March 2020 CIO Update

If you can read this, in addition to thanking a teacher, thank an IT professional.  Today’s circumstances are certainly a reminder of how reliant we are on technology and the crucial role technology can play in extreme circumstances.  When I reflect back on the past few weeks and see all that has been accomplished by the IT teams at VCU, I can’t help but be amazed and proud.  Our work has been and will continue to be crucial in sustaining critical functions at VCU and VCU Health Systems; enabling VCU staff to work remotely where possible, and enabling our students and faculty to fully engage in on-line and remote teaching and learning.  Below I would like to highlight a few of the efforts made in each organizational area of Technology Services.  This is just a small sample of the great work that’s been done, but I hope it gives everyone a sense of the broad scope of what the IT teams at VCU have done so quickly.

The Administrative Systems team reactivated 130 Federal Stimulus indexes for COVID-19 expenses, provided support for the implementation of the new Public Health Emergency leave category, and will be instrumental in providing support for Spring 2020 Pass-Fail grade mode options.

Academic Technologies leadership participated actively on the Academic Continuity committee and the small Rapid Transition Taskforce that created the Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites for instructional continuity.  Academic Technologies also led the purchase & communications of a new Adobe Creative Cloud free 2-month license for students.

  • The Labs & Classrooms Computing team coordinated a loaner laptop program in collaboration with the IT Support Center and with the help of many other units who have temporarily donated laptops to the program for student and instructional faculty to use.  More than 100 devices were delivered, shipped, or are being shipped to students and faculty to help enable remote teaching and learning.
  • Media Support Services (MSS) Video Production & Teleconferencing moved Zoom to an “enterprise” plan, increasing the account pool from the previous limit of 2,200 to 31,300 licensed users, all while enabling a streamlined account creation process, allowing new users to onboard by simply logging in at the VCU vanity portal with their VCU faculty, staff or student credentials.
  • MSS Classroom Support assisted the President’s office in establishing a Zoom call between President Rao and several government officials including Mayor Stoney and Governor Northam in the Putney House Conference room.
  • MSS Engineering & Design has extensively collaborated to mitigate risk and ensure all MSS E&D projects continue to progress despite fluctuating project & procedural schedules, especially HEETF projects with fiscal & other constraints.
  • Learning Systems partnered with AltLab, conducting countless Zoom sessions and consultations to assist with faculty training as they rapidly had to move online.  They also worked to implement options in Blackboard that make it easier to launch into Zoom sessions for both legacy and newer Zoom Pro integrations for HIPAA groups at the Hospital and on the MCV campus.

Application Services assisted multiple areas of VCU:

  • Collaboration Services worked with many departments and faculty to create Google Groups for communicating with students and sharing Google documents. They also assisted with any Mass Mail support, including new lists for the Provost office.
  • Business Application Services worked with FMD Materials Management to streamline processes for procurement and disbursement of PPE and other materials sourced by FMD in response to COVID-19.
  • Records and Documents Management Services changed default access in Docusign from Signer to Sender to lower barrier to entry and number of access elevate requests.
  • The Web Services team worked closely with University Relations to coordinate the rapid launch of multiple web sites and forms.  Climatext, a texting tool developed with Inclusive Excellence, has been used extensively to gauge student concern and communicate accordingly.  The team has also leveraged new capabilities in VCU Mobile to improve real-time communication to the VCU community.

The Network Services team increased RamsVPN client IP addressing by adding 10. addresses to fully support the licensed 10,000 concurrent connections. They have worked with Health systems and Facilities to enable network connectivity for the Health System as the Honors building was converted to an additional hospital facility.  

The University Computer Center team increased the computing power on the blog servers to handle the increased traffic generated by COVID-19 communications, and they added storage for QRADAR as network traffic increased.

Information Security updated and overhauled security protections for VCU’s websites in response to new usage patterns generated by work-from-home and online learning while managing higher levels of traffic and associated security threats including multiple COVID-19 related scams.

Technology Support Services has been on the front lines of supporting students, staff, and faculty:

  • Endpoint Computing Systems has been working with multiple units to leverage the use of Citrix VDI and App2go to allow remote access to computer labs for students and instructors and has also expanded licensing for Bomgar remote support.
  • Desktop Services worked tirelessly to move their customers to their new Telework/work from home environments under COVID-19 guidance. The team is still providing on-call and after-hours support as a service to our customers for critical and emergent issues during COVID-19, with a particular focus on supporting senior management and the VCU Police department.
  • Campus Card Services has coordinated hundreds of building access requests across VCU and VCU Health, assisted with meal plan/dining refunds for students, and continued to provide critical ID card service to VCU Health.
  • The IT Support Center has handled hundreds of support calls every day over the past three weeks.  The team assisted with in-person loaner laptop distribution at our walk-up counter while taking as many precautions as possible to maintain social distancing. The team continues to work with Student Success and Student Affairs to address individual concerns and technology insecurities of students as they transition to online learning.
  • Strategic Communications published multiple resources and kept our social media updated with the latest information,

Telecommunications Services installed new telephone services to support COVID-19 in the VCUHS Command Center and various clinics, and they created new agents and programmed skills routing to support the COVID-19 Hotline. The team also increased SIP endpoint license quantity from 334 to 2,066 to support concurrent sessions of the Avaya IX Workplace mobile app which provides the presence of VCU/VCUHS telephone number from anywhere via a mobile device and/or computer. 

Central Services enabled the procurement and delivery of all the software and equipment needed for this work and has been instrumental in supporting TS staff and facilities. The team also has handled all of the various HR issues including making sure our student employees are paid properly during this time.

The IT Service Management Office worked with stakeholders to ensure that tickets were being created and that any modifications needed to support remote workers were in place quickly and coordinated with the Portfolio and Project Management Office to spin up the COVID Tier 2 support group and develop other processes and procedures on the fly to coordinate and manage the many changes needed to support VCU during this time.

My apologies to those whose work I did not specifically mention (this was edited down for 12 pages).  What has been done in the past few weeks is nothing short of amazing, and all of it was done in the spirit of collaboration, teamwork, and service to the VCU community.  I know I speak for many when I express my sincere appreciation to all those working to keep VCU’s technology running so that VCU’s important work can continue.

I look forward to being on the other side of this situation and seeing my colleagues in person under less stressful circumstances.  I wish you and your families all the best.  Please stay safe and healthy.

Alex

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