Interview with Dwight Fischer, CIO

February 5th, 2004 by Adam

New Page 1

What factors drive the PSU
strategic planning for information technology?

Evolving technologies in the classroom and among students,
security, cost, integration and sustainability. PSU has taken on quite a lot of
new technology in recent years. Banner, WebCT, the portal, iWebfolio and others.
These were good, strategic decisions for the University. They position us
competitively in higher education market and our students come to expect this
from us.

PSU stated a goal of attaining ‘ubiquitous computing’ in the
last Long Range Technology Plan. Technology now permeates our University
environment. Bravo! However, the support required to sustain all of our
technology is extraordinary. It’s the tip of the iceberg effect. What you see on
the top is but a fraction of the support costs underneath.

One of the themes articulated by the NEASC visiting team was
we try to be all things to all people and lack the ability to say no. That
speaks to our organizational character and initiative. However, we need to take
stock of that advice as we develop our next Long Range Technology Plan.

Information about the Long Range Technology Plan can be found

What are the most critical issues
this semester, next year, 3 years out?

This semester will be devoted to development of the PSU Long
Range Technology Plan. A sub-group of the Computer Advisory Board (CAB) is led
by Ned Harding. We spent last semester planning the plan. This semester we will
be rolling out some ideas and proposals for the campus to review. We’ll hold
open discussion sessions around various technology topics. Our goal (and
assignment deadline!) is to present a new Long Range Technology Plan to the
President by May.

Next year, and the years following, will be driven by
principles and objectives identified in the Long Range Technology Plan. Also,
we’ll continue to rebuild campus functionality around the new Banner system. Our
greatest challenge beyond that is how we choose (or choose not to) to implement
more cost effective technology strategies.

Three years from now our students will be bringing wireless
computers to campus and connecting from just about everywhere. The industry is
driving us there. This phenomenon has broad ramifications for PSU in terms of
opportunity and our ability to meet them there. We should be devoting our
efforts and resources in that direction.

How does ITS keep end-users in the
picture?  E.g. how do you get input from end users to help your planning?

We get input from end users all the time. Sometimes that input
comes in praise, sometimes in other forms. We attempt to incorporate that into
our planning on an ongoing basis.

For the LRTP, we will be sharing papers, holding open
discussion sessions with various groups on campus this spring. The process will
compete with day-to-day work priorities, so we need to find various ways to keep
the campus informed. Web pages will be established with position papers and
we’ll remind them periodically to get informed and engaged.

Mac/PC debate:  Statistics show
that 1/3 the equipment in N.H. public schools is still Mac and Governor Benson
just added 700 more units.  Many of our graduates work in or with these
schools.  What is our obligation as an education institution to prepare them to
use the equipment, and especially the specialty software, they will have to work
with after graduation?

I support Governor Benson’s initiative; this has been a
successful model in

The fact that Macs have been selected is irrelevant. The tool is less important
than the application. The vast majority of applications students use are email,
web, word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint and other standardized programs.
The difference between using them on a Mac or a Windows PC is relatively
insignificant to today’s youth. They navigate amidst a sea of technical devices.
They grab a remote and program a TV or DVD player. They use cell phones to play
games, take pictures and, yes, make calls. They use their computers for
entertainment centers. For them, it makes little difference whether they sit in
front of a Mac or Windows computer. The point and click unabashedly.

The statistics in primary and secondary schools are reflecting
what happened years ago with the larger computer industry. Windows PCs have
simply taken over the market. It’s not because Apple makes an inferior computer,
it isn’t. It’s not because they are more vulnerable to viruses, they aren’t.
It’s simple economics. In the entire computer industry, Apple holds
approximately 2% marketshare. It has become a maverick brand with niches in
graphics and music. Mainstream application developers play to the sheer
economics of the Windows platform. The Mac is simply not getting the attention.

On our campus, it is far easier and less expensive to support
Windows PCs. We need to take that into consideration as we look at the total IT
funding picture.

PSU is known as a people-friendly
organization.  Students and alumni comment on that constantly.  Can we maintain
that important cultural characteristics as we put more processes online and
remove the human contact element?  How will  we keep from becoming detached from
our students in a world that is, perhaps, already too detached?

Like the rest of the world, when we can put our routine
procedures online and let students/parents/alumni and others navigate through
our systems and business online, we suddenly get our people out of routine
processing. In doing that, they can provide students more support in other
areas. Think about the registration process ten years ago. Students would fill
out paper forms, stand in long lines and experience frustration when they would
find classes closed. Now, it’s immediate, on the web and much easier. That
process frees up support staff to work with individual needs. Students can spend
their time doing other things.

Many would argue that students are detached. Frankly, they’re
more connected with people than ever before. It’s different. We need to
understand this, and help them navigate both the online and campus environments.
Our niche is our people and if we can engage students in the classroom, in
activities and organizations, we’ll be fine.

Do we need both a portal and an

Yes! The Web is our primary method of information
dissemination. Accordingly, we need to distinguish what is public information
and what should be restricted to campus. There are always levels of
communication that should be more restricted. For instance, consider some of the
work we do in committees. We explore ideas, debate, produce drafts and vet them
to the campus community. They are works in progress.

You talked to me about
sustainability, discipline and accountability.  Can we relate that to
values-based planning and budgeting?

PSU has undergone a significant growth spurt in recent years.
Not so much in enrollment but in new technologies. Such growth calls for new
levels of discipline and accountability. Given that our resources are finite and
funding models are changing, we cannot continue to implement technologies
without looking at the long-term support and funding needs. We (ITS) are
accountable to the campus community for supporting and securing your
infrastructure, data, privacy and critical applications. In order to do that we
need to ensure that we do not spread ourselves too thin or take on more than we
can support.

That said, we want to work with the campus constituents to
understand needs and explore technologies to help achieve established goals.
That is where we come in as technology consultants. What are the needs, what are
potential solutions, and what are the associated costs and support issues, and
how will it be funded? When those questions are answered, then we generate a
game plan.