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October 30, 2008

On Strategic Outsourcing and the Future of IT on University Campuses

Here is a loose transcript of my comments on Outsourcing/Insourcing at this year's Educause point/counterpoint session.

a.In general, this is not a conversation about a set of binary choices.
b. This is also not a conversation about tactical outsourcing for discrete activities. That process has long been understood as an important option in the tool box of the CIO.
c. As CIO I view my human, technical, and financial resources as a portfolio to be managed
d. The twin drivers that dictate how I manage that portfolio are shifts in the internally-focused eco-system as well as exogenous dynamics outside the university, in the broader marketplace.
e. Once the University eco-system was the more dynamic of the two eco-systems. That is largely speaking no longer the case. We created organizations back in the late 80s and 90s that were architected to reflect our earlier role as developers and creators of technology in the technology development and deployment cycle. Speed and scale are now favoring the external environment. The consumer and market-supported enterprise environment. Many of our organizations remain calcified.
f. In a resource constrained environment, coupled with an ever growing set of expectations driven by the externally-facing marketplace tightly coupled with accelerated expectations within the University, IT organizations need to both reflect and re-position themselves. It is a classic conversation around core and context which makes intellectual sense. Most higher education institutions are budgeting, and reward systems are slow to move and are at best incremental. Thus there are few apparent incentives to be more aggressive, agile, and responsive. Where specifically and precisely do IT organizations bring value add to the mission of the Universities and the constituencies that they serve? Everything else is context. Whether Universities IT staff and service lines should in the context portion of the portfolio is what CIOs are paid to sort out through governance.

Here are three examples looking at customer satisfaction, commodity services, and emerging technology. In each case, we look to strategically outsource, not to existing providers but rather in identifying gaps in the marketplace, trying to creatively and collaboratively set up new service models and service organizations to attend to the opportunities.

(1) Help Desk. There are relatively few examples of best practices in the area of enterprise call centers or IT help desks within HiEd. They are typically under-capitalized, relatively poorly staffed, tooled, and managed. In many cases, help desks are still structured and supported through the organizational lenses of the mainframe era. There are silos of uneven support throughout most campuses
In 2003-04 we supported the creation of PerceptIS as an LLC with initial equity options. The management objective was to create a new organization, a break from the past, that would be created in support of a customer-centered, 7*24*365 environment, fully tooled, and managed based on best practices. Our goal was not to create PerceptIS as the call center for Case Western Reserve University, or even NEOhio. Our goal, from the outset was to create an organization with core competencies in this customer-facing arena and turn a context-services into a core services of a for-profit organization to service the broad education sector. We also wanted to leverage the growing availability of unified messaging services and encouraged the new company to become the ‘jet blue’ of call center technologies offering home-based, multi-lingual services homing, wherever possible back to Cleveland. We also wanted to encourage the development of a call center technology platform which would enable real time customer relationship management starting with proactive knowledge through our online directory services of the customer as they called, IM’d, or submitted on-line request for services. The company has grown more than 6 fold in the past 3 years and is servicing customers on both coasts and is about to move into expanded call center facilities in Cleveland.

(2) Networks in the research and education arena are sacred cows. In 2003 (5 years ago) we set out to create a non-profit that would create value-add in what was emerging as a commodity services line in the provisioning and continuous availability of massive amounts of bandwidth. The new organization is known as OneCommunity. Today in Northeast Ohio it services over 150 organizations in 22 counties connecting 1500 facilities and enabling the servicing of a huge ‘campus’ supporting passive gigabit on our intranet and aggregating 5+ Gigs of commodity internet (to supplement the specialized research needs on NLR and I2 which it also aggregates on behalf of NEOhio). Not only has this aggregation and co-operative model helped to drive down the cost of commodity bandwidth by more than 50% (because the P/L for this service line is discrete and based on cost-recovery), OneCommunity has managed to take a commodity service in which faculty, students, and staff simply expect it to be there, like digital air, and turn that contextual service into a core competency and a strategic play. Connect, Engage, and Transform has become the tag line for this organization that began with 1 seconded IT engineer from Case Western Reserve University and a volunteer. Today, 5 years later, this non-profit has nearly 40 FTE and a budget approaching $20m. It has just begun to develop a national center of excellence in community networking with support from a $25m grant from the Knight Foundation.

(3) CampusEAI is the third example. At the time, I felt the need to accelerate the adoption of what was then a new and emerging technology. The space was portals and integration services. This community-source project has evolved and while it provides the University with a modest revenue stream through a royalty licensing agreement, it now services and even hosts portal and adjacent services in more than 100 campuses around the world, again, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Whether it is a case of customer service ‘need’ (PerceptIS), commodity services being elevated to a strategic play (OneCommunity) or an approach to emerging technology (CampusEAI), it is important for us to think about the balance in advancing the mission of the institution as well as laying down new tracks. In each case as we look to strategically outsource we are looking to shift our limited fiscal and human resources in favor of value-add to the core mission of the institution and our role as stewards of the University’s investments in IT. Rather than simply pursue an RFP for outsourcing, where possible, we have tried to determine whether there are opportunities to create unique value propositions to service our Higher Education sector and/or our region as we grow the outsourcing partnerships.

The global economic meltdown is going to have dramatic and profound impacts on Universities and their IT organizations. Before state legislatures and/or Boards of Trustees mandate cuts or outsourcing solutions from the barrel of a gun, we, the CIOs and other IT leaders on campus should proactively engage in serious conversation on generating shared services models to improve service, leverage new generations of scalable technology, and save the institution resources. Failure to act comes at our own peril.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH 44106
October 30, 2009

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October 29, 2008

Contextualizing Strategic Outsourcing

At the annual Educause meetings in Orlando, I was asked to participate on a point/counterpoint exchange with my colleague David Trevvett from the University of Chicago on strategic insourcing and outsourcing. Here is the link to the streaming video of the 40 minute exchange.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
October 29, 2008

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October 16, 2008

5 Years Later: A OneCommunity Update

Five years ago this month, Case Western Reserve University initiated the formal establishment of a non-profit organization known as OneCleveland. It's mission was to leverage advanced technology capabilities to attend to community priorities. Most of you will know that the organization, now known world-wide as OneCommunity began here at Case Western Reserve University investing its "internet services" checkbook and making a number of temporary key leadership and technical resources available as the fledgling organization began to take shape.

What may be less well known is the journey these past five years. Yes, Case Western Reserve University now has a lot of bandwidth (7 years ago we had 36 Mb/s access to OARNet. Today we have burstable access up to 1G/s (1000 Mb/s) to the internet plus additional capacity through NLR, Internet 2, and OARNet). In addition, we have partnered with OneCommunity to establish the wireless cloud around university circle which daily has over 1000 users jumping on as visitors.

But OneCommunity has grown up to be much more than just its relationship to Case Western Reserve University. It has its own staff of nearly 40. It has an annual operating budget approaching $20m a year, and its geographic footprint in NEOhio now extends to 22 counties. The mission remains largely the same as the early insight to 'connect, enable, and transform' NEOhio through advanced technology. It now has hundreds of subscribers in the non-profit and public sector, connecting thousands of facilities like schools, hospitals, and government offices around the region. More than 1 million end-users in NEOhio are connected to OneCommunity.

The three foci's of OneCommunity are (1) access, (2) healthcare, and (3) education. At yesterday's Board meeting, Scot Rourke, the CEO of OneCommunity outlined to the Board $13m of work in rural healthcare and education, a large services contract working with Cuyahoga County, exciting work with the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Akron-based hospitals and many other health care facilities in advancing the NEOhio Regional Healthcare Information Organization, and finally an update on a 5 year $25m grant with the Knight Foundation. OneCommunity is building a National Center of Digital Excellence in Akron on Community Networking efforts.

The Board also endorsed a multi-year Strategic Plan which I trust will be broadly circulated in due course.

All this and much more had its start here at Case Western Reserve University. As we approach the five year anniversary date I thought it might be of some interest to share a bit of the story of this collaborative effort in this blog (a review of this blog space helps to chronicle some of the efforts over the years).

At the same time, I want to take this opportunity to share with you that we at Case Western Reserve University are not finished finding ways to use and leverage advanced technology to attend to community priorities (including our own). We will soon be announcing new pilot activities which I hope will create their own stories and community capacity. Perhaps some of them will evolve to be as exciting and potentially transformational as OneCommunity.

If you are interested in more information about OneCommunity, feel free to let me know (or checking out the web site). If you're interested in helping with some of the early thinking around new, scalable activities just drop me a note.

The OneCommunity journey has hit an important third phase. I hope NEOhio takes some pride in OneCommunity's accomplishments and at the same time we remain vigilant and committed to its future success through active participation and engagement.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
October 16th, 2008

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