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November 23, 2011

SAC assembly details job-supporting technology

In this era of financial uncertainty and severe budget cuts to higher education, staff at the University bear a growing responsibility to do more with less, and technology plays a big role in making that happen.

That was the theme of the Nov. 15 fall assembly, “Effectively Using Technology in Your Job,” sponsored by the Staff Association Council (SAC). The assembly drew more than 225 people for the keynote address and six technology workshops.

Jinx Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development

Jinx Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development

Welcoming remarks were delivered by SAC President Deborah Walker, followed by remarks by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Nordenberg noted that since 2000, keynote speaker Jinx Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), has overseen the strategic implementation of the University’s master technology plan.

“She is responsible for the development, implementation and delivery of technology services that support the academic, business and research missions of the University,” Nordenberg said.

He credited Walton for overseeing CSSD’s “secure, reliable and robust infrastructure; a state-of-the-art Network Operations Center; a data warehouse that enables University administrators to access a set of key data points for strategic assessment planning; campus-wide wireless service that provides coverage in all of our classrooms as well as other common areas; software licensing and software packages made available to you and your departments … and the Pitt portal used by staff, faculty and students for delivery of a broad range of web-based applications and services.”

Walton’s keynote speech, “Making Technology Work for You,” provided an overview of the CSSD services available to staff employees and how those services are intertwined with the basic values she believes Pitt employees share.

The past 10 years have seen a revolution in technology, Walton said. “What were once seen as special services are really now considered business as usual. Cell phones are now ‘smart’ phones, capable of transporting both voice and data. An industry journal reported that in 2011 over 470 million smart phones will be sold worldwide, a 57 percent increase from 2010. In addition, 1.7 million iPhone 4s were sold in the first three days they were available, and computers have become incredibly portable, with 25 million iPads sold as of June 2011. Our latest survey showed that 98 percent of students brought computers to the residence halls,” she said.

Ten years ago, the Pittsburgh campus had 22,000 network ports, a figure that nearly has doubled. Network-connected devices now include laboratory equipment, cash registers and vending machines, she noted.

“On top of that, we have wireless across our campus, with 2,700 access points. [In an average year] we have 478 million email messages processed, 88 million visits to Pitt’s web site, just counting the top-level pages, and we block 527 million spam messages,” Walton said.

That technology revolution mandated a restructuring and expansion of CSSD that resulted in more outreach and training efforts to keep staff abreast of changes and developments, as well as technology user protections, she noted.

Concurrently, “As the University’s reputation has grown, so have our expectations,” she said. “This is the understatement of the day: Budgets have not grown to meet some of those growing expectations. But staff are being called on to meet those increased expectations with fewer resources. Staff also are called on to be innovative, creative and more productive. Technology does provide an opportunity to explore solutions and to increase productivity.”

Walton said that CSSD’s mission derives from “the values that we defined for the CSSD organization, because I believe these reflect the values that are common across the University. While there are technology components to some of these, the underlying values are common to most of us here at the University.”

Those values and related services include:

• Cooperation and collaboration

Two of CSSD’s collaborative services are Notify U and WebEx conferencing services.

“Notify U is a service that allows you to send text messages to subscribers. A few years ago, we implemented the emergency notification service to allow the police department to send us all notices about threats or incidents that have happened on campus and what we should do,” Walton explained.

“Notify U is a similar service, although it does not include phone calls the way the ENS does. Any full-time staff or faculty member can set up a list by contacting the help desk to establish it. The list can be open to the University if you choose or it can be restricted to your department or everyone in a series of departments,” she said.

Lists already have been established for SAC, Student Affairs, Pitt’s Olympic sports and CSSD news and alerts.

“Notify U really does give you an additional opportunity to get short, quick messages out to people or to alert a group you’re working with about upcoming opportunities,” Walton said. The service is available at

WebEx allows Pitt users to host virtual meetings and collaborate with colleagues across campus or around the world, she noted.

“Our web conferencing service allows you to share documents, presentations, applications or even share your desktop with participants on the call,” Walton explained.

“Once you are subscribed and log in, you can use this to set up meetings. You can deliver virtual training, provide technical support by remotely looking at desktops of those you support. It even has a feature to permit you to host an online webinar for a large group at multiple locations,” she noted.

Access to the WebEx community is available on the My Pitt portal under My Resources by clicking on Web Conferencing.

• Doing more with less

Two CSSD services related to doing more with less are Read Green and voicemail-to-email.

Read Green is an opt-in service, available through the Pitt portal’s Profile page, that allows subscribers to receive most University mass mailings in their email, rather than receiving paper copies.

Walton noted this does not affect email quotas because the information is in a link rather than an attachment.

She urged employees to sign up for the Read Green service. “Right now, there are only about 1,300 people signed up for it. This is a sustainability initiative as well. For all of us, this is going to reduce costs, printing and paper,” she said.

CSSD implemented the voicemail-to-email service about a year ago for anyone with a University voicemail account. “When you subscribe to this service, it automatically sends the message to your email inbox,” with the name and the phone extension of the caller or the area code and phone number if the call is from outside the University, Walton said. “It comes within a minute of the voicemail message being left,” she said.

The message is in WAV-file format, allowing users to hear the voicemail message through their computer. “This is a free service and can be set up by calling the help desk and asking that they implement it,” Walton noted.

• Accountability

Two components of accountability are the help desk (4-4357), which operates 24/7 year ’round to field any technology question or troubleshoot any tech problem, and the Network Operations Center, a Pitt facility located in RIDC Park in O’Hara Township that houses all of Pitt’s enterprise systems.

“We have 17 help desk analysts. They can answer your questions through email or phone, although most people contact them by phone. Any questions you have about technology or a technology-related issue, you should feel free to contact the help desk,” Walton urged.

“All the major enterprise services — PeopleSoft, Blackboard, Courseweb, Enterprise Exchange — are supported by the help desk. We support Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. But for services we don’t support we use our best effort, so if you have hardware or software that’s out of the ordinary, the help desk analysts will do everything they can to help you solve your problem.”

Another component of accountability is monitoring the technology environment, she said.

“In 2005 we opened our Network Operations Center; we used industry best practices to design it. The purpose was to increase the reliability, the security and the availability of our services,” Walton said.

“To show how reliable this center is: We have redundant networking; we have two power feeds; we have redundant backup power there, and we also have two diesel generators. There is never going to be a time when we don’t have power at the facility. The intention is to make sure that the technology services you need are there and available for you at all times,” she said.

“Within six months of opening the Network Operations Center, we had a 64 percent decrease in the number of user-reported problems.”

In addition, there are security monitoring tools that alert Pitt to hacking attempts, and other indicators of potential security issues, she noted.

• Creativity

An example of a creative project is the software licensing program, accessible on CSSD’s web site.

Through software licensing, CSSD offers more than 125 software packages at the reduced site-licensed cost or at no cost, Walton noted. “Departments can purchase these, and a lot of the licenses say that you can use these on your home computers as well as in your office. Individual faculty or staff members [also] may purchase software for personal use at home,” Walton said.

Returning to the theme of the assembly, she said, “Many of these software packages are designed to help you with your projects and assist with your daily tasks.”

• Service

Pitt Mobile is designed to provide fast and easy access to important information on hand-held devices like smart phones. “Some applications are designed specifically for students,” Walton explained. “But other applications like the emergency information app, the campus map, Find People and the Pitt shuttle app are designed for all of us. The shuttle tracker shows the real-time location of the University’s shuttles. When you click on the application, it shows you all the shuttles that are available, where they are and when they’re due at your stop.”

CSSD’s telecommunications program also provides useful services, she noted.

For example, “There’s the automated call distribution service, which is used for high-volume call applications such as those at a customer support center. It gives you the opportunity to have your calls automatically routed to the person who is most appropriate to handle that call. It also gives you real-time reporting and historical reporting, that is information related to the volume of calls, missed calls, abandoned calls to help you plan staffing levels,” Walton said.

• Integrity

“One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining security is the complexity of it,” Walton said. “In order to streamline the process we centralized all security tools and provided step-by-step instructions for implementing appropriate security. We have policies, procedures, best practices and all the security tools that can be downloaded. The ‘secure your data’ information is located on The security tools there are customized both for individuals and for departmental IT staff.”

(For a story on computer security efforts at Pitt, see Nov. 10 University Times.)

Walton said CSSD plans to continue expanding its technology services to meet staff members’ needs. “We are looking at developing other outreach programs. We will have liaisons to various departments so we’ll understand what you’re looking for, what your technology needs are and how we can help you get the most effective use of technology.”

More details on the programs and services she discussed are available at

—Peter Hart


Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 7

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