ITS  
   

The Role & Functions of ITS

 
ITS is organized into the following teams to provide information technology systems and services vital to accomplish the mission and goals of Aquinas College: Information Systems, Client Services and Network Design.
 
The major functions performed by these teams are:
Computer Labs, AQnet, & Open Port Support
Software Support
Information System Support
Technology Research, Planning, Project Management, & Communications
Operating Budget / Grant / Donor Submissions & Management
Provider Selection & Management
Network Planning, Development,& Management
Physical Network Cable & Electrical Plant Planning, Development & Management
Server System Administration
Print Server Administration
Peripherals Acquisition, Support, & Maintenance
Security & Disaster Recovery
Inventory, Maintenance, Preventative Maintenance, Warranty & Contracts
 

Computer Labs, AQnet, and Open Port Support
ITS installs and administers computer labs for students to access Aquinas Network resources on College-owned equipment. ITS also administers a Residence Hall Network (AQnet) for access to the College’s high speed Internet connection to students’ personally owned computers in the residence Halls. This network also provides open ports in various locations across campus for AQnet-configured computers to connect to the Internet.

 

Software Support
There are approximately 100 individual software packages available on the Aquinas Novell Network to authorized users such as students, faculty and staff. Upgrades, changes and new acquisitions occur regularly.

 

Acquisition Services: ITS provides software acquisition services which involve analysis of needs, evaluations of features and compatibilities with campus standards, feasibility studies, budget/grant/donor submission and management.

 

Installation Services: ITS installs approved software on network servers, executes and manages software licensing regulations, provides printing facilities, and tests access through the network. Security and authorization systems are designed, implemented and managed. For standard software packages, that is, software which is available to anyone on the network, ITS tests all features of the software as feasible for a reasonable period of time before it is released for use by users. For non-standard and discipline-specific software, the requestor/intended user of the software is encouraged to conduct testing before the software is put into live use.

 

Support Services: ITS computing supports standard software packages installed on the Aquinas network. That is, software which is available to anyone on the network. Examples are e-mail and word processing. Support services consist of the Aquinas Online Knowledge Base (requires login), a staffed help desk (phone, walk-in, and by-appointment assistance) and training classes (hands on, demonstration, and explanation). Troubleshooting and problem resolution of a non-training nature is also provided.

 

Upgrade Services: Standard software packages will be upgraded as new releases are available to the extent that budget, staff, materials and equipment resources are available. Non-standard software will be upgraded according to needs of the users, budget, and contract and licensing agreements.

 

Information System Support
Software Systems are multi-module systems designed externally which reside on the Aquinas Network. They are supported to various degrees externally. This support includes periodic software releases. There are strict guidelines to approved hardware, system software, application software, and network configurations which the vendor allows.

 

Acquisition Services: ITS provides software acquisition services which involve analysis of needs, evaluations of features and compatibilities with campus standards, feasibility studies, budget/grant/donor submission and management. Deadlines for requesting discipline-specific/department-specific software coincide with the Aquinas College Bookstore textbook ordering deadlines.

 

Installation Services: ITS installs approved software systems on network servers, executes and manages software licensing regulations, provides printing facilities, and designs and tests access through the network. Security and authorization systems are designed, implemented and managed. ITS tests, or coordinates the testing of, major system features of the software as feasible for a reasonable period of time before it is released for testing by users. After testing has proved successful by consensus of the major users, the system is released for live use.

 

Support Services: ITS computing supports software systems installed on the Aquinas network. Support services consist of systems analysts/programmers for advanced testing and problem resolution support, report programming, and advanced query generation, staffed help desk (phone, walk-in, and by appointment assistance) and training classes (hands on, demonstration, and explanation). User group coordination is also provided to encourage effective system use especially where cooperative computing is essential. Trouble shooting and problem resolution of a non-training nature is also provided.

 

Upgrade Services: Standard software packages will be upgraded as new releases are available to the extent that budget, staff, materials and equipment resources are available. Users will be intimately involved in evaluation of release features, changes in current operations, and testing of release changes before the upgrades are put into live operation.

 

Technology Research, Planning, Project Management, and Communications
Research: Technology changes at a rapid rate and Information Technology & Services strives to keep abreast of changes, trends, and new technology as it relates to higher education and Aquinas. The topics involved include products, industries, companies, services and methods. Research tools include professional organizations such as EDUCAUSE, various user groups, Internet newsgroups and lists, direct contact with other colleges, and periodicals. This research is vital to planning global strategies and setting directions which will make the best use of scarce resources for the overall benefit of Aquinas College.

 

Planning: Long-term and short-term planning take place on a regular basis in order to address the needs of Aquinas. This planning stems from the mission and plans set forth by the cabinet and board of trustees and is consistent with the performance management system and the College planning process. It occurs in efforts such as developing and maintaining The Technology Planning Guide (planning framework) and project plans (for donor and grant proposals), and regularly in the course of addressing technology needs and potential directions. Inherent in these planning efforts are knowledge of campus needs and approval from various groups such as Cabinet and Board of Trustees. Planning resources utilized include outside consultants (paid and volunteer), research tools, direct input from campus, divisional chairs and department chairs/heads, and committees.

 

Project Management: Information Technology & Services staff are regularly involved in maintenance of existing operations/systems as well as projects of various sizes. Each person has their own projects to accomplish. In addition, teams are utilized to accomplish projects of various sizes and durations which require the knowledge, expertise, and on-going support of multiple people. Project management tools and techniques are utilized to match tasks with resources, due dates with task durations, and costs with budgets. Project management software is used whenever feasible to plan, execute and follow up on project tasks. As such, project management involves detailed planning, and progress measurements. It is essential to carrying out plans.

 

Communications: Communications are important to determine needs, problems, and opinions. Communications are also important to announce plans and report on the status of projects. The sender and receiver roles of communications are considered interchangeable. That is, Information Technology & Services assumes the receiver role by maintaining an open office daily, being available by published individual and departmental phone lines, and responding to E-mail messages daily. In this way, the College Community should feel welcome to engage in communications with Information Technology & Services when they have questions or feel confused about technology-related matters. Information Technology & Services assumes the sender role through ACORN postings, newsletters, memos, e-mail messages, phone-mail messages, communication boards, personal correspondence, and any other vehicle available. In this way, Information Technology & Services sends information which it realizes is important for awareness and planning efforts throughout the College. Yet, care must be taken to not only to communicate facts, but also to communicate understanding of needs not yet funded. People tend to think the worst when they don't hear information/plans or understand situations. The challenge is to anticipate communications needs and to make them effective. It is also recognized that there are individual communication preferences and capabilities and that there is no College standard for communications. Therefore communications is expected to be a challenge, but one which best efforts are required to be as effective as possible within the constraints.

 

Operating Budget / Grant / Donor Submissions and Management
In general, the maintenance of operational technology systems and services and funded through the operating budget. Approved projects normally require funding through grants or friends of the College (individual or corporate).

 

Operating Budget: Expense budget submissions are normally due 5-6 months before the start of the budget year. This consists of a budget request in the form of dollars requested by categories and narratives supporting each request. Budget approvals (usually significantly different from budget requests) are normally made after the October board meeting of the budget year in progress. Budget freezes have typically been made in February of the budget year in an effort to achieve a balanced College budget at year end. Therefore budget spending typically begins at notification of budget approval in October and continues until budget freeze time four months later. The challenge then is to immediately adjust plans in October when the approved budget is announced and execute spending plans over a four-month period. Rapid technology changes require updated research in many cases just prior to making purchases. As much as possible, vendor contracts need to begin in July to coincide with normal spending parameters. Software changes required to maintain existing programs tied to the academic calendar are expected annually. A major challenge is to reconcile this budget cycle with the academic calendar. Since the spending window begins two months after the start of school year, either implementation can be attempted for second semester or for the following fall. This is further complicated by timing variables such as are faculty plans and training, textbook availability, and software release schedules.

 

Grant/Donor: With acceptance of Technology Plans by the Cabinet, funding is sought outside of the operating budget. To generate proposals/submissions to potential donors requires case statements appropriate for the intended reader. Sometimes this is done within specific guidelines, other times it is written after consultation with experts or people who know the reader(s) and can provide advice on what would make the proposal effective. The timing of such submissions is according to a donor plan coordinated by the Advancement Office. Grant opportunities often normally have deadlines while donor prospects are solicited according to Development wisdom. Narratives for submissions are generally based on benefits expected while the accompanying budget is based on specific technologies required. Significant research is required to create these submissions. Technology changes which occur from the time of submission to the time of approval can be significant and change the allocation of the budget or require additional funds to be sought.

 

Management: Spending is carefully executed and monitored to achieve the most for the dollars spent. Detailed operating budget expenses are useful in planning for the next cycle. Grant and donor funds may require specific spending reporting standards. In any case, detailed records are maintained for accountability.

 

Provider Selection and Management
Outside services are required to maintain systems and execute funded projects due to specializations and limited internal resources. All mission-critical systems are under maintenance contract. This includes servers, network components and laser printers. Physical network services are purchased annually. Network specialists are contracted as needed. Other services are purchased according to funded project specifications.

Provider selection is made ethically with the best interests of Aquinas College. Needs statements, vendor proposals, interviews, and references are utilized. Selection criteria includes vendor reputation, cost, expertise, familiarity with the environment involved and ability to meet imposed timelines.

 

The management of provider services is conducted to ensure that contractual agreements are being met and continue to be valuable to Aquinas College. This involves issuing of work orders, problem statements, and follow up on tasks completed. Documentation is expected to aid in future support.

 

Network Planning, Development, and Management
It is commonly understood that in today's technological environment, the network is the foundation for all computer functions. It is what provides the ability to perform end user computing functions effectively in an organization. Development of the network at Aquinas College means the addition of more functionality and is essential to most of the projects in the Technology Plan. As this functionality is increased, so is the complexity and importance of the network. Nearly all technology decisions are tied to the network in order to meet organizational technology needs. Network planning and development efforts must both meet the needs of Aquinas College and ensure future growth. As such, it is essential that the development of the network be done according to industry standards and trends. Manageability is essential to determine potential bottlenecks, make adjustment decisions, and plan for growth. An open and simple network design is desirable. Without an efficient and effectively management network planned and development consistently with industry standards and trends, Aquinas will not be able to achieve its functional technology goals.

 

Physical Network Cable and Electrical Plant Planning, Development and Management
The physical network cable and electrical plants must function in harmony with each other in order for data communications to perform consistently. Standards in cabling must be maintained and closely tied with industry standards. Cable plant documentation is essential to maintenance, trouble shooting and development of network access. Electrical standards must be utilized and maintained to provide safe, consistent, and clean power as it relates to a networked computing environment. These needs will require periodic updates to both the network cable and the electrical plants.

 

Server System Administration
There are various servers connected to the network which perform required functions. Each server consists of hardware components and (layers of) software. Administration of each server involves both hardware and software considerations. The hardware must be monitored for smooth operations, serviced as required, and its components upgraded or replaced as needed. Layers of software, including firmware, drivers, interfaces, operating systems, query languages, databases, commercial applications, etc., must be preserved, upgraded, and kept in sync with each other and other network systems to achieved desired functionality. Any change made to the network or one of its attachments can affect the functionality of any hardware or software component and must be researched and tested whenever possible prior to implementing the change. Network changes are facilitated by the ITS Change Management (pdf) procedure. System software upgrades are implemented when tested and approved by associated software and hardware vendors to the extent that compatibility exists with interrelated software and hardware requirements. System performance is monitored through whatever tools are available to enable smooth operations. Back ups are performed regularly and stored appropriately. System security is designed and implemented on each server and in conjunction with overall network security.

 

Computer Account Administration: ITS creates and maintains computer accounts and access to authorized resources according to College policy on access rights for students, faculty, and staff.

 

Print Server Administration
Printing capabilities from any application to any network printer requires research and design as well as hardware and software components. It is rarely a plug-and-play feature and requires advanced planning and resources to accomplish. Monitoring and updates are required to maintain achieved functionality as applications, hardware, and system software change. Print server administration is often underestimated and can lead to project problems and delays if not anticipated.

 

Peripherals Acquisition, Support, and Maintenance
The goal for peripherals is to maintain the highest level of functionality as funding will allow because software applications continue to push up hardware requirements. All users should have peripherals which will support required applications. Funding limitations do not always allow this to be realized. The result is performance degradation. Realizing this, priorities have been set and the computer labs have been designated as the first priority for the highest level of peripherals. When lab equipment is upgraded, the previous lab equipment is refurbished and issued as upgrades in other areas on campus. Part time people are generally given lower priority than those who work full time. Department heads are asked to recommend equipment allocation in their areas when an upgrade is possible. Because of application and industry driven changes, peripheral funding is provided by a lease plan out of the operations budget. It is essential that accurate and up-to-date inventory records be maintained to aid in upgrade planning and implementation. Compatibility, performance and support issues require hardware standards to be designated and enforced in hardware purchase decisions. This takes place through the request for bid process and subsequent examination and testing of "qualified" peripherals. Selection of interface cards and devices are also made based on industry trends, standards, and compatibility. Preventive maintenance of installed College-owned peripherals is conducted according to available resources to encourage trouble-free operation. Trouble shooting and repair of peripherals is conducted as quickly and thoroughly as possible to minimize down time and lost productivity. Response priorities correspond to the affect of the problem. For example a problem affecting multiple users takes priority over one which affects one user. Due to software licensing issues, a technician is obligated to remove any unauthorized software stored on Aquinas equipment discovered in the course of trouble shooting (see Software Evaluation policy (pdf) for adding new software). If a legitimate software license allows the software to exist on the equipment, then the technician is not required to remove it. However, if the non-Aquinas supported software is interfering with the functionality of an Aquinas supported system and the corrective action interferes with the functionality of the non-supported software, it is the technician's responsibility to render the Aquinas support system to functionality at the expense of the non-Aquinas supported software. Although this may create a problem for the user and it is not the intention of Information Technology & Services make this a problem, there are recognized incompatibilities and resource limitations which must be recognized and managed for the benefit of College-supported functions.

 

Security and Disaster Recovery
The bottom line is that systems are only as secure as passwords. Users are required to change passwords frequently, encouraged to use accepted guidelines to choose a secure password, and encouraged to maintain the privacy of their passwords. College judicial systems are utilized to encourage adequate user security measures and as a location to report violations. All available system security features will be utilized to the extent resources allow in an effort to provide the highest level of security feasible. Contacts are made with other colleges and security specialists, to be appraised of security threats and measures for evaluation. Virus protection software is made available to provide a reasonable defense against viruses. The campus community is periodically reminded of good security measures and their role in maintaining the security of Aquinas systems and data.

 

Disaster recovery of Aquinas computer systems and data is consistent with Aquinas' overall disaster recovery philosophy. Aquinas' computer resources are included in the College's insurance plan. Available vendor disaster recovery contract options for server and network components are included in annual budget submissions but have not been funded. System software and data are backed up regularly and stored away from the Data Center.

 

Inventory, Maintenance, Preventative Maintenance, Warranty and Contracts
Accurate records are essential for planning and execution of plans as well as efficient response to problems and validation of expense items. To maintain adequate record keeping, ITS has implemented AssetManage, an asset tracking program.  AssetManage allows ITS to track inventory, print reports, print and scan barcodes and helps identify equipment going back on the annual refresh plan.