IT plan imagines a day in the life circa 2017
Jonathan Schaeffer delights in telling a self-effacing story to demonstrate the rapid advance of information technology. The vice-provost, information technology, recalls a student excited about a cool new social networking service called Twitter.
“I thought it was pretty stupid,” admits Schaeffer. “I mean, what are you supposed to do with 140-character messages? But of course, three years later, I look pretty stupid.”
Schaeffer now makes sure students, 63 per cent of whom carry smartphones, sit at the table whenever he considers the U of A’s IT future. Advances happen so quickly, he says, that when a student tells him about something today, he had better do his best to make room for it on the university’s platform a year from now.
“Students are driving the IT agenda on this campus,” he says. “They are my window on the future.
“We don’t need to be ‘bleeding’ edge, where we’re absorbing all the body blows and assuming all the risks [of untested technology], but if we’re going to be a top university, we need to be leading edge,” said Schaeffer. “That means there have to be fundamental changes in the university to make us more nimble to meet change.”
Schaeffer presented his IT plan for the university—covering the five-year window between 2012 and 2017—at three campus town hall meetings this week. He says he knows that the very suggestion of IT puts some people to sleep, while the technical jargon has others running for cover. He also expressed frustration at the resistance among faculty to train on new platforms, such as Google, where response to training sessions has so far been “negligible.”
So to help make his vision for the future more relevant, he is drawing up a series of day-in-the-life narratives, outlining hypothetical scenarios of students, faculty and staff five years from now as they go about their daily routines.
“The point is to show how the life of a student, say, in 2017 might be fundamentally different because of the IT changes we’ve made,” he says. “So even if people don’t care about the recommendations themselves, they might care about what those recommendations have enabled.”
These stories are far from written in stone, he says. They are like a series of flexible storyboards that must be constantly updated, shifting with the technological currents of the day.
“If you look even at one day-in-the-life scenario we wrote two years ago for the academic plan, it doesn’t look so visionary any more. So we need to be nimble.”
With the U of A’s switch to Google and Moodle scheduled for completion in 2012, Schaeffer and his team are now in the midst of updating the university’s wireless network, making it more powerful and seamless.
“Looking at the statistics a year ago, it was pretty obvious that in about a year we would run out of wireless capacity. But if you wait until people complain, it creates negative impressions in people’s minds, so we made a decision to be proactive, rather than reactive.
“The vision for wireless is complete coverage over all of campus, so I could be sitting in the middle of Quad doing my work if that’s what I wanted to do.”
He also wants to increase the number of iPhone apps and improve the U of A’s web presence for mobile devices.
“I want to build a reputation here that we are the most visionary, insightful, willing-to-take-a-risk university when it comes to this kind of technology.”
Details of the U of A’s IT plan for 2012 to 2017 can be found at http://www.vpit.ualberta.ca/itplan/.
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