Vice President for Information Systems
Information Systems (IS) fulfills an essential role in furthering MIT's core missions of education, research, and service by working in partnership with the Institute's faculty, students, and staff to apply, and help them apply, information technology (I/T) to reach their goals. To do this, IS focuses its work around four strategic themes:
- Engage clients to realize value from information technology
- Deliver I/T products, support, and services
- Operate and improve MIT's I/T environment
- Foster individual and organizational development
These themes are embodied in the IS vision—quality, service, value, leadership.
The principal goal of IS is to provide a world-class information technology environment for MIT's world-class faculty, students, and staff. To this end, IS provides "commons" services such as computing help, voice and data network connectivity, data storage, software acquisition and support, and the Athena computing environment. Services provided by IS range from strategic partnerships at the MIT-wide level to operational services and support at the departmental and individual levels. Many of IS's wide range of products, support, and services are provided at no cost to the departments, laboratories, and centers (DLCs). Others (such as telephone and network services) are provided on a cost-recovery basis or through competitive prices to cover the costs of these resources.
For many members of the MIT community, their first contact with IS is through a request for support or service. In a typical week, IS receives over 2,000 requests for help and service changes. These range from upgrading telephone and network service to installing a new office computing environment, from assisting faculty in using computers in their teaching to supporting major MIT strategic initiatives such as OpenCourseWare (OCW) and the HR/Payroll Project. Faculty, students, and staff in DLCs interact with IS in many obvious ways each day: they call the Computing Help Desk with Macintosh, PC, and UNIX hardware or software questions, or they call the Business Liaison Team (BLT) with questions about business applications. Members of the community also rely on IS in more intrinsic ways. When anyone at MIT turns on a computer—in an office, in an Athena cluster, in a lab, or in a dormitory room—and sees the network; when someone picks up a telephone receiver and hears a dial tone; when someone backs up the documents and data on their computer to storage systems in the Data Centers in Buildings W91 and W92 or otherwise uses the servers in these data centers, they are interacting with IS.
One of the major activities of this past year was a comprehensive I/T program review, initiated by the executive vice president and the provost, focusing on Financial Systems Services (FSS) and Information Systems. A program review is a collaborative and evaluative process involving self-study, client interaction, and outside peer review. Its purpose is to guide planning, program development, and service and performance standards. The review process spanned a year, from June 2001 to May 2002. FSS and IS leadership and staff supported the work of both internal and external review committees with comprehensive reports, oral presentations, and meetings to discuss the work of the two organizations.
In May, after receiving reports from the internal and external committees, the executive vice president, the provost, and the chairs of the internal and external review committees presented the review's findings to FSS and IS staff. These findings included the following:
- One of the Institute's core I/T assets is the staff in FSS and IS, whose diverse capabilities, loyalty, and dedication to the university are as strong as any the external review committee has seen elsewhere. FSS and IS staff have an exceptional service attitude; they struggle in a poorly prioritized environment.
- Computing at MIT requires more attention. The computing infrastructure is inadequate to meet all the computing needs across the Institute. Needs are greatest in network services and educational computing.
- No process, or structure, or mandate exists for identifying, discussing, and establishing strategic priorities for I/T.
- Pervasive confusion exists about IS and FSS roles and responsibilities.
The executive vice president's and the provost's initial responses to the review included a commitment to constitute an I/T Advisory Committee; a plan to initiate a benchmarking effort with Stanford University (since begun with an initial focus on the computing help desk); and an effort initiated by the Committee for the Review of Space Planning (CRSP) to study the Institute's need for distributed telecommunications rooms ("closets") to support higher network bandwidth to the desktop.
Another major activity of FY2002 was IS's second formal customer satisfaction survey. Both this survey and the one conducted in FY2001 had three purposes:
- To find out from IS customers—using a systematic process—how they rate our products, support, and services
- To document service gaps and to identify the causes for these gaps
- To use this information to identify and prioritize continuous improvement initiatives
Comparing the two surveys, we observed a dramatic improvement in our customer's satisfaction with the resolution of their problems by the IS call center. We also saw increased satisfaction with IS as a whole, with software support, with the time needed to install a telecommunications jack, and with training. These improvements are principally the result of specific process improvement efforts initiated after the 2001 survey. The 2002 survey also provides a list of improvement activities that need to be completed in order to deliver a more satisfying experience to our clients. These include:
- Extension of the wireless environment throughout the entire campus
- Increased network bandwidth to all desktops
- Improved remote network access, particularly while traveling
- Decreasing the time to repair campus network failures
- Better communication, particularly with clients who have filed trouble reports
- An improved process enabling customers to locate information about our products, support, and services and how to use them more effectively
- Providing more timely campus releases for supported commercial software
Several of these desired improvements require substantial resources—e.g., increasing the network bandwidth to all desktops—others require work, which we anticipate doing in the coming year, to improve IS internal processes. As noted earlier, CRSP has a planning study underway that is the first step in increasing the bandwidth to desktops across the campus. That study will lay the foundation for a campus-wide network renewal that will require several years of work.
During FY2002, IS staff also continued to deliver value to its clients through an impressive array of accomplishments. Highlights, organized according to five operational themes—client orientation, collaboration, sustainability, accountability, and professionalism—originally suggested by the executive vice president, are presented in the following sections.
Client orientation is defined as listening to and understanding the service needs of colleagues in the DLCs, and then working with those colleagues to resolve problems and streamline processes in support of the Institute's primary academic and research missions. Much of IS's work is aligned with this theme as we strive to create clear lines-of-sight between IS service providers and our clients.
IS continued to improve its front-line support of the MIT community. During FY2002, the Computing Help Desk Team and the Business Liaison Team (BLT) together initiated some 400 cases in an average week on behalf of its clients. The average time to answer telephone calls for both the Help Desk and BLT, as well as the number of abandoned calls, decreased significantly. The Help Desk and BLT also expanded their service hours and are now available from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, to respond to customer needs. BLT's responsibilities were expanded to include the role of central authorizer for SAP and other systems. Athena Consulting, User Accounts, and Residential Computing handled an additional 400 client cases each week with over 90 percent effectiveness for accuracy and timeliness. During the year, Web Communication Services selected and managed almost 450 spotlight headlines for the MIT home page and responded to over 1,000 requests for web help. The Usability Lab provided usability services to over 20 different projects across MIT including projects associated with SAP Employee Self-Service, Stellar, and Sloan Executive Education. The Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing (ATIC) laboratory continued to see an increase in requests for services (over 100 in-person consultations and over 50 new clients). Requests for support for individuals with repetitive strain injuries and learning disabilities continue to increase. IS Training saw continued growth in its programs and in client satisfaction; the team provided over 400 training sessions involving almost 6,800 MIT clients with a median satisfaction rating of 4.5 on a five-point scale.
IS continued improvements in the areas of human resource and staff development that have benefited both IS and MIT. This work included implementation of the EC3 (Enhancing Client Communication Competencies) program, an innovative new effort to develop IS staff customer communication competencies; continued progress in addressing internal and market equity issues; one-to-one coaching for team leaders and staff; and an improved IS new hire process. (The IS new hire process served as a reference model for the MIT new hire orientation process.)
Following a successful initial pilot, Stellar, MIT's learning management system, was used to support 17 Singapore MIT Alliance (SMA) subjects and 16 subjects in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The next version of Stellar (1.1) has been released to the MIT community and currently supports sites for some 100 subjects.
In response to client requests, the jack installation process has been redesigned, resulting in a significant reduction—to an average of three business days—in the time required for installation of individual network jacks. IS also deployed a new web request form for jack installations and network activations to further streamline these processes.
IS implemented WebMail to provide a convenient and secure way to access email using almost any web browser from just about anywhere in the world. After being in production for less than six months, WebMail is used by some 8,000 MIT community members and is available at http://web.mit.edu/webmail/.
A number of IS projects also reflect our client orientation and response to specific client needs. These include the introduction, in collaboration with the assistant to the provost for instructional research, of a new service to support web-based surveys; improved search functionality for the MIT web site (which now has over a million URLs); a new web-based campus-wide events calendar; support for restricted email lists for each undergraduate class; and, working with the Residential Life Office, a new digital cable TV service. In addition, IS provided enabling support for a number of Discovery projects conducted in other DLCs, including Athletics I/T and web-enabled parking and registration.
Collaboration is teamwork, boundary-blind business processes, and open sharing of common information. Collaboration brings added value to all parties in the collaborative effort and may occur both across organizational units within an institution as well as across institutional boundaries. It is only through active collaboration that IS is able to do its work. Some examples from the year are below.
IS is a key contributor to the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) project which is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This project will provide an open, extensible architecture as well as a set of web-enabled learning components for a wide range of educational environments. In the project, MIT's principal collaborators are Dartmouth College, Harvard University, North Carolina State University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During FY2002, OKI has made significant progress: Common Services APIs were released. Outreach events have been held to communicate OKI's focus and products. Developers at MIT and collaborating institutions have begun to build new educational service applications to test the Common Services APIs and demonstrate their value. OKI's influence on the marketplace of educational applications and learning systems solutions has become increasingly visible. The progress thus far would not have been possible without the engagement of the core institutional partners, IMS and ADL. (IMS is an international non-profit organization concerned with standards for learning systems. ADL is the Advanced Distributed Learning initiative sponsored by the Department of Defense.) In particular, work with IMS is paving the path to clarification and convergence in defining an industry-wide service architecture for educational applications. OKI's design is becoming pivotal in the progress to develop "industry" specifications and standards for learning management systems. For more information about OKI see the web site at http://web.mit.edu/oki/.
IS and the MIT Libraries collaborate to enable faculty involved in the Stellar pilots to take advantage of Ereserve services. This enables library specialists to insert Ereserve content directly into Stellar class sites. IS also collaborates with the Libraries and several departments to provide Spatial Data Services/Geographical Information System services at MIT. These services were expanded this year to include a new walk-in service in the Rotch Library. For more information see the web site at http://libraries.mit.edu/gis/.
As part of efforts to evolve MIT's academic computing infrastructure, IS and Hewlett Packard undertook a project supported by the HP-MIT Alliance to enable a mobile, heterogeneous computing environment. The project's investigation phase yielded an architecture, which added components to the existing campus architecture to provide the necessary support. Contrary to expectations, however, there was no support for implementation.
The Business Liaison Team partnered with the Administrative Advisory Council (AACII), the School of Science, and the Office Computing Practice to launch and coordinate a pilot experiment with departments in the School of Science to understand the need and to improve support for the administrative desktop computing environments in the school. The pilot is scheduled to conclude in the summer of 2002 with its results informing larger-scale approaches to desktop deployment, preventative maintenance, ongoing support, and renewal.
IS's Network Security Team, along with MIT's Campus Police, provided key support in a large multi-agency federal operation targeting an international software piracy ring. This operation, headed locally by US Customs, involved a significant on-campus effort focused on computers operated by a Department of Economics employee. IS and Campus Police were present throughout the event, assisting Customs officers, providing an Institute technical presence, and supporting the department to minimize disruption in its services. In addition, the Network Security Team worked with the FBI on two cases having MIT connections, and participated in their INFRAGARD initiative along with major businesses and government agencies in the Boston area.
IS and the Controller's Accounting Office (CAO) implemented ClearCommerce, a software package enabling MIT on-campus merchants to accept credit card payments. The Alumni Association and CAO's General Receivables are piloting the new software and related operational procedures. Work to enhance order entry, order management, and transaction reporting for merchants was also completed. Once the pilot is completed, this service will become available to other MIT organizations that need to accept on-line credit card payments. IS and CAO also worked with other groups, including Sloan Alumni Reunions, Leaders for Manufacturing, and the Career Fair to plan an implementation of their e-commerce sites using ShopSite catalog development software, and CyberCash.
IS partnered with FSS and the SAP HR/Payroll project team to support the implementation of new processes for Benefits Open Enrollment. The IS EDI Operations Team working with the HR/Payroll team completed work with Blue Cross-Blue Shield and with Delta Dental to provide benefits enrollment data to these insurance carriers electronically as encrypted transactions, which significantly improved the timeliness and accuracy of records. IS has contributed both technical support to and "user" involvement in several other HR/Payroll project activities.
This year, IS ran the fall 2001 and summer 2002 Freshman Housing Lotteries, which were redesigned to meet new requirements provided by the Office of the Dean for Student Life. The new system permitted a summer lottery for dormitory assignments in time for Orientation, and a fall lottery for permanent dormitory assignments. This new, more robust system requires high and extended availability to authenticate pre-freshmen/freshmen; collect individual and group housing preferences; and email and display on the web the actual dorm assignments. The lotteries permitted students to establish their Kerberos identities, obtain MIT certificates, select housing preferences, and have their housing assignment returned to them before arriving on campus. IS also worked closely with the dean for undergraduate education on the Freshman Advising project and the d'Arbeloff Grants process to improve the freshman experience.
The Discovery Process increased its collaboration with other departments, laboratories, and centers by including more of their staff in projects and continuing its efforts to work with clients on I/T projects. Thirty percent of the team members for Discovery projects completed in the fourth quarter of FY2002 were from outside IS.
In fall 2001, MIT and Apple Computer, Inc. collaborated to include a development version of MIT's Kerberos authentication system in the release of Apple's new operating system, MacOS X. IS continued its work throughout the year resulting in a production version of this software, which will be released in Mac OS X later this summer. The result is a more secure platform for Macintosh users at MIT and other universities.
The COEUS project continues collaboration between IS and the Office of Sponsored Programs. The project is gaining momentum for several key initiatives with significant collaboration from other US universities. Work continues with SAP to ease use of the COEUS software with SAP Financials.
IS is committed to developing an information technology infrastructure that provides the foundational capabilities needed to support the teaching, learning, research, and business needs of the Institute. The goal of IS is to ensure that the MIT infrastructure is reliable, sustainable, and secure, and that it does indeed "stay the course," which is how the executive vice president describes the operational theme of "sustainability." Much of the ongoing work centers on keeping the Institute's I/T services running as well as renewing and improving those services. Key accomplishments are discussed below.
IS put into service a new 30,000 line Lucent 5ESS telephone switch—replacing equipment that had been in service for some 13 years—with little disruption to service. The new switch has sufficient capacity to meet the campus' telephony needs for the coming decade.
Work has been completed on the first two phases of a project to install single mode fiber to all of MIT's campus buildings. When completed in FY2003, this fiber will significantly enhance the campus network capability enabling multi-gigabit per second bandwidths.
The Kerberos development team delivered updates to the Kerberos product including important security fixes, improvements based on customer feedback, and an improved Application Programming Interface (API). This API significantly increases application portability for third party developers. In February 2002, MIT hosted a successful summit of representatives from industry and academia to address issues concerning advancing the Kerberos protocol standard.
With sponsorship from the MIT Council on Educational Technology, the Academic Computing Practice initiated a laptop initiative, providing computers for student use in four subjects—one each in the Departments of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics. In parallel, student and faculty focus groups provided valuable data on their perception of laptops as a useful technology to support academic coursework. Success of this laptop initiative was one driver in a decision to recommend that first-year students arriving in fall 2002 who were planning to bring a personal computer to campus bring a laptop.
Also, as part of its work to sustain the MIT computing environment, IS maintained 250 servers located in three on-campus data centers, replaced some 300 public and departmental Athena workstations to support MIT's educational programs, provided about 30 application software packages for use in the Athena environment, upgraded hardware and software on over 100 Athena servers, redeployed Room E40-008 as a hot site for the recovery of administrative servers housed in W91, provided support for about 85 administrative databases, addressed needs to archive older data in SAP Financials, formalized the process for releasing the latest desktop operating system and application software, created a new team to support emerging infrastructure software— including the iXOS image archiving system used by SAP, introduced new enterprise printing capability to meet the demand for large volume print jobs, examined the feasibility of migrating the TSM backup service to a non-VM platform, and enabled users of Internet Explorer on Windows platforms to obtain MIT personal certificates.
Improved IS's internal financial and billing processes by leveraging the SAP system and creating new functionality in internal orders, assessments, and fixed asset management.
Accountability is that which is necessary to hold everything together. Accountability only exists when deviation from standards, obligations, and commitments is measured, and when it is both organizational and personal. Significant IS work in this thematic area is discussed below.
IS leadership focused on improving the budgeting process for FY2003 by using a zero-based budget approach. Specifically, each of IS's 55 process-based teams was asked to prepare a zero-based budget at three levels of service—barebones; sufficient to meet current demand for products, support, and service; and latent to meet new, emerging needs of faculty, staff, and students. We also asked these teams to provide performance measures, goals for improving these measures, and outside comparisons for their work. Review of these proposed budgets provided a much better understanding of the whole of IS's work, the staffing requirements to do that work, and IS's ability to meet the needs of the MIT community. On the whole we found that teams are staffed above barebones but well below sufficient, a finding that is consistent with that of the external review committee.
IS and FSS were selected to be the first MIT administrative organizations to have program reviews. As noted earlier in this report, a program review is a collaborative and evaluative process involving self-study, client interaction, and outside peer review. This review is a major step in clarifying roles and responsibilities and in establishing standards for performance and service. Its findings will provide a baseline for comparison in the coming years.
IS responded to Institute requests to be more accountable for the telephone and network rates by implementing a new internal cost accounting structure, which supports more frequent and accurate analysis of rate-based revenues and related expenses. As part of this work IS also initiated a rate review project with goals of providing a new, transparent price-setting methodology and a set of new prices that would address the needs of IS customers for stable, understandable and predictable prices; would comply with federal regulations; and would address IS business requirements of simplicity and effective cost recovery. This new model will be used in the process to set the telephone and network prices for FY2004, which will be announced early in FY2003.
IS consciously used the year's annual merit review process to measure individual performance against expectations. Steps were taken to address both the under performers as well as strong performers for whom promotions or above average pay increases were appropriate.
By professionalism, we mean striving for leadership across all the professions, which define us beyond our roles at MIT. IS staff serve as professional leaders in many ways and in many organizations.
IS has always presented itself as a technological leader in the higher education community. IS staff participate in, contribute to, and often play key (formal) leadership roles in various IVY+ and Internet2 groups, EDUCAUSE, the Common Solutions Group, NERCOMP, College and University Information Security Professionals, the Boston Consortium, the Internet Engineering Task Force security and calendaring standards groups, CREN, Syllabus, the New England Information and Technology Managers Group, the 5E Private Owners Association, the Association for Telecommunications Professionals in Higher Education, among others. In addition, staff provide advice on a regular basis to corporations such as Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Lucent, @Stake, and Akamai via membership on corporate advisory boards or through ongoing consulting relationships and collaborate with a wide range of other vendors and outside groups, apart from the higher education community, on technology development.
After the events of September 11, 2001, many IS staff stepped forward to help the MIT community and the Institute's leadership deal with the aftermath. This support included both technical services such as distributing email to all members of the community and initiating a new web site to collect sentiments of community members, serving as facilitators at the Killian Court gathering, providing 24-hour telephone call center coverage for the days following the event, plus establishing a back-up web site for a colleague institution that was directly effected by the tragedy.
For the past several summers, MIT's Network Security Team has hosted a summer "Security Camp" for network security teams from New England area academic institutions. The camp, which will be held again this summer, brings together individuals responsible for securing university networks and computer systems for a set of formal presentations and informal discussions, all designed to exchange information, ideas, and solutions. From time to time guests such as representatives from law enforcement and professional security consultants are also invited. Last year some 90 individuals representing 13 universities and 11 other organizations were in attendance. Given the events of the past year, these meetings have taken on added importance.
Two members of the IS's Leadership Team—Greg Anderson and Theresa Regan—were selected to participate in the pilot session of MIT's Leader to Leader (L2L) program. L2L is a unique leadership development program for leaders from the MIT community. In the program, L2L fellows partner with senior leaders and MIT faculty to build MIT's internal leadership capability within the context of MIT's culture and aligned to the strategic needs of the Institute.
Within MIT, IS's project management expertise continues to attract other MIT organizations who wish to develop a project management capability within their own staffs. This year, project managers from the Discovery Process provided coaching and mentoring across MIT; some of these efforts led to projects both within and outside of IS such as web-enabled parking registration and help to the Publishing Services Bureau.
The Support Process continued to foster the technical skills of the DLCs' "local technology experts" by sponsoring many on-campus user groups, including the Macintosh, Windows, and IT Partners groups. In addition, IS coordinated over 70 IAP activities with a total attendance of about 1,300 faculty, students, and staff, and worked to improve the classroom technical environment at the Professional Learning Center.
IS continued to recognize professionalism within its own ranks through the MIT Rewards and Recognition Program. During the year and as part of that program, both Theresa Regan and the Computing Practices Resource Team received the Institute-wide MIT Excellence Awards for Serving the Client. In addition, IS presented the first Steven Wade Neiterman awards to Gregory A. Dancer and Jonathan M. Hunt to recognize demonstrated IT professionalism through collaborative problem solving, coaching colleagues, and team building; sharing knowledge; being a "doer;" and demonstrated commitment to MIT.
In the past year, IS staff contributed to EDUCAUSE publications, including articles in the EDUCAUSE Quarterly and in a book on HR IT practices.
IS is proud of its achievements over the past year and is committed to moving forward and continuing to improve in each of these areas in the coming year.
More information about Information Systems and its work may be found at http://web.mit.edu/is/.