IT assessment suggests University look at centralizing services and oversight


Pitt’s Information Technology Assessment Report, released last month, presents 14 recommendations as a starting point for a plan to improve Pitt’s IT structure and capabilities, beginning with the way IT is governed here, says Jinx Walton, chief information officer.

Jinx Walton“We’ve been looking at how to optimize technology services through the University for quite some time,” Walton said. “Our goals were really to get our arms around all these aspects and uses for technology: What are we doing and how can we do it better and more efficiently?”

The report, compiled by consultant Deloitte, found that, “While many core IT services are centralized at CSSD [Computing Services and Systems Development], there are a significant amount of IT services decentralized across campus impacting efficiency, effectiveness, and risk management.”

For instance, it found that:

  • Pitt has more than 19 help desks on campus using at least 16 different ticketing systems.
  • About one third of all physical servers are outside the CSSD data center.
  • Pitt has at least four other data centers on its campuses.

Overall, the report found:

  • A “lack of effective or transparent way to facilitate/enforce enterprise decision-making” — that is, IT decisions that affect the entire University — with IT strategic planning too separate from Pitt’s budgeting process.
  • An overlap in services between CSSD and the financial information systems office, and between CSSD and the Office of the Provost.
  • A “lack of formal process and tools for IT budgeting across Pitt.”
  • Siloed IT teams.
  • Fragmentation and duplication of software procurement.
  • Lack of “a common look and feel for (Pitt’s) web presence resulting in a fragmented brand being presented to the public.”

Tops among the report’s resulting recommendations is that Pitt implement better IT governance — that the University “builds a coordinated model that allows the right people to make business, IT and financial decisions around IT projects, standards and priorities.”

Creating central IT governance, said Walton, “is the one that will have the most impact. That is the one that will help us look at technology most holistically.”

Among the report’s other recommendations:

  • Develop an integrated IT budget university-wide.
  • Coordinate IT purchases across the university.
  • Build a unified IT training program.
  • Develop strategic roadmap to guide research computing investments.

University seeks feedback on report

At the latest meeting of the University Senate’s Computing and Information Technology Committee, on Dec. 14, Walton discussed the report. “This was a study; it wasn’t a survey” of all IT stakeholders at Pitt, she emphasized. The University is now asking for feedback on the report’s recommendations, she added: “Is there something that we missed?”

“The luxuriousness of the Pitt system is that it is as centralized as it needs to be without preventing anybody from doing what they need to do,” said committee chair Michael B. Spring, former University Senate president and faculty member in the School of Computing and Information. It’s also advantageous that each school also has its own IT experts who know what the school needs, he added.

“I’ve never talked to a director or dean who said they had enough IT help for their unit,” Walton said. “There is no way that anyone is going to recommend that we don’t have departmental IT staff.” However, the report should still lead Pitt to “find these efficiencies. We do have duplication of services.”

There are no details in the report’s recommendations, she acknowledged. “There is nothing prescriptive about anything they are saying.”

“We look at these 14 areas that are in the recommendations; it would be hard to argue against any of them,” said Ralph Roskies, Center for Research Computing director and vice chancellor for Research Computing. “What I don’t get from this is — what’s broken?”

“It’s not like anything is necessarily broken,” Walton replied. “We are in an enviable place for any institution; we have a lot of things under control. But what they’re saying is, when you look, there is redundancy. We don’t have insight into a lot of IT spending. We’re looking into optimizing this.”

Spring noted that the report calls for the formation of an executive IT steering committee, with three subcommittees on data governance, information security and research technology.

What about education technology, another committee member asked. 

The committee approved a draft resolution on “New Governance Structures for Information Technology.” It calls for the University to consult with the committee, the Senate executive committee and Faculty Assembly “on the most effective and efficient way to meld the existing Senate Standing Committees with the new structures that are being considered for governance of information technology.”

The resolution went before Faculty Assembly on Jan.  8 and was altered slightly after several members took issue with the word “meld” in the draft resolution.

To some, the word suggested a restructuring for the existing Senate Standing Committees. Members ultimately voted to change “meld” to “connect” with two members opposed to the decision. The resolution will head to the Senate Council next.

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.