Building a better IT organization: The persistent pursuit of best

Ask Ian Hyatt, the chief information officer of Purdue’s central IT organization, what his organization's goals are, and he sums it up with what some would call an audacious statement: We want to be the premiere information technology organization in higher education.  

Audacious may not be strong enough of a word. On the first day of the fall semester, the West Lafayette campus authentication system and the technology that relies on it buckled under the pressure brought on by the sudden onslaught of users. In September 2021, the number of compromised accounts – caused by phishing, malware, and other attacks – reached 1,200 a month. At the same time, the average on-call wait time to just talk to the IT help desk was more than six minutes. 

And yet. 

“Where we are headed is to be one the best, in both offering IT services and support, of any large university, while also continuing to enhance and expand research computing capabilities to meet the needs of our academic partners,” said Hyatt, who joined Purdue as CIO in June 2021, after careers in private industry and as chief master sergeant in the United States Air Force and Rhode Island Air National Guard. “To get there, we’ve got to be willing to look at things differently than the way we’ve done them before.”

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Ian Hyatt, chief information officer and head of Information Technology at Purdue. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

People, Processes, Technology 

The new vision, crafted with input from the central, regional, and academic IT leadership, is a framework that bills people, processes, and technology as the three pillars of the organization – investment and growth for each is essential to the organization's overall health.  

Investments in technology, for an IT organization, can seem obvious: finding the right technology to solve the right problem at the right time. Areas being considered or already underway include a new service management system, upgrades to security infrastructure, and the development of a more-secure, easier-to-use two-factor authentication system.  

For people and processes, however, the investment has been in a transformational project to adopt the practices of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), an Axelos IT service management framework that creates an agile, flexible organization that focuses on creating value for customers.  

“I had worked with a very large company that had implemented ITIL and had seen the power it can have for transforming how organization's add value, improve operations, and reduce downtime,” Hyatt said. “It gives everyone a common language and framework for delivering IT as a service.” 

Beginning in June 2022, all West Lafayette centrally supported IT employees (including Hyatt and all directors), IT staff from Purdue Fort Wayne and Purdue Northwest, as well as some IT staff from Purdue Online and academic units, started attending ITIL 4 Foundations training. The multi-day course conducted by HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) taught the basic concepts of ITIL and how to implement them. By the end of October, 600 employees (97 percent) had completed or scheduled the course; 357 had passed the ITIL 4 Foundations certification test, with additional staff on schedule to complete their certification.  

"Having a common language and the right people, processes and technology in place is what will really take us to the next level of IT service,” said Corey Seliger, chief of staff to the Vice President and CIO. “ITIL creates a path allowing us to drive business transformation, so we can help the university achieve its goals.” 

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Investments in technology include the scheduled replacement of more than 12,000 wireless access points across three campuses and the creation of BoilerBot, a chatbot self-help feature that automates BoilerKey help requests.

Customer focus with feedback 

 Where Cameron Ward, a manager for the Cooperative Services Desktop Support (CSDS) department wants to go is towards more customer-focused outcomes for the clients he has developed relationships with over the past nine years. Recently promoted to a manager position, Ward sees the ITIL 4 Foundations framework as giving him and his team a stronger voice in serving their customers.  

“Customer focus has always been a goal, but there was a tendency that the higher a problem got escalated, the harder it was to focus on the customer,” said Ward. “With the ITIL framework, at every level, the customer outcome is important.” 

Ward said seeing the commitment from leadership to invest in ITIL training for the entire staff, as well as for leadership to attend and get certified, cemented for his team the idea that the organization was committed to changing the way it did business. That sentiment was echoed by others, like Kyle Purple, director of IT for Libraries and School of Information Studies. 

“For me, that’s what makes this all so exciting,” Purple said. “Inviting other academic IT groups to take the training, investing in ongoing training – you can tell that this is not something we’re doing to say, ‘We all took this training’ - but we are actually implementing it, discussing how to apply it, and thinking about next steps in a way that we haven't always done before.”  

For Purple’s team, ITIL’s framework for building relationships is beneficial when working with other IT units as well as customers with academic or business needs – both by providing a common language, but also by encouraging feedback and focusing on solutions.  

“We owe it to students, faculty, we owe it to ourselves, to want to do better and be better,” Purple says. “This is empowering our people, from the top down, to have these discussions without any finger-pointing, about how we can improve. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s moving in the right direction.”

“Our goal is to be a world class IT organization. What steps do we need to take to get there, how do we improve the student experience, how do we add value to academics, how can we support research at all levels? Those are the questions that drive us to get better.” 

- Ian Hyatt

The future  

Already, there are improvements. Those 1,200 compromised accounts in September 2021? Since May 2022, they have averaged less than 30 per month. Wait time for calls to the Customer Service Center are down to 1 minute and 8 seconds.  

Technologies like Robotic Process Automation (think chatbots) are being implemented to help automate and streamline processes. A major initiative to mature service management practices is underway. IT staff members across the organization will have opportunities for additional training and growth, as needs and opportunities are identified.  

And things will still break. Of that, Hyatt is sure. An IT infrastructure as complex, in-demand, and necessary as Purdue’s will never be perfect. But it can always be better.  

“The big picture is looking not at what we do today, but where we want to be in the future,” Hyatt said. “Our goal is to be a world class IT organization. What steps do we need to take to get there, how do we improve the student experience, how do we add value to academics, how can we support research at all levels? Those are the questions that drive us to get better.” 

 Last updated: Nov. 17, 2022