Recap of Ask SET Anything: IT Edition

Todd Gilchrist - 25 February 2021

Last Friday, the SET team hosted another edition of our Ask SET Anything event series specifically for IT staff to raise questions, concerns, and share feedback with regard to IT administrative restructuring and transitioning. We had another great turnout with approximately 245 IT staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting. Thank you to everyone who joined the event to make it so successful. 

Along with myself and our IT workstream sponsor, Dr. Mike MacGregor (Associate VP and Chief Information Officer) and Dr. Kyle Murray (Vice-Dean, Alberta School of Business) who graciously stepped in to offer a faculty perspective, our panel was rounded out by members of the SET program team:

  • Rob Munro — Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Brian Stewart —  Program Director, Administrative Transformation, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Glen Sabatier — Project Manager, IT Functional Review Stream
  • Annette MacPherson  — HR Specialist, Service Excellence Transformation

For those who weren't able to attend the event, a recording is available to view:


Benefits of a centralized structure 

With the IT stream’s functional review well underway, transitioning services and staff to a centralized IT structure is in progress. To discuss the benefits of working with central resources, the panel welcomed Dr. Kyle Murray, Vice-Dean of the Alberta School of Business, to speak to Business’ successful transition to a centralized IT solution several years ago. Dr. Murray noted that the School of Business has been very happy with the service it’s received, noting the flexibility that the centralized approach has provided, in addition to significant cost savings. He also emphasized that moving to a centralized solution helped with risk mitigation for the faculty, as support for servers and learning management systems, among others, now had access to around the clock support, and a network of other faculties using the same systems. Overall, Dr. Murray described that he and his colleagues have come to value the advice and superior support they have received since moving their IT services into a centralized unit.

Transition phase and next steps

Now that the IT discovery is complete and priorities have been identified, the IT stream will move into the transition phase. Unlike the finance and HR streams, the services and processes that the various IT units will transition into, are already in place.  The team has completed the IT transition roadmap which outlines how and when both services and people will transition. Abiding by our principles for administrative restructuring, the IT team strives for transparent engagement and consultation, and as such, faculty and unit members will be engaged as the transition phase progresses.

Additionally, a very important goal for SET is to create a vibrant and healthy working environment that provides staff with meaningful work, engaging experiences, and fulfilling career paths. The panellists emphasized that transitioning to a more central role will provide staff greater career potential and more opportunity for experience and exposure. With a central role, there is space to take your career in many directions, including a faculty, unit, or college.

We have prepared a presentation that offers more detail on the IT operating model which outlines services that will be handled in shared services, as well as the six Centres of Expertise.

IT workstream web page

To keep you informed about ongoing and upcoming changes within the IT stream, a dedicated web page has been created. This web page tracks progress and provides updates as IT functions transition to the new administrative operating model developed under the U of A for Tomorrow initiative. Here you will find an overview of the IT stream’s approach, working group members, upcoming consultation events, FAQs, and more. 

Consultation and upcoming events

As we continue through this process, we want to ensure that staff have their questions and concerns addressed and learn more about the opportunities and roles in the new model. We will continue to host our Ask SET Anything events over the coming weeks and months, so be sure to check the UAT consultation page for upcoming dates. The next event will be the Ask SET Anything: Shared Services Edition on March 12 from 2:00-3:00 p.m.

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked during the event. Stay tuned for these, and more that were submitted to be answered on the SET FAQ web page and IT workstream page.

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President (University Services and Finance)
Chair, Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC)

Questions asked and answered

Is IST to become the central IT organization for campus, or will a new IT organization be created? If IST is to be the central IT organization, will it be restructured or remain the same?

Yes, IST will be the central IT organization for the entire university. IST has recently completed a reorganization itself, as have all the units in the University Services and Finance (USF) portfolio. This was done in coordination with the new guiding principles of SET to ensure that the new structures are cohesive, fit the new operating model, and will provide the services needed to support the university into the future. We will be sharing more information on the new IST structure soon, as well as the rest of the USF portfolio’s changes.

Will the majority of  IT staff that are currently external to IST be placed among existing IST teams based on their current activities?

Staff within the faculties and units will not be placed directly within existing IST teams as IST has a new organizational structure. Additional resourcing requirements and services will be centralized through an expression of interest as that new structure is developed. As we develop a further understanding about the services offered in the faculties and units, we can identify what services are transitioning, and how those will be resourced. Our overall goal is to have that single point of contact for students, staff, and faculty. So while IST will be the central IT unit, many IT services will be accessed via the service centres: the student service centre for students and the staff service centre for staff and faculty. 

What has been the reduction within the central IT function? What is happening within the central groups to accommodate movement from across the university? 

There will be opportunities for staff within faculties and other units to move into the new central structure. The University Services & Finance portfolio, which IT is part of, has been reduced for two reasons. Firstly, to contribute to the budget imperative that we’re faced with meeting by the end of this fiscal year. Secondly, as we work through discovery and process design, this allows space for staff from other faculties and units to have the opportunity to move into a more centralized structure. 

IST has been on a trajectory over the last few years to reduce staff and modify services in order to manage our budget and services. Over the last fiscal year, we've reduced 31 positions in response to the budget changes. Additionally, the UniForum benchmark shows that the UofA’s overall IT is well above the median in terms of what the average institution spends on IT. 

Is it correct that the IT functions will be consolidated amongst the six new IT Centres of Expertise?

The IT Centres of Expertise will include: Enterprise Applications, Digital Infrastructure, IT Service Excellence, Chief Information Security Officer, Digital Learning Environments, and Research Computing. As we understand the resource requirements to transition services from different areas to the centre, job families will be created. There will be expressions of interest processes for those new required resources. It will depend on what is transitioning when and what new job families are created, and then the expressions of interest processes will follow through accordingly. We will look to have as much information as possible on the Position Opportunities Page, so people can understand what is coming and when. 

Can you please give us some examples of IT services that will not be centralized and may remain within the faculties or other units? 

One example is the interfacing and support for a dedicated piece of research equipment. If your lab has a mass spectrometer, the support for it would stay in the faculty, since we cannot support such a specialized function in any kind of scalable fashion.

Another example is trust-funded support for specific research projects. Research funding agencies like Canadian Foundation for Innovation put strict conditions on their grants regarding the allocation of time of staff hired and funded through those grants. For the period of the grant, they must be dedicated to the work specified in the grant. That means they must remain within the faculty.

How close are we to transitioning staff to the central IT unit? What supports need to be in place once we move centrally, and how are we going to ensure the successful handoff of responsibilities?

Now that we have finished the discovery phase for the IT stream, we are moving into transitioning  these services to the central IT unit. We will start to see services and staff transitioning a few months from now. Our plan is to first ensure that the IT Service Desk is in place, because that’s how we discover any outliers in terms of responsibility hand-off or software discrepancies. Having the Service Desk in place will ensure we have those points of contact with everyone in the university community. There will be bumps, that is inevitable, and there will also be places where services must change as a consequence of the budget challenges we face.

Ultimately, one of SET’s main goals is to ensure that we don't let things fall through the cracks. We will have to work through the appropriate transition with our clients and help guide them, along with the rest of the university, through this change.



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