Information Technology Transformation at MIT

Transition Plan

Work-In-Progress, August 15, 1995

This transition plan describes work underway to create a new framework for how people work together to build, run and help others use information technology at the Institute. Preparation and execution of this plan is coordinated by the Institute's I/T Leadership Team (itlt), and is involving others in increasing numbers.

About This Document

Why a work in progress? Our migration strategy is to learn our way into the new framework for working together. Today, the plan is far from complete or cast in concrete, yet it is specific enough to move ahead on some fronts. Transition planning will continue throughout the 1995-1996 academic year, along with implementing the plans. Elements of plans will change, as we actually work in the new framework and improve how to deliver value to customers.

Why a web-based plan? We are committed to keep communications flowing in all directions throughout this transition. However, the transition plan itself is actually a fluid compilation of related plans in varying stages of preparation by numerous participants. It is not written in serial fashion and will be updated iteratively. The World Wide Web facilitates reading pages on related topics in any order, appending materials as they become available, and getting feedback about them.

We welcome your help. We want this transition to succeed for everyone involved. Please send all comments, questions, and suggestions to



On August 15, 1994, the I/T Transformation was launched to be one of the key enablers of success in the initiative to reengineer MIT's administrative processes. In November 1994, the I/T Transformation team completed its initial design of the new way of working in I/T and began to explore its implications, refine its elements, and devise a strategy for migrating to the new framework. On March 15, 1995, senior officers announced that the new framework applies to all the I/T work in Information Systems and in the Institute's other central offices. They emphasized that we will learn our way into this new framework, planning, evaluating, and improving as we go along.

The goal of I/T Transformation sounds straightforward. We must meet the challenge of smoothly introducing 5-6 major network-based applications to some 8,000 faculty and staff Institute-wide, and, where applicable, to students and other constituents. This includes bringing up to 2,000 new users onto the campus network. At the same time, we must keep existing systems and services running. However, we will not increase the overall number of information technology positions, in order to avoid incurring substantial new recurring costs.

I/T Transformation affects not only the Information Systems (IS) organization, but also information technology resources that are outside IS in other central offices. The Information Systems staff of about 250 constitutes about 60% of the I/T positions in the Institute's central offices. IS focuses both on services for everyone, which can be called the "commons," such as telephones and campus network connections, and also on services for specific constituencies, that is, academic computing and administrative computing. Information technology staff in other central offices typically focus on the needs of those offices and their constituencies. For the Institute's reengineering initiatives to succeed in eliminating substantial administrative work, all of its central I/T staff must radically transform how we work with one another and our customers.

Initially, I/T Transformation focused on administrative computing. However, administrative applications aren't the only areas where the use of information technology is changing. It's equally important to maintain the rate of change in our academic environment and in our commons services. To simply "keep existing systems and services running" outside the new administrative applications is a recipe for falling behind into irrelevance and failure. The I/T challenge is thus even more intense: to extend the kind of change we've grown accustomed to in commons and academic computing to the administrative computing without increasing the resources devoted to the whole.

Transition Fundamentals

Around the Institute, the foremost question about the I/T Transformation is "Why won't there be big layoffs of I/T staff?" The response has two parts. First, the challenge is to do a lot of new I/T work, along with current I/T work, without adding staff. For example, once a major network based application is installed, ongoing service and support of it can entail 6-10 I/T specialists fulltime, even if we acquire commercially available software wherever possible, instead of developing our own. Second, substantial reductions in the number of I/T positions have already occurred. Information Systems has eliminated 23 positions since 1993, over half requiring layoffs. Taken all together, by FY1996, IS has surpassed its commitment to make the 6% budget reduction that addressed the Institute's operating gap.

The most frequently asked question among IS staff today is some variation on "What will I work on, who will I work for, and who will I work with and where?" Those are questions we cannot yet answer in detail for everyone. However, in many cases, work assignments will not change. The simple response for August 15 may not satisfy everyone: By and large, everyone in IS today is working - and many are overworking - on important efforts that produce valued results for our customers. The I/T Leadership Team is counting on everyone to continue their dedication to helping one another with those efforts as we all go forward.

The next set of questions IS staff ask revolve around "When will I know? Who will decide? What say will I have in determining my roles in the the new framework?" Once again, though everyone is tired of hearing this, the specifics aren't yet worked out. Clearly, however, there will be no single answer that fits all situations. In the steady state, we must balance the tradeoffs between individual and Institutional priorities in ways that make the best sense for everyone. This fall, opportunities for negotiations may be more limited, as we strive to adopt the whole framework while we keep commitments to customers. By December 15, everyone in IS will know their initial affiliations and assignments in the new framework, as well as who to consult about changing them.

I/T staff in central offices outside IS raise other questions: "Is this a recentralization of everyone into IS? Do I have to move?" The simple answer is no. I/T staff in central offices outside IS will continue working where they are today, if they wish, of course, and if their offices continue to need them. Their daily priorities will continue to be set in their home departments. However, as the transition proceeds, their work will change. They will use I/T standards, protocols, and processes that are consistent across the Institute's computing infrastructure, so that applications are easier for everyone to use, operate, and support. Their interactions with other I/T staff and attention to skill-building will intensify, when they affiliate with I/T Competency Groups and participate in training opportunities and related activities.

Everyone wants to know: When will the I/T Transformation end? The transition to the first instance of everyone working in the new I/T framework will be finished in Spring 1996, but the changes will not end. We expect to learn by doing and to systematically improve processes as we gain experience. At the same time, the context for the new I/T framework will surely change - institutionally, technologically, and otherwise - and, to continue providing value, so must I/T. At times it may feel like trying to change a station wagon into a sports car, piece by piece, while driving on an open highway at breakneck speeds

Current Highlights

Highlights of the transition plan as of August 15, 1995:

Timetable for the Transition

Throughout this transition, I/T staff in IS and other central offices at the Institute will continue to operate, maintain, and support existing I/T products and services. They will continue to make progress on projects that are underway. They will initiate some new ones and may end some others.

Phase 1: "Plan the transition" July 1 - August 15, 1995

Phase 2: "Do the IS transition" August 15 - December 15, 1995

Phase 3: "Complete the I/T transition " December 15, 1995 - June 30, 1996


Communications/involvement/input Paths

Please send any comments, questions, and suggestions you may have to

A number of managers and staff in IS have been contributing essays and ideas about various aspects of the new framework and the transition to it. We welcome yours.

Success Indicators

We will be working to implement evaluation measures and methods outlined by the I/T Transformation team during their redesign work.

Questions and Issues

Previous Highlights