ICC Home / Members / Meetings / Peer Support / Documentation / Projects
Notes from August 18, 2005 ITPAC Meeting:
notes by Steve Lasley
Streaming Audio from the meeting.
Update from the ICC
Steve Lasley announced that the ICC had no formal written recommendations to present for consideration by ITPAC. Steve did, however, raise a concern that is often mentioned within the ICC relating to the IFAS IT recommendation processes in general. The ICC considers procedures necessary for implementing IT solutions and sometimes these procedures require policy changes or policy statements. For those, the ICC makes written recommendations to ITPAC which ITPAC considers for incorporation into its own recommendations to administration. The problem, from the ICC's standpoint, is that after ITPAC the process is invisible. While we can assume things are on hold, that doesn't allow us to move ahead with plans. We then don't know if we should merely wait, or change plans; in short, we don't know how to proceed.
Steve asked the other representatives on ITPAC whether they saw the same issue and whether or not they thought there was something that ITPAC could do about it. He made a suggestion that we could dedicate a section of each meeting to follow-up on pending ITPAC recommendations and their disposition. Steve tried to emphasize that he was interested in tweaking the excellent model which we have in place within IFAS so that it worked more efficiently. Joe Joyce, Executive Associate Vice President for IFAS responded that he would like a list of the pending items. Steve pointed out that all ITPAC recommendations are posted shortly after they are made. Joe then mentioned that many decisions were awaiting the results of the IFAS Videoconferencing Committee and of the Information Technology Task Force. He also said that he thought interaction between the ICC and IT/SA is currently better than it has ever been and thanked us for taking that on.
Dale McPherson, Coordinator of Administrative Services in the office of the Dean for Extension, thought that it would be relatively simple to incorporate a status review of pending issues into each of the ITPAC meetings. Jim Syvertsen agreed and suggested that we prepare a list of pending recommendations for inclusion on the agenda at each future meeting. Joe said that he would then use that portion of our meetings to report back on what he had taken to the VP and Deans on our recommendation and report back with their response.
Steve also suggested that when Jim Syvertsen delivered official written ITPAC recommendations to Joe, that he "cc" the other ITPAC members so we would all be advised of the action items. Steve made the point that this would make more of the process visible to all. Joe suggested that, rather than burdening Jim with that, he would prefer that Ann highlight action items within the minutes in red when she delivers those. It was decided that Ann would do this in the future.
Steve said he would be glad to add status updates to the recommendations on the ITPAC website and we then could start crossing those off as they had been dealt with. At its next meeting, the ICC will also prepare a list of those things which we are currently waiting on and supply those to Joe for his consideration, cc'ing the ITPAC committee so they are aware as well.
Update from the IFAS IT Taskforce 2005
Pete Vergot, District Extension Director for the Northwest District, and chairman of the Information Technology Task Force attended via Polycom from the Jackson County Extension office and gave an update on his committee's progress. Many of the details which Pete covered are included in what was the current draft of the Taskforce recommendation (along with considerably more detail as well).
Pete described how the taskforce had split into three teams and how the "Web Management" team was the first to return recommendations--some of which are already being implemented. We have had some personnel reassigned within our organization to create a new web team for IFAS to help improve our external web presence. Also, interviews are well under way for a "Web Manager for IFAS" position which has attracted some very good candidates.
Another recommendation that came out of that team was to look at the way we offer our non-formal education courses and determine how we can move those to the web so that we can offer things such as State Pesticide Certification and Master Gardener training more easily, efficiently, and to a wider audience via that medium.
The last major recommendation from the web team related to obtaining a document management system for the IFAS web presence. Pete stressed that if we are to keep up with the rest of the world in terms of our ability to deliver informational content, such a system will be absolutely necessary. Pete also stressed that, while we do have a special request into the legislature for one-time funds to support our efforts, we are only going to get those funds if we can demonstrate that such funding would allow us to better assistant our clientele. The taskforce report will focus specifically on how we can improve our services to external clients for this very reason--whether those be in extension, research or teaching.
A short survey will be going out to all our faculty and staff real soon to satisfy the reporting aspect of the taskforce's charter.
Joe Joyce asked that the ITPAC review the Taskforce report prior to its submission to administration. Joe then gave a brief summary of the IFAS financial situation. IFAS went through some pretty severe financial straits over the last several years where we lost about $21.1 million in funding. Just about all of that came out of vacant positions and resulted in us losing both funds and positions. We have recovered from part of that now through the hiring of new faculty; what we have not recovered, however, is the operational funds portion. This means that much of the funding sources we used to apply to situations such as our IT infrastructure needs are no longer available. Joe stressed that it will be absolutely necessary to get buy-in across our various units for us to be able to pool our funds to meet the needs of the IFAS organization as a whole. It will require a sales job from the ground up to the VP and Deans saying that this is important--and that it might even be more important than filling positions. While faculty are traditionally the economic engine that drives a university, within IFAS we have the additional missions of research and extension for which our IT infrastructure plays an especially critical role in supporting.
Joe Joyce asked Pete to be sure to prioritize the needs, as we will undoubtedly not be able to fund them all. Joe also mentioned that equipment leasing, as we have done with our servers for the AD project, makes a great deal of sense in that it builds in an accommodation for the continual cycle of replacement that is needed in the hardware and software supporting our information technology.
Pete spoke about the cost savings (time and travel) that our videoconferencing equipment could provide and the fact that it could also help us reach a wider audience for many of our programs. The sooner we can get our bandwidth issues resolved and widen the distribution and use of our videoconferencing equipment, the sooner we can begin to realize the cost benefits inherent in that technology. Pete emphasized that this equipment does work. County faculty are already teaching workshops for our extension specialists remotely. Virtual field days are being planned already. Pete also emphasized that the Taskforce report will be out-of-date the minute it is submitted and he suspects we should plan to continuously update our IT plans, on as often as a six-month basis, in order to keep us moving in the proper direction. (Note: this is where a formal framework for IT operations could prove most valuable as it would provide procedures and methods for continued maintenance of our critical infrastructure.)
Chris Hughes, IT/SA Active Directory Lead, expressed his concerns that the current draft report spoke mostly to the expansion and addition of IT services at a time when even basic IT services are under supported both in our hardware and the FTE to support them. Pete responded that this is being worked on and has not yet been incorporated into the draft.
As an example of how IT can assist our programs, Joe Joyce offered the example graduate student seminar credit. That is currently not available to students at RECs, and the unit directors had been talking about offering it to their students separately. Joe pointed out that, potentially, this could be done via Polycom--allowing students at remote sites to participate in Gainesville-based departmental seminars and vice versa. Joe concurred with Pete in that we need to get our clientele behind our initiatives if we are ever going to be successful in getting funding of the type we currently have requested of the legislature. Joe said that right now, the sources of funds we have for improving our IT infrastructure are few: we have some cost continuing money that was non-recurring this past year, we have some salary savings that we will accrue, and we have some carry forward--but the pool of indirect money which we used to have is gone. We pay $383,000 a year for PeopleSoft service off the top; something that used to cost UF $800,000 is now costing $2.9 million. Dawn Mendoza, Administrative Assistant for Ag Bio Engineering, commented that PeopleSoft was a mistake; but Joe countered that we had no choice.
Pete related that he had met with a number of unit heads and center directors and had spoken with them about the need to fund certain central IT services like file, print and web servers differently than we have in the past. We need to move to a model where the costs for maintenance of those is pre-planned rather than waiting to see if year-end funds may allow buying a few items here and there. Pete knows that there is a lot of money being spent at the unit level for IT but is concerned that it may not be coordinated properly in order to get the best service for IFAS overall from our increasingly limited budget.
Pete said there are tremendous needs out there. The 1997 report listed 57 recommendations of which only 21 were implemented/funded--one of those being the ITPAC. But we've got to work together to make any of this happen. The requests will keep coming in, and if we don't do some of these things we will have people "eating our lunch". Others are already using our information to deliver non-formal courses at North Florida Community College--and they are requesting additional funds (to the tune of $1 million) from the legislature this coming year to do that. Pete thinks it is ludicrous that we are not in that business. Once these sorts of opportunities are lost, and our clientele goes elsewhere for their information delivery, we will be very hard pressed to turn that around.
Jim Syvertsen asked Pete where we were on the survey. Pete said that this area has been perhaps the weakest of the specified team tasks but that the survey should be going out soon. Most of the questions will relate to training needs (a preliminary list of questions may be found here). Pete related that this information might not be collected and tabulated until after the report is delivered. Pete said that he had felt the pressure to get some of the taskforce's ideas on paper and didn't feel he could wait on the survey, which seemed to be continually delayed. He said that the more folks who can see and comment on the report prior to its submission, the better and that even the final report perhaps should include the word "draft" at the top so folks realize this is a continuing issue that we must continually address--not a one shot affair.
Jim Selph, County Extension Director, DeSoto County, thought having the survey follow the initial report sounded backwards from the way it should have been done. He felt that the results of the survey would certainly affect how the report should read. Jim also mentioned that funding from the legislature will definitely depend on clientele feedback. He said that the Citrus Expo in Ft. Meyer was coming up and that the Beef Cattle Short Course would be held next this coming spring. Until we introduce our proposed technology to those clientele, there is no hope of them lobbying on our behalf. Most of these people (folks like Phil Turner of the Turner Cattle Co. in Desoto, or Clives Hollingsworth) aren't even thinking currently about the possibility of sitting in their office or coming to Jim's office to hear the Beef Cattle Short Course or the Citrus Expo. Jim says we have to do something in-house the best we can currently in order to get those folks on board.
Chris Hughes mentioned that his contacts at the College of Business might be a place to look for advice and assistance to provide a quick example of what IFAS could do for our clientele. They have been providing an MBA program over the internet for several years.
Pete added that simple things like Farm Bureau Board meeting would be another avenue for introducing new information delivery methods. Pete also mentioned that a Pasture Management workshop is underway currently which demonstrates some of these capabilities where the course is being taught by 12 difference faculty at four different locations--and it can happen with any program we offer. His point was that many of us aren't making best use of this even internally currently. The third and last workshop is this coming Tuesday and they are going to do an evaluation of not just the content, but of the delivery methods and get feedback directly from clientele on that. Jim Syvertsen asked if there was any chance of communicating that evaluation to all counties and Pete said he planned on that. Chris Hughes mentioned that this could have also been recorded for on-demand delivery later.
Dale McPherson mentioned that sometimes we have the resources to do these types of things, but we don't have the will to do it. An example is the Green Industries continuing education program, where there was something which we could have and should have done, but nothing was done and others went ahead and did it instead. Sometimes it's just a matter of convincing our own people. Dale hopes that the Taskforce report won't focus only on the monetary aspects, but also spend some time addressing the motivational aspects of becoming a better organization via our Information Technology capabilities.
Russ Rouseff, Professor, Citrus REC, said that he believes you get action for those things you reward. He said that he didn't have any particular award system in mind for this instance, but that some reward system should be considered as a motivator for participating in such programs. Chris Hughes stated that the college of business offered considerable cash awards to professors who put their courses on-line. IFAS may not be able to afford such a system, but Jim Syvertsen pointed out that there would be rewards in terms of travel costs and time savings as well as increased participation in programs. Pete agreed whole heartedly.
Dwight Jesseman, IT/SA Network Systems Engineer responsible for our e-mail system, asked Pete how many IT support people the workshops had required. Pete said they used Patrick Pettus in Gainesville, and especially Josh Wilson up there to make this possible. Once the details were worked out, however, the need for IT assistance might be considerably less. Jim Selph said that, from his experiences with the Polycom, he would always want IT support on hand to make sure things went smoothly. Jim pointed out that these sessions can do a great deal of good if they go well, but can also do a great deal of harm if they don't.
The fact that we have a number of older Polycom systems was discussed. It was suggested that we move to a lease model, if possible, so that we can keep our equipment upgraded as the technology changes. Bandwidth to some of the counties is another issue that we must address. Pete mentioned that desktop video is available via the Polycom PVX software which is available to us at approx. $100 per seat--although a camera and headset would also be requirements for that. Pete is already using this system successfully on his laptop (with a few minor glitches) and it looks promising. In Pete's district, those county offices which cannot afford a full Polycom system now have the PVX software, and Pete is using that for county director meetings and expects to have a fall faculty meeting on interactive video (IV). Pete sees broad application and use of IV technology.
Joe asked Pete what the timeframe might be for getting the report to ITPAC. Pete said he was planning on having this done by mid-September. Some discussion of the survey followed and most seemed to think that we should put the survey out ASAP.
Steve Lasley mentioned that his department, Entomology & Nematology, has begun to use the Polycom for its faculty meetings, going out to all the RECs across the state where we have interested faculty. When this was done the first time, faculty saw it worked and have now started holding graduate student committee meetings similarly. Pete mentioned that graduate student policies currently prohibit videoconferencing for final committee meetings.
Jim Selph said that he might be able to go to his county commissioners to get some of the older Polycom equipment replaced, but that not every county could/would do that. Joe Joyce mentioned that we need to solicit departments that are willing to supply funds to support some of these things at a central level--specifically mentioning centralized file services. The point is that we need to get creative in the methods we can use to coordinate some of these things. Joe mentioned part of that requires we get over some of our hesitations to own and control all equipment at the unit level. There are significant volume discounts available which we could obtain if we were to pool those resources.
Dan Cromer, Acting Director of IFAS IT, updated the ITPAC on several matters. He mentioned that we are on track for standardizing on Gatorlink@ufl.edu e-mail reply addresses by our December break. All the old addresses will continue to work. The ultimate goal, which will require some coordination with UF IT groups, is that we will be able to automate the creation of a new IFAS Exchange mailbox when a new person comes into our organization as an employee. Dwight Jesseman will have a website ready that explains the process very soon. Dwight mentioned that all new accounts are currently following this concept. Dwight also stated that all IFAS accounts will be populated in the Global Address List fairly soon, but that those return addresses will not be in the Gatorlink@ufl.edu format until the between-terms change-over is made.
Dan also updated ITPAC on plans to route all incoming e-mail (not internal e-mail) through the Gatorlink mail servers where the messages would be scored for SPAM before being forwarded back to the IFAS Exchange servers for delivery. This would allow us to take advantage of Gatorlink's anti-spam checking methods to improve the spam handling of our own system. Messages that are believed to be spam will be moved to the Junk E-mail folder just as they are now. There was a brief discussion of how to control false positives using Outlook or OWA. This is another end-user education issue that is very difficult to address in our current environment. There is no newsletter or equivalent method of getting such information out to just those who might have the interest.
Dwight mentioned that standardizing on Outlook as our e-mail client would help with this, but that end-user education is difficult for him to do from where he sits--yet the complaints come to him. (Note: this sounds like another example of where we could make good use of an IT-InTouch list if IFAS IT would commit the resources to improve our communications with our clients.)
Allen Wysocki Assistant Professor, Food and Resource Economics and MAB Grad. Program Director mentioned that he recent found that Access database files are not allowed as attachments. He did eventually realize that he could attach those by first zipping them, but wondered if instructions relating to that could be included in the error message. Chris Hughes said that we had no control over the Outlook message, but that this was another end-user training issue.
Dan reported that the replacement equipment for our DNS and DHCP servers had been received. He mentioned that we also have another printer server and another web server on order. We are waiting on the hiring of the web manager to have a better idea of the content management system which will be used before any hardware is ordered for that purpose. We do have the need for a new fileserver and we are coordinating among several units at this time to see if we can get contributions toward that, with the balance being funded centrally. Dan also purchased a test Linux server for EDIS so that testing would not have to be done in production and so we would have a mirror of that for the sake of redundancy.
Dan said that he had no update on the IFAS Videoconferencing Committee. Joe said he had asked for that twice w/o response from Jane Luzar, ASO Dean for CALS and chair of that committee. Steve Lasley reported that he had asked twice similarly w/o response. As far as Steve knew, the last that anyone had heard from Jane on this matter was in an e-mail to the committee members on May 23rd saying that we needed to wrap it up and get a report to the VP. In that e-mail she mentioned that she would have the remaining tasks summarized by May 27th and that she would run that by the committee before submission. No such draft was forthcoming, however. Pete had asked for an update from Jane as well. Jane did not make it to today's meeting.
Pete asked Dan about the status of getting extension staff on the Microsoft Campus Agreement so we could get WinXP and Office 2003 loaded on their county-owned machines. Having different versions on those machines apparently has been a major issue for many counties. After much discussion, Chris Hughes stated that he felt we could assume that the counts would be given correctly to Mike Conlon for next year's contract and thus proceed with any necessary upgrades. Dan Cromer cautioned, however, that county-owned machines which are so upgraded should have their hard drives wiped before returning those back to the county for general use outside IFAS. This is because the licenses are valid only for our own users. Regarding the Master Gardeners, Chris said that the contract would cover concurrent users at the time of the license renewal; thus is we had 100 in the program at that time we would need only 100 licenses in order to be in compliance. Volunteer numbers will have to gotten manually, but all the rest of our users can be counted by virtue of them having Gatorlink accounts. Chris said he would get the details of all this clearly stated to Dale later today so he could contact the district directors for the needed numbers.
Dan reminded everyone that we should never share user accounts. There is a guest account system currently that is going to be changed, but the deadline on that keeps creeping away. The new system will somehow allow an authorized person to assign temporary accounts and keep track of the people using those. Until that new system is ready, if you need to use guest accounts, you may e-mail anyone at IT/SA and they will see to it that you get the daily guest account credentials sent to you.
Pete said, beside the Office upgrades, St. Lucie County also wanted to print out materials at a larger size. Pete believed that could be handled currently with EDIS dollars through ICS. Ashley Wood, Director IFAS Information/Publications Services, said that was correct. Each county has an EDIS allocation and that all they need to do is tell ICS how they want to administer that allocation.
Jim Selph asked about the possibility of getting web management training out in the districts. Dan said that the timing was a bit off right now on that, as we are awaiting all the changes which are in progress relating to the IFAS web content management. Ashley said that the web manager would be hired soon. After that a number of things must happen in designing and implementing a system; but once that is done we will have one method of training everyone how best to communicate via the web. We already have someone assigned as the content specialist and training manager. It will be several months, however, before we are able to deliver on this. Jim said that he was merely interested in having his secretaries trained so they could update his website for him. Dan Cromer said that Jim could call Tom Hintz in the interim about getting a course in using FrontPage. Dan said that Tom could do this one-on-one, while Pete related that Tom will train on-site if you can arrange for 8 or more to attend. Chris Hughes mentioned that training materials on every Microsoft product available can be accessed at http://it-train.ifas.ufl.edu via Gatorlink credentials for IFAS-only use.
Joe Joyce gave a quick summary of plans to outsource the IFAS printing services to a third party vendor. Savings anticipated from that move will be used to help with our proposed web management efforts. The company we are looking hard at for this has an office in about every county in the state. This would allow local printing and even delivery of print items around the state.
Jim Syvertsen thanked Ann for doing the minutes and said that she should get those distributed in the next week. Jim asked that we all send in any corrections or additions so that we have those ready to approved by our next ITPAC meeting which is planned for early November of 2005.
last edited 24 August 2005 by Steve Lasley