Q & A with Tara Brant, Manager of the Technology Services Desk
Tara Brant, manager of the Technology Service Desk, has a lot of projects on her plate – everything from rolling out the Microsoft Office 2007 upgrade to overseeing a pilot project on web conferencing. We spent a few minutes talking with her about how tech services has changed since the reorganization of the Office of the President, and what new technology is on the horizon for OP employees. One of her biggest challenges is convincing people that some hot new software might not solve all their workplace problems. “They often just fall in love with something they find on the shelf,” Brant says. “But first they need to figure out what their business need really is and what they are trying to accomplish with the new technology. You could easily spend a million dollars on a technology solution that goes way beyond what you need, or doesn’t address what you are trying to do.”
What’s the biggest misconception people have about your unit?
What might seem like a simple IT project actually requires a lot of work to implement. There are a lot of specialized people – both in and out of IT – who need to be part of that process. For example, you need a business analyst to assess the need with the customer, a project manager to oversee the whole thing from start to finish, software developers to do the coding, a designer to make it look pretty, and desktop and server support staff for setup, training, and maintenance. In my experience, the most misunderstood part of the process tends to be the backend server work involved (mainframe, UNIX, etc.) and the need for working out the compatibility issues with the current infrastructure. The other misconception is that deploying a new service isn’t just about getting the new service to work – it is about working out the processes that will provide the long term support to sustain the service properly.
How did things change with the reorganization?
The departments had their own IT folks – there were about 28 people doing IT support – some knew only a little and had been thrown into it, others had more advanced training. As a result, different departments were getting different levels of service. We went through a consolidation and things were standardized and centralized. We now have about 17 people doing desktop and server support.
Did centralizing desktop support improve things?
The level of service is more consistent with a centralized desktop support model. Systems and software have been simplified and standardized. It makes it easier for all the techs to provide better customer support. It makes us all more efficient and UCOP saves money. Also a centralized group has a pulse on what is needed by the departments. For example, if three departments need a content management system and two departments need a wiki, we become aware that we need to establish a UCOP wide solution. This saves money because you don’t have several departments spending money for essentially the same things. Before, a department might spend $50,000 on a system, without even knowing we already had a solution to their problem or whether their solution would work in our environment.
Why are we upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007?
It comes down to security. At some point, Microsoft will no longer support or make patches for the older applications. We have to stay current. Some departments have older software and we’re spending a lot of time and money trying to keep those old systems going.
Will the new software be pretty transparent or do people need training?
We’re recommending people take the online training before we roll it out (online at: http://www.ucop.edu/irc/services/msoffice07_migration.html), but the changes aren’t drastic. Microsoft has changed how the interface looks, and that can freak people out.
What else is in the works?
We need more tools for collaboration, and we’ve got some funding to create those. We currently have a pilot project testing SharePoint, which is a collaboration tool that’s widely used in the private sector. SharePoint can be used to perform document management, host web sites that access shared workspaces, information and documents, as well as host defined applications such as wikis or blogs. It is a powerful tool and has the potential to be used as an Intranet portal for UCOP. Office 2007 plays nicer with SharePoint 2007, and allows for the use of some of the features, so the upgrade will help with that. We’re also testing web conferencing. It’s cool because you can attend a meeting from your desk. Instead of going to a video conference room, you have a web camera on your desktop. You log in and go to a web page where the meeting will be hosted and you can see other people, raise your hand to ask questions, share documents, etc.
Do any departments have web conferencing yet?
The Office of Research and Graduate Studies has been using a product called iLinc to conduct web conferences. This is a service that we believe could be useful throughout UCOP, and we have plans to pilot the new service soon with the Commission on the Future.