July 21, 2003
Campus transformation begins with
info technology consolidation
By Jennifer McNulty
As manager of administrative computing for the Division of Physical
and Biological Sciences, Aaron Melgares is a strong backer of the campuss
ambitious plan to consolidate information technology (IT) services on
|Computing manager Aaron Melgares
and Filemaker specialist Donna Riggs will spend a portion of each
week helping the campus prepare to consolidate information technology
services. Photo: Jennifer McNulty
"Personally, I felt it wouldve made sense to do it a long
time ago," said Melgares, who supervises four computing support
professionals out of Baskin Engineering.
The IT consolidation project is the first of 20 initiatives getting
under way this summer as the campus seeks to improve efficiency in an
era of significant budget cuts. By "transforming" business
practices and maximizing efficiency, campus leaders hope to avoid across-the-board
budget cuts and protect the campuss academic mission.
In a July 1 memo
to the campus, Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood and Campus Provost and Executive
Vice Chancellor John Simpson outlined what they described as "a
fundamental change in how we operate as a campus" and the initiatives
that are being undertaken to help the campus accommodate growth and
The initiatives were identified during a six-month review by the campus
Executive Budget Committee
with help from Avcor Consulting, which is facilitating the consolidation
of IT and the other initiatives. With approximately 200 employees, IT
encompasses Communications and Technology Services (CATS), Media Services,
and numerous IT groups such as Melgaress that are scattered across
campus in the academic and other divisions.
Although IT consolidation is arguably the largest project, other
initiatives include improving the delivery of human resources services
(including preparing for the retirement of an estimated 500 staff members
in the next five years), maximizing new revenue sources, and improving
curriculum management and planning.
By consolidating IT services, the campus hopes to save money, reduce
duplication, and improve service, said Larry Merkley, vice provost of
information technology, who is overseeing the project. Through consolidation,
Merkley hopes to create a nimble organization that will be well positioned
to support the campuss other cost-saving initiatives, many of
which will require computer support.
"Budget pressures are forcing campuses across the country to reexamine
the ways they provide IT support," said Merkley. "A typical
university culture supports decentralization, so this is a change in
culture, in business practices, and in university philosophy."
The decentralized model made sense when UCSC adopted it in the early
1990s, but automation has changed all that, said Merkley. "With
todays technology--the web and the software thats available
today--were able to automate a lot of business processes and eliminate
many of the middle steps," he said.
For example, campus units over the years have developed 26 different
systems to track employee time and attendance; a single standardized
web-based system would be more efficient, he said. Similarly, units
are constantly developing custom applications, but there is no vehicle
for broad distribution of systems that could be useful across campus.
The first step of consolidation is a four-month assessment phase during
which UCSC staff members will inventory the campuss current IT
resources, including hardware, software, human expertise, workload,
processes, computing capacity, and customer needs. At the same time,
other employees will develop a vision of how they want the new organization
to look and function. Participants are being asked to dedicate about
12 hours per week to the effort; dozens are expected to shift their
work priorities to be able to participate. Implementation is slated
to begin by mid-November, said Merkley.
"Everything is on the board for review," said Merkley. "Decisions
will be driven by where we can improve service and realize cost savings."
Merkley emphasized that academic computing support will be assessed
in consultation with faculty and that some aspects of the current organization
and reporting structure may remain. Although some employees may move
to different locations, Merkley noted that consolidation does not mean
moving all IT staff into a central location. "We will want many
people to work in close proximity to customers, and it will take time
to find space where others could relocate," he said.
Echoing statements by Greenwood and Simpson, Merkley said he hopes
to avoid layoffs by reshuffling work assignments to tap individual expertise
and fill unit needs, and he anticipates numerous retraining opportunities
Unlike the other EBC initiatives, the IT project hasnt been assigned
a cost-savings target. "Were being told to reduce costs and
to do it fast while building an IT organization," he said. "This
is not an easy challenge, but people across the campus are willing to
help. Given a chance, we can pull this off."
To pitch in, Melgares has put on hold many of his long-range planning
projects and anticipates spending about half his time volunteering on
the consolidation project. Though daunting, the project is a compelling
challenge, he noted.
"We work on pretty hard problems all the time," Melgares
said of his IT colleagues. "The faster we can do this, the easier
itll be. The IT field changes quickly, so its actually problematic
if the process draws out too long. Besides, technology changes so fast
that many of us are accustomed to moving quickly."
Charged with overseeing a change of "unprecedented" scope,
Merkley has identified some personal and organizational goals that he
is sharing with staff.
"We need to be flexible and to adapt quickly," he told about
60 IT employees during a meeting last week. "As individuals and
as an organization, we need to keep our promises to our customers. And
we need to be creative. We need to think differently than we ever have
And if it feels at times like hes sailing uncharted waters, Merkley
needs only to look toward the wall of his office in McHenry Library,
where he has hung a large reproduction of a world map from the 1600s.
"Thats what they thought the world looked like 400 years
ago," he said. "Its a metaphor, because, really, we
dont know what the next year will be like."
Campus's 'Budget Update' web site
Updates on IT consolidation project
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