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In this paper, I try to work out if the values we are discovering in class request in genuine life by carrying out an interview with an IT project manager. The subject is Rick Joubert, who is the controller of Systems and Operations at Oxford Information Technologies, which assists an important allowance of the computing desires of Oxford University. Joubert has been working at Oxford University (its imaginary) for eleven years and in his current position for ten years.
Oxford University has 19,518 students at its campus in Ithaca, NY, along with 2,627 faculty and 8,572 staff. Oxford Information Technologies supports the business infrastructure, informational software, and instructional and operational needs of much (but not all) of Oxford's voice, video, and data customers. CIT has several divisions, including Customer Services and Marketing (CS&M) and Systems and Operations (S&O), the area covered in this paper. S&O is subdivided into 5 components: Advanced Technology & Architectures, Information Network and Communication Systems, Customer Service and Marketing, Distributed Learning Services, and Systems and Operations.
S&O is further broken down into Academic Computing Services, Systems Services, Systems Support and Productions Operations Services (Ops). Each of these areas is run by a manager. ACS consists of Student Computing Operations, which runs the public computing labs on campus available for use by anyone at Oxford, and CIT Technical Support Services, the internal group providing support exclusively to CIT staff. Systems Services consists of the Messaging Group with provides the campus e-mail, list processing, electronic calendar, USENET services; and the Designated Services group, which provides cost-recovered services (dial-up, backup, network-printing, and storage farm services). In Systems Support the engineers and sysadmins provide DNS and DHCP services as well as support for other servers on campus. Lastly, Ops handle production control, physical security, and the Network Operations Center, CIT's only 24x7 point of presence. Each of these five areas is governed by an Assistant Director or a Manager, who in turn supervises lower-level managers.
The biggest challenge Joubert faces is managing a staff spread among many technical services and many buildings on a large campus. Among four areas of management --people, knowledge, process, and money--he ranked people management first in importance, with the others tying as runner-up.
The secret to his success with managing such a disparate group is to delegate and to motivate. The organization is not flat but hierarchical and he sees that the people closest to the work have as much responsibility and authority as they need to accomplish their goals. As a non-profit, CIT cannot offer variable pay schemes to motivate personnel, so he tries to build a satisfying environment that encourages professional development and offers recognition for good work. Joubert encourages staff to take advantage of training opportunities offered by HR (such as supervisory development) and to take courses at the University as part of their benefit package (four credits per semester).
Indeed, some of the professional development seminars, such as the supervisory certification, are mandatory. Although recognizing the hierarchy, his general style is less like that outlined by Max Weber or Warren Bennis (Chitamu 234) and more like that of the human-relations school (Loane 69). Rather than "order" he prefers to "urgently suggest" or "fervently recommend." He sees part of his function as indeed inspiring staff to do their best rather than squeezing productivity out of them.
Further complicating the people management issue is the decentralized environment at Oxford University. Many academic and research departments do not rely on CIT but instead have their own IT staff. Managers from the different IT-related divisions at Oxford meet regularly at the IT project managers Council to address issues that are of concern to the university as a whole and to each division in particular.
At the same time, some aspects are centralized. For example, diversity is an important issue at Oxford and to Joubert in particular. All his staff are expected (and in many cases required) to attend diversity training, mostly skills-oriented classes run by the Human Resources department. Although diversity issues are generally handled outside his sphere of influence (by the HR department) Joubert strives to treat everyone with fairness, dignity, and respect.
Recognizing the need for knowledge management (KM), Joubert has put measures in place to capture the tacit knowledge that workers accrue over time. He stated that he requires documentation of procedures (he seems unaware, however, that in TSS many procedures go undocumented). In some cases the need for knowledge management arose from the staff. For example, he says that the use of Twiki to capture documentation on the fly arose "organically" among the sysadmins as they began to realize they needed to improve their KM. Even interns and temps participate in Twiki and other knowledge management initiatives throughout S&O.
Most decisions at S&O, as well as CIT as a whole, are made not individually but through groups. Most work is also conducted through teams rather than individually. Agreeing with Williams et al (p. 180), Joubert feels that to arrive at the best decisions requires group input. He eschews most of the formal techniques discussed in (Wynarczyk 244) except for brainstorming--relying instead on informal discussion and consensus.
Regarding process management, Joubert felt that ideas like TQM (Williams et al, p. xxx) were dated ("Isn't that from the nineties?") and indicated that such buzzwords were of little relevance. On the other hand, S&O does regularly review processes to determine whether they are doing the right thing. They ask whether the process is necessary, whether it achieves a purpose or if it is done simply because it has always been done that way, and sometimes S&O eliminates processes or moves them to other areas of CIT outside of Joubert's domain.
For example, originally technical support for EZ-Backup (campus-wide backup service) was originally done by the EZ-Backup group within Systems Services. But the task grew too burdensome, and it was a service that seemed more fitting to the Customer Services and Marketing division. Now S&O pays for a fulltime equivalent (FTE) at the HelpDesk, in Customer Services. Joubert built trust between the EZ-Backup group and the HelpDesk to overcome the former group's initial distrust and reluctance to give up control, i.e. to build trust among employees so that work is appropriately distributed. For Joubert, process management is closely tied to people management.
Another challenge has been the explosive growth of servers. Joubert would like to see the problem more pro-actively managed "We need to articulate not just technology," he contends, "but whether we should stay with servers or if instead we should rent cycles." In other words he would like to see divisions instead buying servers, buying CPU time, rather like a mainframe in pieces, so that they only buy what they need when they need it, instead of buying the fastest processor they can afford, which will be underutilized for a year a two. He considers this a more elegant solution, and to make it happen will require gaining the support of and changing the thinking of a great many people. While not Breakthrough Improvement (Ashford and Cummings 69) per se, this is certainly an example of re-engineering (Loane 265) both in the doing and thinking, again requiring a blend of people and process management.
Lastly, Joubert's approach to money management is similarly person-centric. To avoid the mad race to "spend it or lose it" he mandates a "steady-state budget." Spending is examined periodically, and money is moved from one are to another (e.g. from Ops to Systems Support) as needed within the fiscal year. Furthermore, each area has to justify their spending every year, in a budget process that begins in March and lasts until near the end of the fiscal year, which ends in July. Joubert involves his managers in the process so that they feel they have a wager in the result and care about the intelligent management of resources. Participation eases the relinquishing of managing of resources.
Overall, numerous of the values we are discovering in class are applicable to genuine life, with only a couple of concepts discovered more in idea than in practice. Joubert is worried with the localities of administration we have revised therefore far, and he values some of the methods and proposals (but not others) recounted in our textbook. Interestingly, Joubert appears to outlook everything as a subset or function of the administration of people. As this is only one case, it would be intriguing to perform farther meetings with a technical experiment with other managers to contrast outcomes and present a more definitive study.