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Greetings, Skidmore College Community

Hello everyone.  As the 2008-09 academic years kicks off, we hope that you will find our new e-newsletter even more valuable (and greener) than the newsletters we have proudly shared with you over the past two years.  This change is a small part of redoubling our communications efforts with the help and leadership of our new employee, Alana Jaeck, who joined us earlier in 2008. She is in our Harder Hall office and is helping to organize our communications across many fronts.  This newsletter, as well as our revamped website, are just the beginnings of what we hope will be greater transparency about the work done by IT.  While we have many ideas, please feel free to share your thoughts with Alana or me.

IT is currently involved in many different technology initiatives.  You will learn about several of these in the subsequent articles of this issue.  The focus of my introductory article is on an issue that college and university CIOs are strategically assessing. 

Change is certainly not new to the world of technology.  The issue of change I am now constantly assessing relates to determining which IT services have become commodity services.  In other words, which services have no major value-added component dependent upon where the service originates and where it is supported? In the past, most higher education organizations could only take advantage of services offered by their campus IT departments. While we try not to limit the services we provide, we realize that the demand has outpaced our ability to accommodate the wide range of needs.  So how do we deal with this?  We must review our services and ask hard questions.  One question we will ask is whether our campus still needs this service or resource.  In a vast majority of the cases the answer is yes. We must also ask if this service can be offered in another way with the same or greater quality. Until recently the answer to the second question was often no, but that is no longer true.

One example of this that we can relate to here at Skidmore is the world of "ResNet" (Residential Networking).  Beginning with the fall 2005 semester, we chose to partner with Time Warner Cable. We found their Road Runner service and support to meet the connectivity needs of our students, which allowed us to focus on other areas. While ResNet was an example of where we had to evaluate expenses, there are others on our radar that have no significant expense, which makes it even more compelling.  One example of this is e-mail service for students.  A growing percentage of schools have chosen to partner with companies like Google or Microsoft to offer their students e-mail (including Ohio State, Notre Dame, University of Southern California, and Colgate, to name a few). We will be evaluating this option as the cost in time and equipment to offer quality student e-mail is far from trivial.  If we can offer students a better e-mail experience with an external partnership, then it is worth considering this alternative.

At its core the real change is our default path. The approach has always been to keep our endeavors in-house and only when we cannot make it work do we look to see if it can be handled externally.  I suspect that with growing regularity we will first see if it can be done externally (with equal, if not greater, quality and value). If no reasonable external solution is viable, then we will approach it internally.  In my opinion, this new mindset will be the only way that we will ever have a shot at keeping up with the rapidly expanding uses of IT across the college campus.

I hope you have a great academic year.  Please reach out to me if I may be of any assistance.

- Justin Sipher, Chief Technology Officer