To save resources and improve services, the University of Oregon will soon launch a series of projects to reduce the profusion of software applications in use at the university.
The consolidation effort is the product of an assessment released in July by the enterprise university applications project, the final project initiated under the umbrella of Transform IT, the university's information technology restructuring process.
The project team found more than 1,100 applications in use at the UO, at an aggregate annual cost of $8.9 million, excluding staffing costs.
Currently, without any central catalog of applications, different UO units often buy or develop similar kinds of software, leading to unnecessary spending, inconsistent experiences for users, a proliferation tools for IT staff to support and impeded data flow throughout the institution.
"We've long known this was a problem," said Jessie Minton, vice provost for information services and chief information officer. "With this assessment, we now have data, as well as engagement and input from campus. This allows us have a clearer sense of what's broken and where to begin fixing it."
The team, consisting of 15 representatives from 10 departments, recommended that enterprise applications — generally, software that requires IT staff to implement — be hosted, supported, managed and purchased centrally by Information Services whenever possible. They also compiled a short list of application categories, such as videoconferencing and room and event scheduling, that would be the easiest or highest priority to consolidate.
"This project has identified some clear, immediate opportunities for rationalizing the university's software applications and services," Minton said.
At a virtual town hall meeting this summer, Minton outlined plans for further analysis and implementation of the team's recommendations.
"Where appropriate, we will reduce the number of applications and reduce our costs through volume discounts or enterprise licenses," Minton said. "Although we have a lot of work ahead, the good news is that we already have a lot of work underway as well."
One example is the communications and collaborative technologies program, formerly referred to as unified communications. With Zoom and Microsoft Teams now available campuswide, departments currently using other videoconferencing applications may be able to switch to one of those two tools.
Other consolidation possibilities include:
- Office productivity and storage: Departments can use Microsoft Office 365 and Dropbox without additional expenditures.
- Customer relationship management: A separate initiative is underway to launch Slate, and transition away from many other applications for customer relationship management, or CMS, currently in use.
- Room and event scheduling: More departments could shift to the existing tool, known as EMS.
- Password management: The introduction of a central service could better meet the individual needs of staff, faculty members and students while also increasing the overall cybersecurity of the university.
The project team also recommended exploring the feasibility of consolidating the university's custom software development efforts, which are currently distributed across more than 30 departments.
The application data gathered by the team will seed a dynamic new catalog to help the UO community better understand which applications are already available, preventing future duplication of purchases.
More details about Minton's recommended implementation approach are available on the Transform IT website.
With President Michael H. Schill's recent announcement of the university's shift to primarily remote and online instruction for fall term, Minton said Information Services would assess the availability of IT staff and campus stakeholders to begin participating in projects this fall to further analyze and implement the approved changes on a category-by-category basis. Implementation may involve the reorganization of IT staff who support applications in some categories.
"We will continue to prioritize technology initiatives to support remote teaching, learning and work," Minton said. "However, the current situation around COVID-19 makes it more important for us to pursue these efficiencies, not less."
One leader in the planning effort has just joined the UO from Oregon State University. Melody Riley started Sept. 21 as associate chief information officer for applications and middleware, overseeing strategy and operations for applications such as Canvas, Banner, Zoom, Office 365 and Slate, as well as application development, integration and hosting, database management, and identity and access management.
“Melody brings great experience working at the intersection of technology and people,” Minton said. “I believe she will be instrumental in advancing the technology services that enable academics, research and administrative operations at the University of Oregon.”
More information about Transform IT is available on the Transform IT website, where Information Services posts frequent updates.
—By Nancy Novitski, University Communications