Excerpt from

The Support Services and Administration Task Force
Report to the University Planning Council

April 29, 1991

Information Services

The Committee on Information Services was charged to study Administrative Computing, Academic Computing, Telecommunications, Libraries and Media Services. As the process evolved, it became clear that we needed to understand how information is exchanged between various groups on campus and between our campus, the state, and the world at large. It is evident that communication needs to be improved at all levels within the University, and the improvements need to occur not only in our technical capabilities but, perhaps more importantly, in terms of openness and bidirectionality of information exchange. The maintenance and further development of the quality of this institution is impeded by an archaic information systems infrastructure, and some isolationist and protectionist attitudes.

The units we reviewed serve the entire University and are critical to our mission of excellence in teaching and research. Each of the units has specific strengths as well as weaknesses and many of these will not be detailed in this brief document. Rather we refer interested parties to the wealth of information that has been gathered from the reports and testimony submitted to the Planning Council and this Task Force.


The current and future Information Services assets of the University are a strategic resource that, if carefully and properly developed, will help give UVM an edge in the increasingly competitive markets for undergraduate and graduate students, teaching and research faculty, and staff. The creation of an institution-wide Integrated Information System (IIS) would offer the potential to enhance educational effectiveness, administrative efficiency, diversity, sense of community, and outreach and development activities. The efficient use of distributed, cooperative computing strategies comprising a mix of centralized and distributed information "servers" and ubiquitous desktop "client" computers, will provide faculty, staff, students, and administrators timely, convenient access to the information they need in a comfortable, easy-to-use format. Students could take advantage of many of the libraries' resources as easily as they could register for courses, send messages to professors, or find out what's playing at the Royall Tyler Theatre, all from their residence hall room, apartment, or home. A department chair could easily distribute a paperless memo to all faculty and selected graduate students, or get up-to-date enrollment statistics and immediately analyze them in the context of her budget. An administrator could, without delay, begin to formulate a response to this week's recision by pulling related information from databases around campus, such as Finance and Budget, Development, Registrar, and Admissions, into a spreadsheet on his desktop PC. Then, recommendations could be immediately transmitted, along with graphs or charts, to the Senior Vice Provost and Provost for their comments.

Information Services Planning and Leadership

One of the major concerns we encountered on campus was the lack of comprehensive long-range planning for the development of Information Services that can effectively serve the entire campus and beyond. This was manifested by major problems regarding the ability of units to share data due to software and hardware incompatibilities, and a lack of adherence to non-proprietary standards. The decision making processes involving communications and computing seem to have been somewhat territorial, sometimes driven by individual units' organizational goals, "empire building" in some cases, rather than being focused on the mission of the institution. Moreover, the technologies employed for data communications throughout most of the University are severely restrictive and antiquated, with a few notable exceptions. There are "islands of technology" that are often isolated and inaccessible to others, due to a lack of communications infrastructure.

In order to remedy this situation the highest priority should be given to the appointment of a Chief Information Officer, or CIO (e.g. Director of Computing and Information Technologies), who will be responsible for keeping the vision and overseeing the implementation of an IIS, including overseeing, coordinating, and developing interactions among Academic Computing, Administrative Computing, Network Services, Telecommunications, Mail Services, and Media Services. The individual who becomes the Director of Information Technology should be this Chief Information Officer --- a new position need not be created. During the developmental stages of the Integrated Information System the CIO should report directly to the Provost, \footnote{Once the implementation of an IIS is complete, the CIO should report to the V.P. for Administration, as we have indicated in Appendix 2.} and must have the strong support of all levels of the administration. The new CIO should complete a thorough review of all services to identify areas of overlap and points of possible synergy, and recommend changes that will be appropriate as the implementation of an IIS changes the landscape of UVM's information services infrastructure. This individual should work with an advisory board made up of users who provide input to the decision making process, and assist the coordination with and involvement of the university community.

Dispersed academic and research computing facilities should retain their independence, and be encouraged to foster creative and cooperative relationships with centralized computing organizations through their interactions with the CIO. Joint administrative/academic research and development projects utilizing all of the University's information systems and computing expertise should be pursued.

Campus Communication

The first step towards an Integrated Information System is the completion of a campus-wide, high speed network communications infrastructure. It should be fully developed as soon as possible, and should reach faculty, staff, administrative offices, dormitories, and classrooms. By definition, this must be accomplished before other IIS items can be implemented, and is necessary even though the full IIS will not be immediately available. This network should make use of the existing broadband technology where cost effective or where video requirements dictate its deployment, as recommended in the reports on Campus-Wide Networks from the Faculty Senate Technologies Committee's Networking Subcommittee, and other planning documents submitted to the Task Force. Many units are already in a position to exploit the full capabilities of a network to enhance productivity and scholarship.

As already noted, this IIS must eventually encompass all information service so that, for example, the use of electronic means for the campus-wide distribution of announcements and other information could be encouraged (this would cut down the current cost of about $700 to do a single campus-wide mailing to all faculty and staff). Much information that now moves on paper could be transmitted via electronic means, and if necessary, printed remotely at destinations. This could save considerable fiscal and human resources. A campus calendar would be another significant component of the IIS.

Such an IIS must adhere to a set of open systems standards for hardware and software, and strongly encourage the use of non-proprietary solutions and distributed, cooperative computing strategies. The services of this IIS must be within the grasp of the least sophisticated users. "Friendly" user interfaces for widely accessed services should be developed. Central administration, through its actions and allocation of resources, should encourage the implementation and widespread use of the IIS.

Finally, as part of this information system we should make appropriate University information resources available widely via electronic means to off-campus sources, especially to users throughout the State.

Education and Computer Literacy

Computer literacy levels around campus are quite diverse and no rigorous program is in place to train users and support staff. Much of the distributed support is being handled by staff and faculty whose job descriptions or responsibilities do not formally recognize or compensate such activities. Moreover, computers are underutilized as a resource and teaching tool in the educational process. It is unclear that we are preparing our graduates to deal with the roles that computing and Information Systems play in modern society.

A formalized training program for designated individuals should be designed and managed by an "Office of Information Services." These "Information Systems Specialists" should provide distributed support of current and future computing needs as a clearly defined part of their job responsibilities. The redistribution of centralized expertise should be considered according to campus-wide needs.

The Libraries

Our libraries are one of the University's most important and diverse resources, and they deserve careful attention in any planning process. Because of the time and resource constraints our study of the libraries focused primarily on their role within the information services framework. A more comprehensive study, such as the Director's report to the Planning Council, will help to augment this perspective.

Our libraries are falling behind in their ability to maintain the expected level of journal subscriptions and the purchase of new books because the costs of these materials, especially journals, are rising faster than the budgets allocated for such acquisitions. This makes it difficult or impossible to sustain or increase our periodical subscriptions as well as respond to the increasingly important application of electronically-based information technology in the library setting. It also frustrates the libraries' attempts to expand their role as an online information provider and conduit to information resources beyond the University, a necessary capacity in the coming years.

The library should be encouraged and supported in its efforts to continue its development of modern electronic methods, and to further investigate the potential of creating or joining consortia for the enhancement of journal and book collections. The libraries are already seeking to fine tune serial collections, but a shift in the way many people access their information seems inevitable in the long run. Network access via desktop workstations to full-text versions of journals is still in the future, but it should become a reality within a decade, and should bring some cost efficiencies. UVM's libraries should be ready to embrace new information technologies as they become available.

The Library and University Archive space issues should be examined in the context of a campus-wide space review.

Media Services

The ability of Media Services to help the University conduct outreach programs, internally distribute educational programming, and facilitate the application of modern teaching techniques is currently limited. This is mainly a function of budget constraints, given that the technology is available. A priority should be given to the establishment of a state of the art classroom/studio facility for the production and distribution of courses and other activities throughout the campus, across the state, and perhaps around the world. This would benefit outreach and our attempts to internationalize the institution. Classrooms should be equipped to support a full spectrum of media and computing needs to enable the use and study of current and developing instructional techniques.

Software Purchasing

Software purchasing activities should be more closely coordinated by the Purchasing Department, where cost effective site licensing agreements should be forged with major software vendors. Opportunities for special relationships with vendors should be explored to permit pre-release testing of new products and upgrades, helping UVM to maintain a competitive position in information systems applications. This does not mean that purchasing should dictate which word processor is being used, but that the most widely used packages are site licensed to realize significant cost savings over current practices.

NOTE: This excerpt is taken from the 1991 Report of the Support Services and Administration Task Force submitted to the University Planning Council. Specifically, it is the section of that report developed by the Information Services Committee.

Top of Report

Information Services Committee

Al Cassell, Natural Resources

John Evans, Physiology and Biophysics

David Punia (Chairperson), Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

Mara Saule, Bailey/Howe Library

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