Tuesday, December 22, 2009

UC@EDU (part deux)

EDU sector is like nothing else out there. It has its own dynamics, rules, and in many cases the complexities of the work flow well exceed “normal” business operations. Just a few percent of the US economy can claim tens of thousands “new customers” every semester while obligated to maintain all records in perfect state.


Throwing new technologies in to the work flow not necessarily makes it more efficient. It least, not in the beginning… Let’s face it – the vision of the feature often contradicts with the reality of today. It is always been my opinion that IT folks (in EDU sector) should undergo a training course in “psychology of the work space”. We love to see our self as “the computer gods” and all our users as “that part of the earth population with only one legacy – to make our life miserable”. Well, the truth is, this is how they see us as well.

Having said that, the concept of “seamless integration” looks the best solution to satisfy both Institutional goals and end-user requirements. If you are reading this blog, most probably you are IT person. You have been there already. Just remember the last time when someone said “but I have been doing it THIS way for the last 10 years, why I have to change my 8-to-5 habits?”

I haven’t been born Microsoft’s fan. I work very hard on myself to stay away from prejudice in my professional decisions. I spent few hours every month in the business office areas, just hanging around with cup of coffee and trying to “feel” the work flow, talking to the colleagues about the current procedures and collecting “off the record” opinions. Then, I go to the drawing board and see how or if the newest IT technologies can fit in the current work flow, not override it. How this translates to GMC’s current state…

When I took this job 5 years ago, GMC had 5 (five) servers. HP UX for the college system, one UNIX web server and another for email, one Windows server (for something I don’t remember) and Novel file server. Blah! All computers with Windows XP OS. I got to think backwards – if my computing environment is Windows OS, shall I continue to make it work with different platforms thus spending most (or all) of my time keeping up with the changes in each, or simply unify the entire computing environment under one platform? Wouldn’t my Institution benefit more from the conceptual unity of present and feature rather than “keeping the environment running”? The only logical conclusion was to go Active Directory environment.

The breakthrough was implementing Exchange 2007 as email solution. The reason (partially) was my desperation to get rid of MailCall, which is pain in the hiney anyway. I have seen many of our users using Yahoo calendar and different chat services as collaboration tool already (I not know about you, but as Net Admin, any waste of bandwidth makes me lose sleep for days) and so, being myself, I set an exchange server in Production, migrated IT department to it and began selling the solution. I did not run to CEO right away, no… I knew I can sale this in a split second. I worked “from the first floor and up” until everybody had “wet dreams” about it and wanted it more than a Democrat wants a credit card. Exchange opened the doors of unseen till now collaboration. I will skip the details, ya’ll know it. So you know the early days of LCS 2005. I have to confess - LCS was the next step mainly because of two reasons – preserving bandwidth and “what happens in GMC must stay in GMC”. I don’t like the idea that someone out there was logging my user’s conversations…

Then came OCS 2007. I still had my doubts of the value of OCS as voice solution. The rest, however, was beautiful. OCS brought the collaboration in our environment to a whole new level. Needless to say, because of the Campus Agreement, all I needed was money for the hardware. Our users now had the ultimate collaboration tool at their discretion.

We are IT. We can say “I am not playing game on my work computer. I am doing research as of now playing games on my work computer impacts my work performance” and get by with it! Not the same in the business areas, though. Or faculties – they have their own “demons” as well. In environment where every minute is precious, unifying all means of communications is vital for dealing the constantly increasing work load.

OK, we already established the fact UC is a must in every mid-to-large scale business. Now, what would be the logical approach to realize this? Shall I let X_company System Integrator to invade my environment with their proprietary servers, software requirement, patches, service contracts, etc.? Do I have to bite my lips, run a sacred ritual and spit in the four directions every time when I install updates on my windows environment, hopping that I don’t have to talk to “Scott” with the awful accent… again? Or, upon deployment of the new server and/or service, I will wait for AD replication to complete, then restart my test machine and verify is the new feature is available? Which scenario makes more sense to you?

Next comes the Voice… in the next blog.

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