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Business Officer Magazine
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Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Kevin O’Flaherty and Karl Horvath

SMALL INSTITUTIONS
From Typical Vendor to Strategic Partner

Creating efficient, effective information technology operations can lead to extremely complicated contracts with individual vendors. Implementation comes with its own set of issues. An effective way to minimize risk, optimize investment, and create positive outcomes for such initiatives is to establish a strategic partnership with vendors. One distinctive attribute for working this way is the collective insight and creativity that higher education professionals bring to a particular solution.

In 2008, Gwynedd Mercy University, Gwynedd Valley, Pa., joined the CampusEAI Consortium, a strategic solutions and services organization with more than 2,000 U.S. and international higher education institution members. The consortium offers an innovative alternative to dealing one-on-one with traditional technology vendors. It has enabled Gwynedd Mercy University to reduce the time, cost, and effort associated with implementing enterprise IT services.

During the past seven years, the university has successfully launched many institutional technology projects using the consortium model.

Gwynedd Mercy University

One of Gwynedd Mercy University's newest buildings to feature innovative technologies, University Hall houses a helpdesk branch.
Photo: Gwynedd Mercy University

Multiple Initiatives

We implemented several services—including a 24/7 helpdesk, cloud backup, computer lab virtualization, Web portal, and identity and account management—that had once been financially inaccessible for the university. Now, with the consortium's positive vendor relationships, these tools have enhanced not only our services, but also have provided institutional transformation.

Enhancing e-help. Our helpdesk project is a good example. The university offers online learning and accelerated evening programs, and we were unable to meet the IT support requirements with our limited staff and resources. We obtained pricing for remote helpdesk services from several vendors, but realized that the costs were prohibitively expensive.

A year later, however, extended and weekend helpdesk hours became available to consortium members at a reasonable rate. As an increasing number of members used helpdesk services, the service became even more affordable. We've now been able to upgrade to 24/7/365 complete support for our online and accelerated programs.

Creating and managing accounts. Another successful project is account creation and management. Being able to access systems is a priority for faculty and students, but creating accounts manually slowed down the process and provided opportunities for mistakes and delays.

We gathered quotes for Federated Identity Management (FIM)—an account creation system—that ultimately were outside our budget limitations. The consortium enabled us to find an alternative solution that would allow us to roll out the basic version of FIM at pricing based on a multiple-school discount.

While we continue to work with other consortia to leverage our buying power with bulk discount rates on software and services, this strategic partnership provides the added value of a more formal arrangement for creating and maintaining technology solutions.

Collaboration Operation

For Gwynedd Mercy University, this partnership has been a welcome change, because we were able to minimize some of the limitations experienced with traditional vendors. For example:

  • Interactions and meetings are not initially viewed in terms of billable hours; instead, project viability is explored before charges are made for services.
  • We've also investigated projects that did not produce revenue for the consortium, but ultimately saved the university money.
  • The consortium provided us the opportunity to obtain enterprise solutions typically available to only larger institutions with bigger budgets.
  • Our partnership with CampusEAI, built on strong communication, collaboration, and project management skills, allows us to grow and achieve our technology milestones professionally and affordably. Creating a stable, mutually beneficial relationship with a vendor that provides atypical service and support helps us reach our full potential.

SUBMITTED BY Kevin O'Flaherty, vice president of finance and administration; and Karl Horvath, chief information officer, at Gwynedd Mercy University, Gwynedd Valley, Pa.


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