Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Running ICT at a University

Greetings from the IQPC IT Financial management conference in Sydney. Gary Trinder, CIO, Edith Cowan University (ECU) just talked on "ICT Financial Management and ICT Governance at a University".

ECU has the equivalent of 17,553 full time students (EFTL) and 1,700 staff (FTE) and 100 teaching spaces. For this there is a budget of $10M capital expenditure (about one quarter of the total university capital budget) and $11M for operations (92% spent on salaries).

Gary pointed out that at a university the CIO can put in place corporate systems for finance and human resource management but has only a limited ability to say what software goes on staff computers. He has put in place a system to audit what software is on PCs.

Gary argues that IT is just another business function and IT people do themselves a disservice by trying to argue it is fundamentally different.

Gary suggests:
  • Traditional ICT steering committees try do do a function which should be done by line management and should be abolished.
  • Traditional ICT planning produces a long list of ICT projects. This creates unrealisable expectations. Consults produce impressive triangular diagrams which do not explain what is to be done.
Gary argues instead that ICT is a service and should be managed by the operation managers of the business. The central ICT function is to support these managers.

The CIO has a "sustainability" framework which includes Green ICT. At this level no ICT applications are identified, as this is left to the managers.

Prince 2 is used to manage projects, with sponsors from business. The central ICT function is then the "supplier" for the project. There is an ICT advisory group to advise the CIO. Forums are run about what is being done to consult the staff and students.

Currently ECU is integrating the ICT functions. As a result the core ICT staff are now managed centrally. What ECU does with ICT is benchmarked against other unviersites through the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT).

ECU strategic priorities are:
  1. Engagement
  2. Teaching and Learning
  3. Research
  4. Sustainability
Gary pointed out that what might appear to be simple data items are very difficult. As an example identifying how many students a university has is very complex, with full/part time, on/off campus, local/overseas.

Gary pointed out that large projects, such as a new Learning Management System, look after themselves. These projects can afford to have their own processes and structure. But small projects need a standard framework, provided at ECU by the "small Systems Team".

One thing that stuck me about the presentation was that it treated the university as a self-contained entity. The university is part of an Australian educational system, as well as various research systems and national and international consortia. Some of this is formal, such as where the university is teaching students jointly with another university in Australia or in Asia. It might be useful to consider these are part of the CIO's function. This is done with telecommunications, where many Australian universities use AARnet.

Gary is speaking at the World Computer Congress 2010, in Brisbane next month.

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