The Application to the Dean Form
Individual departments within the Faculty of Science have specialised technical requirements. These often extend into the area of IT. For the purposes of this proposal, we take “diverse IT requirements” to mean IT hardware and software that meets one of the following three criteria:
- Software/hardware that is used widely across the faculty but is employed for a specific purpose by a minority of departments, e.g., desktop computers that are connected to specialist equipment.
- Software/hardware that is used by only a minority of departments, e.g., nVivo or Matlab.
- Software/hardware used by only a single department, e.g., Oasis.
There is a need to clarify how such requirements are supported within the Faculty. This document attempts to define principles that guide the development of support plans and processes.
In 2008, the University established an IT Roles and Responsibilities Working Group to define how IT services should be delivered, and who is to be responsible for the delivery of such services. The final IT Roles and Responsibilities document was endorsed by the Senior Management Team of the University in 2009. Amongst its recommendations, the following are relevant to this document:
- Faculty IT services will be centrally managed within the Faculty.
- General IT infrastructural services including email, calendaring, file storage, and computational clusters will be provided by ITS.
- The University will explore the deployment of a common desktop image on all computers.
- Student computers will move to standard software.
- The development of a new financial model for IT equipment, particularly storage, called “Servex”. Under this model, IT storage may be purchased with operational monies from a central provider (e.g., ITS) who will depreciate the capital equipment.
The IT Roles and Responsibilities document establishes the framework for IT delivery and provision from this point on.
Within the Faculty, there is a recognition that departments need to be provided with staff who have the technical expertise in a given disciplinary area. In many departments, there is a need to employ staff with either electronics or computational expertise. These staff have been variously categorised as “electronics technicians” or “research programmers”.
Additionally, within the Faculty, Science IT provides general desktop support, infrastructure support, but also, on occasion support for equipment that would come under the heading of “diverse IT requirements”.
Some departments have entered into direct negotiations with ITS or other Faculties/units for the provision of certain hardware or software. Finally, departments also rely on the informal and casual support of postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students for their IT solutions.
Science IT support levels
Before discussing the principles of Science IT support allocation, it would be useful to list the different levels of support may be provided:
- No support. Self-explanatory. Departments or individual staff will have to provide their own support, if required.
- Minimal support, or “start-and-end support”. This involves consultation on type of equipment, initial setup of equipment and final disposal of equipment. No ongoing support is provided.
- Prioritised support (Low, Normal, High). Ongoing support is provided, with levels determining the order in which responses are prioritised.
The principles developed in this document must necessarily align with those developed in the IT Roles and Responsibilities document. First and foremost, we recognise that some services, particularly email, storage, and student desktop and software, will be provided centrally. This, in turn, implies that for some services, standardisation will be the norm, not the exception.
The following principles provide guidelines for the formulation of Science IT support strategies for diverse departmental IT requirements.
- Standardisation increases efficiency. Standard hardware and software are easier to support because different support staff can be used. Also, economies of scale can be realised when purchasing. Standardisation mitigates against financial risk and business continuity.
- Diversity is necessary. The University protects the right of academics to innovate in the research and teaching pertaining to their academic discipline. Research at the boundaries frequently requires state-of-the-art equipment or software. Similarly, disciplinary differences also mean that there will often be different platforms required for teaching and research.
- “Requirements” imply necessity. Given (1) and (2), it follows that there is a tension between recognising the need for diversity, and moving towards standardisation to increase logistical and financial efficiencies. Therefore, it follows that departments need to demonstrate that it is necessary to have diverse IT requirements, and it is not a matter of preference.
- The more users, the more support. “More users” implies greater deployment across faculty, either in terms of staff and students (or both). In effect, this principle is a corollary of (1), but recognises that support is graded.
- Ownership persists. This principle recognises that, regardless of (1) – (4), it is appropriate to acknowledge that an existing, unique, system is best supported by staff who have a history of experience with the system. Consequently, as a first principle, ownership of the support for that system should continue to reset with that person (or people). “Ownership” also implies that there are appropriate procedures in place for the transfer of “ownership”.
- Casual support lacks accountability. The use of students and research fellows to provide IT support or develop software affords a department no guarantee that the support will continue or the software will work. Formal support, as define in Service Level Agreements, identifies appropriate providers, establishes a visible chain of responsibility, and mechanisms for review. Following on from (6), casual support ideally requires a transfer of “ownership” but this proves difficult if the support staff have left.
The following table shows how we may apply the appropriate principles to define levels of support for the following requirements.
|IT requirement||Level of support||Principles|
Computational clusters Backup and storage
|3, until this is provided by ITS||(1)-(4)|
|Different platforms for admin||1||(1), (6)|
|Different platforms for teaching||3||(1)-(4)|
|Different platforms for research||1 – 3 depending on circumstances||(1)-(6)|
|Homegrown IT systems||1||(6), (7)|
|videoconferencing, access grid||3||(6)|
|old machines, new sub-$1000 machines||2||(1), (7)|
Based on the principles stated above, the Faculty of Science has developed the following guidelines:
- IT services and software for administration and teaching will be standardised throughout the Faculty. Departments will use University-wide enterprise services if these are available unless specifically exempted by the Dean. These include (but are not restricted to) email, calendaring, Sharepoint, and CECIL. Science IT will provide services and support for approved teaching IT requirements that are not available University-wide If departments use services that are only specific to a single department for teaching or administration, then SIT support for these services will be decided in accordance with a delegations plan developed by the Faculty IT Governance Board.
- Approved software that is used for teaching that is not used University-wide will be maintained and deployed by SIT, provided such software is stable and well-supported by the developers. Examples of these include Matlab, R, and SAS. As a rule, only the most recent version of all software will be deployed. Support levels for innovative software developed in- house to support teaching will be decided by the Faculty IT Governance Board, or its delegated authority.
- Hosting of departmental websites, and departmental servers will be supported by SIT under the terms of the Service Catalogue. Conference websites may be supported on a case-by- case basis at the discretion of the appropriate delegated authority.
- IT services specific for research only will be supported by SIT if they are, or can be, used by more than one department and are approved by the Faculty IT Governance Board. These include specific types of research software, research-based file servers, and generic computational clusters. This does not preclude the possibility that SIT will support non- generic services on a case-by-case basis, again as determined by the Faculty IT Governance Board (or delegated authority).
- Departments may employ research programmers to provide research-specific IT servicesthat are unique to individual departments or research groups. Departments will be responsible for continuity of such services.
- Notwithstanding (5), departmental research programmers will ensure that research IT software and hardware are in line with the risk management and business continuity requirements of the Faculty. A forum of departmental research programmers and SIT staff will be formed to provide the opportunity for communication and feedback.
- Videoconferencing will be supported by SIT provided there is prior consultation on the type of equipment and services required.
- In cases where IT services and support predate the formation of SIT, the original providers of services will continue to support these services until a handover to SIT can be negotiated.