UWS revamps IT governance structure

Summary:The University of Western Sydney (UWS) has remodelled its IT governance structure, with a standing committee of the university's board of trustees replacing an internal group of stakeholders. UWS IT Director Mick Houlahan told ZDNet Australia in a telephone interview this week the new model would give IT a significantly higher profile in the university's decision-making processes.

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) has remodelled its IT governance structure, with a standing committee of the university's board of trustees replacing an internal group of stakeholders.

UWS IT Director Mick Houlahan told ZDNet Australia in a telephone interview this week the new model would give IT a significantly higher profile in the university's decision-making processes.

Mick Houlahan

The previous body had focused "more on annual budgets rather than strategic IT," according to Houlahan.

"For the first few years of our current structure that was OK," he added, "because a lot of the strategic focus on IT was moving from legacy systems to new common ones that would work across all campuses."

"A lot of that work is now finished," he said, noting the new committee would hold its first meeting in the next couple of months. Potential areas to be addressed include video streaming of lectures and other next-generation learning technologies.

The move comes as UWS in recent months called in external consultants to review its IT function.

While the findings from that process have not yet been published, Houlahan said it would probably recommend some changes, although he is broadly confident his department will do well.

"It's a bit hard to predict, but I'm expecting it to give us a reasonable bill of health in terms of what we've been doing over the last few years," he said.

UWS is also reorganising its internal staff structures as the convergence of technologies takes effect.

"The IT group has traditionally only concentrated on computers and such things [eg PCs] on a campus level," said Houlahan. "But now we'll be taking on a role involving support for videoconferencing and some of the other teaching facilities, things they use in lecture theatres."

The print services department is also moving from a traditional trade printing approach to a modern model that will see it integrated with other IT assets.

Nuts and bolts
With all the high level moves going on, one could be forgiven for thinking the operational side of UWS's IT environment has been left behind. Not so.

"It's been a very busy year, and we thought in the latter part of the year the pressure might be off, but I think it might actually be getting a bit harder," laughed Houlahan.

UWS has placed an order to replace its Sun Microsystems E1000 database servers with the vendor's much more powerful E6900 model.

The migration to take place in the latter part of this year will entail an upgrade to Sun's Solaris 10 operating system, which Houlahan said has improved virtualisation features compared with the previous version 9. The university also uses VMWare virtualisation software on its Microsoft server fleet, particularly where the vendor's SQL Server database is involved.

UWS currently has two production data centres at its Penrith campus, but has been given some space at the Parramatta campus for a new facility to come online later this year. Houlahan said this would improve redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities.

On the software front, UWS is implementing an online enrolment system utilising software from vendor Callista.

"It's sort of happening for small cohorts of students this year, and moving into the major rollout next year, it'll all be done online," said Houlahan.

The future
While Houlahan has his eye on the incoming Windows Vista and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies, they are still a ways off for UWS.

"There's no compelling reason to change," he said of Microsoft's controversial new operating system, noting it wouldn't be until 2008 "at the earliest" that UWS would start to look at migrating portions of its XP-based desktop fleet to Vista.

On the VoIP front, UWS will rollout IP telephony into its new medical school currently under construction in Campbelltown, but will stick to its traditional NEC-based analog technology for most of its other facilities.

"That'll be our first serious implementation," said Houlahan. "The current PABX fleet are all NEC and they're probably due for replacement in the next 18 months to two years, so I think the next generation would be more IP-based than the traditional stuff."

UWS does, however funnel voice calls over its cross-campus fibre data network to save costs.

Relationship building
Although like many IT bosses Houlahan has a technical background, when asked for wisdom to pass on to colleagues at other companies, the industry veteran emphasised the non-technical aspects of his role.

"I'd be getting the architecture right, getting the relationships in place, getting that buy-in at executive level," he said.

"Going back to what I mentioned earlier, getting that into the board level here I think will be a big plus for IT."

Topics: CXO, Broadband, Hardware, Operating Systems, Oracle, Unified Comms, Windows

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