In a step toward centralizing Harvard’s currently disparate information technology services, the University has announced the formation of a unified IT organization, marking the launch of a wide-ranging effort to increasing the efficacy and organization of Harvard’s computer services.
By merging IT services that have previously been separated between the University’s central administration and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the new body will provide IT support for both students and faculty. With 456 staffers, the new centralized body is part of a broader overhaul of IT services at the University that is intended to result in more user-friendly services and better support.
“We’re going through all of this change to be able to provide technology that will ultimately make it easier for the faculty and students to do their work,” said Chief Information Officer Anne H. Margulies, who was hired for the newly minted position last year.
Harvard University Information Technology officially launched on June 15.
Margulies has lead the charge in reforming Harvard’s sometimes creaky IT system and says that she hopes to put in place an IT framework to enable high-caliber academic work and that will nurture students’ talents.
“We probably have the next Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard today, so we need to provide support for student innovations that can benefit the rest of the university and beyond,” Margulies said.
The effort to centralize the IT system appears to be in line with University President Drew G. Faust’s vision of “one University,” a set of policies that are aimed at breaking down barriers between the different parts of Harvard to encourage greater interdisciplinary research.
But the announcement of a more centralized bureaucracy is only the first step on a long road of reform that is likely to extend over the course of the next year. Margolies says that HUIT, for example, has plans to update email clients. In particular, Margulies noted that Harvard excess of email clients—currently over 30—made email and calendar use unnecessarily difficult.
The new email infrastructure, which Margulies was hesitant to detail due to further planning involved, still maintains an uncertain future for college students, whose typical use of email, Margulies said, spans a little a more than what faculty require.
“We’re moving toward a common email client for faculty and staff across the University, and we’re exploring options for undergraduates,” said Margulies, who added that the existing system wastes “enormous amounts of time.”
In further administrative reshuffling, the organization will also rename a large portion of the titles and positions to more accurately reflect the organization’s current purpose. Some of the reforms will be announced in a few weeks.
Though the centralization will require restructuring, Marguiles said that there will be no staff layoffs as a result. Instead, employees will be regrouped to streamline their work processes.
“One benefit of bringing together the two former organizations is to create deeper expertise and critical mass of skills for better service,” Margulies said.
Margulies said that a survey of IT staff members found that many employees identified themselves as "generalists," indicating that some might have to be retrained to specialize in more advanced fields.
“Technology is becoming so complex, we really need deep expertise in every type of it,” she said