Education Technology

Reimagining IT: Transforming IT in Service to the 21st-Century University


  • Michael Kubit, VP and CIO, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Jennifer Stedelin, Senior Director for Strategic Operations, The Pennsylvania State University

Michael Kubit and Jennifer Stedelin



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The Case(s) for Change

Changing Landscape: students of the future, financial trends (reduction/elimination of state funding), faculty trends (retirements), research funding trends, future of learning.

  1. Penn State deserves a world-class IT org commensurate with its status as a leading R1 institution.
  2. IT must reinvent its funding model and business processes to adapt to financial and demographic realities.
  3. The speed of change in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting every industry.
  4. The IT workforce must grow and transform to keep pace with changes in society, education and society
  5. Penn State data and research are more vulnerable than ever, due to the frequency and scope of cyber threats.
  6. We have a fiduciary responsibility to fully optimize and invest in a cohesive strategy for IT services and support.

Key Issue: Innovation in face of growing financial strain

Cannot fund innovation with new dollars, so we need to think about ways to use the university’s funding more wisely. One way we do that is to think about moving IT from a provider to an enabler. We had a faculty member come in to share what IT means to her as a professor: she uses 35 apps in her classroom that the university does not provide or support. IT needs to have a new set of (mostly) soft skills that we need to bring to the fore to support our staff, faculty and students.

Aligning to Institutional Mission

The majority of our work is about changing lives and making the world a better place. How do we at IT professionals share how we contribute to these goals? We’re a differentiator and allow the institution do things with IT other organizations cannot do yet. Penn State has nearly 2,000 IT pros across 80 IT orgs. As a result of this size and spread, we’re over-invested in commodity IT. We had a large number of focus groups which found that a) people liked their local tech staff and b) recognized the value of being connected with central IT, and c) discovered that we have no consistent approach on funding of IT across the institution.

“Bright Spots” are areas of the organization that are doing things very well, that we’d like to see spread and become a part of how we do things day in and day out. Our rollout of O365 allowed us to consolidate 36 e-mail systems into one. This project had three components which led to success: executive support; advisory groups consisting of faculty, staff, and leadership; and a community of IT pros engaged in the project throughout…including a number of volunteers from across the university that came together as a community to migrate their departments. Those 36 email systems were run by the equivalent of 32 FTEs, and the new system is run by 5 FTEs, at an avoidance cost savings of $600K/year to the university.


You may have noticed we are avoiding the issue of centralization; our efforts are more about using institutional resources more effectively (i.e. running commodity hardware is not a strategic benefit to the university).

Vision: align, optimize, create.

How do we become an IT organization that’s all about people? We’ve tried to think about the people that we serve; we’re trying to embrace a culture of service to people; and that we’re all in this together…everyone has a role, everyone has a share in the responsibility. It’s a journey, not a destination.

This plan needs to be navigated through the university relationship by relationship, to help folk understand what changes mean to them. Quick wins can demonstrate what’s possible; an IT summit shared what we’re planning with our stakeholders across the university and we asked for their feedback. We’ve committed to open communication as much as possible: I conduct a Zoom seminar every month that allows participants to ask questions directly.

We want to leapfrog rather than remediate wherever possible.

Question: what are the top initiatives? We’re building out a planning process to go in-depth with some of our units (volunteer units first). We want to discover the services they deliver, the faculty and staff they serve, their spend, etc. We’re writing up discovery methodologies to help facilitate this process. Identification of commodity IT services is a big part of this.

Question: how does central IT staff respond to this process? We’re not centralizing, but rationalizing processes across the organization. Many de-centralized organizations are in fact doing some processes better than our central IT unit. We want to emphasize that these changes are going to impact the entire organization.

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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