16 Oct CIO Leadership Series: UW-Madison's Ron Kraemer tackles growing student-faculty tech demands
Madison, Wis. – Business school students routinely learn the basic tenets of supply and demand, but these days the campus CIO had better be well versed in it, too.
Nobody knows that better than Ron Kraemer, chief information officer and vice provost for information technology for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The expectations (and appetite) of students and to a lesser degree faculty for advanced technology create the consumer demand, and Kraemer realizes he had better be a steady supplier.
UW-Madison counts on him to deploy information technology in ways that enhance teaching, research, learning, and administrative services – and do so across its large campus.
Each year, the university surveys students about their technology expectations, which include faster access, more hand-held and collaborative tools, wireless in all learning spaces – anything to gain faster access to data and services.
“Students today come with higher expectations of that sort of thing,” Kraemer said. “Faculty also has come to expect the latest technology in the classroom.”
Business value in higher ed
At the end of the day, Kraemer knows his IT department is providing UW-Madison with business value if new dimension is added to teaching, research, and educational experiences. It’s his job to enrich the activities of faculty, staff, and researchers, and he’s working more closely with them in part because they are not shy about identifying what they need with academic technology services, support for research computing, information security, communications, and more.
IT now delivers more educational services over the Internet, including a web page for coursework and syllabuses and rosters and materials that is accessible to faculty and students alike, and now is developing and testing online coursework for people with access to the network – first within a smaller segment of the university, and then with wider availability.
Working with faculty to drive coursework online also means creating the ability to read Power Point slides of lectures, or have lectures posted on podcasts with the assistance of Academic Technology Services, a department within the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), both of which lie within the overall IT organization.
The university’s on-campus technology capabilities, which Kraemer calls an “incredibly worthwhile investment,” features almost wall-to-wall wireless network access that, unlike municipal Wi-Fi, provides wireless hot spots inside of buildings and allows wireless service to “bleed out” to exterior courtyards. (In the case of Memorial Union, wireless access extends about 200 feet onto Lake Mendota). Students can move from building to building and access the system without repeated identity authentication, which consists of a Net ID and a passport for access to any university application.
With classroom infrastructure upgrades in the offing, students can expect more rich technology such as video resources, sound-based features, and perhaps more of Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite, a rich-media product that is increasingly popular on campus, especially in conference facilities and special classrooms.
In the university’s bioscience courses, the course material enables students to see what’s happening under a microscope while it’s projected on a 3-D screen, an example of real-time video.
Rendering an effective educational experience is the mission of each new service, especially since students support technology with the segregated fees they pay at the start of each semester. There is more to the calculation than cost, however, especially with a generation of students who now arrive on campus with cellular phones, laptops, and hand-held computer technology.
Kraemer has placed an emphasis on information safeguarding, another term for information security. “For each application we build, we have specific security programs that we apply,” he explained. “Within the applications and the databases, we’ve applied security protocols to keep the information safe, and then we’re on a never-ending education campaign to make sure that people use the right processes in managing their data.”
Anyone – students, faculty, and staff – with access to personal data, has the responsibility to manage that data. The university has a website containing what Kraemer called “an incredible amount of security information.” Kraemer declined to talk about specific security tools used by the university because it could expose the network to higher risk, but said the university has put in place a much more rigorous password policy “that has helped quite a bit.”
Kraemer, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has been at UW-Madison since 2005, first as deputy CIO to the now-retired Annie Stunden. He earned his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and once served in various capacities at Oak Ridge National Lab, which now is collaborating with UW-Madison on the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.
A former CIO for the University of Wisconsin Extension, Kraemer takes the lead, both at UW-Madison and within the UW System, on committees that address issues like identity management, course-management services, and the campus portal, the nationally recognized uPortal. His leadership extends beyond that, including service on the EDUCAUSE Advisory Group, WiscNet, and the Broadband Optical Research Education and Sciences Network.
He oversees an IT staff of 505 full-time people, plus 173 student workers, which gives him an advantage in recruiting recent graduates to the organization. It’s an edge Kraemer doesn’t hesitate to exploit, given the challenge of recruiting and retaining the required skills in a large organization.
While he can’t compete with certain private-sector salaries, people in the university environment should have “edgy” projects to tackle, which is a worker attraction tool. “People don’t get rich working in education,” Kraemer noted. “They work in education because they are comfortable with the environment and passionate about education.”
He creates that edginess with a $50 million annual budget, plus $15 million of pass-through revenue for technology purchasing. Prolonged wrangling over the 2007-09 state budget has put new initiatives on hold and caused some insomnia, and with the budget in limbo at the start of the school year, IT was operating on last year’s spending blueprint. Thus far, planned upgrades to accessibility and infrastructure have been delayed.
“It’s keeping us in kind of a stalemate, away from doing new things,” Kraemer said.
There never seems to be an end to IT’s strategic directions. Of the university’s $2 billion budget, about $1 billion in revenue comes in the form of grants and gifts. Yet it has been operating with an antiquated grant-management system that is being replaced with modern system that represents a $10 to $12 million investment. The system manages every aspect of the grant chase, from pre-proposal work that includes collecting information and research, to actively managing the grant throughout its lifecycle and other post-award reporting.
The Oracle system is linked to granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, where most of UW-Madison’s grants come from. According to Kraemer, the new system helps streamline the process, gives researchers easier access to materials, automates the workflow of the grant-management process, and offers better data tracking.
This fall, the university will move into an advanced testing phase, and perhaps mindful of information technology hiccups that have consumed state tax dollars, Kraemer said the project is on time and on budget.
More importantly, it fits the enabling mold that IT has established as the university’s technology mission, which has internal (to IT) and external applications. Externally, Kraemer tries to serve as a bridge between the technology community and the teaching and research worlds, fostering communication between the two disciplines.
Internally, the mission is not much different. “To me, CIO leadership is the ability to make everyone in the technology community successful at what they do,” Kraemer said. “I think we’ve created an environment where people can be successful in their work space and one that keeps them charged up about what they do.”