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Supporting IT professionals who support faculty, staff, and students

Trust and three key tools enable IT Pros to support remote teaching and working during COVID-19

By James Russell
Group Manager, IT Community Partnerships

Staying connected with IT Professionals within departments, schools, and administrative units (referred to here as edge IT units); communicating important information on enterprise services and support to the IT teams that rely on them; and incorporating their feedback on existing and new service models play a large part in the success of IT at Indiana University.

Edge, leverage, and trust

Integral to IU’s IT strategic plan, Empowering People, is a process called edge, leverage, and trust. A concept with powerful relevance to the crisis we face with COVID-19, edge, leverage, and trust seeks to find the balance between what should be maintained and managed within the enterprise and what should remain outside enterprise delivery.

Now more than ever, our access to data and tools that allow us to support and make decisions quickly from remote locations is critical.

As edge IT units hone and develop processes, applications, or services, the potential for leveraging their efforts at scale becomes apparent. Other units may be developing similar tools in parallel or there may be the same need within a department that does not have the necessary expertise or resources.

In either case—from email to financial management systems—UITS has sought to develop core services at scale that began as germinal systems on the edge. Through rich collaboration and dialogue comes trust in the ability of the enterprise to recognize the unique concerns of local IT and deliver an IT common good to the entire university.

In recognizing unique needs and challenges, every division of UITS has engaged in this rich and ongoing exchange and with edge IT unit leadership during the COVID-19 crisis. Much of this communication centers on assessing, tweaking, and maintaining the effectiveness of core services in place, but now pushed to unprecedented levels of use.

Edge, leverage, and trust—in action
Edge, leverage, and trust—in action

James Russell leads a 2019 IT Professionals orientation session.

With over 70 distinct IU IT units that are outside of the enterprise domain of UITS, edge IT units directly serve a significant portion of faculty, staff, and students at Indiana University.

While reliant upon enterprise infrastructure and systems—from IU’s data center to campus networks and beyond—edge IT units often develop and work within unique, discipline-specific domains that require expertise that cannot be delivered at scale. Often these school and department IT units support teaching or research lab environments, application development that supports degree programs, research methodology and analysis, or business processes that require tailored workflows that fall directly on local IT support providers.

Our success in collectively meeting the challenges we face with COVID-19 is reflected in the partnerships between edge and enterprise, and to an unwavering commitment to data-driven analysis, continuous dialogue, candid feedback, and prompt communication.

In addition to the concept of edge, leverage, and trust, three key tools have provided IU with the ability to support remote teaching and working during COVID-19.

IT People: Data and information lead to better decision-making

Now more than ever, our access to data and tools that allow us to support and make decisions quickly from remote locations is critical. Through the web application IT People, all edge IT units at IU are represented, providing information on IT unit leadership, members, their roles and expertise, websites, description of services, departments and buildings supported, as well as role-based access to 11 tools critical to the work IT professionals conduct at the edge. For example, these tools allow access to registration of machines on the network, lookup of registered users, and view and unblock machines that were blocked for security concerns.

Perhaps more than at any other time, staying connected remotely will help IU continue to fulfill its mission of “excellence in education and research, a global community, and a commitment to helping people near and far.”

IT People also provides the foundation for broader reporting through Tableau. For example, because IT professionals support faculty, staff, and students in specific campus locations, and those buildings are listed in IT People, IT unit leadership can see the exact room location of all devices that are physically attached to the network and registered and supported by them. If a desktop computer has moved from an established inventoried location, the IT pro will be able to locate that machine once it reappears on the network.

Within enterprise IT, creating dashboards for enterprise reporting has been critical in providing UITS leadership a comprehensive view into service delivery and peak loads. By tying load and performance metrics together and reporting through a single dashboard, IT leadership gains a clear understanding of the impact remote learning and university business process has on such services.

Bomgar: IT relies on remote support tools

Normal IT support services rely on desktop-side support of machines. The routine tasks of replacing local (office or classroom) machine hardware such as endpoints, hard drives, or power supplies requires support technicians to be physically onsite to do their work. There are numerous other support requests that are often conducted face-to-face but could be conducted remotely.

Our success in collectively meeting the challenges we face with COVID-19 is reflected in the partnerships between edge and enterprise, and to an unwavering commitment to data-driven analysis, continuous dialogue, candid feedback, and prompt communication.

Enter Bomgar—a remote assistance tool that allows for a support technician to open an encrypted connection with another user’s desktop, and with permission through a small client-side software installation, work with the end-user’s workstation as if they were sitting in front of the remote computer.

While Bomgar has been used extensively throughout IU for years, UITS worked with BeyondTrust to deliver short-term licenses for IT units wishing to increase the number of simultaneous sessions they could have with their faculty and staff working remotely from home.

Windows Device Management: Keeping software distribution accessible

IU’s infrastructure that allows IT Pros to push software updates to their Windows-based devices was built with a key assumption: those devices would either be on the campus network on a regular basis or connected via VPN. As more staff moved online and pressure on the VPN grew, the UITS team responsible for the service worked in partnership with Campus Networks and the UISO  to find a way to move the software distribution point to a place where it could be accessible from the Internet without using the VPN.

Perhaps more than at any other time, staying connected remotely will help IU continue to fulfill its mission of “excellence in education and research, a global community, and a commitment to helping people near and far.”