UC @ Illinois: IT leaders needed in transition to new system
Now is the time for all good IT leaders to come to the aid of their university.
But so far only half of them have had contact with Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services about the rollout of the new Microsoft Unified Communications system.
Tony Rimovsky, CITES associate director of enterprise infrastructure, wants to see a better response because CITES will have to work with every unit on campus for Phase 1 of UC @ Illinois – the move to the new email and calendaring system.
“We’re still trying to get IT professionals to engage with us,” he said. “We can’t do this size of deployment without them, we don’t have the resources. Without them, we won’t get this done.”
Rimovsky and CITES staff members have spent the last several months implementing a plan recommended under last year’s Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois report calling for an integrated and streamlined campuswide information system.
So far, more than 3,000 campus computer users have converted to the new email system. The rest are to be on board by the end of the year. By the end of October, CITES Express Email will be deactivated.
The switchover to the new system costs about $2 million and is expected to save the university an estimated $3 million annually when it’s completed.
“We have over 20,000 phone lines on campus that we presently pay AT&T for,” Rimovsky said, adding the university will reap additional savings from the campus software license agreement with Microsoft. Just maintaining the aged Express Email system had become a costly and time-consuming endeavor, he said.
CITES will convert more email accounts over the summer and continue to provide training – as well as reinforcing the message that unit IT leaders need to become more involved in the process.
“There is a lot of pre-work that needs to be done,” he said. “Lots of departments have enclaves where they have their own systems. We just don’t always know who to contact.”
“We’re trying to identify and reach as many (university employees) as we can,” Rimovsky said, adding there also are plans in the coming months to offer specific training for other campus employees.
“UC @ Illinois will have a tremendous impact on administrative support staff,” he said. “We’re going to be dependent on their adopting this early.”
Early adoption is important, because a second deadline – this one for phone and other voice services offered under the new UC @ Illinois system – will be coming next year.
Rimovsky said that second conversion step, which includes computer-integrated phone service, is due to be finished by June 2012, a date that coincides with the end of the university’s current AT&T contract. The transition to the new telephone system has already started.
That conversion will take most of campus off the land-line telephone system, allowing employees to make calls through their computer and to use a campuswide calendar system.
In order to have the kind of redundancy needed to ensure the new system is as reliable as possible, CITES continues to work on system improvements like added server access and backup power systems.
An “IT pro forum” is set for June 7, though Unified Communications will only be a part of the discussion. And CITES leaders are already engaging Telecom unit coordinators for deploying voice services.
Rimovsky said the system upgrades, when completed, will offer far more user options and available applications, but also require more bandwidth.
He said it’s understood why there is some resistance to all of the changes, though early office-testers have given the new system high marks.
“We understand that people are comfortable in their environments,” he said.
“But nobody’s phone numbers are going to have to change, or anything like that. There are lots of alternatives for equipment to replace existing phones.”
Headsets are not the only option for computer-phone users. CITES employees are currently testing several accompanying products, such as a desk-based USB phone hooked into the computer, and will rank those products for recommendations to units looking to purchase them.
“In the end, they’ll have the option to retain similar phone devices they’re using today, but we want to push them to the computer as much as we can,” he said. “Anybody who has a standard, campus phone line is impacted by this. If they aren’t a part of this, the phone will stop ringing.”
Rimovsky said one of the greatest advantages of a completed system is the ability to access phone and all other services through any computer.
“As long as you’ve got Internet access, you can pull up to any computer on campus or at home and your phone has moved with you,” he said.
UC @ Illinois Day May 26
At UC @ Illinois Day, set for May 26, any curious campus employee can glean more information on the status of UC @ Illinois and see demonstrations of how the new email, calendar and voice services work together in the UC environment. Four 90-minute sessions are being offered with no registration required. Sessions begin at 9 and 11 a.m., and 1 and 3 p.m. in Illini Rooms A, B and C in the Illini Union.In addition, FAST3, the university’s training service, has started offering Outlook classes at no charge for university employees.