Reply To: Communication, Collaboration, and Community


Cyndi and Chad,
Thank you for bringing to the fore one of the most complex and challenging features of the new structure.
Since the early days of loosely structured collaboration across units to initial attempts to structure UNM IT governance as a more formal expression of that healthy collaboration, Law has always spoken consistently and clearly to the risks inherent to a more monolithic reporting structure.

There are good reasons why grassroots collaboration across departments and knowing the ‘right’ insiders at UNM IT has for the most part proven effective over the years; especially in view of initial attempts to create a governance structure that over time became more about information dissemination rather than addressing campus-wide challenges or new initiatives. I attribute the drift to a number of things, not the least of which is the increased complexity of what all of us have had to face over the last 10 years.

In the Town Hall discussions many of us on stage (especially those who knew how to use a microphone :> ), described how the last 8-10 years put our teams in the position of doing more with what we had, but in a different way than what we knew from the past.

Sure, business cycles over the years have prompted similar departmental adjustments where strategies like subsidies and surcharges had to change, but for me at least, the 2008 financial crisis and consumer disruption alongside the dramatic expansion of online learning and how to research and teach differently represented a new type of pressure within departments where efficiency didn’t mean better managing a stack of services with more than two 9s of uptime; or timely access to relevant information. That was my mantra for years and in a manner of speaking PC and displays were part terminal, part specialized resource that for some could be more powerful tools. Soon those ‘some’ became most faculty students and staff and the shift came at the worst possible time for those of us heavily invested in managing our respective environments through standards, policies and tools that defined what was possible and how exceptions could be managed.

For Anderson we felt a nudge to reimagine a traditional stack of administration-focused services as something to let UNM IT work on so that our group could focus on handhelds, extended displays and 64-bit software and etc. It required a leap of faith and trust that in many ways were grounded in the grassroots experience we’d been working with for years.

I won’t tell the same story that put everyone to sleep at the Town Hall again, but I want to be clear that the Anderson approach was and has always been a deliberate strategy to solve for what faculty, students and staff were asking for.

It certainly wasn’t the only strategy or the best one, but ultimately it worked to the degree that we are now able to support a broader range of services than many might have imagined possible a few years ago.

During our slow and steady migration up the stack with UNM IT helping us plan and implement each step, the grassroots relationships we knew well continued to support how other short term initiatives were addressed. We’ve always worked collaboratively across departments, but when a big next step such as OneDrive was defined as a UNM standard, we worked with the UNM IT security office on how properly approach the adventure/standard and focus our attention on helping people learn the tool.

I took the time to reiterate some of what I shared at the Town Hall about Anderson’s journey so that Law’s well-stated concerns can be seen as appropriate and worthy of further discussion. We arrived at where we are today by working with UNM IT in a way that engendered the trust that others haven’t experienced. The structure that’s being put together has to reflect that trust and commitment to service that is efficient, effective and preserves department specific investments. Moreover, it can’t take 5-6 years as it did with Anderson.

Perhaps that’s what I’m trying to get across. Not only is there an on-campus precedent for doing what the new structure implies; at this point UNM has to find a way to more efficiently structure the relationships that have worked well for ten or more years. The ‘who you know’ approach has a time cost that can be inefficient and occasionally frustrating. Of course the key is that the new structure is setup to facilitate and streamline what worked well and at the same time surface new opportunities to become more efficient and deliver better differentiated services.

In my opinion this is another important facet of what Duane means by, ‘Do no harm.’ Beyond preserving critical differentiated services, ‘Do no harm,’ means, ‘do not undermine relationships that work and support SMEs who know their stuff so they can maintain their expertise.’

For example, one of Anderson’s major differentiated services, our VLab for specialized teaching environments, will soon outgrow our capacity to support all that we imagine it can do as well as what we’re being asked to consider. We’ve always know that it could deliver any number of VDI solutions, but our resource constraints have always focused us on the focused problem it was designed to solve. Put another way, we simply can’t tackle any more within that system without a UNM IT partnership. The new structure formalizes that as a service OLA and provides more direct and efficient access to IT SMEs as well as other ITOs across the table.

No doubt the transition will be a challenge and more work. It is a risk at many levels, especially given the current financial constraints across campus in every area. More than that, we all know this is a 5-7 year project not unlike reimagining best of breed HR and finance systems into an ERP. Can top level administration sustain and support what’s being proposed. We believe they want to and have to, just as we have to step up and figure it out no matter how the lines are dotted.

At this point Cyndi is secretly smiling at my fuzzy optimism saying, ‘there he goes again,’ but I do have a final comment that I believe captures remaining concerns.

When Alex and I sat down with Duane and Brian I quickly made it clear that the Director of the group would have to be tough as nails and organized. As important, the ITOs would have to be a high performing team and self-directed. In my opinion the concept won’t get the traction it needs without people stepping up to those positions with that mindset.

Making it happen won’t be easy, but given the current financial realities UNM faces, the structure as supported by current leadership is a risk worth taking.

I will be honest and state that I too expect to experience some initial tension between my loyalty to Anderson and as an ITO, the additional time committed to broader UNM commitments. However, our journey has built enough trust and for that reason among all of the others we’re willing to give it a shot. We know that trust that the focus will be on service, service as delivered and supported by others across campus who care about getting this right; the same people who care enough to visit this site and state their concerns.

I want to figure this out in a way that works best for now and will become better. I want to continue to know a bit about hardware and be useful in that way. I want to have these types of conversations with Cyndi and Chad to maintain healthy perspective. I believe the proposed structure provides that opportunity. It isn’t TIG, not as I see it. TIG was a useful nudge to get organized. What many of us are seeing is Duane and Brian and others take what’s useful and shape it to make sense at UNM. I don’t think that piece will change and I believe it’s the right approach.

Hopefully this perspective is useful. I think it’s worth a conversation or two with coffee in the old-school way to make sure that the people who will make this happen are fully engaged.

Thanks for wading through my perspective.