Objective I: Enhance the comprehensive educational experience
Objective II: Enable our partners in research
Objective III: Deliver and support high-quality enterprise services
Message from the CIO
- Campus partner
2020 was a year we’ll not easily forget. The pandemic brought challenges that made a great impact on our lives in so many ways. Yet, Information Technology Services worked to bring solutions that helped keep campus safe, removed barriers to instruction, and brought new ways of working at Iowa State.
Focused on our department values, ITS teams quickly pivoted to help students, faculty and staff navigate the many technology changes required to deliver classes, services and maintain operations. With these values as a guide, new tools, software and learning platforms were installed and launched.
Many general use classrooms were upgraded with videoconferencing equipment. The campus-wide wireless network was enhanced with thousands of access points to support the increased need for Wi-Fi services. And our teams helped deliver Winter Session, a selection of accelerated courses held in January.
Even during a pandemic, our teams focused on continuous improvement. As the need for technology grows, so does the need for a robust and secure infrastructure. Our teams continue to identify strategies that prevent unauthorized access to the university’s data and information. These ongoing efforts are critical to the safety and security of our campus community and our organizational assets such as computers, networks and data.
In addition to ensuring a safe and reliable technology infrastructure, ITS leads the university’s implementation of WorkCyte Phase II: Student Information and Receivables. This campus-wide effort to re-imagine student information systems and receivables accounting will advance the university’s operations in so many ways. Nearly every unit, department and college participated in planning activities to prepare for the multi-year implementation of this enterprise platform.
As the response to COVID-19 transitions, our teams will continue to adapt to ensure student learning remains our priority. Your continued partnership is vital to student success. Please continue to engage with our teams to identify solutions and challenges. Through collaboration we can continue to provide secure, relevant and sustainable technology services and solutions to the Iowa State community.
Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Objective I: Enhance the comprehensive educational experience
Audiovisual classroom equipment updates in-place and ongoing
To facilitate hybrid and remote learning, the ITS audiovisual experience team upgraded 149 general university classrooms across 39 buildings to Level 1 or Level 2 audiovisual hybrid learning equipment. Level 1 comprises a fully integrated solution with pan / tilt / zoom cameras and integrated audio for adding captions to lectures. Level 2 provides more a basic solution utilizing USB web cameras and USB desktop boundary microphones compatible with software such as Webex, Panopto, Canvas Studio and Zoom.
The team also delivered a suite of resources to assist instructors in using the new technology for a high-quality classroom experience. The tools included a PowerPoint presentation, video tutorials, printed in-room instruction sheets, knowledge articles for choosing the correct application settings, and a comprehensive list of all general university classrooms undergoing upgrades and their expected timeline.
Classroom upgrades were 28% complete before spring semester classes started; 52% complete by the third week of the semester.
Through the efforts of the ITS physical infrastructure, network engineering and network architecture teams, Wi-Fi is now available in 15 high-traffic outdoor campus areas covering approximately 15 acres, including locations near Parks Library, the Student Innovation Center and the Memorial Union.
In coordination with other campus units, access point hardware controlling the breadth of the connectivity zones were strategically installed on building exteriors to provide campus-goers with an additional opportunity to prioritize health and safety while accessing the Iowa State networks.
The Cyber Guide
ITS launched the first release of the “Cyber Guide,” a new resource offering students must-know information about the technology supporting education at Iowa State. The 16-page print and digital booklet includes details about services and programs offered by ITS such as the Canvas learning management system and information security tools like Okta. The booklet was distributed to more than 2,500 new students at OnCyte Orientation with additional copies available around campus and digitally on the ITS website.
Daily symptom checker
In our response to the pandemic, several technical initiatives led by ITS administrative information systems culminated in the “Qualtrics Return to Campus” project for a safe, healthy campus experience in continuing educational, research and business operations.
The project team leveraged the survey software for a variety of health scenarios intended to mitigate virus spread. Collected information included daily COVID-19 symptom checking, data for pre-testing and the delivery of test results, contact tracing for those who tested positive, and quarantine symptom monitoring for students in quarantine.
MFA activation complete, 30,000+ students activated
In November, ITS concluded an extended campaign to enroll all 31,825 student Cyclones in multifactor authentication or MFA. This two-step login system adds extra security to online accounts. While approximately 20,000 students voluntarily activated MFA as the result of a robust, collaborative campaign, ITS applied the security feature to the remaining population over a two-week period. With a less than 1% incident rate and strategic scheduling, the applied change succeeded in avoiding interference with class registration and final exams.
Support of newly-available Winter Session
With exceptional technical support of student information systems, Iowa State’s novel five-week Winter Session succeeded in moving students forward toward degree completion despite challenges presented by the global health crisis.
ITS teams provided technical support of approximately 52 unique course offerings across 37 disciplines, logging 274 operational hours at the IT Solution Center to support students, faculty and staff. Winter Session will again be offered for the 2021-22 academic year.
Objective II: Enable our partners in research
Research computing power now available for COVID-19 related projects
With the award of an IEDA grant and other funding, the university research community acquired additional research computing equipment to support COVID-19 related research. Twelve 24 CPU / 384G memory compute servers with 250 TB of storage joined the established Nova cluster, allowing up to 25 research groups access to the computing resource.
University research groups using the COVID sub-cluster are exploring the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk based on differing operating conditions. These conditions include classroom occupancy in an education setting, presence of electronics, increased ventilation rates, as well as the detection of biothreats in near real time with biosensors. Research results aim to provide a better understanding of COVID-19 and a path toward greater health and safety.
File storage advisory committee
A File Storage Advisory Committee convened for the first time in spring 2021 to collect campus feedback about file storage needs and provide recommendations for comprehensive storage solutions moving forward. The 18-member committee includes researchers, faculty, staff, students, extension and outreach representatives, and archive customers, who together created and distributed the campus-wide ISU Electronic File Storage Survey for assessing current and anticipated file storage needs. The survey itself contains seven sections addressing research needs, collaboration, data access, compliance, data recovery and other focus areas.
After meeting weekly for many months, members will break and reconvene in the 2022 fiscal year when survey results are available.
Atlas cluster assistance
ITS high performance computing assisted in the integration of a new research computer into the USDA SCINet network, connecting six major USDA agricultural research facilities via Iowa State University. The new computer, the Atlas cluster, is housed at Mississippi State University and is designed to perform computationally intensive tasks related to agricultural research, specifically in the areas of bioinformatics and land use.
For integration, the HPC team collaborated on an Active Directory-equivalent as well as information syncing, assisted in security planning, performed speed tests and created user documentation among other tasks.
Kristen Constant named an AAAS Fellow
The American Association for the Advancement of Science named Kristen Constant, Iowa State University vice president and chief information officer, an AAAS Fellow. She was recognized for her work leveraging national accreditation practices to promote recruitment, retention and advancement of those underrepresented in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields. Constant is one of six Iowa State members named to the AAAS fellowship in 2021, representing the university’s commitment to advancement and innovation.
Since 1848, the AAAS has been a leading non-profit organization advocating for science and technology. AAAS Fellows are recognized as leaders in their field with members in 91 countries across the globe.
Objective III: Deliver and support high-quality enterprise services
Residence hall Wi-Fi re-wire project aims to improve connectivity
A comprehensive re-wire of 15 residence halls has provided students living in residence halls faster and more secure internet connections. Wi-Fi access points in buildings rely on updated structured cabling to quickly and reliably maintain a device’s internet connection. Improved internet connectivity in hybrid learning spaces, like dorm rooms, quickly became a priority for social distancing and Iowa State’s pillars of healthy behavior. Wi-Fi in the upgraded residence halls now supports speeds of around 1 gigabit per second compared to the previous 10 megabits per second, equal to 1.7 seconds versus 2.6 minutes if downloading 100 digital photos.
New software provides greater security for student information systems
In January 2021, ITS implemented the new ADIN-connection software, Virtel, for accessing the mainframe environment. The Okta-enabled web-based software allows customers to connect to the mainframe environment from any browser-enabled device without need of Iowa State’s VPN. The project team successfully transitioned 1,200 mainframe users to the new software by early June, retiring the local TN 3270 and TN 3270 X solutions. The implementation also brings the university closer to a comprehensive cloud-based infrastructure for administrative systems, greater data security and fewer equipment lifecycle constraints.
Physical infrastructure improvements
Throughout the fiscal year, ITS teams made several key improvements to the university’s technological physical infrastructure, increasing the resiliency and performance of equipment for better system management and enhanced user experiences. Aligning the Durham Data Center to industry standards, the physical infrastructure team installed new grounding equipment on approximately 70 server racks to minimize electrical current flow, reduce risks associated with power surges and extend server lifespans.
A multi-year project to replace network switches in more than 170 buildings across campus reached completion, thanks in large part to ITS’s network teams. Switches serve to connect multiple devices such as computers, access points and printers on the same network, and enable the connected devices to “talk” to one another(1). The switch refresh project, which began in 2019, replaced more than 800 network switches to boost network connectivity speeds from 1 gigabyte per second to 10 Gbps.
With maintenance efforts to sustain the physical mainframe for the remaining years of expected use, a new mainframe CPU was installed March 2021. ITS teams captured system usage and performance data to help determine the appropriate size model and prepared several weeks before the installation for a seamless cutover.
The ITS Identity Services team enabled Microsoft Outlook as the primary email platform for more than 7,000 new students enrolled for fall 2021. The project centralizes email to Outlook for ease of use and management, while reducing the duplication of services and resolving incompatibility issues between email systems. Returning students have the option to continue using CyMail or switch to Outlook as an opportunity for more experience with popular tools used in many professional environments. In collaboration with the Department of Admissions, students and stakeholders remain informed of the change and can access new Outlook resources in the IT Portal.
The MyState app development team released the anticipated 4.7.0 application update. Features include dark mode, a library widget, capacity tracking optimization and more.
Drawing 27,000 mobile users each month, the MyState app is primarily developed by students for the ISU community to quickly connect users with the information they need – information like the availability of library workstations and computers and capacity of CyRide busses. Additional application enhancements touching on all aspects of the campus experience can be expected.
Zero waste project advances to planning and estimating
As part of a larger university project team, ITS representatives participating in the Zero Waste Project advanced to the planning and estimating stage for decreasing waste sent to the landfill by 85% before 2025. ITS representatives created an in-scope plan involving resources like time, materials, skills and budget needed to operationalize the elimination, reduction and diversion of waste. For next steps, Facilities, Planning and Management will gather plans from all work groups in preparation for a five-year execution window.
As the result of new data storage limits announced by CyBox, cloud storage, a collective of 30,000 university account holders undertook a file storage cleanup of 600 GB in Box to meet the new 1.2 petabyte (1.2 million gigabyte) contractual goal. With support from college and unit IT teams, the Iowa State community achieved the contractual goal four months ahead of schedule, and reduced total file storage to 825 TB, a 1 PB reduction.
For this effort, ITS also launched a managed migration tool for transition to Microsoft OneDrive and published a series of 20+ how-to articles for reducing and moving file storage content.
Objective IV: Enrich the ITS employee and customer experience
IDEA group activities
The ITS Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory group continued in their mission to provide recommendations and awareness for enhancing inclusion, diversity and equity across the department. The group established the “We Have an IDEA” newsletter column in July 2020 and has since published more than 15 articles on a variety of topics including gender identity, racial inequities and allyship. The group also distributed the voluntary ITS Environmental Scan Survey to ITS employees for better understanding the overall perceptions, worldviews and comfort of the ITS team. In prioritizing transparency, results of the environmental scan will be shared with ITS team members at the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year.
Brand book launch
As a brand-new resource, an ITS Brand Book was made available for all ITS employees to continue building customer trust through consistency and brand recognition. In the ITS Brand Book, employees have access to a toolkit to use when preparing communications with external audiences on behalf of the department. The toolkit itself contains a comprehensive collection of brand and style guidelines that showcase the color palette, typography, graphics and unique voice associated with the ITS brand.
Mass email revitalization
The university’s mass email service managed by the IT Solution Center underwent a significant revitalization with process, content and branding improvements. The updated mass email service, which allows university units or groups to send emails to campus audiences through Constant Contact, offers customers four new campaign templates, each geared for a different purpose. As for process updates, most customers submit a single form within ServiceNow that routes across the workflow automatically, as compared to the multiple email request process prior. All updates were the result of customer feedback and discussed with various stakeholder groups including the Office of the Registrar, University Human Resources, Student Activities Center and Campus Organizations Accounting.
COVID-19 strategic response working group
In providing unified guidance during the rapidly-evolving pandemic climate, CIO Kristen Constant joined senior university leaders in serving on the university’s leading Strategic Response Working Group. The group met daily for several months beginning in spring 2020 and throughout the 2021 fiscal year to manage operational decisions related to COVID-19. ITS team members delivered on needs identified by the response group, including numerous university-wide system changes tied to refunds and reimbursement, transcript orders, FAFSA processes, employee leave types and usage, personal protective equipment inventory and more. ITS team members also served on additional COVID response groups, including the Emergency Operation Center working group, Academic Continuity Technology subcommittee and Fall University Response team.
At a department level, added efforts to provide information and keep community during the COVID response included monthly ITS All-Staff meetings and additional Microsoft Teams channels. Employees attending the virtual all-staff meetings received the latest university and department news related to health and safety and were encouraged to submit anonymous questions to be addressed during each session. The ITS “Watercooler” and “Kudos” Teams channels were also created for employees to chat socially and compliment team members’ outstanding work.
More ITS Accomplishments and Statistics
Administrative Information Systems
- 1,538 users converted to the latest version of Cognos, a data management software for producing and analyzing data-driver reports across the university
- 2,758 databases managed on 161 servers
- Changes made to 1,491 programs for successful student information system efforts
- over 1/3 were related to Financial Aid and Loans
- 3,081 total tickets resolved for Workday technical issues
- Over 3,000 new features included in the two biannual Workday releases
- 45,095 Workday integration events executed
- 63 digital accessibility audits performed taking 504 hours
- Siteimprove (implemented December 2020)
- 495 websites added
- 550 users added
- Rate of accessibility improved from 69.7% to 85.4% across the 495 sites (15.7% improvement)
- Rev closed captioning
- 294% contract utilization
- 83,292 total minutes used
- $15,826 saved with the contract
Enterprise Services and Customer Success
- 214 general university classrooms with 14,973 seats supported
- 148 Level 1 & 2 classroom AV installations completed
- 23.8 million Webex meeting minutes across almost 500,000 meetings
- 49,388 ServiceNow tickets resolved by the IT Solution Center
- Average of 13.7 tickets submitted every hour
- Average of 1,234 tickets resolved per employee
- 3,602 total operational hours
- 2,860 TB of data stored between CyBox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive
- The IT Portal has 90 products and services and 295 knowledge base articles, powered by ServiceNow
Finance, Business Services & Procurement
- 133 full-time ITS employees (as of June 30, 2021)
- 113 student employees (as of May 8, 2021)
- 11 new hires
- 14 retirements
- 112 vendors reviewed and approved
- 421 unique targeted phishing attempts mitigated
- 4,447 infections detected with 90% remediated automatically by anti-malware
- 1,341 firewall changes reviewed
- 134 emails with malicious content filtered per day
- 80 passwords reset by the security team as a result of diligent monitoring
- Assisted 3 research projects secure funding by documenting formal security plans and educating on secure practices