In the world of computer technology, time doesn't just move rapidly, it shoots by like a rocket. New versions of software come out quicker than horror-movie sequels, and a few months from now today's most powerful and fastest computers will be considered middle-of-the-road. These tweaks and updates are intended to provide the user with an ever-expanding array of options, faster service and the latest in technological advances.
Similarly, when Stephanie Reel assumed her position as the university's chief information officer on Jan. 1, she inherited an information system that, although completely functional, needed an update of its own. Reel says that meant a more flexible and streamlined computer network, synergy at the management levels, better customer service and the availability of state-of-the-art digital media for students, staff, faculty and patients.
The result is Hopkins Information Technology Services, or Hopkins ITS, which combines the university's former Administrative Computing and Homewood Academic Computing departments. And, like a software or computer manufacturer, Reel's management team will keep Hopkins ITS forward-moving with the development of a strategic plan that will address the university's most pressing information technology needs for now and the future.
The ultimate goal, Reel says, is for Hopkins to become a leader in the world of information technology services.
"We want to be the best of the best in everything we do," Reel says. "So we need to know how technology can help us differentiate ourselves in a new way."
The decision to reorganize the university's information technology structure arose out of the search to replace the university's original CIO, David Kingsbury, who departed in May 1997.
"Ultimately [the search committee] saw there was an opportunity to look at systems across the entire university, including the health system," says Reel, who came to her new post after serving for five years as the vice president for information services for Johns Hopkins Medicine. "It is my job to serve the broadest customer base, including students, patients, faculty, staff, alumni and everyone in-between. We can never afford to be all things to all people, so instead it is my job to encourage the talented and skilled folks around Hopkins to work together to share solutions with one another so that we really can serve the broadest population."
To that end, Reel's first action upon arrival was to merge the university's Administrative Computing and Homewood Academic Computing departments and bring together all the networking for Homewood. The change, effective April 1, created Hopkins ITS, which focuses on the university's common financial and administrative systems and the needs of the Homewood campus while also providing network and telecommunications system support for Peabody, SAIS and the Montgomery County, Columbia and Downtown centers. East Baltimore and APL have separate IT organizations, which collaborate with Hopkins ITS.
The impetus for the merger, Reel says, was to create a more streamlined chain of command and to minimize redundancies. Reel says that previously some tasks were done two or three times, and there were several people doing, in essence, the same job. This reorganization meant the creation of five information technology departments:
Networking and Telecommunications Services, directed by Judi Wood, former acting director of Homewood Academic Computing;
Computer Operations and Support Services, led by Theresa Caruso, former director of Administrative Computing Operations;
Research and Instructional Technologies, headed by Lee Watkins, former assistant director of Homewood Academic Computing;
Management Information Systems, directed by Ronald Dempsey, former director of Administrative Computing's Management Information Systems; and
Administration and Planning, headed by Art Heigl, former director of Administrative Computing.
Each of the new departments has a distinct function and area of responsibility.
The Networking and Telecommunications Department is responsible for the wide area network for Homewood and the nonmedical campuses, microcomputing (hardware and software support for personal desktops), telecommunications (phone systems for Homewood and several other campuses) and central shared systems (JHUNIX).
Computing Operations and Support Services oversees data control and data entry of information for the entire university, including payroll, accounts payable, purchasing, expenditures, student records, financial aid, flexible benefits and pension information; training; security; and change control, which is the implementation of new equipment or a change in the network. The department also operates a new support services desk to give the entire university a 24-hour help line for solving Internet, hardware and software problems (see box).
The Research and Instructional Technologies Department is concerned with the use of technology as it pertains to scholarship, instruction and research. Some of the department's specific tasks include the oversight of computer classrooms and laboratories, implementation of distance learning initiatives and fulfilling the software and hardware needs of academic departments.
Management Information Systems is the component of Hopkins ITS that addresses application design and development, with a focus on the identification of solutions to the business needs of the university.
Administration and Planning's responsibilities include assisting the CIO in special projects and overseeing the funding and human resources issues for Hopkins ITS.
"We have moved folks around to give them broader responsibility and to create areas of distinction between their responsibilities," Reel says. "Everyone is on the same team now. If there is a problem, the members of each group can call on each other much more easily than before. There is just more information sharing now."
The information sharing is not confined just to Hopkins ITS, Reel says, as the executive management teams of the East Baltimore, Homewood and Applied Physics Laboratory information technology organizations now meet routinely to share opportunities for collaboration.
An example of this, Reel says, occurred with a recent computer security issue.
"A cross-entity team of security analysts and engineers came together as part of an emergency response team, discussed an action plan and implemented additional protective tools and technologies to provide safe and reliable access while blocking unwanted access," Reel said. "This required strong coordination and collaboration."
Reel says it's also easier for the end user to know where to go with a problem or a question.
"We see some remarkable opportunities in the helping of students and faculty in their research and teaching needs," Reel says. "And they now have a single point of contact for those kinds of needs." A faculty member, for example, would contact the Research and Instructional Technologies Department if he or she required a multimedia tool for the classroom.
The strategic planning effort, which Reel says is still in its infancy, is exploring the most pressing needs of the university's information systems and technology requirements, looking at everything from e-mail to intellectual property policy. During the past few months, Reel has met with deans, faculty, students and staff to get a sense of what areas the school needs to focus on in regard to how information is shared and delivered.
The 10 major areas already identified to be addressed in the strategic plan include telecommunications and network infrastructure; electronically enhanced education; digital libraries and knowledge management; alumni, faculty and student services; enterprise systems and executive decision support; virtual commerce; authentication, access and directory services; management of and protection of intellectual property; work force development and information technology staffing; and national and international leadership in the use of technology in support of research, teaching and patient care.
Reel is currently in the process of forming steering committees and user groups for each of these 10 areas, and a meeting schedule will be in place by September.
"It is clear we have a long way to go," Reel says. "But it is equally clear that we have the right people serving as sponsor and champion for the work that lies ahead."
In October Reel will share her findings with the university's board of trustees.
As for this major work in progress, Reel says she is aiming for the result to be a model of information technology services.
"Some day," she says confidently, "I am sure that people will look back to say that Hopkins was the place where technology was used wisely to make a positive difference in the educational experience of the student and the faculty, where technology was used wisely to improve the delivery of care and the management of disease, and where technology was used to set an example for providing unequaled service to the customers that we serve."
Any member of the Hopkins community interested in participating on a strategic planning committee or who has a question about the goals of the plan can contact Stephanie Reel by e-mail at email@example.com.