Duke ITAC - October 27, 2005 Minutes

DUKE ITAC - October 27, 2005 Minutes


October 27, 2005

Members present : Ed Anapol, Owen Astrachan, Pakis Bessias, John Board, Shailesh Chandrasekharan, Dick Danner represented by Ken Hirsch, Shiva Das, David Jamieson-Drake, David Jarmul, Eileen Kuo, Kyle Johnson, George Oberlander, Lynne O’Brien, Mike Pickett, Rafael Rodriquez, Joseph Myerowitz, Dalene Stangl, Molly Tamarkin, Christopher Timmins, Robert Wolpert

Guests: Kevin Witte, OIT; Hannah Arps, A&SIST; Vernon Thronton, OIT; Casey Alt, ISIS

Start time : 4:02 p.m.


I. Review of Minutes and Announcements:

  • Futures Forum on Backup & Archive scheduled 11-16-05

    Mike Pickett says John Board and other luminaries join us for the Futures Forum in the Searle Center on November 16. We’re going to speak about things we should be doing in the next year to be smarter about backup and archive strategies and what we should do to protect ourselves for today.

    John Board says we heard from John Simon a few weeks ago on how strategic planning will work, that we will receive plans from all of the various schools and units. The first five of those have arrived to me. We’ll circulate those to everyone so we can be free to comment.

    Robert Wolpert asks is there any confidentiality concern with this?

    John Board says it shouldn’t go beyond the committee, but ITAC is specifically charged with this.

II. ISIS update: TechTuesdays & Podcasting Symposium - Casey Alt

Casey Alt says part of the academic mission of ISIS is to try to be a catalyst for technology innovations across different disciplines at Duke. One of the ideas we had for this year was a podcasting symposium. It grew out of inviting a speaker to talk at an undergraduate course; we said, why not do a half-day workshop? It ended up turning into a two-day event. We started getting feedback that there was a big demand for this kind of thing. It ended up being something, in retrospect, pretty unique. We tried to turn it into a symposium of business people, people in the legal field, people in the humanities, and tech industry people; we cast the net widely to get as many people together as we could. We also tried to open it to the community by making it free and feeding them, which we tried to do without making it overly corporate.

There were two days of events with multiple panels. It came together really well. The feedback was remarkable, and we had people saying these people are not usually talking about issues together. People who attended seemed really happy we were doing anything on podcasting in general, and that it had been deemed worthy of university attention meant a lot to people. It was also g\Good to increase awareness about ISIS. The symposium was held in the CIEMAS auditorium, and we tried to webcast it broadly. We got a lot of good feedback about how to do that better, and I think we could have done that better.

Tech Tuesdays is an idea that came about last spring. We ran a pilot last semester to see if it could take hold. The idea was to create a forum to cross ideas that don’t usually get crossed. From the faculty side, we get people saying, “I really want to do this but don’t know how”; IT people say, “I wish were more involved in the intellectual life of the university.” We get them together and talk about what they think are the most interesting topics. Rebecca Miller from OIT recently talked about a podcasting management tool she is working on. We have an audience of about 40 people who come biweekly.

John Board asks what are demographics of the group?

Casey says it is mostly tech people; we don’t have the diversity of faculty yet that I’d like to have. This year is better organized, with a full year’s schedule set out in advance.

John Board asks what was most fascinating revelation that you came out with from the podcasting symposium?

Casey Alt says I was impressed by how highly people thought of the fact that Duke would do this in the first place: they were really grateful. From our perspective, we say “Let’s look at now rather than 3 or 4 years down the road.” It’s hard to find a space to do that, to do what we wanted to at Duke.

Kyle Johnson asks did you have any technical difficulties?

Casey says first of all it was hard to get access to the space beforehand; even with access to space the audio part was blocked, and it turned out no one could hear audio outside of Duke. Getting that changed was really difficult. It was also hard to set up the cameras in that space.

Shiva Das asks do you think it would be benefitial to advertise [Tech Tuesdays] to undergrads?

Casey says we send out announcements to several undergrad lists; we’d love to have more undergrads there – it can only enrich the experience, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest.

Molly Tamarkin says one thing that can be hard is finding new ideas for presentations. There is a list Kevin Davis manages that would be a good group to send this to and ask for suggestions.

Casey says it is also hard to find volunteers to get up and present about what they’re working on.

III. Job search updates: A&S Assoc Dean, etc - Michael Pickett

Mike Pickett says the search is underway. We have a search committee composed of faculty reps from the natural sciences and math areas, social sciences, arts and humanities, and Tom Mann who represents the administration of Arts & Sciences. We had 20 applicants, some sitting CIOs from small colleges and some CIOs of medical schools; our job as a committee was taking the group of people who applied and going through 2 consecutive reviews of the applicants, removing those we think would have difficulty with the position or who were clearly overshadowed by others in the pool. We ended up with six applicants, and those are being interviewed. We’ve got 4 down, and 2 more to go. After that the committee will take the results and make a decision over the next 2 weeks to recommend a group of finalists to be interviewed by a larger group of people. Comments of the large group will be funneled to Tracy George, and they will make a decision.. I’d like to see someone on site by the first of the year.

John Board asks can you comment a bit on how joint reporting will actually work?

Mike says OIT and A&S will be going 50/50 on salary. The way we are thinking this will work is A&S will be the ones that set priorities in terms of the functions with the most importance to faculty and administration in A&S. On the OIT side they will work with the associate dean in terms of what technology to use and try to identify what things could be more effectively done if we collaborate with schools or if we were to take on some things. The main thing I’d like to see is someone who could navigate many different areas of the university; one real difficult thing is that we’re really trying to help faculty and departments who use staff we really don’t have control over. Also, he or she will have to work with chairs to find out what is important in their department. It is going to take some real communication and real personal skills to work with staff that may not 100% report to this person.

Other job searches within OIT: for the position of network director, that search continues; the search for systems programming director continues too.

IV. Updates from Educause 2005 - Molly Tamarkin, Lynne O'Brien, Billy Herndon, Tammy Closs, Michael Gettes

Molly Tamarkin says one thing I noticed is it didn’t feel that there was a consistent topic that I was hearing in the corridors or meeting spaces; it seemed very subdued. Last year an almost parallel conference happened about open source software; it was on everyone’s mind. At an open source roundtable there was a discussion of what Educause’s role should be, which was hard to answer since everything we eating, drinking and wearing was sponsored by a vendor. The most interesting session I went to with the Gardner Group. Tbe director gave a review of 10 years of IT things that didn’t happen. “Re-engineering,” for one, is something we don’t banter about anymore; the idea of education as entertainment hasn’t really taken hold. Another thing he noted was that for him the biggest issue in higher education - and anywhere - is the aging of the work force. This isn’t particularly an IT problem, but in IT we may see a trend like with the dot com boom where it will be hard to find staff in universities because we couldn’t respond to industry changes so quickly. There is a possibility that with work force aging universities will have the same problems. Another session was called “How to stretch staff with a department transfer program.” Some places have such problems with funding that a person in charge of IT for department does not even any experience; they will outsource their help desk to anyone.

Lynne O’Brien says one thing I heard a little was a trend towards thinking about people being able to get content when and where they need it, and then be able to detach from the network. There was a speaker who talked about an Atom product for Blackboards where it can synch content to a laptop and you only need to download new stuff. The iPod project is still enormously interesting to people. I talked with a couple of publishers who very aware of the iPod project, and they were shaken up about the rapid pace at which content was getting away from them. One person was the director of future initiatives for a textbook company, and they are thinking about totally disaggregating the concept of textbook, since some people want only web content or certain chapters.

Kyle Johnson says Molly put a word to something I noticed in general: discussions were a lot more “me”- focused. There was a rather lengthy list from a woman from Ohio State about all the things they had done, and she neglected to talk about the theme of the talk, which was dynamic stability. I attended a session on Broadband America, an initiative at Educause to get more involved in policy making. I attended session on the ECAR data survey. It is interesting to see institutions starting to spend on IT again, to see security issues in the administrative community pushing back towards the top of the list, and spending issues dropping out of the top 5.

Molly says I went to a session on research and computing partnerships, and for the first time I heard people talk about computing in terms of humanities and not just high performance computing. Also, there is a trend toward centralizing research computing support. The University of Tennesee, Purdue, and Virginia have centralized databases for innovative technology. My question for them: how do centralize something when it scales?

Kyle says interestingly, the vendor floor, square footage-wise, was smaller this year; if you discount vendors hawking the same product last year or the same product as someone two spots down, there was almost nothing there. Often there is some big thing, but this year there must have been a dozen vendors talking about wireless security.

Mike Pickett says he had lunch with Billy Herndon and a few others, and though they couldn’t make it today I wanted to pass on some of their impressions. Billy was intrigued by the number of people talking about disaster recovery in light of recent storms. Michael Gettes mentioned vendor consolidation. Other thing he thought was interesting was that a lot of people were talking about open learning community type of software. Discussion about the PeopleSoft takeover by Oracle was big. Michael thought it as interesting that Oracle announced there are going to officially provide CalDAV as a product in the next year.

V. Collaboration plans between the A&S & OIT helpdesks - Hannah Arps, Vern Thornton

Mike Pickett says part of this is just a pilot effort to see can do this with other schools, can we make it work?

Hannah Arps says for a few months we have been looking at services Arts & Sciences provides and are trying to find ways we can collaborate better with OIT. One service we looked at early on was the A&S help desk. It’s pretty small, with 1.5 to 2 people, and does basic desktop support, takes questions, and passes anything they can’t handle quickly to the department support person. It seemed that we could pretty easily fold our phone support into what OIT was already providing, which would allow us to free up a couple positions we started to need for department support. Vern is the OIT Help Desk manager, and he and I have been working closely on this. We came up with a recommendation that the Help Desk take over the phone support. A&S has not used Remedy before, but in order for OIT to be able to send a ticket back, we had to get our folks onto Remedy.

One function our help desk always performed is back-up. A lot of departments have one person or a half person for support; if they get sick, a person from the A&S help desk can provide triage for a situation. We ended up using a remedy group system to group our department support people together into functional groups to provide back-up for each other. For the user, it’s seamless: they call the OIT Help Desk, their request gets routed to the remedy group, and if that person is not there, their backup gets the ticket.

John Board asks what is the historical call volume of Arts & Sciences versus the OIT Help Desk?

Hannah says the number at A&S is pretty small. Most support requests go directly to the departmental support people; our help desk is kind of a backup.

Vernon Thornton says it’s about 200 calls a month for A&S; 200 would be pretty low for a day at the OIT Help Desk.

Robert Wolpert asks what kind of calls do you get at A&S?

Hannah says a lot of calls end up being forwarded to OIT; a lot of benefit of this is to clear up possible confusion; people don’t realize Arts & Sciences and OIT are separate.

George Oberlander asks have you had to change the process in that regard, because it is now interfaced with the OIT Help Desk, to make users aware of changes?

Hannah says that is something Vern and I have been talking about a lot. We’ve been talking about making sure we have a process in place so if the A&S server is down we know how to survey that kind of stuff.

Vern says you can’t foresee everything; we’re not on the hook to support everything. We’re very familiar with this support structure and very comfortable with what Hannah and I have worked on.

Hannah says there are now a lot of loose ends to tie up. Our goal is that it shouldn’t be huge shift, though users may lose a little bit of the personal service the A&S help desk gave.

John Board asks was the migration to Remedy difficult?

Hannah says we had a training session and may have another. Remedy is pretty straightforward once you start using it.

Molly Tamarkin says we looked to moving to Remedy a while back, but we found out it would have to be so geared toward strange operating systems we would have to add a lot of areas. Did you have to do that?

Hannah says we basically set up groups and didn’t add anything to the category item type stuff. Mostly stuff that comes through the help desk is similar to what is already in there.

The hardest thing was that Remedy really focuses on groups, and the current system really focuses on individuals. How do we group people in ways that make sense? I think we came up with pretty good groupings, and we’ll see how things go.

VI. Duke web frontpage revision: update, process and timeline - Ben Riseling, David Jarmul

Ben Riseling says we started the process around February of this year.

Why we are doing this: For one, there is an internal communications committee formed at request of the university trustees that had a number of fascinating results. One of the one key findings is that Duke people are simultaneously overwhelmed by information and under-informed. Other key things: overall, the leading form to learn of things at Duke is by word of mouth. Also, there was extensive faculty representation on that committee. What we took out of that was a need to look at all of Duke’s publications and see if they’re filling their mission. We took a look at one of our key publications, Duke Dialogue. Through a series of targeted focus groups we realized it is not really working in its current format. There was also an extensive discovery process on the Duke site. We decided it was time to redo the Duke site, and we are also going to be discontinuing the current print version of Dialogue.

David Jarmul says we are going to replace it with a new monthly publication online, and we are also working on a new publication of to deal with you things need to know as an employee.

Ben says the Duke homepage is old and collapsing under the sheer weight of the information it is trying to hold.

[Ben demonstrates some designs for the new homepage.]

How we are going to do this: We started with an extensive discovery process. We looked at all the results from the internal communications committee and also worked with undergraduate admissions on the design. We delayed our project until that site went live so we could start to get towards some consistent design on top-tier sites. We did focus groups, surveys, and posted ads in The Chronicle to take the survey. The process continues, and we have a comment blog. Once we chose a designer we had that design firm meet and refine the discovery process. We are going to be doing a number of usability tests with focus groups. The first will be in November with several groups with undergrads, especially freshmen and sophomores.

John Boards says as we move from an aesthetic to a technical design, we want to be assure we are not locking into certain browsers and heavyweight networks.

Ben says there is a document on the Web Services site that lists browser compliance and web production standards. There are a number of accessibility concerns we will be addressing; Duke doesn’t have specific a policy to that, but does provide recommendations as to what is healthy.

Currently the Duke homepage takes close to 70 seconds to download on 56k modem. IWe’ve never gotten a complaint about it, but it is very worrying. We have a meeting scheduled to talk with Michael Gettes with the design firm.

David says this site will become more for an external audience. We’re creating a new site called Duke Today that we hope will emerge as a go-to place for the
Duke community. It will have a rich collection of news and also a lot of personalizable things. We are trying to create a central place so instead of having 8 zillion things going into someone’s inbox, we have one place where they can find what need.

Ben says we’re still on track to launch sometime in early next year, probably January, though we still want to do extensive testing.

Rafael says it is important to pay attention so search engines like Google find you right away. Prior to doing that, we did search for the medical school, and we were on page seven; within two weeks we were on page one.

Ben says one good thing is the design firm is partnered with a firm out of Mebane that does astounding things with searching optimization. Our concern is not so much with the duke.edu homepage, but its secondary pages and certainly the Duke Today sight.

Mike Pickett says as someone who goes to an awful lot of institutions’ sites, one thing I always hit is the directory button, and I can’t quite see it on this.

Ben says that is an idea the design firm came up with. The idea is to combine the search for the directory and site.

Ben says I encourage you all to join the blog discussion on the new site designs.

End time : 5:30 p.m.