InfoTech Leadership Eyes Short, Long-term Changes

InfoTech Leadership Eyes Short, Long-term Changes

With reorganization in place, focus turns to support, Web redesign

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

With a revamped administration in place, the University's Information Technology division is fine-tuning some recent improvements to the campus computer network and preparing other initiatives aimed at strengthening technology's role in the BC community.

Plans include the return early this semester of academic and computing support services personnel to Gasson Hall and a revision of the University's World Wide Web site to make it easier to navigate.

IT's leadership team, Executive Director Jack Spang and Director Mary Corcoran, discussed these and other recent developments during an interview earlier this month. Spang and Corcoran were appointed to head the division in July following the resignation of Vice President for Information Technology Kathleen Warner.

Since then, Spang and Corcoran say, they have undertaken a careful evaluation of IT's organizational structure and implemented several changes. As a result, they say, the division is better suited to address current and future needs among users on and off campus, especially as other IT initiatives are rolled out.

"One way to think of it," explained Spang, "is there are now more rowers and fewer steerers. Through this restructuring, we've put more staff into development and user support areas, which we believe will be key in the months ahead."

"After discussions with senior management and others throughout the University, it was clear to us that we needed to flatten the organization," said Corcoran. "We feel confident that IT is positioned to anticipate or respond to the challenges of integrating technology."
Information Technology Executive Director Jack Spang and Director Mary Corcoran at their Hammond Street office. (Photo by Justin Knight)

The reorganized IT now has four departments, according to Spang and Corcoran. Technical Services, temporarily under Spang's direction, encompasses applications, networks, systems and operations. Administrative Services, directed by John Kirk, handles departmental matters, such as budget and finance and retail and vendor relations.

Academic and Computing Support, headed by Acting Director Maureen Touhey, comprises research, consulting and production services, among other areas, as well as oversight of the Student Learning and Support Center. Most of the department had been moved from Gasson to the new IT offices on Hammond Street, but will shortly return to their former location, Corcoran said, "in response to the needs expressed by many users."

Spang points to the establishment of the fourth department, Internet Strategy and Technologies - whose associate director is expected to be named shortly - as a significant enhancement in IT's efforts to help the University community make greater use of the World Wide Web and other Internet-driven applications.

"This department's work requires a wide variety of talents and skills," he said. "The issues its personnel will deal with are not just technical, but will involve planning and work on software infrastructure."

Corcoran, who will work closely with the department, cited IT's partnership with the Office of Marketing Communications as an important asset in BC's Internet ventures. One major task will be a redesign of the University's Web pages, she said, a project which has already seen some stellar contributions from the OMC.

"It's a matter of developing the right portals for different users, and customizing the information," she explained. "If you're a current student, for instance, you shouldn't have to wade through a lot of information that is of more interest to a faculty or staff member, or parents of a prospective student, to find the material you need.

"At the same time, it's important to have an integrity and a unifying quality to the Web site. We're working with the OMC to create a strong visual identity that will help in achieving this."

Since the summer, IT has tackled several projects, including converting the Tech Products Store to an exclusively on-line operation and increasing the capacity of the University's Internet connection. In addition, the department has established a wireless network on campus, providing laptop users with greater mobility.

Another recent innovation is the virtual private network (VPN), which allows faculty, staff and students off-campus access to computer systems on the University's network. As many as 8,000 users can now log onto the VPN and use University library databases, computer systems and servers otherwise inaccessible through a standard Internet connection.

By making it possible to log on to the BC network any time of day from any location, the VPN will offer a new dimension for BC computer users who travel or are not on campus when they need to access data on their computers.

For example, if a Boston College faculty member needs access to a research paper saved on his or her office computer but cannot travel to campus, the VPN offers a solution. By turning on his or her home computer and activating the VPN software, the user will be able to access all the files on their office computer.

Before connecting by this method users must have an existing account with an Internet service provider that allows for a VPN connection. Users must also purchase and install the VPN client software, available through the on-line Tech Product Store. (More information on making use of BC's Virtual Private Network is available at http://infoeagle.bc.edu/bc_org/tvp/vpn/)

Spang and Corcoran said IT will seek to help the University community on and off-campus to understand, and take advantage of, these and other forthcoming innovations. At the same time, they add, the division is intent on listening to concerns, suggestions and observations from the people it serves.

"We truly want to identify the issues in the academic and research community, among students and staff, and anyone else who uses BC technology," Spang said. "The changes we've made so far, and others we envision, will help build that communication."

-Stephen Gawlik contributed to this story.

 

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