for the local IT departments at the various schools or other campus organizations to concentrate on their specific user constituencies. In some departments, this was very significant.

How will you apply this connected collaborative model going forward?

We have some big projects. One is a "preaward system" for our researchers: Faculty will be able to create and route research proposals to various funding agencies. We'll be expanding our [human resources] self-service capabilities through the Web. We're just starting to implement unified messaging, so each user can have voice and e-mail messages on their computers or IP-enabled phones.

Steering Committee Culture graphic

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