The Case for Change

The speed at which technology changes, and the responsibility of our organization to harness and direct it for optimal support of the University’s teaching, research, and service missions, provide exciting opportunities for the future. To prepare for those opportunities, we have devoted a great deal of time over the past eighteen months to examining our organization with a critical focus on discovering our strengths, understanding existing challenges, and gaining insight into strategic opportunities in providing world-class support. The information gathering was a combination of self study, work done by consultants, and input from focus groups to provide an objective look into areas of profound opportunity. The compilation of data provides a compelling substantiation for the Reimagining IT plan.

Six Reasons Why


The Pennsylvania State University deserves a world-class IT organization commensurate with its status as a leading R1 institution.


Financial strain is exacerbated by demographic changes and decreasing support for public higher education. IT must reinvent its funding model and business processes to maximize the overall spend to adapt to financial and demographic realities.


We are now in the midst of experiencing a Fourth Industrial Revolution due to the velocity, scope, and systems impact of the exponential change in technology. The speed of change is disrupting almost every industry and transforming entire systems of production, management, and governance.


The IT workforce must grow and transform to keep pace with changes in society, education, and technology. IT has tremendous unrealized potential, where we can accomplish far more working together than working in fragmented units.


IT has a very large potential attack surface with multiple instances of systems. Many , of which, are not properly documented, monitored, or maintained. We are inconsistent and, at times, slow in response to cyber threats, legal, and administrative requests.


Penn State has more than eighty IT support units, which has led to duplicative services, resource inefficiencies, siloed behaviors, and decreased time to innovation. We are currently robbing our capacity for innovation by over-investing in unnecessarily duplicated technologies.

Current State

Over time, Penn State has evolved to having more than eighty IT support units. This highly distributed nature of IT creates a complex environment of overlapping, inefficient, and duplicated solutions. There are dozens of cases where the University is over-investing in commodity technology. For example, units have traditionally provided their own email and calendaring solutions, which led to the University running more than thirty different systems. In 2017, the University began a project to move to a single email and calendaring tool, Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud-based platform. When completed, this migration will result in significantly increased productivity and future cost avoidance from the retirement of email servers. Users will more easily be able to schedule meetings and will be able to see all users in a single email directory. As unit email servers are retired, there are two types of cost avoidance: no new servers need to be purchased, and cooling and electricity costs are reduced. In addition, the migration to a single email platform reduces the University’s security threat surface and improves the ability to monitor security issues. The estimated benefits of moving to a single email platform are:

  • $427,950 in anticipated cost avoidance when legacy systems and infrastructure are decommissioned
  • 6,968 hours (174.2 weeks) of internal capacity will be realized

We anticipated seeing fewer account compromises and halfway through the migration the data is supporting our expectation. The enterprise Office 365 implementation includes an effective standard threat protection package that is controlled by the Office of Information Security (OIS) and allows Penn State to react within minutes to threats detected at the University and around the world. Penn State IT now also has the ability to remove attacks retroactively once they are discovered. The single email system allows the University to move from mostly manual defenses to a significantly faster and more effective automated reaction. It also frees our OIS analysts to do what they do best—out-think our adversaries—rather than spending most of their time on reactive tasks. As a large and complex university, Penn State has many such examples of duplicated services: networks, firewalls, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, IT service management platforms, project management systems, infrastructure monitoring systems, and storage. Currently, there are multiple opportunities to reduce duplicated services and standardize processes, including the following:

  • There are at least eighteen units that provide project management support, twenty-eight units performing Business Analysis, and two performing Organizational Change Management. Developing and implementing consistent processes and standards through Centers of Excellence will enable Penn State IT to better understand the needs of students, faculty, and staff; ensure new IT services are implemented to address existing, redesigned, or new business processes; drive adoption, utilization, and proficiency of new services; and measure the impact of those services on teaching, research, and administration.
  • There are forty-three units providing Desktop Support services. Many of them utilize their own processes for purchasing and managing machines, and levels of support are inconsistent. These variations can lead to compromises due to inconsistencies in patching of operating systems and applications.
  • ServiceNow, Jira, and Footprints are all used to support IT Service Management. This duplication of support management services leads to increased application, infrastructure, and staff costs. Varying policies and procedures result in inconsistent user experiences when seeking support, impacting user satisfaction.
  • More than ten data storage services are being utilized. Disk utilization varies widely, and can include Penn State Access Account Storage Space (PASS), departmental solutions, Box, OneDrive, and external hard drives. This variation of data storage services leads to increased costs, the potential for data loss, data security risks, workflow inefficiencies, and inconsistent user experience.
  • At least forty units have digital signage services. There is little consistency of digital signage service use across units, which leads to duplication of effort, non-standardized equipment, and inconsistent levels of end-user support as well as staff support for creating and managing content. This inconsistency leads to challenges in sharing content, creating and maintaining content, and supporting new units that adopt a system.
  • More than thirty units offer website hosting, utilizing a variety of services including Polaris, VM Hosting, Acquia cloud, Sites at Penn State, Plone, or custom solutions. Offering a common set of hosting solutions targeting specific faculty, student, and department use cases will improve security efforts, free up staff to perform higher-value tasks in support of the University’s mission, and improve system performance monitoring, while still giving designers and content providers the ability to tailor sites to meet their unique needs.
 a pie chart showing Penn State IT Service Management Application Utilization
  • There are at least ten Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems in use, including Salesforce, Talisma, Dynamics, and RoundCorner. These various systems, including the lack of an institutional data strategy, prevents the University from having a holistic view of the student life cycle from initial contact to becoming an alumnus. Multiple systems require staff with specialized knowledge to maintain them and provide end-user support.
  • The broad range and number of service tools within Service Management shows that there is no standardized processing of requests or response.
  • IT staff members have no oversight into support, data is not being collected, and there is no strategy around self help—the preferred method of the newer generation of end users.
  • The method of addressing the needs of students, faculty, and staff members differs drastically between units. These differences make it difficult for end users across the University to navigate IT and quickly obtain help.
  • The data also shows a higher cost (at forty dollars per contact) than the industry standard of fifteen dollars.
  • There are too many tools and too much knowledge spread across multiple places.
  • The total cost of ownership is $7.8 million.

IT Staffing

Through assessment efforts there have been 1,707 IT staff identified across Penn State. The table below shows the number of staff members in various job groups per administrative area. Key highlights include:

  • Only 0.35 percent of IT staff members are in the Research Support Job group.
  • Only 7.03 percent of IT staff members are in the Instructional Design and production job group, which support teaching and learning.
  • 14.35 percent of IT staff are in the IT Leadership group.

These numbers demonstrate an opportunity to realign the IT workforce to better support the strategic mission of the University.

Gartner Study

In 2018, Gartner assisted Penn State in creating a University-wide information technology spend and staff baseline.

In its overview, Gartner noted Penn State has grown both organically and geographically to become one of the largest educational institutions in the United States, resulting in a highly complex and distributed technology environment, with 60 percent of IT spend occurring outside of Enterprise IT in support of localized constituent requirements.

Gartner’s key findings included:

  • In FY16-17, Penn State spent significantly more on IT as a percentage of operating expense in comparison to peers (6.8 percent vs. 5.7 percent), with no visibility into how total University spend levels support the IT operating model or institutional strategic objectives.
  • Lack of coordinated governance and variable maturity levels in financial, technical, and service management disciplines offer limited transparency for technology leaders to manage cost and value optimization initiatives.
  • Inconsistent standards for people, process, and technology across the federated environment make it difficult to manage IT investments, and ensure the organization is focused on optimizing services for institutional constituents.
  • Duplicate systems, underutilized capacity, and limited workload visibility increase technology costs, reduce opportunities to leverage financial economies of scale, and hinder the reinvestment of savings in University growth and transformation initiatives.
  • Small redundant environments are less productive, increase generalist labor requirements, and reduce opportunities for resources to establish expertise in high value services through defined technology professional career paths.


Focus Groups

As part of the information-gathering process, fifty-six sessions were conducted from April through July to gather feedback from vice presidents and vice provosts, deans, chancellors, faculty, students, financial officers, Outreach IT leadership, Administrative IT directors, Enterprise IT directors, Campus IT directors, College IT directors, IT staff, and executive assistants. The majority of sessions were conducted in person, with some sessions offered via Zoom to facilitate participation from those outside University Park.

Highlights from these stakeholder groups included:

  • The need to have local IT staff available to provide end-user support and assist with meeting their unique needs.
  • The challenges of not having a Talent Management strategy in place to attract, classify, compensate, and develop staff, which leads to employee turnover.
  • An efficient governance process to prioritize IT initiatives based on the needs of the University.
  • The need to move commodity services to free up staff to provide more support for teaching and learning, research, and outreach.
  • An overall vision for IT will help set clear priorities for people to align their efforts.
  • Inconsistent budgeting and staffing models across units.
focus group participation in a graphic

Focus groups were conducted with stakeholders to provide guidance on the development of the Reimagining IT plan. A common set of questions was used with all groups, with the exception of students and the University Staff Advisory Council (USAC). Students were asked three questions and USAC was asked three. The questions focused on what is working well, where the bright spots (areas of excellence) are, what can be improved, and what barriers exist to using IT. Fifty-six sessions were conducted from April through July to gather feedback from vice presidents, deans, chancellors, faculty, students, financial officers, Outreach IT leadership, Administrative IT directors, Enterprise IT directors, Campus IT directors, College IT directors, IT staff, and executive assistants. The majority of sessions were conducted in person, with some sessions offered via Zoom to facilitate participation from those outside of University Park.

Several themes were identified across all stakeholders. These included:

  • The importance of having local IT support that understands the unique needs of the colleges or campuses.
  • The need to move and optimize commodity services to free up staff to provide more support for the unique needs of the colleges and campuses.
  • The lack of a talent management strategy, funding for professional development, and outdated job profiles make it hard to attract and retain high-performing staff.
  • An overall vision for IT is needed that sets clear priorities for people to align their efforts.
  • Budget models and funding are concerns that impact everything from end-user support to innovation.
  • A University-wide strategy for A/V standards and support needs to be developed.
  • An efficient governance process is needed to help set priorities.
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