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A tale of two campuses — how shared IT will bring SUNYs together

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POTSDAM — From her seventh floor office, SUNY Potsdam Provost Margaret E. Madden has a birdseye view of many of the changes happening on campus — however, a significant effort remaking the campus escapes her eyes, existing mostly within the virtual world of computers.

Ms. Madden and her counterpart at SUNY Canton, Vice President for Student Affairs Molly A. Mott, are supervising work to share information technology services between their campuses.

“It is an obvious place to start,” Ms. Madden said. “It has the potential to improve our functionality and eliminate duplication in services, which could lead to benefits over time.”

As the schools work to share or combine more back-office services, they are also trying to bring their computer systems into line. That means programs coordinating the student billing process or keeping track of admissions and financial aid documents for students are eventually going to be made uniform between the campuses.

“In the IT world so much is virtual,” said Ms. Madden. “In some cases, the sharing isn’t going to be just between our two campuses, but through multiple SUNY campuses.”

Over the past year, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher encouraged the campuses to share IT services — but Ms. Mott said the effort took on a life of its own.

“IT is going to revolutionize the way we serve students,” she said. “Working on it has created more openmindedness, because it doesn’t dictate the academic culture on our campuses but it is so pervasive. It is all about good will, collaboration and leveraging our strengths.”

The school’s banner servers, large databases of student information, will be moved to the SUNY Information Technology Exchange Center in Buffalo, accommodating more shared resources.

“We’re both going to off-site hosting at the same place, which lends itself to a wider SUNY-wide technology exchange,” Ms. Mott said.

Currently, SUNY Potsdam hosts its own databases.

Though it may be a forgotten element of campus life, information technology touches every element of the college experience. Everything from academic advising to library catalogues depend on electronic databases.

“The focus is on operational efficiencies, we want to find commonalities and share best practices,” said Ms. Mott. “This is really about the students, by streamlining processes we’re going to provide them with better service.”

Thanks to degree-auditing software, which displays a student’s progress toward graduation and lists untaken prerequisite courses, SUNY Potsdam faculty advisors are freed to provide advice on academic and career pursuits to their students. Both schools are moving to a shared, SUNY-wide advising program.

“It hugely transforms the advising process because advisors no longer have to figure out which courses students need,” Ms. Madden said.

Right now, there are no plans to consolidate staff or to hire a shared IT employee, but working closely benefits both campuses. The campuses’ shared services may serve as models for SUNY system wide as administrators push for more shared IT between all SUNY campuses, said Ms. Mott.

The schools are working to bring their library systems closer together — they already share a joint interlibrary loan officer, now they are working in bringing the two library systems in line.

“We’re piloting a regional inter-library loan model,” said Ms Mott.

Sharing IT functions should lower software costs among campuses, Ms. Madden noted.

“It is costly, the software is expensive and takes time to implement,” she said. “SUNY tries to negotiate to get the best price for all campuses.”

The monetary benefits of sharing IT services are difficult to calculate, said Ms. Madden, but the move simplifies things for students and may be a catalyst for more shared services.

“The technology follows proposed shared services and then pushes more shared services,” she said. “We’re still exploring the possibilities.”

Ms. Mott agreed.

“It sets the tone and the scaffolding,” she said. “IT is under everything we do.”

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