“Technology is anything made by humans – IT is the integration of it.”

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Trent’s Information Technology (IT) Department has released a comprehensive Strategic Plan entitled “New Beginnings” detailing how IT services will move forward from 2013 to 2015.

Associate Vice President of IT, Tariq Al-idrissi, wrote in the Foreword to the plan that it “aims to focus the efforts of the Trent IT team and to align them with both the academic and administrative efforts of Trent” while also increasing the accountability and transparency of the department.

Several upcoming initiatives are outlined in the plan which aim to improve and expand the services of IT at Trent.

Among the highest priority items is a Wi-Fi Project that will seek to enhance wireless coverage and capacity at Trent, after further feedback from the Trent community on the issue is received.

IT will also undertake a Network Infrastructure Renewal Project that will replace the “significantly aged” network currently in place. It will be the most expensive project undertaken under this plan and will be ongoing over the next four years, beginning with a new network core in 2013. The core currently in place lost vendor support in April.

According to the plan, “a failure of the network core can take days to recover from, with the loss of essential services to staff, faculty, and students.”

A proposed Storage Enhancements Project hopes to change the personal and shared storage models currently in place. It will see an increase of drive space to 25GB per person. Furthermore, it hopes to make this space accessible from any machine, and make personal drive space accessible even when not connected to the Internet. This will be an ongoing project.

The plan also lists an E-Mail/Calendaring/Contacts Enhancements Project which is meant to “increase capacity that is available for e-mail” and “make it available from any location.” This should be implemented in 2013.

Many of the above projects are proposed in part to increase the integration of network devices, especially Apple products. There is also an initiative dedicated entirely to the integration of Apple products, including an introduction of an Apple Lab for student and faculty use, set to be undertaken in 2013.

A separate initiative for mobile devices will also take place in 2013. This will allow students to access their Academic Record and Grades, their schedule, the course calendar, financial statements, and course registration directly on their mobile devices.

Other lower priority projects to be implemented are Server Room repairs, funding for recruitment and prospects, the creation of an emergency communications system and digital signage (especially for the hearing impaired), and enhancements to IT support delivery.

The proposed initiatives are largely meant to address weaknesses identified by a situational review undertaken by the department both through self-analysis and consultation with 30 focus groups and 598 students.

The internal Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis was undertaken by the department as a starting point for the project.

Among strengths, the analysis found that IT at Trent benefits from the size of the institution itself, great relationships with vendors, and strong steps taken towards IT Governance.

The weaknesses identified were more comprehensive, as per the mandate of the analysis. A decentralized operations framework, lack of long-term planning, under-servicing of the Oshawa campus, aging infrastructure, and aging classroom technologies were some of the issues found.

University community consultations also pointed towards these areas as weaknesses, in addition to lack of support for mobile and Apple devices, a need for more support and training, a need for more support hours, lack of power outlets, and slow access to technology.

However, the report identifies a “strong thirst for change within the Trent IT team and within Trent as a whole” which the department hopes will “translate into action and change.”

That said, the SWOT analysis identified the threats of availability of financial resources, skill sets, and staff as potential barriers to the project.

For the time being, the first of these threats seems resolved. The Board of Governors, at their March 22 meeting, have approved the plan and an Implementation Plan funding framework included in the 2013/14 Budget Proposal that will put it into action.

However, the Board of Governors made significant changes to the implementation of the plan. According to a report from the meeting, changes were made to lower the overall cost from $7,117,900 to $3,894,160. The plan was also set to be implemented over the course of four years (2013 to 2016) rather than the original three.

Some cuts were made by weaving the proposed funding into other initiatives, including “Infrastructure and Data Security” and the establishment of a staff training fund.
“Office Computer Renewals” were made the responsibility of the departments themselves rather than IT.

Other areas were cut do to their low priority and lack of funding, such as an upgrade to the telephone system and a “Research Server Service.” It is possible that the next Strategic Plan may include these items.

Despite these cuts, other initiatives saw funding increases. The Storage Enhancements Project was allocated $500,000, up from a proposed $420,000. The Wi-Fi Project was increased to $440,000 from $255,000 to allow for “expansion and not just fill-in.”

The revised funding model will see $800,000 spent in 2013, $1,037,500 in 2014, $1,078,375 in 2015, and $978,285 in 2016.

Traditionally, Trent has been on the low end of the IT spending spectrum. While the average Canadian university with enrolment between 5,000 and 10,000 students spends $1,250.84 per student on IT, Trent spends only $666.00. This is the second lowest rate in the country.

While the implementation of this plan won’t bring Trent up to the Canadian average, it will be an increase.

Trent also has one of the smallest staffs.