by Rodney Fletcher

CIO100 2017 #31-100: Mike Harte, University of Otago

Mar 29, 2017
Big DataEducation Industry

The University of Otago has been building and rolling out a new network, which includes the installation of a wireless service across its campuses in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Invercargill.

The new network core is in place and operational. As well, the fibre optic cabling is in place and provides a huge increase in resiliency and capacity of the network, says university’s director of IT services, Mike Harte.

To date, 2700 new wireless access points have been cabled, installed and made operational, while in October, 2016, the new wi-fi network service had more than 12,500 concurrent connections.

The network has achieved high-speed data transfers to meet the needs of some research projects across campus, across New Zealand and to the United States.

This would not have been possible without the new network in place, he states.

The network has replicated high-capacity storage across the University of Otago datacentres, for staff and research team use.

Associated with this is the high-speed data transfer service. Harte says this is a partnership among Otago University, the National eScience Infrastructure New Zealand (NeSI) and Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ).

As well, the launch of a guest wifi service enables any member of the public on campus to connect to the free guest internet service, essentially creating a huge, free public wi-fi hotspot.

Over the past year, the University benefitted through its investment in the NZ eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) high performance computing infrastructure and support system, says Harte and membership of REANNZ..

He cites the case of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health Development Study Research Unit which needed to send MRI scan images securely at high speeds to a partner laboratory at Duke University in the United States, for analysis. The University of Otago researchers were scanning the brains of about 1000 New Zealanders they have been studying since their births more than 40 years ago.

The researchers struggled to send data to their colleagues faster than 300 megabits a second. They had to send the data through couriers and external hard drives as the university bandwidth and infrastructure struggled to cope with the demand.

Harte says the IT services team worked with NeSI and REANNZ to create a new, fast, data pathway to ensure these limitations will not impact the work of the research unit. Today, the researchers can send and receive enormous amounts of data at ultra-fast speeds as they are connected to what NeSi calls the “international high-speed data superhighway”.

Other examples of innovation at the university are the the e-Waste e-Cycle Centre. It has become a popular resource in its second year of operation for departments and staff, who use it to recycle or decommission their redundant equipment.

By the end of December 2016, the unit had received 3102 items of which 45 per cent were reused by departments or donated to schools and community groups.

As well, a student IT app was launched to provide students with real-time information on the availability of IT services and enable them to report issues via the app. A 3D printing service was established and it has proved popular with teaching staff and researchers.

A Lecture Recording self-service scheduling facility was established that allows lecturers to schedule their own recordings based on papers. It is connected to the timetable so all users need to know is the paper’s code.

Harte sits on a number of committees and working parties across the organisation.

As well, he has regular one on one meetings with members of the senior leadership team and other key stakeholders.

He attends board meetings on an as required basis to speak to capital project proposals and initiatives, as well as providing briefings to the Board on topics such as cybersecurity.

“I regularly touch base with colleagues to discuss plans and ideas,” Harte says and the Divisional Directors have a weekly ‘huddle’, a 30-minute sharply focused gathering.

“We develop and publish a Divisional Plan that tells our customers and stakeholders what we will be doing over the next two years. The plan is based on detailed operational planning that each department in the IT Services Division undertakes annually,” he says.

Each department consults with customers, staff and other stakeholders, to build up operational plans that focus on their tasks, projects and interdependencies.

“The Divisional Plan outlines and explains these activities for our customers to show what they can expect to see and when it is expected to happen.

“We also maintain a comprehensive website that includes information on our people, our services, our plans and projects, FAQs, self-service request mechanisms and so on. Blogs are also used for specific services, user groups and projects.

“As well, we run some IT Services Forums on relevant topics. These are open to the wider University community to come and hear what is happening with a project, or learn more about a service of interest to them. Staff consultation workshops are also used to gain feedback on a particular initiative/idea.”

Harte says all members of the senior leadership team go through the University’s Leadership Development Programme.

“I have driven a relentless focus on customer service excellence, which has involved everything from the development of a customer service strategy and action plans through to regular workshops on this topic for team leaders and their teams.”

Ongoing ‘sharpening the saw’ sessions are scheduled during the year for all team members, who have team leadership responsibility on specific topics such as: What is the role of a manager; The role of emotional intelligence within the workplace; Understanding communication styles; Negotiating and influencing; Change – understanding the process; When something goes wrong/off track; The manager as a coach; Uncomfortable conversations and crucial conversations.

“Each year we take on an intern from the School of Business. The intern can be involved in specific projects or provide support for a variety of functions across the IT Services Division, says Harte.

Each year at performance and professional development review time, each staff member and their manager agree, document and sign off a development plan for the team member for the following year.

“All members of my senior management team have been through comprehensive leadership development programme and I can rely on them to handle things in my absence.”

There is a very good mix of gender, experience, competencies and personality types in his division, says Harte.

Rodney Fletcher