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Transcript of Dalhousie University
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Campus IT in the 21st CenturyDalhousie CIO Dwight Fischer discusses the Halifax institutions IT transformation
Written by: Sasha Orman Produced by: Andy Turner
Campus IT in the 21st CenturyDalhousie CIO Dwight Fischer discusses the Halifax institutions IT transformationWritten by: Sasha Orman Produced by: Andy Turner
The world of information technology is changing, and its up to IT departments to change with the times. What started with internal e-mail systems has become an expansive web of sensitive data that must be managed and cared for.
I remember when e-mail first came out. In the first years it was the bastion of higher education, says Dwight Fischer, CIO at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But over the last couple decades, not just these applications but our ERPs, research datayou need more and more storage, more and more capacity. Youve got the
evolution of technology, so the technology stacks at our universities just grew and grew.
Technology is evolving and Dalhousie University is evolving to keep pace. This means a total IT transformation to keep the university supporting its faculty and students to the fullest.
Adapting to a new model For Fischer and Dalhousie University, transforming the IT department requires rethinking exactly what IT means and what is in store for its future. As with many universities today, for Dalhousie
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this translated to going from a fully in-house infrastructure to building partnerships with businesses that offer the modern capacity and high-tech security that suit todays demands.
IT has a foundation in infrastructure and capacity, and whats happened is we can no longer keep growing and providing it the way we were. Its too expensive, and its being delivered in new ways now, says Fischer. In Nova Scotia, fiscal realities and reduced funding in this province are causing us to rethink our model. We cant keep adding IT on premise if we dont have the people to support it, and we cant keep adding it under the assumption that its going to be safer and more protected here than it is on servers from Microsoft or somebody else who can do it at a scale that we cant even dream of.
When you see what the industrys doing, you can either get on board with it and carve it out like were doing, or someone else will come in and sooner or later youll be marginalized to irrelevance within your organization Dwight Fischer, CIO
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Dalhousies IT transformation fittingly started with a change of its e-mail systems, looking outside its walls to replace outdated proprietary technology.
We started looking at what it would take to put in a new e-mail and communications system for a university today. Youve got to have capacity, its got to integrate seamlessly with all our mobile devices, its got to be protected, says Fischer. We compared the cost of doing it ourselvesnot just doing it, but sustaining it over the next decadeand then we compared that against Google and Microsoft, who are offering it to higher ed for free. Most people think its a Faustian bargain, that theyll turn around and start charging us for it. But when you look at the schools that have already gone there, theyre not thinking about e-mail anymore.
Its a commodity service. Its been mastered.
Ultimately Dalhousie chose to partner with Microsoft Office 365. We selected Microsoft because it was a more familiar interface for most people, plus they offered the ability to house stuff on campus or in the cloud, says Fischer. Weve been very happy with the decision to go with Microsoft, because its more built for the large organization, but with no hardware and no application needed. We have people who administrate it and make sure its tied to our all our identity management system, but I dont think about e-mail anymore.
Changing roles for a changing industry Dalhousie University soon followed this change with a similar overhaul of its learning management system,
moving into the cloud. The option was clear for us: do you want to pay for it and do it yourself, or do you want to move into a cloud-based hosted service? says Fischer. We took the latter, and so this is changing the IT organization. We need fewer people to manage and prop up hardware. We need more people to start integrating these different cloud systems that are hosted in different places. We need to make them talk to one another, and leverage the data within them.
E-mail is a commodity service. Its been mastered
Dwight Fischer, CIO
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This difference in personnel needs and skill sets is a becoming a pressing concern as technology evolves. Dalhousie is among those understanding that university IT departments of the future will look very different compared to departments even 10 years ago, and skills must change if these departments are going to keep up.
IT skills need to change, says Fischer. We need fewer hardware experts and more data analysts, fewer people monkeying with that
hardware and more people helping other people figure out how to use it. Thats the shift. Some IT organizations are really struggling with thatbut the fact is that the industrys not waiting for us. Everybody here talks like weve got a choice. You can assume that if you
want, but when you see what the industrys doing, you can either get on board with it and carve it out like were doing, or someone else will come in and sooner or later youll be marginalized to irrelevance within your organization.
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Narrowing your specialties A key change that has come with this technology transformation is that it is allowing Dalhousie Universitys IT department to better focus its efforts. IT is a large cost center, so were maturing in higher ed to be really clear about what it is we do and dont do, says Fischer, explaining that the school is cutting down on extraneous IT offerings like computer training and salesboth readily available elsewhereto focus in on tackling its biggest challenges to deliver the features from which its faculty and students can benefit the most.
We focus more on high value activities such as data management and analyticshelping with academics in the classroom, research support. Were spending less time doing hardware setups and configurations and upgrades, says Fischer, noting that this has also helped Dalhousie University become a greener and more efficient institution. IT infrastructure is very power intensive. At a time when everyones looking at getting points for green policies and sustainability, hosting your own data center is not exactly where you want to be.
By working with partners like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, Dalhousies IT department is able to provide the best of its own services paired with the best that technology has to offer.
I N D U S T RY
H E A D Q U A RT E R S
6299 South St
F O U N D E D
E M P L O Y E E S
R E V E N U E
6299 South St
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 4R2
Tel. 1-902-494-2211 www.dal.ca