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Notes from May 1, 2006 ITPAC Meeting:

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    notes by Steve Lasley

    Streaming Audio from the meeting.

    The meeting was run by our new ITPAC chairman, Pete Vergot, District Extension Director of the NW District. Jim Syvertsen and Russ Rouseff joined us from the Citrus REC via Polycom. ITPAC once again welcomed Jan J. van der Aa, from the UF Health Science Center (HSC) as our guest. David Palmer was also a guest at the request of Jim Selph. Introductions were made around the room.

    ICC Updates

    ICC and the Taskforce Report

    Steve Lasley said that the ICC did not have any policy matters to raise to ITPAC at this time. Steve mentioned that he has been asking for input on the taskforce report at each of the recent ICC meetings and is just beginning to get a little movement on that. He noted that the ICC had expressed particular interest in certain aspects of the report.

    ICC IT Governance sub-committee

    The ICC has formed a subcommittee on IT Governance, to be chaired by Chris Hughes (ITSA), with membership including Ben Beach (District Support), Dennis Brown (Horticultural Sciences), Kevin Hill (SWFREC and District Support), Joe Spooner (CALS), and Ligia Ortega (ICS). This committee will be looking at our current governance model, making a proposal for a new model based on industry standards, and developing metrics for evaluating such models. Steve noted that their first meeting is scheduled for the end of this week and he wanted ITPAC to be aware of the ICC's intentions in this regard.

    Other IT Governance resources

    IT Governance is a matter of particular interest to our guest, Jan van der Aa, in the context of the UF-HSC Information Services Advisory Council (ISAC). They have been spending a good deal of time on that topic and Dr. van der Aa notes that groups at many schools are investigating the matter. The ISAC group is particularly impressed by work at MIT Sloan. There are links to the references they are using at http://www.health.ufl.edu/aiss/governance/references.html. Dr. van der Aa believes we might learn much from the pitfalls already found by other Universities.

    Website Redirects

    Redirects already in use within IFAS

    Jim Selph introduced David Palmer, South Central District Instructional Media Agent. Jim said that Dave has always been ahead of the game in terms of making use of new ideas and technology. Jim wanted Dave to lead a discussion at ITPAC on the topic of website redirects before going ahead with plans for his own county site. Dave mentioned that about four years ago he decided that the URL for his http://prohort.ifas.ufl.edu site was just too long to easily communicate via phone or otherwise. Consequently, Dave purchased a redirect with the address http://prohort.net. Dave mentioned that Pinellas County Extension recently moved from their county's server to IFAS and purchased multiple redirects so that the URL change would not affect their users. Both Dave and Jim wanted to make sure that they weren't doing anything they shouldn't be doing before they got too deep into the matter.

    Practical aspects

    Dan Cromer pointed out that there is a UF policy stating that "all official university Web sites, including those of colleges, departments, divisions or other fiscal or operating units of the University, as well as faculty or staff performing University functions, should use names within ufl.edu for Web sites or other use of the Internet." That said, there are few problems when using redirects, as the address displayed in the browser is generally that of the target site, which would include "ifas.ufl.edu" when pointing to a site on IFAS servers. (Some vendors of redirection services offer a cloaking feature whereby the browser address retains the redirection address and does not revert to the final destination. Such service may cause problems with search engines, however, and would not be recommended for use by IFAS sites.) Redirects may be purchased inexpensively, on the order of $10 a year. After considerable discussion, it was decided that redirects could be a recommended practice deemed appropriate for marketing purposes in shortening URLs.

    Content management needs are growing

    On a related issue, Dan Cromer mentioned that we are hoping to consolidate all IFAS websites onto our centralized web servers for consistency, reliability and supportability reasons. In the case of some counties, this may not be possible currently, but it is encouraged whenever feasible. David mentioned that some agencies have purchased web hosting. Dan said that we would discourage that; it is a waste of money as sites can be provided for free by IFAS in a well-managed fashion.

    Pete Vergot mentioned that some counties provide web space to their extension offices in order to provide better support--but that is generally done for free as well. Pete mentioned that some counties have been able to provide support beyond what IFAS has traditionally offered. Dan mentioned that he hopes, with Solutions For Your Life, the new IFAS web team, and web site template work in progress, that IFAS support for developing websites will shortly improve considerably. That should offer incentives for people to not try to "do their own thing", but to join in with using our centralized services. There is an official policy, 6C1-6.90-2: Identity Standards for UF/IFAS and UF/IFAS Units and Sub-Units that pertains to this issue (see section 4 on "IFAS Web Pages"), though that memo does need updating.

    Dwight Jesseman raised the question of whether or not official IFAS-generated information must be only on an official IFAS website. There was a brief discussion of content management systems. Ashley Wood sees a need to have someone responsible for content on any and all official IFAS sites. In EDIS, that responsibility lies with the department chairs. Jan van der Aa mentioned that the Health Science Center has considerable privacy concerns in this regard. Beyond the HIPAA concerns, which are perhaps not so applicable to IFAS, there are student record privacy concerns under FERPA that affect all UF departments. If outside companies are providing hosting in some cases, we should consider having an SLA with them that addresses any privacy concerns. We should make certain that our information is hosted on systems that are well-maintained and secure. We need to be concerned about inappropriate disclosure of information that could damage the reputation of IFAS and UF. We should determine if the risk of using alternate hosting facilities is a risk we can afford to take. Jan mentioned that availability of authoritative information is another consideration--again this is something that needs to be considered if web hosting is outsourced.

    Pete Vergot mentioned that marketing and access is another aspect to consider. He pointed out that not all pertinent IFAS information is kept within EDIS--much is published in journals. This gives Extension agents other places to search for pertinent information to a particular client issue. When alternate web hosting is added, the whole problem is just muddled further so that potential information just gets harder to access and utilize.

    Policy considerations?

    Dan Cromer asked whether IFAS should, down-the-road, institute a policy that said official IFAS information should be hosted only on IFAS servers. Ashley Wood mentioned that recommendations are sometimes better than policies. Dan still believes that, once we have some level of content management available, that a policy of keeping official IFAS information within the bounds of such a system should be considered. Ashley agreed that content management is going to be important and that once Solutions for Your Life gets going it makes sense to have some common place for all the extension sites.

    Infostructure Taskforce results

    Presenting the report to the deans

    Pete Vergot said that he had a very short meeting with the deans after our last ITPAC meeting. It turned out that time was short at that meeting and they had asked Pete to come back later--actually this very afternoon. They had talked about the report in general and Pete had shared with them some of the recommendations and the varying costs involved in those.

    Special funding request turned down

    Pete wanted to make ITPAC aware that our special funding request to the state did not make it very far. Pete said that part of the reason that went nowhere was that there is really no ownership to a request like that. There is no outside group that says IFAS needs another $2 million for technology. You will get outside groups that speak up for other IFAS needs such as better teaching programs, or more emphasis on genetics, or IFAS needs to have a beef cattle barn built. Those things are tangible--something you can touch or see. If you say IFAS needs money for technology to do its job better, the response is: "So what? Everybody does." Consequently, we may need a different approach on funding requests in future years.

    How IFAS funds IT

    One of the issues that Pete wants to talk about with the deans is with how IT funding is handled within IFAS. Do we fund it centrally or via individual units? Currently, we have a little bit funded up front via our IT and ICS units that represent some basic structure. The rest of the funds are sent to deans, department chairs and center directors to fund operations. Then the last two weeks of the year, unspent funds are hurriedly spent on updating equipment and technology. Sometimes poorly informed choices are made as a result. Pete gave examples such as hand-held technology, new notebook computer purchases. Pete believes this amounts to a lot of money.

    Pete mentioned bandwidth is another IT issue that is going to remain a major concern for our remote facilities. At NFREC they have three Polycom units currently supported by a single T1 line. There are times when all three of those units are scheduled, so bandwidth is already an issue for that.

    Completing the Polycom system state-wide down to the county level is another issue to be discussed with the deans.

    On-line non-formal education

    Pete also wants to discuss the certificate program with the deans, and the use of web-based non-formal education. WebCT is currently used for formal education programming, but that requires a Gatorlink account. It is difficult to manage that with the clientele we have who are interested in our certification programs. We need an easy way for a client to go on-line, select a course, register for it and take it. Pete knows that UF has a committee looking at an alternative to WebCT right now, for distance education.

    Elaine Turner stated that they are using WebCT for non-formal education by creating a Gatorlink ID and password for people at the beginning of the course, once they register. They do this for over 900 people a semester. Elaine mentioned that their program involves a registration window and is not a continuous thing such as extension might desire. Joe Spooner mentioned that Mike Conlon is investigating the automation of account creation, as Joe investigated that for use at Plant City. That site has local community college students who want to use our computer lab there, and for that to work they need Gatorlink IDs.

    Dan Cromer mentioned that he is on a steering committee for the Gatorlink Account Management revision project. That project is expected to be completed within four months. This will extend the Gatorlink username length to 16 characters. It will also provide a method for creating temporary Gatorlink accounts. People who are assigned a particular role will have the ability to create accounts for individuals that will have a definite expiration date. Those creating the accounts will be held responsible for the use of those accounts. Pete pointed out that still isn't automatic enough for our purposes. We need a client to be able to create those automatically via a registration process. Other states (Washington State and Penn State were mentioned) offer the ability to go on-line at any time and register, pay for it via credit card, take the course and receive the certification. We need to have that capability as well. This is important not just for Pesticide Certification, but also for the Master Gardener program and many other such programs. Pete said that industry is "eating our lunch" on this. Dan said that he would raise the issue to Mike Conlon.

    Ashley Wood mentioned that ICS is working with Fred Fishel, our Pesticide Information Coordinator. They are going to use the IFAS Extension Bookstore accounts to support online registration to do exactly what Pete has said is needed. This will be ready as soon as the courses are up there--hopefully within the next couple of months. They are also working with Pierce Jones on two of his courses. Ashley thinks that this could soon be used more broadly for these types of things. Lisa Hightower and Ron Thomas are working to get the information together and making certain that the content is correct from an informational standpoint. Ashley did not think they were using WebCT, but Lisa would be the contact on that for interested parties.

    Jan van der Aa mentioned that as soon as credit card information is being recorded, then we come under state laws concerning the privacy of that information. Ashley said that is indeed a concern, as is keeping permanent records of any courses taken or certifications earned.

    Ashley mentioned that IFAS had three representatives on a DCE Distance Education committee that is looking to ways to provide course materials over the web and the technologies for doing that. Those people are Sabine Grunwald (who handles distance education for the Soil and Water Science department), Lisette Stall (who handles International Distance Education), and Ron Thomas (who is the Distance Education Coordinator at ICS). Some of the applications they had looked at include Woomba, Elluminate, Breeze, and Articulate Presenter.

    Texas A&M has purchased many licenses for Centra Symposium. Ashley has used that system and has seen demos of Breeze. People like those because the meetings can be streamed as well as stored for later viewing. Of course, one would have to manage the access to archived materials in order to determine how it was being utilized.

    Providing technology recommendations and guidelines

    Pete used the acquisition of Breeze by the Soil and Water Science department to kick off a discussion of how IFAS handles technology acquisitions. This led to a lengthy discussion of how recommendations might be made and disseminated in order to improve coordination of that throughout IFAS.

    Dan Cromer's concern is that faculty staff decide among themselves what technologies they need and then IT should standardize on those. Our ability to supply better support depends greatly on standardization and new technologists are often very demanding in their support needs. David Palmer pointed out that there is no mechanism for choosing a standard product in any particular technological category. Ashley Wood mentioned that he participates in a Leadership and Management special interest group headed by Dan Cotton. They are utilizing various technologies in their monthly meetings on that and Ashley has found it very informative to see how each works. Ashley believes that someone must experience the different types of technologies in order to make good recommendations. In the case of distance education, perhaps that should be a function of ICS.

    Dan asked Joe Spooner how CALS was handling technology selection among their faculty. Joe said that currently they are leaving it up to the faculty to decide. Elaine Turner mentioned that WebCT is the support platform on campus and that is the logical choice for web-based instruction. Al Wysocki has started incorporating Articulate along with WebCT--for voice-overs on lecture, for example. Elaine Turner uses Impatica for that same thing.

    Dave Palmer has been through WebCT training twice and feels it is just too complicated for extension needs. Elaine Turner wasn't sure that she agreed, noting that they have been using it four years now for on-line training of people with just a high school education. She believes it may come down to how you set it up. Initial access it the hardest thing. CALS has a mechanism to setup the Gatorlink accounts and passwords and e-mail those to the registered students. Their initial access is often the most challenging part and that is when the greatest amount of customer support seems to be needed. The Java configuration can also be a bit problematic, but they have step-by-step instructions on how the students have to configure their browser.

    Dan Cromer suggested requested that the deans appoint a committee on this. It was mentioned, however, that time and resource needs for investigation are considerable. Jan also reminded people that getting a system in place that is simple enough is a necessary first step to providing easy time-independent access to course materials, but once that is done, one also has to make sure that support is available when people have access problems at whatever time of day or night. Otherwise, the clients will go elsewhere. Jan pointed out that this is one of the nice things about WebCT, as the support is already there.

    IT Updates

    IFAS IT machine room update

    Dan reported that there will be an outage at 6pm EDT on Friday May the 12th in order to replace the UPS in the IFAS IT machine room. Most of our servers will be down until sometime Sunday. Certain servers will remain up, those that support DHCP and DNS for basic computer connectivity, the front-end mail servers for accepting incoming mail (though mail delivery will be delayed until the work is done). Dan intends to send out additional reminders to the IFAS-ALL list. This work will double our UPS capacity, which has been inadequate for quite some time. We have ordered new machines for our enterprise web systems: FAWN, DDIS, SART. For Unifas we will have a machine here on campus located at CNS. Arrangements are also being made to have a mirror server for Unifas in Tallahassee for disaster recovery.

    Need for software project advisory committee

    Dan stated that he wants to have a mechanism for guiding IFAS IT's software developers in which projects to undertake. He would like to have a formal advisory committee through which requests for software development projects could be submitted, analyzed for the costs involved, and then either rejected or passed on for implementation. While IT can provide cost and time estimates for projects, Dan doesn't want them to be the ones who decide which projects should and should not be done. Pete pointed out that the other side of this is that if we do not provide such a service for our faculty, they will go out and hire someone to do it on their own, that person will eventually leave, and then IFAS IT is stuck with trying to maintain it.

    Pete pointed out that the taskforce report includes the need for a software innovation team. Ashley Wood said that the idea is to come up with a group of people, not just in IT but across IFAS, that would work on approaches to software development--including finding applicable commercial products and making recommendations. Our need for a content management solution is one example, and that discussion continues. The problem is how to initiate such a thing, who would be on such a committee and how would it all operate. A suggestion was made that perhaps this could be a sub-committee of the IFAS Faculty Council. Jan mentioned that this might issue might overlap with the ICC sub-committee on IT Governance.

    Administrative ownership of IT issues

    Dan mentioned that upper administration must be involved because they need to make the call as to whether resources should be put into IT vs. other needs. Steve said that those involved with ITPAC, and those involved in the taskforce report, are people who have a vested interest in technology. Though our recommendations are valuable, what really matters is what direction the upper administration wants to take. Steve would like for Pete to bring back from his meeting with the deans, some idea of what they see as being important for IT to address--based on their understanding of the report. Administration must have ownership of the IT plans and projects if they are to be successful. Steve said that we currently are not getting the feedback we need as to what direction IT should head. As an example of that, Steve wondered at the current level of administration interest in and commitment to IT when we have been without an IT Director for the last five years. Pete said that Joe Joyce indicated to him that Dan is "the Director of IFAS IT", though that is still not his title; and Joe said that the matter of an IFAS IT Director did not need to be included in the taskforce report.

    Support for new technologies

    Pete said that handheld devices are going to rapidly become more and more common. He asked Dan how IT planned to support them and how we can help people make a decision on which of the myriad of alternatives to purchase--or is IT going to support everything that anyone wishes to get? Dan responded that there are basically two platforms: Blackberry and Windows Mobile. IFAS IT currently supports both.

    Development and dissemination of recommendations

    Pete's concern is that we don't provide any recommendations and guidelines currently on this and other such devices. Folks are listening to sales people rather than hearing IT's recommendations on that. They also aren't being made aware of purchasing alternatives for particular devices that might save them money. Also, the lack of available recommendations leads to a wider diversity of what IT must support--causing us all further problems down-the-road.

    Steve questioned whether we have the resources to develop recommendations and to be proactive about that. Providing recommendations takes resources too, and if people don't have administrative encouragement to follow recommendations that might be developed, then would those resources be well spent? Dwight Jesseman noted that people are very individual regarding their particular tastes in handheld devices. Different people are attracted to different features and that leads naturally to diversity.

    Dave Palmer mentioned that recommendations on their own were not enough. We also have to disseminate those in an efficient fashion for them to be wide adopted. That is an internal marketing issue. Steve would like to point out that ITPAC has already recommended a process for that which had been proposed via ICC recommendation. IFAS IT, however, has neither responded to nor implemented those recommendations.

    Pete said this issue relate not just to handhelds, but to laptops and desktops as well. Year-end purchases will happen soon and many people do not know what machines to focus on or where it might be best to purchase those.

    Dan Cromer asked Steve if the ICC could look into providing and maintaining a list of IT-related items which they have had good luck supporting.

    E-mail address confusion

    Jim Selph admitted confusion on the use of "@ufl.edu" addresses. Jim had not realized that he couldn't use his old IFAS account name, "jselph" with @ufl.edu as his address. Jim happens to be one of many individuals whose old IFAS account name and newer Gatorlink name do not match. The official e-mail address is gatorlink@ufl.edu, where gatorlink is replaced by one's Gatorlink username. If they don't match, one cannot substitute the old IFAS account name for the Gatorlink account name.

    Dan mentioned that the Gatorlink Account Management revision project will implement eventual removal of unused Gatorlink account names. That, along with the increase to 16 characters, may allow more IFAS folks to have the exact username they desire. Dan noted that Chris Hughes has created a website where anyone may go to determine if a particular Gatorlink username is already in use, and if so, by whom: http://itsa.ifas.ufl.edu/checkgatorlink.

    Dwight relayed the current official policy on expiration of Gatorlink usernames as indicated to him by Fran McDonell of the UF Help Desk. Once a Gatorlink username expires, it can remain in temporary use for seven days. Based on the worst-case scenario of when the semesters start and end, an account could be in an expired state for 20 months. If there was a forwarding set on that account, it would last for one year (though they tell people that it only lasts for 60 days). Technically, a Gatorlink expires when the account has all affiliations removed; there has been no process to do that, however. That process is supposed to be implemented via the Gatorlink Account Management revision project.

    Next Meeting

    Our next ITPAC meeting will be scheduled for the 21st or 22nd of August.

last edited 4 May 2006 by Steve Lasley