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ITS external review to follow selection of firm

Grinnell College may restructure the Department of Information Technology Services (ITS).

A resolution passed by the Board of Trustees asks that “the College employ external expert services to assess the current status of Information Technology Services and to recommend actions that might be taken to ensure that the College is discharging all of its information responsibilities effectively and economically.”

Toby Cain '12, right, works in the Creative Computing Lab in the Forum Thursday evening on one of the many new iMacs - Max Calenberg

“It’s a review of the use of information technology on campus, and ITS is a big part of that,” said Director of Information Technology Services Bill Francis.

The reason for doing this external assessment is that information technology is updating rapidly, and the budget for that is changing dramatically. Right now, the College is reviewing proposals from multiple consulting agencies. The committee expects to be doing phone interviews sometime soon.

“We’ll take a look at the organizational structures in general, in terms of current standard where Grinnell is, in terms of the future in general, where we are going in the future,” said Student Government Association Vice President of Student Affairs Holden Bale ’12, who worked for ITS. “They are supposed to craft a strategic plan for us that takes about four of five years, so it’s a future vision for ITS.”

The consultation work will include an on-campus visit, with a survey of the daily workings of Grinnell and a general overview of what ITS is doing right now. From all this, the firm will publish a write up consisting of a summary of what should be done, of ITS’ current status, and eventually start working on a strategic plan in the future.

Currently, there is a committee that recommends and selects the consultancy firm the college will use. The actual schedule remains uncertain.

“I think there is a hope, that we’ll start as soon as possible, I don’t know if that will be next semester or next fall though,” Bale said.

Yet according to Francis, the review is very likely to be completed before the end of spring semester.
“I can’t imagine we go longer than that,” he said.

In terms of the necessity of such an external review, both Bale and Francis expressed optimism.

“I think there are some ways in which ITS is really good, I also think there are some ways in which there is room for improvement, and hopefully people who deal with this for a living will be able to tell us what we need to do, so the ITS will be better in the future. It’s necessary. ITS is changing so much, and you know there’s feeling of students about ITS here, I know not all of it is positive. And I understand why because I worked for ITS for a while,” Bale said.

Francis echoed Bale’s sentiment.

“It will be good to have ideas outside campus. Also, here in the middle of Iowa, we don’t have that many peer schools that are close by,” Francis said. “I think that there are a number of students, faculties and staff that would like to have somebody else’s opinion who is studying technology and knows what’s going on at other campuses, to get a feel of what’s going well, what isn’t going well, where we should head that we haven’t thought of.”

In Grinnell, the ITS department is small compared to one somewhere like the University of Iowa.

“We basically have one guy who deals with our entire network. So it’s difficult for us to stay on the cutting edge all the time because in some ways ITS is a little bit understaffed,” Bale said.

After visiting other peer schools, Francis also sees the need to make some change to the ITS and the general use of information technology.

“There is more consolidation in schools that are similar to Grinnell,” he said. “They have a separate academic and administrative computing unit. In the last five to ten years, some schools have gone to emerge information technology office in library.”

There will be a report after the review. Much of it, as long as it doesn’t name specific people, will be public.

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