Initiative 4: IT Projects

Establish IT project review and purchasing approval processes that maximize UNLV’s IT investments. These new processes will facilitate the deployment of new services, improve IT service coordination and provide transparent decision-making.

A strong IT governance structure informed by continuous IT strategic planning that includes periodic reviews, broad stakeholder involvement, and keen attention to the strategic direction of the University will provide a solid foundation for ensuring the technology environment meets campus needs. This foundation, coupled with the strong vision and leadership of the Chief Information Officer, will help UNLV transform IT from a foundational service to a key strategic asset.

One of the critical components of this transformation is determining how decisions will be made regarding the approval and prioritization of IT projects. A strong IT project review process will:

  • Ensure UNLV’s limited IT resources are deployed on the most critical campus initiatives
  • Account for the resources needed to keep technologies operational, up-to-date, and secure
  • Address the needs of both large, high-impact, campus-wide projects and smaller projects that enable individual units to achieve their organizational objectives

An effective IT project review process requires a complementary IT purchasing approval process with components such as: technical reviews for IT purchases that meet established cost thresholds and ensure compliance with other campus technologies; adherence to newly developed standards to maximize pricing discounts during vendor negotiations; and strong links to the IT project process to reduce the unnecessary duplication of services and the inefficient use of resources.

In very practical and transparent ways, the decisions made through the IT project review process and purchasing approval processes will reflect UNLV’s progress on the transformation of its IT environment.

Current environment

The overwhelming number of technology requests, combined with the lack of a defined process for prioritization, has contributed to unclear expectations and unacceptable timelines for project implementation. Delays in project completion have created frustration among campus stakeholders, sometimes leading to the implementation of short-term solutions that solve immediate needs but create longer-term issues (e.g., multiple colleges adopt various software solutions for automating teaching evaluations, students must learn how to use different solutions, multiple interfaces must be created for the software to be accessed through the course management system, evaluations cannot be compared across colleges, etc.). As noted in the Current Information Technology Environment Report, units deploy local solutions without sufficient knowledge, expertise, or resources and then rely on others to complete the implementation of their respective solutions. Additionally, technology purchases are made without sufficient knowledge of interoperability requirements, without awareness of the lack of unit resources for effective implementation, and insufficient attention to security concerns.

The effort and resourcefulness UNLV staff demonstrate when attempting to fulfill University needs created under these circumstances is laudable and there is considerable collaboration after the fact to make the technology investments work. However, the ad hoc nature of these activities forces the campus to operate in a reactive mode of service delivery that challenges the University’s ability to address broader strategic objectives proactively. Notwithstanding its challenges, the current environment provides a great deal of flexibility. The new processes must take into account the need to address new and rapidly changing needs and be agile enough to meet those needs in a timely fashion.

>Addressing the challenges

Designing the new processes will require a significant initial effort. Several challenges will need to be addressed as the processes are being developed.

Current Challenges    Recommendations
UNLV has significantly more technology project requests than resources to fulfill them and no formal processes for prioritization.
  • Utilize a tiered-system of IT project review authorizing IT governance groups to prioritize projects consistent with the group’s organizational level and expertise.
  • Provide tools to help IT governance groups balance campus needs, available resources, project interdependencies, and to manage new processes for resource requests and/or reallocation of existing resources.
  • Use efficiencies gained through coordination of projects, expansion of existing services and economies of scale to resource additional projects.
The campus does not have a complete list of current IT services, making it difficult to determine if a new project will introduce redundant services or enhance existing services.
  • As part of the IT project review process, consult the IT Service Catalog (see Initiative #5) to determine if existing services will meet the need.
  • Utilize the Technology Review Board’s (TRB) broad knowledge of campus IT and emerging campus technical standards to inform the IT project review process.
There is no single source of information about the IT projects currently being implemented, making it difficult to know whether newly approved projects will be complementary or redundant.
  • Implement a Project Portfolio Management system that provides updated schedules, resource requirements and documentation of all IT Projects.
  • Leverage improved collaborations among the UNLV IT community for additional information on existing projects.
Major technology purchases are subject to substantial purchasing review. Technical reviews to ensure compatibility with campus technical and security standards and integration with other campus technologies are not always included.
  • Update UNLV procurement procedures to include a technical review when purchases exceed established thresholds.
  • Utilize emerging campus IT standards to establish contracts that facilitate expedited cost-effective purchases of standard equipment.
  • Ensure new steps in the procurement procedures are completed in as timely a manner as possible.
Top Tier, RPC, and community engagement initiatives include a large number of new projects (see Initiatives A, B, and C) that will depend on the implementation of new technologies and integration with existing campus systems.
  • Submit all new projects through the IT project review process to ensure the resources are available for successful implementation, required integrations, new services requirements, and ongoing support.

 

 

The Workday project (see Initiative #9) will require assistance from existing technical staff during and after implementation and will produce a significant number of new technical projects.
  • NSHE mandated projects should be included in the UNLV IT Project Portfolio, allowing priorities and timelines for other UNLV IT projects to be adjusted accordingly.
The IT project review process must balance large, high-impact, institution-wide projects with small projects that meet pressing local needs.
  • Create multiple portfolios to manage projects of varying sizes and scope. An overview of all the portfolios will provide information to help maintain the desired balance.

Creating an effective process

Individual project decisions must move into a broader framework of University-wide technology governance (see Initiative #1). Doing so will allow UNLV to review, prioritize, and approve technology projects and major purchases in the context of changing campus priorities, resource availability, existing technology standards (see Initiative #6), evolving security requirements (see Initiative #8), and documented IT service needs (see Initiative #5).

An effective IT project review process at UNLV should:

  • Maximize IT investments by selecting and prioritizing the optimal combination of projects to meet the university’s strategic goals
  • Ensure that the degree of review, approval, and monitoring is consistent with the size and scope of the project
  • Provide a high-level view of the status of all campus IT projects (e.g., requested, pending, approved, completed) to inform university planning, collaboration, and decision-making
  • Balance the needs for new services, service enhancements, innovation, security, and a robust infrastructure
  • Build interoperability, security, data management, and usability into the IT project review process
  • Coordinate the IT project review process with the IT purchasing approval process
  • Make optimal use of outsourcing, economies of scale, and existing resources
  • Address both campus-wide and unit-specific IT project and IT purchasing needs
  • Utilize transparent and easy-to-follow processes for requesting approval and tracking projects
  • Support expeditious service delivery

IT project intake and tracking

A project portfolio management (PPM) tool is essential to provide a transparent IT project request process and expeditiously manage the flow of information needed in the decision-making process. Project portfolio management tools provide the structure to manage project delivery from initiation to completion and to effectively estimate the availability of project resources. Without a PPM system to manage project intake, delivery, and resource availability, organizations typically overcommit, approving more projects than can be completed in a given time frame. A PPM system also provides transparency into the full range of projects in the pipeline, facilitates communication and collaboration, and strengthens alignment between university strategy and technology decisions. Viewing all of the IT projects at once will enable UNLV to balance the risks and opportunities in its IT project portfolio. Much like a balanced investment strategy (e.g., stocks, bonds, annuities), a balanced IT portfolio should include a mix of projects that introduce innovation, keep the infrastructure agile, and provide enhancements to the foundational enterprise systems.

While there should be different portfolios and different approval processes for IT projects of different sizes and complexity, a single intake process and a single tracking system for all IT projects are recommended. The university will be better able to manage IT resources and ensure that the IT investments are aligned with strategic priorities if projects of all sizes are contained within the same system. The information necessary for effective review of a project will differ depending on its size and complexity and will be determined by the IT governance group reviewing the requests. However, a business case submission is recommended for all projects regardless of size. After the initial intake process, projects can be routed for review, and requestors may be asked to provide additional documentation based on the size and scope of the project.

The review of IT projects

To provide a level of review, approval and monitoring consistent with the size and scope of the projects, four project portfolios are recommended. A dashboard that creates a summary of information from all four portfolios will enable the university to optimize the utilization of IT resources, account for project inter-dependencies, and improve decision-making across all university IT projects. The figure below provides a high-level overview of the IT project approval process and the four portfolios.

High-Level Overview of the IT Project Approval Process and the Four Portfolios
High-level overview of the IT project approval process and the four portfolios

The process includes a single project request submittal process. After a project is submitted, it is routed to the appropriate group for review, approval, prioritization, and tracking, depending on type and size of project. Additional details are provided in Appendix 4A.

>Application development projects

Projects of all sizes and scopes require varying levels of application development and will be found in all four portfolios. Many of these projects involve data from disparate systems that are brought together, transformed and then made available for use by various constituents to help complete some business transaction or provided to decision makers in some type of report. Examples include:

  • Mobile application requests (see Initiative #11)
  • Interfaces between enterprise applications (e.g., MyUNLV, WebCampus, Workday) and other software applications used across campus (e.g., MyUNLV, Archibus, Resource25)
  • Modifications to enterprise applications (e.g., MyUNLV, Data Warehouse)
  • Applications developed in house for specific UNLV needs (e.g., RAVE - Rebel Announcements Via Email)

These types of projects depend on:

  • Coordination of application development staff across campus
  • Efficient data governance processes that define data elements and authorized access
  • Effective reporting processes and tools

UNLV’s new IT Service Catalog’s delineation of available application development services will facilitate the identification and coordination of the necessary development resources to complete these projects (see Initiative #5). To ensure accurate, consistent, and appropriately authorized use of campus data in the application development process, a seamless integration with data governance and reporting processes is imperative (see Initiative #13). The new project review process will include steps that ensure application development resources are available and data needs are considered.

Purchasing approval for IT investments

Few technology systems exist in isolation. Interoperability, security, usability, suitability for the defined purpose, on-going maintenance, support, and the ability to expand for future uses all impact the cost and value of a technology purchase. Currently, many of the conditions necessary to ensure the success of the implementation of a technology system are not considered before the technology is purchased.

To ensure that campus priorities drive new projects, new purchasing policies, guidelines, and approval processes for IT purchases should be developed. Example projects likely requiring review and approval include:

  • New applications that require interfaces with the major campus information systems (student, human resources, finance, course management, etc.)
  • Technologies that require significant network bandwidth (e.g., video streaming, lecture capture, security cameras, telephony solutions)
  • Projects valued above an established cost threshold (Note: Different thresholds will be set for different types of technology purchases)
  • New enterprise services to be used by a majority of campus departments (e.g., document management, digital signage)
  • Applications, systems or new technologies that require central IT staff expertise (e.g., system administrators, storage specialists, database administrators, software developers) to implement, support, maintain, and/or enhance
  • Technologies that require users to contact the IT Help Desk for the first level of assistance (e.g., password resets, web browser issues, software installation)

To manage the unique aspects of IT contracts and IT purchases, defined thresholds for triggering the approval processes will need to be identified and communicated. Developing the policies and approval processes will require close collaboration between the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the IT governance groups, and UNLV’s Purchasing and Contracts department. The processes should include business case analysis, an approval process workflow, and a visual model that informs the requester of the mechanics of the process.

Once the policies and approval processes are in place, the Technology Review Board (TRB) will be responsible for establishing and maintaining technology standards and developing the processes for providing the required technical reviews in a timely fashion. The establishment of the standards and the technical review processes will help the university choose technology that works well with existing systems and services. The standards will also allow Purchasing to broker contracts for preferred vendor pricing. Adding purchasing approval to the IT governance processes will help align technology investments with strategic goals and provide the purchasing guidance necessary to assure maximum value from IT investments.

Additional considerations

Discussions with the UNLV community indicate that the University struggles under a purchasing process that is heavily weighted with procedures to ensure compliance with required state purchasing regulations. Adding a technology review for technology purchases must be carefully orchestrated to improve decision-making without adding additional delays or over burdening staff.

Initiative Owner

  • Chief Information Officer

Consultative Role

  • Technology Advisory Committee
  • Technology Review Board
  • Finance and Business Staff
  • Purchasing and Contacts Department

Budget Estimate

New IT project review processes may generate cost savings by using existing technologies to meet new service requests and by avoiding duplication of services. Cost savings may be difficult to quantify, as the resources saved are likely to be employed to alleviate the large backlog of IT projects in the queue.

New IT purchasing processes may also provide some cost savings. The savings will derive from economies of scale (e.g., setting printer standards that allow for better pricing on toner and ink purchases) and cost avoidance (e.g., meeting needs by making modifications to existing systems rather than purchasing new products). An initial investment of staff time will be required to develop and implement the proposed processes before any cost savings are realized.

A Project Portfolio Management tool needs to be procured and implemented. Tools of the size and complexity needed to manage multiple portfolios typically cost approximately $80,000 for implementation and $13,000 annually for a solution managed by UNLV or $30,000 for a hosted solution managed by a vendor.

Oversight and management of the IT Project Approval process requires at least one full-time staff position. The position would report to the CIO. The IT Portfolio Coordinator position currently residing in the OIT could be repurposed to fill this role.

New Position: 0 FTE; Total One-time and Recurring Costs FY16-FY19: $124,230

Action Items to Implement Initiative

  1. Implement an IT project review process that accommodates projects of varying size and complexity.
  2. Select and implement a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tool to enable the planning and tracking of project resources.
  3. Implement a threshold-based IT purchasing approval process that expedites IT purchases.
  4. Annually review both the IT project review and IT purchasing approval processes for continuous improvement.

Anticipated Benefits

  • Improved security and usability of technology investments.
  • Prioritization of IT projects that is driven by and reflects University strategic goals.
  • Better utilization of IT resources.
  • Improved predictability (on-time, on-budget) and accountability for project delivery.
  • Ability to make technology decisions that consider interoperability needs and opportunities for using existing resources and/or brokering new resources more effectively.
  • Enforcement of technology standards provides more seamless IT services and opportunities for negotiating preferred vendor pricing.
  • Ability to deploy new technology and implement system enhancements more quickly.
  • Improved coordination of IT services.

Measures of Success

  • The annual planning budget analysis shows cost savings realized and costs avoided.
  • Technology stakeholders see the success and value of the IT project review process and show increasing satisfaction with the process over time.
  • Increase in the percentage of projects submitted and approved through the IT project review process.
  • Annual review of the full portfolio of technology projects is strongly aligned in support of University strategic goals.
  • Increase in the percentage of projects delivered on schedule and within budget. 

Contextual Information

Peer institution research

Arizona State University (ASU) and George Mason University (GMU) both have well defined project approval processes, as well as the tools and staffing to ensure project selection and implementation meet the needs of their respective institutions. ASU has a Planning and Program Management Office (PPMO) dedicated to project selection and execution. The office utilizes Planview as its project portfolio management tool. Established in 2011, the PPMO is managed by an Assistant Vice President reporting to the CIO and has a staff of fifteen including three quality assurance staff, one staff member for PPMO communications and one staff member responsible for data management.

GMU also has a well-defined project management framework and a Project Management Office (PMO) within the Security and Project Management unit of the IT organization. The PMO has five staff members reporting to an Executive Director responsible for the PMO. GMU utilizes Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Solution as its project portfolio management tool.

Many IT projects involve the implementation of new software. To ensure new software works with existing systems, ASU implemented a policy to ensure that all software programs are compatible with the institution’s single sign-on portal. To help maintain software standards in a distributed IT environment, GMU has a committee in place to review all software purchases to ensure the new software will interface with the institution’s ERP system.