The Hard Road from Theory to Practice
Not everything evolved in the state we had hoped for. We had last-minute surprises as we discovered that contractors had not completed all of the details. We wound up doing things such as keeping our electrically operated projection screens permanently lowered because there was no power to make them operate. Procurement of equipment, especially for AV, was sometimes delayed because of arcane rules governing state purchasing and the avalanche of requests that fell on the purchasing department. Even the receiving department wasn't always able to distribute desperately awaited items on time. We had to resort to such workarounds as using a portable PA system and borrowing end-of-life projectors from a sister campus. And, of course, we had the occasional bug in a software package. For example, we had to partially disable our state-of-the-art network-intrusion detection system when it began protecting the network so well that some new users were unable to obtain network addresses.
Nevertheless, everything essential was ready in time for our first entering class. There's a lot left to do, but we have a pretty good idea how to do it without having to undo anything we've deployed to date. For instance, we still need to integrate into our portal such applications as document management, calendaring and course registrations.
Looking back, a very small but highly talented and motivated IT staff performed miracles. Nevertheless, I don't believe it would have been possible if we had not established a very clear vision of what we wanted to do and how to get there. Even with limited resources, this vision allowed us to make quick decisions about interim solutions compatible with long-term strategy. For example, one professor wanted to have his students take online tests as part of a summer course he ran before our official opening. So we acquired a simple stand-alone package that used XML, allowing us to easily export the test questions for future courses.
As a leader, the CIO's job is to articulate and obtain buy-in to a shared vision. In my mind, it was that vision that enabled us to be ready for the campus opening on time, even if it was "just in time".
Rich Kogut is CIO of the University of California, Merced campus. He can be reached at email@example.com
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