By Jim Davis, UCLA Chief Information Officer
As we consider IT deployment in higher education, we must take into account factors that include growing expectations when it comes to access and functionality, the integrative effects of a “network economy,” and the movement toward data as an institutional resource. IT is also playing an increasingly important role in research and education, compelling institutional IT to become more deeply involved with individual academic units. The university’s teaching and research economies are becoming more interlinked as regulatory and security requirements escalate rapidly and accountability broadens. It’s true that one of the challenges to operating in this complicated environment has to do with the technology itself – the sheer complexity of technology deployment is increasing and technology requirements continue to change.
But our longstanding IT deployment practices are also breaking down. As universities struggle with how to piece together centralized and decentralized models in a way that will meet the needs of both the institution as a whole and the individual units it comprises, powerful forces are pushing these models toward failure. The centralized-vs.-decentralized approach no longer aligns well with the programmatic objectives and regulatory requirements of the university. Hierarchical IT organizations and empowerment through budget and reporting lines are faltering, and the organizational chart is failing to describe the real practice of IT. Institutional and departmental IT units can no longer compartmentalize their services and are forced to wrestle with their respective roles, turf, and accountability about services that are inherently integrated. Too often, we refer to IT services provided by a central organization versus those provided by individual units or departments. This has become a false dichotomy creating an unproductive kind of competition among IT levels and preventing our common goal of a seamless, responsive end-user IT environment.
In this essay, I will argue that we need to actively move toward a new model, which I call service layering, and away from strictly centralized-vs.-decentralized approaches. Even though the technology supports layering, such a move is not likely to happen naturally. It requires definition and practice with a new accountability structure, significantly strengthened governance over shared environments, and forms of empowerment that go beyond reporting lines and budgets.
Embracing Local Autonomy and Institutional Involvement
Any consideration of what is needed from an IT deployment model must begin with two value propositions: (1) there is great value in IT deployment autonomy, especially at the school or department levels; and (2) there is equally great value in schools, departments and individuals operating in a connected environment that supports sharing. In combination, these values become a significant force driving a need for IT deployment responsibility and accountability to be jointly held by institutional and local service units – a sea change in deployment context. Today’s technology is not the problem; rather, the problem is that siloed, centralized and decentralized IT service models fail to adequately address this changing landscape.
The solution lies in a hybrid model. To be sure, certain administrative and business systems must remain institutionally provisioned to the end user without the involvement of local IT (centralized), while those that pertain solely to one unit, such as a CAD/CAM system, require no institutional involvement and should remain decentralized. But many IT services, especially those needed at the “front lines” of research and education, should be “horizontally layered” as locally managed service components on top of institutional service components to form a complete service. Horizontal service layering creates a “sweet spot” encompassing the advantages of both institutional and local service delivery.
To better understand the need for horizontal service layering to meet the goals of both the institution and its individual parts – the values outlined above of both autonomy and shared responsibility and accountability for IT services – it is useful to think of the university as a global corporation. In this analogy, each frontline unit has its own unique interests, competing among national and international peers much like a line of business (education and research) using human resources (faculty, students and staff) to generate product (intellectual capital, students ready to enter a profession, successful faculty, social and economic impact and a recognized institution). The competition is for students, funding, resources, rankings, visibility and prestige. Line-of-business (LOB) success contributes to overall school and university success, making LOB flexibility and autonomy far more valuable than academic operating economies.
At the same time, the academic structure is increasing in complexity. The front lines of the academic LOB enterprise continue to be predominantly disciplinary. While this has its advantages from the perspective of program quality assurance, problem-based research, student educational expectations and the fusion of research and education are all demanding interdisciplinary and connectionist approaches. The marriage of these disciplinary and interdisciplinary forces produces an overlay structure on the slower-changing disciplinary foundation. Because academic competitiveness among institutions of higher education is played out along disciplinary lines, the education and research “revenue side” of the university benefits when autonomy is combined with institutional involvement to accommodate interdisciplinary and inter-institutional demands.
Finally, the computational research and education enterprise is growing dramatically in scale and complexity such that high-performance computation, database management, visualization, data center, backup, storage and preservation of data demand institutional facilities and investment. If each research group is responsible for establishing its own facilities, research autonomy actually becomes more difficult and in some cases infeasible. And yet, the vastly different computational research and education taking place in the humanities from that of the physical sciences, for example, demands variability and autonomy. This is another argument for the layered approach – local management of services on shared, co-owned facilities.
In federating the research and education IT enterprise in support of autonomy, our job is to build a robust and responsive environment heavily defined by each line of business. This notion is reinforced in a December 2004 META Group article 1 which suggested that the complexity of IT needs, the diversity of business drivers and risks, and the need for responsiveness and business-specific expertise among lines of business cannot be adequately served with only a centralized IT delivery model; local autonomy also must be embraced. At the same time, it is understood there is need for “corporate” IT structures to coordinate the relationships among the lines of business and leverage the benefits of being local within the shared economy of the whole.
The Layered Model in Practice
Moving to a layered IT deployment model requires a new accountability structure that embraces the marriage of autonomy and connectedness, enabling local and institutional IT to operate jointly in an environment of shared responsibility and coordinated accountability. Autonomy is valued within an institutional structure designed to facilitate interaction, integration and harmonization. In establishing a vocabulary for this model, we use the terms coordinated autonomy 2 to refer to the deployment context; layered services to map the system of operations, support and accountability; and sweet spot to describe the specific point where layered service delivery, responsibility and accountability resonate between the local and institutional needs.
The layered model has proved beneficial in the service arena at UCLA even for something as commonly used as enterprise exchange services. For example, because of significant value placed on the ability to locally filter different file types and spam as well as on personalized responsiveness for more general purpose functions such as creating guest accounts, the careful development of management tools that allow for local action and accountability have proved useful. Institutional accountability rests with high availability provisioning of the exchange services and the tools for local management. Local units are accountable to local variations in needs. Institutional and local units need to take joint responsibility for defining and maintaining the service portfolio sweet spot. Autonomy is embraced and institutional responsibility is preserved. The service is neither decentralized nor centralized; it combines the advantages of each.
UCLA research faculty have become much more responsive to institutional cluster hosting, storage and data center services as a result of “grid appliances” deployed as part of a layered services model. Simultaneously, the institution is benefiting from broader access to computational resources, greater standardization, and the avoidance of replicated facilities and operating costs. The grid appliance permits individual owners to locally manage the resource and retain direct authority over how the physical or virtual cluster their grant paid for is used and who can use it. The quid pro quo is to broaden secure access of unused cycles to others and to work with central staff on standards. Institutionally, the appliance-resource combinations enable secure access to a range of computational resources, offer geographically distributed researchers ready access, and provide sophisticated tools to view resources, manipulate input files and submit jobs. Institutional IT is accountable for network, data center hosting services and the secure operation of the grid and the grid appliances. The Institute for Digital Research and Education (IDRE), representing the cohort of researchers and institutes that wish to take advantage of an institutional infrastructure, is accountable for the governance of the grid services and cluster hosting services. The owner is accountable for the cost, management and research production of the cluster. There is now high faculty demand for institutional IT hosting and shared services.
UCLA has also applied the layered model to a campus-wide desktop/server purchase contract, a software license for Microsoft products, and security policy, and the model is currently in design for UCLA’s Common Collaboration and Learning Environment (CCLE) in Moodle. The figure below illustrates the layering approach:
Making it Work: Changes in Staffing, Governance, and OIT
Moving toward an IT deployment model that both embraces autonomy and extends accountability to increase institutional effectiveness is not easy. To engineer a successful transition, campus-wide and local IT units must construct a plan that identifies and takes into account critical elements of autonomy and accountability. Support staff must establish shared management structures and shared service-level agreements, and put into place a process for resolving conflict. Moreover, strong campus IT governance, as opposed to “decisions-by-committee,” is vital. Weill and Ross 3 are often referenced in the context of IT governance and decision-making, and indeed provide essential constructs. We argue that the Weill and Ross approach in practice requires: (1) formal acceptance of the governance organization and processes by the campus administration and the academic senate; (2) executive sponsors with functional and funding authority to champion initiatives; (3) structures and processes ensuring that decisions are ultimately made on functional rather than technological grounds, but with significant technology input; (4) the value of combining the academic senate and executive administration into a strategic decision-making and policy body; (5) integration into the campus planning and budget processes; and (6) willingness to invest in the management and administration of a structure and process that is comparable to a board of trustees. The single most important campus agreement in the governance process is formal acceptance of a decision matrix that defines which body has responsibility for which decision and what kind of decision. The process of reaching a goal of decision acceptance is long and arduous, but without acceptance there is no governance and decision-making, only committee input.
In coordinating this approach, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) must embrace the role of an institutional IT office and not just a university services provider and cost center. An institutional OIT must emphasize and have authority with institutional planning, integration and portfolio oversight, program management and IT governance process from a position of credibility and neutrality rather than the “authority” of organizational budget and number of reporting lines. If it is to help foster a layered services environment, the OIT needs to shift from client to board relationships, from budget competitor to co-investor, and from an operational to a balanced integration focus. In this way, OIT empowerment stems more from the ability to engage the broadest expanse of line-of-business drivers, priorities and needs. The OIT can “see” IT on the campus in ways that no other organization can, and it can translate that view into operational impact. Impact comes first with the capacity for institutional planning and analysis, management oversight of the governance process, responsibility for IT policy, joint decision-making authority on campus IT investments (i.e., decision matrix), and campus “ownership” of architecture. Operational impact follows and depends on the operating deployment structure on campus. This form of empowerment is supported by the analysis of Joseph Nye,4 who has observed that this form is likely to be more important that command-and-control forms when campus IT is dispersed (federated). For this to occur, the institution must be receptive to this role – not an easy task.
Where Do We Go from Here?
I have argued in this essay that the deployment model is as important, if not more so, than the technology itself for a university seeking to maximize its IT potential. I have further argued that longstanding IT deployment models, which tend to cobble together centralized and decentralized approaches, are no longer working in higher education. I have suggested the need to move toward a hybrid deployment model that continues to provide only local or only institutional control where it makes sense to do so, but that also incorporates the layered approach, in which autonomy is valued and responsibility and accountability are shared by institutional and local service units.
I believe that line-of-business autonomy as I have described it is a significant value worth pursuing in a time of powerful trends that also demand institutional solutions: interdisciplinary interactions, interlinking information, and powerful computation facilities for research and education. UCLA’s experiences with layering services, building relevant governance and working in different accountability structures has been very positive – more than sufficient to keep us pressing ahead with the layered deployment model. But we also understand that it is early in a long process of change. Discussion and consideration of the issues raised by this new IT deployment model will help us to move beyond longstanding practices that no longer serve our needs.
by Jim Davis, Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology, UCLA
The changing university reveals strong threads of individualism and autonomy but in a way that is open, public, world wide and fully engaged. This marriage of autonomy with connectedness becomes a defining principle for the deployment of IT. We use the term Coordinated Autonomy to describe this and to remind ourselves about its constructive, counter intuitive nature.
Although most of us agree there is great programmatic potential for Information Technology (IT) in higher education, realizing this potential beyond instrumental tasks (e.g. word processing, document exchange, information access, etc.) remains difficult. At UCLA, we have been asking whether we could better deliver on that potential by focusing on social aspirations that underlie our programmatic goals in higher education. A quote by John Seely Brown captures this sentiment1,
"I believe [an interesting shift] is happening: a shift between using technology to support the individual to using technology to support relationships between individuals. With that shift, we will discover new tools and social protocols for helping us to help each other, which is the very essence of social learning."
Frank Rhodes, former President of Cornell University, provides an effective starting point for discussion with eight characteristics of the American University for the Future2. Motivated by the implications of these, we believe we can better understand how to integrate IT into our institutional mission to enhance the potential of technology:
1. Institutional autonomy, lively faculty independence and vigorous
academic freedom but strong, impartial public governance and
decisive, engaged presidential leadership.
2. Increasingly privately supported but increasingly publicly accountable and socially committed.
3. Campus rooted but internationally oriented.
4. Academically independent but constructively partnered.
5. Knowledge-based but student oriented; research driven but learner focused.
6. Technologically sophisticated but community dependent.
7. Quality-obsessed but procedurally efficient.
8. Professionally attuned but humanely informed.
Although we draw inspiration, the intent is not to discuss or even defend the individual points. Rather, we note, as did the article, that these characteristics merge traditionally distinct and seemingly contradictory social dimensions of higher education. They speak to a university environment that is constructively energized by the tensions created when general dimensions of individualism and community are brought together. The co-existence of this kind of social tension creates an important capacity for new perspective and insight and forms a basis for the research university of the future.
It is in the context of how the constructive nature of combined individualism and community can help define the success of the future university that we consider the role of IT. We argue that the convergence of these emerging ideals for higher education with the emerging capabilities of IT offer a strikingly aligned venue for change if there is a confluence of potential rather than a conflict. We are reminded that both higher education and IT are fundamentally about people.
How then do we relate these kinds of constructive tensions to IT? The first level of IT alignment must rest with longstanding core values in higher education. Indeed higher education already is shifting toward new practices to enable old values redefined in terms of the promise of IT:
If Insight is about new understanding, then new insight is possible through the perspectives and perceptions afforded by visualization and the presentation of digital media. The richness of insight is enhanced through IT by a significantly expanded diversity of perspective, e.g. science and artistic researchers working jointly on medical imaging.
If Literacy is the ability and the capacity to understand information then the convergence of human-machine media into a single digital language of data that can be sorted and organized can promote literacy. However, literacy itself is re-defined in part as IT allows unprecedented combinations and compilations of once inaccessible data, e.g. the effects of web resources on understanding and qualifying information.
If Information Assimilation is a new form of literacy then networked repositories of digital media become new and significant vehicles for efficiency, insight and conceptualization. These repositories require data structures that reflect the requirements for merging, linking and managing diverse, interdisciplinary digital assets, e.g. curricular information portals.
If Collaboration is about insight from testing and tying together diverse views then the outcomes of collaboration are significantly expanded as inclusion of new communities of expertise, irrespective of physical location, are brought together. Virtual centers of topical expertise and new kinds of civic spaces are the meeting grounds for these communities.
If Conceptualization is about new ideas, then we now talk about trans-disciplinary theory to define the disciplines of the future. There is high anticipation about new "meta disciplines" growing up around assimilated data as a new medium for doing research, e.g. informatics. The IT infrastructure provides the necessary virtual home and digital media will provide the digital language, flexibility and nimbleness to accommodate the dynamic and distributed nature of new ideas.
While associating IT with these core values is a necessary foundation,
it is insufficient for defining its full potential in higher
education if the future indeed reflects a new energy spurred
by a constructive marriage of individualism and community. Because
IT can readily accommodate the contradictory implications of
autonomy and connectedness, Coordinated Autonomy becomes the
corresponding principle for deploying IT in the service of these
desired social tensions. The term Coordinated Autonomy indicates
first and foremost that IT should be deployed to actively preserve
and support individual and institutional autonomy. Coordinated
Autonomy allows this individual pursuit to be harnessed
in a worldwide community. This coordination supports and defends
the individual's chosen direction by bringing it into new patterns
and conversations to serve the "public good," a core
social value and responsibility of higher education.
By juxtaposing individualism and connectedness we capture five deployment principles for achieving Coordinated Autonomy, and escape the apparent oxymoron of the phrase:
Mass individualism refers to broadly disseminated information but with a focus on the needs of the individual. We wish to deploy IT so that the individual can surround him or herself with the resources relevant to local inquiry or objective. Mass individualism also captures the implications of access, the notions of data as an institutional resource, portal and reporting strategies that integrate information services but offer flexibility for local configuration, ready collaboration, and personally relevant learning.
Robust flexibility is an infrastructure concept that recognizes an infinite number of possible user applications. The front-end investment in infrastructure, commonly used tools, data and information, and standards that support modular deployment of applications is not only fiscally responsible, but critical to coordinated autonomy. This principle positions the university better for responding to opportunities.
A key outcome from the convergence of IT and the notion of coordinated autonomy is open review, rapid feedback and the potential of improved value. It brings forward the idea that it is better to invest less in big application, deterministic planning and more in planning of the form that includes rapid prototyping and multi-user feedback. This planning process involves the university community earlier and can produce more buy-in and earlier adoption. It widens the potential of drawing upon the wisdom of an engaged community.
Imposed standards philosophically, and sometimes in reality, cut at the core of autonomy. Yet, standards that are appropriately accepted, coordinated and managed are critical to autonomy. IT deployment for coordinated autonomy creates value that is persuasive. Infrastructure and policy decisions become justified on that value.
Data constitutes the digital resource providing the key for people to interact intellectually on a very broad scale and to pursue lines of inquiry on a very individualistic scale. While serious security and access issues must be addressed and managed, there is enormous intellectual value in accessibility. This argues for openness and accessibility of data as the starting consideration.
At UCLA we are now considering these principles across a spectrum of research, learning, curricular, administrative and outreach IT initiatives. While they are not necessarily pointing to any different technology choices, they do surface important questions about programmatic purpose and push toward a more comprehensive, technology, policy, fiscal and programmatic-implementation process. As an example, we are deploying a GIS-based community information system platform with the first application a directory of UCLA activities in Los Angeles County (Robust Flexibility). Decisions on next modular applications are coming from emerging individual and multi-disciplinary faculty proposals and community requirements (Community Direction). System functionality and protocols have been based on faculty and community input while participation is voluntary, but encouraged, by value associated with significantly enhanced internal and external interaction and collective image (Persuasive Standardization). The functionality of the system is designed for aggregating, packaging and disseminating information for local use (Mass Individualism). The system is designed to be its own appropriately open research database for longitudinal studies of activities in Los Angeles (Managed Openess).
Ultimately, we are motivated to foster an emerging culture that encourages individual but engaged exploration to enable core institutional values of UCLA. Coordinated Autonomy captures the IT planning and implementation processes needed to realize this goal.
2 Frank Rhodes, The New University, Challenges Facing Higher Education at the Millennium, edited by Werner Z Hirsch and Lue E. Weber, The American Council on Higher Education and The Oryx Press, 1999.