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University working to improve IT efficiency, responding to faculty technology issues

News Editor

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 16:11

Sam Houston State University is looking to improve problems with Information Technology policies and server access identified by faculty members after the last President and Provost Roundtable discussion last month.

During the discussion, faculty members noted frustrations with balancing innovation with inefficiencies within IT@SAM. More specifically, some professors addressed problems with procurement policies, access to the university network and low functionality using a Windows operating system.

28 days later

Edward Blackburne III, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Economics, said his problems with IT@SAM stem from the procurement procedure and IT@SAM polices.

“Unfortunately, all IT-related items require several levels of approval,” Blackburne said. “For example, if I require a new mouse or keyboard, I cannot simply order one online or purchase through an approved vendor. Rather, a new keyboard or mouse requires the department chair to ‘spec’ out the proposed purchase and then submit for approval. The approval process takes several days and many times, rather than being approved, we are asked to clarify or otherwise further demonstrate our need.”

According to Mark Adams, Vice President for Information Technology, the department has entered strategic planning with Academic Affairs and the office of Finance and Operations to correct these issues by the 2014 fiscal year.

“We are working to better define procurement categories to minimize unnecessary questions and processing,” Adams said. “We are also working with IT and various groups around campus to expedite processes and improve efficiency where possible. We do believe we have improved processes since last August, but know there is still room for improvement.”

Network headaches

Faculty members also noted difficulties with operating on a shared computer network with students, which can slow down functionality.

“The fact is that it is harder today than it was five years ago for me to transfer files to a server on campus (There is now ssh/scp access and no publicly available VPN server),” Blackburne said. “Firewall rules prevent me from accessing my research server from off-campus.”

Building a new system

President Dana Gibson addressed these challenges at the roundtable discussion, saying that while the university currently operates on a local network, IT is in the process of implementing an enterprise system to help these challenges.

 “Now we don’t have an enterprise system because we’ve never spent the funds to build an enterprise solution,” Gibson said.

However, the process of creating a solution has not come without its own set of challenges concerning campus security, according to Adams.

“At this time faculty desktop computers reside on the same network as the campus ERP system,” he said. “This means that if a faculty/staff desktop were compromised then there is a higher risk to the safety of university confidential data. By allowing VPN access you essential[ly] join your off-campus computer to the network and create a similar situation….”

Adams noted that the difference is that the university can take measures to lessen the risk to confidential data on campus computers, while having no control over personal computers. However, he said the university is close to completing a new system to help these issues.

 “It’s been a two year project,” Adams said during the roundtable discussion. “It is a changing culture on our campus. The final hardware was installed this summer so now we’re going through campus to get configured. The estimate is next summer to have it finished and allow [more flexibility].”

Blackburne added that the problems with functionality are connected to the university’s use of the Windows system.

Adams countered this, saying the university offers faculty members the choice between Windows or Mac for their desktops and laptops and is open to working with faculty to offer more flexibility when it comes to research.

“We have some faculty [members] that are doing specialized research that are utilizing other operating systems such as Linux for specialized research,” he said. “Faculty that are interested in research projects like this can contact IT@Sam and we will work with them to find a solution.”

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