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Notes from November 14, 2007 ITPAC Meeting:
notes by Steve Lasley
Streaming Audio from the meeting.
The meeting was run by ITPAC chairman, Pete Vergot, District Extension Director of the NW District remotely via Polycom. Russ Rouseff from the Citrus REC and Chris Fooshee from MREC joined us via Polycom as well. Other members in attendance included Dan Cromer, Keith Gouin, Joe Joyce, Steve Lasley, Dave Palmer, Michelle Quire and Wendy Williams. Ligia Ortega, Diana Hagan, Chris Leopold were in attendance as guests.
The minutes of the last meeting were approved without dissent.
Dr. Joyce related that, as we all know, we just went through some budget cuts and there is some auxiliary fallout from that. The biggest issue may be an upper level decision to investigate the reorganization of IT, ICS and EMR. The impetus for this is the realization that everything is moving towards the web, and we consequently need to look at our entire communication organization in that light. Dr. Cheek sent out the following announcement regarding this matter:
Subject: Reorganization of IFAS Communication Services (ICS), IFAS Information Technologies (IT), and IFAS External Media and Relations (EMR) From: "Cheek,Jimmy G"
Dr. Larry Arrington will be in charge of organizing a group which will look at what it will take to complete SFYL and at the same time look at reorganizing those three functions (IT, ICS and EMR) to make their operations more seamless. It is too soon to say what this reorganization will look like. Apparently, Dan Cromer, Dave Palmer and Joe Joyce are among the participants on the initial committee, with Larry as chair.
Joe Joyce also stated that IFAS used about $880,000 in end-of-year carry-over funds to purchase videoconferencing equipment. He realizes that it may seem odd that we made such a large purchase in light of the budget problems we are seeing, but these funds and the general budget funds are "different colors of money". It came down pretty much to a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, however, and Joe was appreciative to Dan and Pete for the work they put into getting this equipment quickly purchased on such little notice. We also invested in licenses for Elluminate and we will have some training sessions for that. Another chunk went to providing a virtual cluster and SAN for IT/SA which will greatly help with their server operations.
Steve Lasley reported that Ligia Ortega and Diana Hagan have been involved in drafting policy documents relating to the IFAS web presence and that the ICC has been discussing and reviewing those for the past three months. The documents presented here are the result.
The Web Policy document builds on existing UF policies and guidelines and moves from there toward the creation of a technical committee which would be responsible for overseeing our web presence and assuring that compliance was maintained. Identity and branding are important issues; consequently the policy specifies a certain small number of required components which all web sites much incorporate. Furthermore, it addresses the issue of web site maintenance, making sure that content is reviewed to reflect current information. The policy would also provide for overview of new web site requests in accordance with UF and proposed IFAS Domain Name Policy to help assure that the overall organization of our web presence remains focused toward maintaining a structure which best supports the mission of IFAS and its communication needs.
Questions and answers
Pete Vergot asked what the problems and benefits of this policy proposal might be. Steve responded that the preparation of these policies was a necessary first step in addressing the overall reorganization of the IFAS web presence. Traditionally, our web sites have been developed on an ad hoc basis which has led to a very large number (>700) of web sites. Such a loose structure dilutes our page ranking in web engine searches and does not provide IFAS with the web presence which the quality of our information deserves. Ligia echoed that sentiment, saying that this would help bring an identity to our web presence as well. Currently we have a hodge-podge of sites with no clear identity. A number of other problems exist as well. We are violating UF web policy in some instances and information is often difficult to find.
Michelle Quire asked if there would be any assistance offered to get departmental web sites to where they need to be. Michelle noted that many departments, hers included, have essentially no personnel to dedicate to such an effort. Obviously, staffing will be an issue, but we will need to provide assistance for this transition to be successful. This will not be a situation where we will say "here is the policy, good luck".
Dave Palmer asked Ligia about what has happened with SFYL--he saw no mention of that in these policy documents. Ligia responded that the scope of that is growing to include a broader identity function for IFAS. The IFAS Research web site will be launched soon, and that will also be SFYL. "CALS Solutions" is also being worked on. SFYL was not mentioned in these policy documents, however, because they are concerned with web policy issues rather than marketing. Joe Joyce responded that he believed the reorganization effort will focus on SYFL as an overall IFAS branding mechanism. These policies, or some modification of them, will be something which that group will be charged with implementing. Joe felt that, if ITPAC is comfortable with these policies, they need to be steered back into that group for incorporation and implementation.
Steve noted, at the ICC level, we are trying to get the word out that the procedures for obtaining new web sites are going to change and that the consolidation of departmental web-based information from multiple separate domains into more concentrated and search-friendly departmental domains must be encouraged. He gave the example of his department and the fact that he is working with Mark Ross to redirect new web site requests directly into their departmental web site. What in the past would have been separate domains, will now be implemented as folders within the existing departmental site.
IT support personnel can thus drive this process from the bottom up as a procedural matter. It is the hope that such "grassroots" efforts will eventually mature in line with our policies as they are developed and implemented. This is the kind of coordination which can eventually turn the vision into a reality; in any case such reorganization is an essential first step to eventually moving to a content management system as has been recommended and discussed for quite some time.
Michelle related that her biggest concern when reading these policies was wondering if they would force the adoption of the SFYL template. Ligia indicated that this was not the intent, and that those templates are aimed primarily at extension offices. They realize that various departments will want different looks for various reasons and for various target audiences. CALS tends more to the UF look and feel, for example, and Entomology looks quite different than most. Diana added that there are only a small number of items which will be required to be readily accessible on the main page of every web site. The intent is to guarantee a certain level of uniformity, for identity purposes, while continuing to allow flexibility and local content control. The web site maintenance section of the policy is meant to help units keep their information current and make them aware should certain problems need to be addressed--along with providing assistance, where applicable, for doing so.
Ligia mentioned that, in the process of developing these policies, she had reviewed every single IFAS web site and had concluded that 75% of those would be better off to be included as a sub-section within some departmental/unit web site. Additionally, many of these sites have very outdated content. The goal is to improve our search rankings while presenting current and useful information to our clientele. Moving us in that direction is the intent of these policies.
Where do we go from here?
Discussion ensued on how to proceed with these policy proposals. Pete believed that these recommendations should be passed on to the reorganization team which is being formed; he also agreed that we need to change our web site approval procedures to direct requests to the proper location in the meantime.
Pete pointed out how important it is that department chairs are on-board with this plan. Steve expressed his hope that the ICC and its members can help explain the needs to our chairs and help move this along from the bottom up. Michelle agreed that we need to align new site requests to fit in with expected future policy.
Joe Joyce believed we need to pass along the fact that ITPAC has looked at this, we think it's a great idea, and that it has to happen as a part of our overall web plan; that way, when they start restructuring things, these policy matters can be incorporated into that effort. Joe proposed that the ICC draft a memo for Pete to send (as ITPAC chair) to Larry Arrington; this memo would lay out the evolution of these policy documents and why they are important to our future web presence. Ligia agreed to assist Steve in developing that memo, which will be sent to Pete on behalf of the ICC.
Note from future: Following is the "Seeking policy support from administration for improving the IFAS Web presence" memo which was sent to Pete on November 19th (with cc to the ITPAC members) on behalf of the ICC...
Dr. Vergot: The IFAS Computer Coordinators (ICC) group is seeking policy support from administration for improving the IFAS Web presence. Over the past three months we have reviewed and provided feedback on a pair of related documents which detail policies that we believe necessary for creating and maintaining a strong IFAS Web presence: 1) IFAS Web Policy and 2) IFAS Domain Name Policy The Web Policy document (1) builds on existing UF policies and guidelines and proposes the creation of a technical committee which would be responsible for overseeing the IFAS web presence and assuring that compliance is maintained. To support identity and branding, the policy specifies a small number of required components which all Web sites must incorporate. Furthermore, it addresses the issue of Web site maintenance, proposing that Web content is reviewed to reflect current information. The overall goal is to improve our search rankings while presenting current and useful information to our clientele. The policy would provide for overview of new Web site requests in accordance with UF and proposed IFAS Domain Name Policy (2) to help assure that the overall organization of our web presence remains focused toward maintaining a structure best supporting the mission of IFAS and its communication needs. Work has begun with departments at the procedural level via the ICC to move toward our goal, but success will require the support of all. We believe that administrative support for these documents as official policy would provide needed direction and guidance. Our hope is that IFAS can develop a Web presence which truly reflects the wealth of expertise which the IFAS faculty and staff have to offer. As chairman of ITPAC, please give all due consideration to raising this important issue to administration on behalf of us all. Sincerely, Steve Lasley ICC Chairman
Steve gave an overview of the background on this issue and explained that the three proposals included herein embodied graduated steps which could get us on the road to removing unnecessary aliases and finding closure on a process begun at the end of 2005.
After discussion, mostly revolving around not causing problems by removing aliases without sufficient notice, it was decided that recommendations #1 and #2 had the complete support of the committee and could presumably be implemented immediately on a procedural basis. #3 was tabled for further consideration, with the understanding that we need to develop procedures for implementation which would be acceptable for all. Steve believes that completion of removal could be accomplished via proper communication, along with opt-out allowances for those opposed; the goal is to complete the process of transitioning to GatorLink@ufl.edu as our official business address.
Proposal for IFAS-Announce-L ListservDan Cromer had raised this matter prior via e-mail to the committee and the ICC:
Pete and all, We continue to receive frequent criticism of messages sent to IFAS-ALL-L as being inappropriate for such wide dissemination. I suggest that use of the mandatory-subscription IFAS-ALL-L list be restricted to messages from the SVP and Dean's offices, and propose that a new distribution list, called IFAS-ANNOUNCE-L, be created to which membership would be optional. Since this is strictly a policy issue, I haven't formally taken this to the ICC for technical input. If you approve, I plan to send out the following notice to IFAS-ALL-L. Dr. Joyce is aware of the plan. Discussion? Please indicate your concurrence or dissent; I'd like to take action on this before our next scheduled meeting if it's approved. ---------- Dear IFAS Colleague, In order to provide more flexibility in e-mail management, the IFAS-ALL-L distribution list will henceforth be designated for official business messages from IFAS higher administration only, and an IFAS-ANNOUNCE-L list has been created for more general announcements. The IFAS-ALL-L list automatically addresses all IFAS faculty and staff, with no option for removal. The IFAS-ANNOUNCE-L list was created to include all faculty and staff, but is optional and you may unsubscribe from the list by sending an e-mail message mailto:email@example.com with: unsubscribe IFAS-ANNOUNCE-L as the first line in the body of the message. The IFAS-ANNOUNCE-L list is still for business purposes, and personal advertisements are not appropriate. Both lists are moderated and require you to confirm your submitted message with a Web link before the message is released to the list. This extra step is required to eliminate spam forgeries. ---------- Dan
Brief discussion resulted and the committee passed Dan's proposal unanimously. The committee's recommendation will be brought to the Deans at an upcoming meeting for their consideration prior to implementation.
Pete Vergot introduced Chris Fooshee, who demonstrated the Meeting Room Manager software that was acquired via roughly $18,000 of the previously mentioned carry-forward funds, providing us 50 concurrent licenses. Chris Fooshee, Brian Gray, Mark Ross, Ron Thomas and Aaron Sotala are all on a committee which is working toward a plan for implementing this software for IFAS.
Room and equipment scheduling
Chris mentioned that MREC, due to needs stemming from their partnership with the College of Pharmacy as well as CALS, has been using similar resource scheduling software in the past to handle the scheduling of their classrooms. Chris noted that, with our increasing number of Polycom units and the degree of coordination required to organize and configure various conferences, this software promises to be of great assistance.
Chris did a brief demo of the web interface, emphasizing that this was scheduling software, not calendaring software. At the moment, this software is very much in test mode, but Chris has the intention of creating a structure for the scheduling of videoconferences across all IFAS facilities around the state, as well as for the particular needs of MREC.
Calendaring for IFAS?
Regarding this not being a calendaring program, Pete said that during demos which they had prior to purchase, the developers of this software showed it being used as an enterprise calendaring program and utilizing Outlook plug-ins to allow that program to be used to make and view schedules. Apparently, the current Outlook plug-in does not work well, though an upcoming release is supposed to address that. Whether we will have access to that without additional cost is a question. In viewing the software, however, it is very difficult to imagine how it can replace our current Extension Calendar application. Granted, we could program a web front-end, and Dan Cromer mentioned doing that, but it is hard to believe that would be a productive use of our extremely limited programming resources. Cobbled-together solutions have traditionally caused problems with long-term support. If this software doesn't do what we need currently in this regard, should we invest further resources without, perhaps, seeking a more suitable solution?
Steve would like to point out that all IFAS users (via Gatorlink credentials) may view Entomology's room and equipment schedules via the web (or within Outlook). We use public folders within Exchange to implement this system and it seems to work acceptably. It does not have all the bells and whistles of Meeting Room Manager of course, but it is well integrated with UFAD and seems sufficient for our needs currently. The nice thing about it is that it costs us nothing, can be maintained by multiple people, and can be viewed by all (within our organization, at least). Mark Ross had implemented a similar system at Plant Pathology when he worked there and I suspect others have as well. On the other hand, Chris Fooshee related that MRECs needs had outgrown such a solution; and in the bigger picture, there is the need to provide access to folks currently w/o Gatorlink credentials. That is a matter which Mike Conlon hopes to address down the road for all of UF with "LOA 1" accounts, though we may have need for totally anonymous access as well.
How broadly may this be used?
Steve can see how this could easily replace what MREC is using currently. It might even give us a system for scheduling videoconferences around IFAS state-wide. He is not sure, however, that it can be a system which every unit uses for room scheduling--certainly not without throwing considerably more resources its way. Due to apparent problems handling our large AD organization, its broad use may be quite problematic, and we certainly don't want to have to support an additional credential system; rather, the size of our organization really requires UFAD integration--at least in Steve's opinion.
Web developer hired
Dan Cromer reported that we have hired Li Tao, a very talented web developer, as a resource for SFYL and EDIS. Her first task will entail working on XML export of the data stored within the EDIS database. We will need that regardless of how our eventual content management system works, or which one is chosen.
Large videoconferencing equipment purchase and deployment
Dan Cromer told the committee that we were able to buy 90 new Polycom systems using the previously mentioned carry-forward funds. These are currently being deployed by the district support staff. Louise Ryan has deployed all the units which were earmarked for the NW District. Dan expressed his appreciation to Pete for his assistance in getting network connection upgrades at various county offices.
Ben Beach is working this week to deploy units to the NE District, and Francis Ferguson and Bill Black have both come up and received training on deployment for the Central and South Districts. We are currently involved with trying to locate a good price on LCD TVs for use with these systems. Yesterday we received the last of the Polycom units, which included some high-definition systems that are meant to replace the iPower systems at various RECs as well as in G001. We also acquired units for four of the five District Directors as well as the Dean of Extension. Every county (though not every county site) will have a new VSX 7000 system.
Additional Codian bridge purchased
In addition to the Polycom units, we also purchased a 40 port Codian bridge which will be housed and maintained by UF Video services. They have moved their own backup bridge into production now, and will be using ours for testing and as a backup in case of failure of one of the current production systems. Consequently, we now have 80 ports available for VCs.
There have been some anticipated networking issues which are being dealt with. Dan had expected to have issues with certain county office firewalls, but was pleasantly surprised with the cooperation he received from Orange County in accommodating that. Dan expects to have all these systems deployed by the end of the year. Three units were DOA out of 78 which have been tested; those will have to be shipped back and replaced.
Joe Joyce said that the attempt with these purchases is to replace incompatible systems and broaden the number of sites which can participate in videoconferencing--particularly for the CEOs. The other aspect, which we still need to address, is training; we need as many people as possible knowing how to use and operate these systems. Dan Cromer responded that the training issue will have to be resolved by persistence. The more these are used, the more familiar people will become. Dan mentioned trying to get Tom Hintz to produce an Elluminate recording which details step-by-step usage instructions; we need something like that for the IT folks and for system operators. This is another thing which will be done as soon as we have the resource time to devote.
Ad hoc connections
Pete mentioned that the ability to do ad hoc connections via the new Codian bridge is providing a much improved flexibility in handling bridged multi-point VCs. We want all systems to be registered with the UF gatekeeper and to use conference ID#s. Thus configured, a participant may use the Codian auto-responder by dialing conference #7830000 (for the main UF menu) or "7830001" for an IFAS-specific menu. Once at the responder's screen, you can press the "Far" button on the remote control and use it's cursor buttons to navigate the Codian's interface for creating or joining an ad hoc conference.
Note: when creating a new conference you must PREFACE the number with "#" when entering--prior to doing that the digits you press will be taken as camera preset controls rather than as digits in the proposed conference ID.
Dan and Pete both did a quick demo of People+Content IP software which allows any laptop with a network connection to send its desktop as content into a Polycom videoconference. Dan mentioned that all these new units will support that functionality, whereas the previous units did not. This is another component of an improved flexibility which we should be enjoying--once people become aware of it and learn how to use it. Due to travel budget cuts, extension will need to be using this technology more and more.
Our next ITPAC meeting is to be announced, but likely will be scheduled for sometime in February.
last edited 15 November 2007 by Steve Lasley