IV. Leading IT for the Learning Community

There is a serious need at The University of Vermont for leadership in the learning and information technology arena. We have many fine examples of achievement in enhancing our academic endeavors through the use of technology. What we lack is institutional focus and direction. The enormous potential of new technologies for helping us create dynamic learning communities demands the commitment of high-level leadership resources. The blurring of technologies previously considered separate, such as computing and conferencing, printed and electronic media, local databases and international networks, creates an environment where coordination and coherence in our approach to technology are essential. In considering new leadership for learning and information technology, we should be looking for ways to promote coordination, enhance collaboration, learn from local successes and then translate them into institution wide programs. We need to find avenues for enriching the academic mission through new approaches to learning and technology. We need to develop and manage information technology as a strategic resource, but not view it as an end unto itself. We need to focus this resource more deliberately, but in ways which will not undermine the creativity and diversity of our academic programs, or impair the effectiveness of our business operations.


We propose the position of a Chief Learning and Information Officer (CLIO), a senior executive who would lead university-wide efforts to enhance the learning community through technology, and who would be accountable for the coordination of information technology at UVM. Recognizing that reorganization of the senior administration may occur in the near future, we suggest a position at the level of either Vice Provost or Vice President.

The CLIO will provide a focal point for development of new approaches to technology-based teaching and learning, and for articulation of the value and potential of information technology at the University. The CLIO will be a resource person, providing IT planning guidance, coordination, facilitation and advocacy. The CLIO will work closely with the deans to support innovations in the use of technology in teaching, facilitate linkages among faculty engaged in these endeavors, and create opportunities for the exploration of the impacts of technology on student learning and the student experience. Accountability for strategic management and budgeting of all University information technology resources will be based upon these collaborative relationships, with final authority resting with the Provost.

Working with an IT Council (described below), the CLIO will have responsibility for coordination and oversight of both academic and administrative information technology efforts across the institution. Initially, this will be implemented with a combination of direct reporting lines and a secondary line of accountability to the CLIO for deans, and directors with IT operations. Tactical administration of the reallocations and reogranizations necessary to enhance the efficient and effective use of campus information technology will be important to the success of these endeavors.

An IT Council will be established, comprising key institutional stakeholders in information technology use and support. The responsibilities of the IT Council will include

The CLIO will have ultimate responsibility and authority for building a successful organizational structure to support the learning and information environment. Important responsibilities will include building appropriate linkages within the university community, advancing discussions of new modes of teaching and learning, and creating an enhanced assessment capacity for the institution. The CLIO will play a role in all major information technology planning and purchasing decisions, approve standards and practices, promote ongoing assessment of IT performance and capacities, and serve as the key long-term information technology planner for the institution. With guidance from the IT Council and other advisory committees, the CLIO will establish a common "technology floor" for both academic and administrative users, and oversee the continuing development of our information and instructional technology infrastructure.

Budgeting for Information Technology

Sound fiscal management will be critical to accomplishing our aims in information technology.  This section outlines the budgetary fundamentals that should guide our planning for these investments.  We briefly review the range of options we currently use for IT budgeting, define the budgetary role for IT's top level administrators, and discuss possible approaches to making our investments in IT work efficiently for us.

Current Budget Practices

The University allocates continuing and one-time revenues to support both centralized and decentralized information technology expenditures. Base and one-time budget allocations usually support university infrastructure, defined broadly as facilities provided in common for faculty, staff, or students. In addition, departmental funds distributed to, or reallocated by, deans and directors leverage the infrastructure investment and provide substantial targeted information technology support. This system has worked reasonably well, however, it can be improved.

The advantage of the current system is that it puts decision making, prioritization, and flexibility into the hands of those with the clearest stake in the local outcome of those decisions. A wide spectrum of funding mechanisms, from purely central to purely decentralized, can be found functioning well at UVM. The Libraries, and much of CIT, are examples of centrally provided services that do not seek to recover their base budget costs directly from their users. A portion of the support given to such centralized infrastructure is also used in the calculation of the indirect reimbursement rate from sponsored grants.

Telecommunications and Microcomputer Services are examples of income/expense units which provide institutional services where income is generated by charges to customers, most of which are University departments. Much of the funding for telephone-related expenses by individual colleges and departments, however, comes from their centrally supported, base-budgeted accounts. This style of funding helps assure a unified, common phone system with sufficient support for upkeep and upgrades. The colleges, departments, and individuals also determine the amount of product or service to buy. Direct funds received from outside grants and contracts also helps to supplement the revenue of these income/expense units.

Finally, some units have specific needs that cannot be satisfied with the common infrastructure mechanisms provided to the institution as a whole. These units invest their own funds, based on local priority decisions.  The reallocation of funds by the School of Business Administration to the Windows-NT platform for faculty and students is a recent example. Numerous computers, printers, etc. are purchased each year from extramural funding. In addition, such units can establish their own income/expense activities, so that their investments are leveraged by providing specialized services to others.

This system has a number of disadvantages as well. Centralized units must assess the needs of the "average" user in supporting legacy applications, but users often cite a lack of flexibility. At the other extreme, the expenditures of the distributed units often lack coordination, either with each other or with central units. Issues of "turf" are often difficult to resolve, resentment between the "have nots" and the "have's" can be substantial, and necessary functions cannot be implemented because the level of desktop technology is very non-uniform across the institution.

We discuss here mechanisms that can be used to improve our present means of funding IT-related activities. Our primary goals are to utilize the strong leadership of a central IT administration to help us attain the advantages of coordination, standards, and a uniformly implemented technology "floor", while maintaining the advantages of direct user, department, and college participation in technology funding.

Coordinated IT Budgeting

Two principles are likely to apply to budgeting for IT expenses in the next few years. First, our total allocations for IT-related activities will not increase substantially as a fraction of the university's total budget. Second, our legitimate requirements for information technology will substantially exceed our available funds.

An important focus of the CLIO will be to find acceptable solutions in the face of these conflicting principles. The most critical roles will be to

Emphasis on mission-critical applications: Establishing a working set of priorities is a process that is ongoing, but is not yet centralized for information technology. This effort, the subject of this overall report, should be developed further in conjunction with the President and Provost, as well as deans, directors, and representative faculty, staff, and students. Two important ramifications of this process have implications for budgeting. The CLIO:

Establishing a constructive climate for IT: A quality information technology environment depends on enthusiastic collaboration between those providing technology resources and support, and those utilizing information technology to accomplish their jobs. Both groups need to perceive ownership of the mission of the University, and its relationship to the use of information technology. Each must respect the other's abilities and capacities. It will also be necessary for the CLIO to establish funding mechanisms that empower both groups, and assure they remain matched for maximum productivity.

Making our investments worth more: Ultimately, we will need to accomplish our aims with restricted budgets. This will mean:

Flexible Reallocation of Resources

Resource allocation must be broadly and flexibly defined to include

To accomplish this aim under the constraint of level funding, it will be necessary to shift resources from some present applications to other, possibly new ones.  As technology advances, we must be able to evolve along with it. We must ensure that we don't lock ourselves into legacy applications, or organizational structures too rigid to change.  Ultimately, this means the mix of technology initiatives subjected to the analyses outlined above will include our full range of IT operations.  We must be prepared to:

Change should not be disorderly or abrupt.  Planning for new IT initiatives will provide for gradual migration wherever possible. As we move ahead, certain jobs will become obsolete. The University must provide opportunities for individuals in activities no longer critical to our function, to join other efforts that are moving ahead.

A significant fraction of our IT budgets comes from the voluntary contribution of units with a stake in the technological support of our educational mission. The CLIO should not work under the assumption that these contributions are readily available for reallocation. Such attempts would cause these contributions to diminish or disappear, weakening us. Instead, ongoing reallocation of centrally controlled resources will be pursued, where possible, to leverage these voluntary allocations to increase our overall good.

Mechanisms for Review, Approval and Analysis

As discussed above, budgeting for IT must be attuned to our overall mission, with ongoing evaluation of the value of our investments. This evaluation will be based upon annual submissions by recipients of information technology funding. These reports will take two forms. Some individuals or units will submit IT budget requests directly to the CLIO. Deans, when requesting IT-related funding in their normal budgets, will be expected to address similar issues. The CLIO will articulate the priorities to be used in determining funding priorities. These will include:

The centrality of the educational mission.

In order to use our resources wisely, we must continuously and consistently evaluate the role of our investments in our central educational mission. The identification and justification of this role will be the core of any budget requests.

The best return on investment for the institution.

Each of our investments must produce something of demonstrable value to our mission. It will be incumbent on those receiving funding to identify how that value will be measured, and to demonstrate performance in requests for continued funding.

Recognition and analysis of the total cost of IT initiatives.

It is easy, in planning for technological investments, to think simply in terms of the immediate costs of acquisition.  Many of these technological investments require substantial ongoing support, for issues ranging from physical facilities to upgrades and hardware maintenance, through user support and training.  Our financial analyses of the relative merits of various investments need to recognize all of these costs as we weigh the value of any proposed investment.

Restructuring the IT Budget

Once new IT leadership is in place, the University must begin strategic reorganization of its IT budgets to align them with the institutional mission. This process will necessarily be a phased one.  Strategic allocation decisions will be made first in an effort to redesign IT processes, then to support investment opportunities.  This budgeting process will help lead to long term sustainable budgets for both IT and the University. In order to achieve this goal we must creatively use budgeting techniques such as:

Required Actions: