Strategic Plan: 2012 -2015

Background

In May 2000, the University of Pittsburgh's Information Technology Steering Committee (ITSC) submitted to the Chancellor a strategic plan to guide the development of our technology environment: "An Information Technology Foundation for the 21st Century." That plan described the then-current environment in terms of its infrastructure, support, programs, and resources, and, perhaps even more importantly, recognized and acknowledged that the rapidly changing nature of technology and its potential applications within our University environment were highly dynamic. A hallmark of information technology planning at Pitt has been this recognition of flexibility and responsiveness as key values.

In 2003, an updated plan was prepared to identify progress made, to describe actions to be undertaken in the coming years, and to provide a framework within which the development and delivery of information technology could be increasingly responsive, stable, and secure.

Those earlier documents provide the foundation for Computing Services and System Development's (CSSD's) strategic approach to providing innovative, reliable, and secure information technology services to support learning, teaching, research, and business at the University.

The 2012-2015 CSSD Strategic Plan acknowledges the foundational technology goals established in the University's technology plan and identifies strategic areas of effort involving current and future revenue and staffing resources. This plan retains the core goal of the University's information technology plan - providing a world-class information technology environment - and advances progress toward that goal through strategic efforts to efficiently deliver services within a stable, secure, and responsible technology infrastructure.

Looking Back

Prior to 2000, the University managed technology services through several central administrative offices and a number of department-based support efforts. In 2000, Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) was created, with a staff of 262. This was in support of the determination that centrally-supported enterprise services were key to strengthening the technology infrastructure and developing responsive, stable, and reliable services to effectively meet the strategic needs of the University.

CSSD implemented the technology goals outlined in the original planning document. Examples include:

  • Network infrastructure was upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet, considerably increasing network speed
  • Port speed was increased from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps
  • University Internet bandwidth was doubled immediately and significantly increased annually from that point forward
  • Deteriorating network infrastructure components were identified, replaced, and upgraded, and network reliability was improved through the implementation of greater redundancy
  • Digital modems replaced the analog modems in the University's pool, improving reliability and connection speed
  • Wireless network standards were developed and implemented, and wireless access was provided in several locations
  • A central directory was developed as the authoritative source for identity information and authentication
  • A comprehensive data warehouse was developed to aggregate data from enterprise systems and a new student information system selected and purchased
  • A state-of-the-art backup system was implemented for centralized backup of enterprise systems
  • E-mail kiosks (109) were installed across campus to provide convenient access to email and the Internet in high traffic areas

While a number of these goals appear modest, such as provision of wireless access in ‘several' locations and implementation of email kiosks, these were cutting edge at the time. Others - such as the increase in University bandwidth and the need to replace end-of-life components of the network infrastructure - remain pertinent to CSSD's ongoing strategic efforts.

The understanding articulated by the University's Information Technology Steering Committee (ITSC) ten years ago remains even more relevant today: "[The University of Pittsburgh's] reliance upon information technology becomes ever greater, and the threats to our information technology environment from misuse and attack have never been greater. In response to these increasing threats, greater emphasis must be placed on securing our resources. This will be accomplished in a manner that is sensitive to our particular needs as a research institution...."

In 2003, CSSD identified a set of key long-range objectives and strategies specifically developed to strengthen and enhance Pitt's information technology environment. Those objectives and strategies have guided development of the University's central technology services and are outlined below. CSSD is now at a point where work in these areas has been completed or, in the case of objectives such as ‘enhanced mobile computing capabilities,' ready to take new shape in response to evolving technology.

2003: Long-range Areas of Focus Identified Projects Completed 2012 Update
Implementation of comprehensive security plan X Security plan was implemented and is reviewed and updated regularly, as are University policies related to information security. Security remains a continued area of focus
Upgrade of network infrastructure to 10 Gigabit Ethernet Backbone X Now extending the infrastructure to leased and ‘near campus’ facilities. Continued maintenance and upgrade of our network infrastructure is essential
Increased network redundancy X Network redundancy was implemented in core network sites across the Pittsburgh campus and at the Network Operations Center. Redundancy for our Internet connection has been in place for several years. Two separate connections from different providers ensure that failure of one connection/provider does not impact University connectivity to the Internet. Bandwidth was recently doubled ensuring that performance would not be impacted should it be necessary to operate with only one of the two connections
Movement to Single Protocol and implementation of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) as vendor support develops Underway Movement to single protocol was completed in 2004. Implementation of IPv6 is just now gaining vendor support. A project is underway to complete the transition to this new protocol
Establishment of University network operations center to monitor the status and performance of the network and central services and systems on a constant basis X The NOC was recognized by ComputerWorld honors program in 2005 for proactive monitoring of the University’s network. User reported problems decreased by 64% within six months of operation. Use by schools and faculty of the NOC’s virtualization and hosting services has increased sharply in the past year; continued investment of resources is an important strategic priority
Enhanced mobile computing capabilities X While capabilities available in 2003 have been enhanced, this area will remain a strategic focus as we adapt to consumerization pressures and the ‘bring your own device’ environment
Upgrade of voice network X The voice network has been upgraded several times since 2003. To reduce costs, we recently migrated Verizon phone lines to the University’s PBX voice network
Usage-based cost model developed and implemented to replace per-port fee X The monthly port fee was eliminated and a network access fee was implemented in FY07 at a per-staff rate of $210/year and per-faculty rate of $100/year. This fee is used to cover a portion of operating costs for wired and wireless network infrastructure. Support for an increased access fee in FY14 is requested
Central directory service enhanced by addition of authorization functions X Now exploring advanced solutions to directory management. In addition, new security protocols and cost-efficiency goals require an enterprise-wide move to the active directory system; this will be addressed as part of the 2012-2015 focus areas of security and maintenance of existing systems
Enhancement of enterprise web services and portal X Centralized web services mandated by the provost and executive vice chancellor eliminated the need for departmental web infrastructure and support, reducing cost and improving security. The portal was redesigned and promoted as My Pitt, with single sign on access to an extensive range of University services. The portal is visible and heavily used (approximately 3 million logins per month). An upgrade or possible replacement of the underlying system is being considered and will potentially require a significant allocation of resources
Implementation of new enterprise student administration system X The PeopleSoft system was implemented on schedule and within budget. The system is robust and effective for the major task it accomplishes. A major next step will be to develop an interface between the system and the user to improve the user experience

Looking Forward

General Context

CSSD was established to fulfill two overarching goals for the University: (1) to develop, maintain, secure, and continually enhance the University's technology infrastructure, and (2) to provide centrally-supported enterprise technology services to the University.

As a large public research University, Pitt requires a dynamic technology environment that responds to the changing needs of teaching, learning, research, and business. Staff and funding resources are dedicated to:

  • maintenance and upgrade of existing services and infrastructure;
  • regular assessment of existing services, infrastructure, and University demand;
  • evaluation of new technologies and applications that may better serve University needs; and
  • retirement and replacement of enterprise services and applications

By 2003, the applications provided for the University's enterprise services included a student administration system, data warehouse, course management system, server hosting, email and calendar, web integration, and a University-wide portal. All of these services have seen a significant growth in user demand. The pace of technology adoption and change has also accelerated, and requires planning now for possible replacement of enterprise applications, and the addition of new enterprise services (such as cloud storage, mobile apps, enterprise document management).

Since CSSD's establishment in 2000, however, the size of the staff has decreased while competition for skilled technology staff increased, making it more and more difficult to recruit and retain qualified IT staff. As resources have declined over the past decade, CSSD concentrated efforts on maintaining the University's technology infrastructure. In order to address the University's technology needs and not lose ground against other universities' technology offerings, resources are required to ensure that the emphasis placed on the maintenance and enhancement of the infrastructure continues but that resources are also available to evaluate and adopt new applications that can best serve the emerging technology needs of the University community.

Key Issues Related to Demand v. Resources

Specific issues related to emerging University technology needs include:

  • Infrastructure Maintenance and Enhancement
  • Demand for Mobile-enabled Applications and Services
  • Support for Institutional Use of Mobile Devices for teaching, learning, and research
  • Enhanced Development and Support of Business Intelligence and Decision-support tools
  • Development of Research Support Infrastructure
  • Replacement of Enterprise Systems with Open Source Solutions
  • Rapidly Increasing Storage Demands
  • Need for Enterprise Cloud Computing Strategy
  • Support for School and Department Projects and Initiatives
  • Increased Security Requirements for Services and Data
  • Implementing Technology-based Cost Savings Initiatives
  • Adapting Technology Services to address Regulatory Compliance
  • Software Application Training Support for Students and Faculty
  • Attracting and Retaining Qualified Staff

Strategic Areas of Focus: 2012-2015

In order to make the most effective use of resources, CSSD will focus efforts in several key areas as described here. Our annual planning document will include an assessment of progress in each of these areas.

Infrastructure and security will always be priority efforts; while specific examples of projects for both are noted here, infrastructure enhancement and security play a central role in all other focus areas described in this plan.

Self-Service Functionality

University students, faculty, and staff expect their University interactions to reflect the trend toward self-service. To add self-service functionality to our existing and future services will be an area of concentration over the next few years and will require a different technical expertise than currently exists within the organization. Eventually these efforts should result in reduced support costs, but initially both new development and support of the existing system will be required. Examples of self-service functionality include:

  • Provide tools to allow users to manage quotas without contacting CSSD.
  • Provide tools to allow individuals or departmental administrators to manage the allocation and registration of network addresses.
  • Make firewall rule sets available to departmental IT administrators.
  • Automate provisioning of websites for departmental and faculty pages. This process will allocate space, reserve the name, perform a security scan, and activate the site.
  • Offer online technology training and tutorials for popular software and University-specific services

Mobile Strategy

Mobile devices are dramatically changing how technology is used in higher education. Services must be developed and implemented with the understanding that many, if not most users will expect to access educational services, resources, and data via some type of mobile device. The complexity of developing services and systems to work with the multitude of devices is only one aspect of the challenge of developing a workable mobile strategy. Another significant challenge is implementing appropriate controls to secure data while making it highly accessible. A February 2011 worldwide survey of corporate employees found that on a daily basis 34% used two computing devices, 42% used three, and 22% used four or more. Examples of services related to a mobile strategy include:

  • Access to course materials and lectures
  • Access to restricted and secure resources such as enterprise administrative systems (i.e., PRISM, and data warehouse), grades, course schedules, student records, bill payment, licensed software, departmental systems, library materials, etc.
  • Printing from mobile devices
  • In addition to traditional web-based applications, providing mobile versions of these applications

Cloud Services

Cloud computing is a term used for computing resources that are located remotely and delivered over a network, often the Internet. These resources can include storage, applications, or computer processing power. The services can be provided internally or by a commercial vendor. Cloud computing can provide cost savings because of economies of scale and centralized management, and can provide flexibility because resources can be increased or decreased dynamically. Slow adoption of cloud computing using an outside vendor is related to security concerns, actual security incidents, and an uncertainty related to availability and reliability. Identifying the appropriate use of cloud services for the University will require an evaluation of vendors, services, and the development of policies and guidelines to govern use. Examples of cloud-based services useful to the University community include:

  • Identification of a product, such as box.net, to be used for storage of non-sensitive data and integration of this product into our infrastructure
  • Integration of internal resources (such as the Simulation and Modeling Cluster) and external cloud computing processing resources to support research efforts
  • Internal and external resources for advanced collaboration services such as instant messaging, video conferencing, and online meetings

Storage

Storage demands have increased dramatically over the past three years. Industry expectations estimate that demand for data storage will increase as much as 100% annually. Data intensive applications, multimedia, and large databases contribute to storage requirements. Researchers are often using collections of data sets that are large and complex and require special storage. This has become known as ‘big data' and as this grows at the University storage solutions will need to be developed to accommodate it.

In addition, requirements for research data retention, archiving, and ongoing access have recently been increased. A project to explore solutions is currently underway with the University Library and Office of the Provost. Examples of data storage services at the University include:

  • Storage utilization improvement project
  • New storage infrastructure
  • Development of NSF-compliant research data storage system

Enterprise Business Intelligence: Expanded Analytics Service

The University's third-generation data warehouse is being developed using best practices and an understanding of higher education's business intelligence needs; it is no longer simply a repository for data. Business intelligence practices -- including adoption of standard, verified sets of data and powerful query and data visualization tools -- provide a more effective and reliable way for users to access the data. The next step is to maximize accessibility and usefulness of the data through advanced analytics tools. Examples of next-stage business intelligence services include:

  • Dashboards that visually summarize data and provide access to key performance indicators
  • Acquisition of advanced analytic tools
  • Further development and enhancement of the Faculty Information System

Research Computing

Faculty and administrators are increasingly taking advantage of the cost and performance benefits of having computing clusters hosted at the Network Operations Center and in using the NOC-hosted Simulation and Modeling clusters. In the past, a concern about floor space in the data center was a problem; however the new, compact computing equipment alleviates this concern and the current challenge is power and cooling for these more dense computing systems.

Beyond the local level, CSSD participates as the University's representative in key research and education networks, such as Internet2, and KINBER's Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN). Examples of research computing efforts include:

  • Accommodating the expansion of Simulation and Modeling cluster (Frank).
  • Integrating storage with research computing cluster environment
  • Upgrading power and cooling infrastructure to accommodate research environment

Enterprise Infrastructure: Maintenance and Enhancement

The technology infrastructure that supports the University is invisible even though the smooth operation of the University requires that this infrastructure be reliable, secure, and state-of-the-art. The availability of email, desktop and wireless devices, phone service, internet access, server access, and enterprise systems rely on an effective technology infrastructure. The maintenance and enhancement of the technology infrastructure is the most important and resource intensive responsibilities.

All planning for staff and funding resources begins with planning for ongoing and significant investments in infrastructure. As one small example, the wired and wireless network is comprised of more than 2,500 routers and switches and approximately 2,400 wireless controllers and wireless access points. To maintain optimal service and keep pace with network advances wireless network switches and internet routers will need to be replaced in 2014.

In addition to the network, the University's technology infrastructure is comprised of numerous systems that support enterprise services. These systems require assessment to determine how they should be maintained, enhanced or replaced. It is also necessary to plan for provision of new enterprise services, such as document imaging, that will be important to ongoing business practices at the University. Because our services involve thousands of users with a broad range of expertise, enhancement and replacement of these systems is both challenging and resource-intensive.

Examples of enterprise infrastructure work includes:

  • Expansion of the wireless network for increased capacity and coverage
  • Replacement of network core infrastructure, including firewalls
  • Evaluation of course management systems that meet academic needs as well as learning outcome analysis
  • Enhanced virtual server infrastructure to support expected demand
  • Continued expansion of disaster recovery capabilities
  • Implementation of additional network security infrastructure
  • Ongoing review of infrastructure replacement roadmap

Security

The implementation and monitoring of enterprise IT security effectively reduces the impact of security threats and helps ensure the availability and reliability of the University's resources. As technology becomes more integrated and more distributed, however, the risk of exposure to security threats increases and our investment in security must also increase to effectively protect the University's data and technology resources. In addition, more rigorous government regulatory compliance requirements demand increased security resources to protect sensitive electronic information. According to industry predictions, the top five security threats of 2013 will be: mobile devices, social media, hackers, more sophisticated viruses, and accidental loss of storage devices. These will also require new security measures.

Examples of necessary security infrastructure efforts and approaches include:

  • Implement intrusion detection system for enterprise services
  • Mask sensitive data in enterprise databases and systems
  • Implement advanced security (two-factor authentication) for CSSD administrator access to systems
  • Extend advanced security to departmental administrator access
  • Streamline processes for encryption
  • Continue to increase authentication and logging capabilities

New and Additional Services

As mentioned throughout this document, a critical responsibility is the ongoing maintenance, enhancement, and upgrades to the technology infrastructure. As a leading research University, a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure that includes associated services and systems is expected. Significant staff and funding resources are dedicated to maintaining the robust technology infrastructure we currently have in place. This ensures that the University does not find itself in the position it was in prior to 2000 where the neglected state of the infrastructure had an extremely negative impact on the University community and took multiple years to correct.

The current challenge is continuing to dedicate the required resources to these tasks and identify additional resources to dedicate to keeping pace with evolving technology and changing University needs. New initiatives include review and evaluation of emerging technologies, review of existing systems and services, and identifying when/if services are ready to be replaced or eliminated. Support of the University community requires support of school and departmental initiatives. We face constant demand from individual users and from University units for new technologies and services improvements; in many cases the demands are reasonable for an institution of Pitt's caliber. Unfortunately, the strain on our existing resources has made it impossible for us to focus on new services.

In recent years, with support from senior administration, a number of distributed services have been centralized. The centralization of these services, such as email, web infrastructure, and firewalls, has not only increased the effectiveness and security of these systems but has also significantly reduced support costs. As schools and departments identify local solutions to meet their needs, CSSD is typically asked to participate in some part of the evaluation. The earlier this happens, the better the opportunity to evaluate the solution for potential use in multiple areas. This will also result in more robust solutions that conserve staff resources and reduce overall costs.

New and additional services or applications such as electronic document workflow, business intelligence analytics based on shared University data, and virtualized desktops are a few examples of technology we know that the University community wants and needs; these services can be provided most effectively through an enterprise approach.

Our vision for University technology is one that harnesses the strengths of individual departments while strategically investing in enterprise solutions.

Appendix: CSSD Guiding Principles and Practices

Mission and Values for University IT Environment: The University today relies heavily on the technology infrastructure managed by Computing Services. We are committed to delivering technology services that meet or exceed industry standards and regulatory requirements in security, availability, and reliability while meeting the unique challenges and requirements of an ambitious world-class research university.

Progress toward implementation has been made possible through CSSD staff adherence to a set of shared values, reinforced through quarterly all-staff meetings and internal communication venues (e.g., the My CSSD community within the portal):

  • Cooperation and Collaboration. We contribute to the success of colleagues within CSSD and colleagues and units across the University through effective communication and collaboration.
  • Do more with less. As an organization we consistently work to increase our productivity and effectiveness. We look for opportunities to develop and support University goals and departmental initiatives with cost-effective technology-related solutions.
  • Accountability. Our delivered services and infrastructure are secure, reliable, responsive, sustainable, and fiscally responsible. We accept responsibility for our products and their impact on the University.
  • Creativity. We anticipate opportunities and challenges and respond in ways that serve the best interests of the University. We foster an environment of creativity, learning, and resourcefulness with challenging work and opportunities for growth.
  • Service. We will exceed expectations with outstanding services and support that are responsive to the University's needs. We will empower members of the University community with audience-targeted information and self-service capabilities.
  • Integrity. We practice and promote integrity in all aspects of our work. We treat all University data with care and diligence, practicing and promoting secure computing. We honor our commitments and interact with others honestly and with respect.

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