14 Aug CIO Leadership Series: Bruce Maas, UWM
Milwaukee, Wis. – When it comes to finding information technology workers, Bruce Maas feels the pain of his private-sector counterparts, but his very public employer has found a way to address the problem – embracing diversity.
Maas, interim CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, agrees with those who believe that if the nation is going to address what New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman calls the “quiet crisis,” the lack of young people on the science and technology track, it might start with tapping into an under-represented reservoir of young women and minorities.
According to Maas, UWM experiences many of the same challenges that impact the private sector. The university has better luck finding people with desktop support, web development, and graphics art skills than it does finding technical staff with Oracle and PeopleSoft experience, or IT architecture and data warehousing skills.
In Maas’ view, this is all more reason to broaden the IT talent pool. Information and Media Technologies, the university’s central information-technology unit, has 125 permanent staff and between 200 and 300 student technology services staffers. Maas said the STS department generally has between 25 percent and 35 percent minority students, and 25 percent to 35 percent female students, and UWM is looking to this cultivated subset as a source of future IT talent.
The STS program (www3.uwm.edu/imt/sts) was nationally recognized in 2001 with the EDUCAUSE “Exemplary Practices” award, and the university has worked to fine tune it in recent years. “Our hope is that we can use this opportunity to help mentor some of our better students for careers in IT,” Maas said. “We believe that will help us achieve greater gender balance and diversity in our workforce.”
UWM recently hosted the annual STS Conference, where representatives of 10 other colleges learned how the Milwaukee campus set up its program. Maas said the university is willing to help private-sector employers do the same, and noted that this generation of college students, whom he called “millennial students,” is a perfect place to start.
“This is the first generation with a tremendous comfort level with diversity,” he noted. “They grew up with it.”
UWM has roughly 28,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff, but the total user count is closer to between 40,000 and 45,000. And with a budget of nearly $500 million, Maas characterized the university as “a highly diverse, medium-sized city in scope.”
While it encounters many of the same problems, its mission is different from the private-sector and other state agencies because of the University of Wisconsin System’s tradition of shared governance. Maas’ role is to work with the administration, faculty, staff, and students to plan and execute IT support within the framework of what he called “a tightly constrained resource base.” One of his key responsibilities is IT support of research, an emerging issue at a university that wants to accelerate technology transfer and play a larger role in regional economic development.
To reflect this communal approach, the university has established Core Service Teams of faculty, staff, and IT personnel to tackle web content management, computer desktop, and collaboration software purchases. For example, a former assistant dean in the UWM School of Education led a team that selected Dell as the university vendor for desktop PCs, and so the Core Service Teams give Maas a glimpse into user needs.
“The teams often are led by someone from outside the IT organization,” he explained. “This has been highly effective.”
Like every IT manager, Maas has things that keep him up at night. With 6,500 devices that plug into the campus network, security (and related user education) is a constant worry, but at times there are side dishes added to his plate.
For example, the ongoing BadgerNet II implementation involves the transfer of Internet service from WiscNet, which has served all levels of education in the state for more than 15 years, to the new system. With installation work being completed at some UW campuses during the non-peak summer months, BadgerNet II hasn’t caused any sleepless nights yet, but the real test will be when the annual “population explosion” occurs at the start of the fall semester.
Maas characterized BadgerNet II as a highly complex project involving the largest constituency ever undertaken for an IT project in Wisconsin, and one with a highly aggressive time line. Add to that the university’s reliance on ultra high-speed networking, wireless coverage across the campus, extensive distance-learning programs offered over the Internet, and a new pod-casting initiative, and it’s easy to see why it’s important that this conversion be a smooth one.
The university’s server and storage capacity is geared to handle peak usage, but without much left over. And given that UWM has gone through more than $1 million in IT budget cuts and required reallocations over the last two years, it cannot afford to over build infrastructure for peak usage.
While everyone wants high performance at all times, Maas said it’s simply is not possible under the present funding model. “When students come back, our big issue every fall is the demand that is placed on our servers with all the students using our student system, our portal, and our e-mail systems,” said Maas. “We expect the normal difficulties during the first two weeks of classes, and will make sure we get plenty of sleep the week before.”
Fortunately, state universities have an agreement in place with the state Department of Administration that will allow campuses to fall back to old circuits should problems develop.
Maas began as Interim CIO in May 2004, anticipating he would serve in that role until a national search began for a permanent successor. That search will begin in September and Maas, who has served in a number of technology and non-technology roles over 28 years with UWM, will be in the hunt.
“I knew before I accepted the interim position that this would be the case because UWM has a long-standing tradition of national searches for faculty and high-level administrative positions,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the challenges of this role, and intend to apply when the announcement is made.”