UCSC Currents online

Front Page
AppointmentsAwards & Honors Classified Ads
In MemoriamUCSC in the News

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 campus’s ambitious plan to consolidate information technology (IT) services on campus.

Photo of IT staffers

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 would’ve 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 campus’s 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 improve quality.

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 Melgares’s 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 campus’s 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 today’s technology--the web and the software that’s available today--we’re 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 campus’s 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 for staff.

Unlike the other EBC initiatives, the IT project hasn’t been assigned a cost-savings target. "We’re 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 it’ll be. The IT field changes quickly, so it’s 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 before."

And if it feels at times like he’s 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. "That’s what they thought the world looked like 400 years ago," he said. "It’s a metaphor, because, really, we don’t know what the next year will be like."

Campus's 'Budget Update' web site

Updates on IT consolidation project

Return to Front Page

  Maintained by pioweb@ucsc.edu
UC Santa Cruz Home Page Contact Currents Currents Archives Search Currents Currents Home Maintained By Email Contact