Emory Report
November 14, 2005
Volume 58, Number 11


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November 14 , 2005

Mendola: Many changes in store for IT

BY michael terrazas

Richard Mendola, who arrived this semester as Emory’s new chief information officer and vice president for information technology (IT), has wasted little time in outlining a slate of changes to Emory IT structures and services that should improve functionality and clear up confusion for the 30,000 or so users they serve.

First up is a name change: A familiar string of three letters—ITD, meaning the Information Technology Division—will no longer be in the Emory lexicon, replaced by AAIT, meaning Academic and Administrative Information Technology, which Mendola said more accurately denotes the services provided by the division.
“‘Information Technology Division’ sounds all-encompassing,” said Mendola, whose umbrella also includes Network Communications (NetCom) and Emory Healthcare Information Services (EHC IS). “IT is confusing enough as it is. This is nothing more than a clarification.”

Next are a couple of personnel apppointments. Rhonda Fuss and Francene Mangham have been named associate vice presidents in charge of NetCom and AAIT, respectively. Last week the Emory community learned of one of the first service-oriented changes, when a Nov. 7 all-campus e-mail announced that EHC and University employees now can be found in a single electronic directory. Mendola called the change a “piece of low-hanging fruit” in improving IT service, as he said he was just as mystified as others who asked why Emory Healthcare staff often did not show up in searches of the Emory database.

Now anyone searching from an Emory connection can turn up individuals both from the University side and the health care side, though Mendola said that EHC personnel will be blocked to searches from non-Emory connections (if they wish, EHC employees may request to have their information available to all searches).

One of the bigger early initiatives of Mendola’s tenure is an aggressive push to provide wireless service in all of Emory’s residence halls (see Focus: Information Technology). This need became apparent, Mendola said, when he talked to incoming students (and their parents) moving into on-campus housing before fall semester.

“[Wireless] was something they considered basic at home, and they didn’t like having to give it up when they arrived at Emory,” he said. “If we’re going to be a destination university for the best and brightest, this is something they’ll expect. When those students are making a close decision between Emory and somewhere else, this could be a deciding factor.”

Mendola said EHC also is making a big push into wireless, as the cost to install nodes has dropped by nearly 30 percent since August. “This is the beginning of a new era in wireless,” he said. “We’re very nimble at doing this now.”

And another IT infrastructure project is the ongoing upgrade to Emory’s core network—the IT “backbone” of campus—that began before Mendola arrived. By the end of the fiscal year, the University’s core will be faster (10 gigabytes, or “as fast as you can get,” Mendola said) and will be configured for greater reliability. Demand is not as great to upgrade Emory’s connection to Internet2 (I2), the national network specifically serving research institutions, but should that demand emerge, Mendola said, the I2 connection could be beefed up to the level the core network very quickly.

“There will be big pipes [in the core network], and they will stay up nearly all the time,” he said.

Finally—and in what might be the change that has the greatest lasting impact—Mendola is setting up a transparent, University-wide structure for IT decisions that should leave no one wondering why one proposed IT project was supported and another was not. It will comprise several working groups, each specific to a particular function—finance, human resources, student services, research, etc.—that will make funding decisions on requests made pertaining to their areas. A University-wide steering team will oversee the process (though Mendola said it would spend most of its time working to ensure that the process is inclusive and functioning correctly, rather than making individual project decisions), and it all will start with a common template for proposals.

“Many IT organizations are criticized for being these big, black boxes: Where does the money go? And who’s deciding?” Mendola said. “I want to be able to speak to those questions publicly, to be able to talk about requests, decisions and outcomes. There should be no doubt in people’s minds about why we’re doing these things and not others, and it largely will not be IT people making the decisions.”

Each working group will be made up of 12–14 people, and Mendola said he is working within Emory’s existing governance structure—Faculty Council, University Senate—to make the appointments.

“Things aren’t going to change overnight,” Mendola acknowledged. “But over time we’ll create a culture of transparency, and we’ll create a dialogue to help people put together better proposals. This is important, particularly now with the strategic plan—how else do we align IT with our strategic priorities?”