A look inside: Allegheny Information Technology

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The recent Apple update caused a disconnect to the wireless network for, among other devices, iPhones and MacBooks.

A recent campus-wide issue with Apple devices challenged the IT department following an update that caused a disconnect between Apple devices and the college’s wireless system.

Many of the college’s 1,931 students, as well as faculty and staff, have the iPhones, Macs and iPads affected by this update, and the IT department was called upon to ensure that technology-dependent campus life would continue smoothly.

“It didn’t match with the certificates on our system compared to what theirs was requiring so we had to make an adjustment on our end,” said Doug Varee, user support specialist and classroom lead. “That happens periodically, and we don’t know about it until they put it out.”

Varee is one of four members of the user services team. The user services branch of the IT department is what many students know as IT, which is a group of support specialists and Head of Access Services Aimee Reash.

“For the most part, we’re seen as the people that take care of problems,” Reash said. “User services is in charge of making sure that all the people on campus are supported and that their technology needs are heard and at least investigated, if not supported and resolved.”

These technology needs range from students connecting an Xbox or PlayStation to the wireless network to assisting employees with data backup. The staff at user services assists in setting up the hardware necessary for video conferences and interviews, resolving difficulties with Allegheny accounts and passwords, transferring phone lines and ensuring devices can connect to the internet.

“It is a lot,” Reash said. “We’re constantly getting tickets for various things and people call and come into the building for help as well.”

Reash is in charge of “maintaining the group” made up of Tim Healy, technology manager, and three user support specialists — Andrew McMillin, Phil Reinhart, who is also residence hall network and services administrator, and Varee, who is responsible for maintaining technology specific to campus classrooms.

“We’re kind of broke up as far as who does what, like [McMillin and Healy] do the building and computers as far as putting on windows and antivirus along with Phil Reinhart, same thing,” Varee said. “I handle everything that is put in the podiums — DVD players, CDs, there’s amplifiers, there’s switchers, there’s the keypads on top, projectors and connecting all the links in between.”

Varee’s daily tasks involve going from building to building and having, whenever possible, an immediate response time, Varee said.

“If I don’t get there on time for whatever is not working, there’s usually a whole class sitting there doing nothing, so I try to get there right away,” Varee said.

Each member of the user services team focuses on a different area, but they also work together to ensure the “front-line support” and main point of student contact, the front desk in the Lawrence Lee Pelletier Library, is running smoothly, according to Varee.

“We overlap, we cover for each other if someone is out, you know, we have enough knowledge that we can at least band-aid things until the right person comes back and fixes it correctly,” Varee said.

While every day is different, work at the desk mostly involves students coming in with issues related to printing, wireless and online accounts, Varee said. The recent Apple updates presented an increase is these student issues.

User services’ updates don’t end with Apple. The team is currently in the process of moving its equipment from Murray Hall, its former base, to Pelletier Library, as well as undergoing changes in staff.

“I can see it weighing on them, that until they get their stuff moved to Pelletier, it’s been tough for them,” Reash said. “Currently, all they have here is a desk at the info desk and very tiny office with a couple of supplies.”

Much of the remaining workbenches and other supplies utilized by the user services team still needs to be moved from Murray, according to Reash.

“So they’re having the added pressure of not only supporting every individual on campus, but also working in two places and that just, you know, adds time and stress and frustration to some degree,” Reash said.

Changes in the number of staff and their specific tasks are still in the works, Varee said.

“It really doesn’t change our jobs a whole lot, other than one of the people in our [immediate] department is leaving,” Varee said. “If they replace him, great, then we can maybe just do some shifting and make it a little bit easier on everybody. If not, then we’re all going to have to pick up some extra work.”

In addition to changes in staff and location, Reash said user services is considering a change in name, as the department now encompasses inter-library loan and circulation as well as the IT branch.

“We’re leaning toward Public Services for LITS, which is Library and Information Technology Services, but not a lot of people on campus know what LITS means, so Public Services implies possibly, to the outside person, admissions, financial aid, you know counseling, it could imply a million different things, right?” Reash said. “So I’m trying to think thoughtfully about what we should call this combined department.”

The IT department, until recently, was made up of three distinct branches — user services, enterprise services and technical and network services. In July, however, enterprise services and TNS services will officially merge to form one enterprise service.

“It’s part of retirements that are happening in July,” said Jason Ramsey, associate director of ITS. “Once everyone that is planning on retiring in July has retired, then it becomes completely Enterprise Services. So it’s in transition right now.”

Ramsey said the recent Apple update is one example of the way enterprise services’ role is evolving.

“Old enterprise services would not have been remotely involved other than the fact that we had to reset our iPhones and find out how to do that,” Ramsey said. “Folks in what was TNS, now Enterprise Services, worked out the best course to making that update.”

They come to us to figure out what’s the best way that they can do their jobs.

— Jason Ramsey, Associate Director of ITS

Ramsey said Enterprise Services worked quickly to assess campus needs related to the Apple device update issue and introduce a solution that best benefitted the campus as a whole.

“I’m really happy with how that was thought through to kind of balance that, how long can we make folks wait until they’re able to log on, given that this is a new situation,” Ramsey said. “From what I’ve heard, it feels like it went pretty well.”

What goes “pretty well,” though, is generally what people aren’t talking about, according to Ramsey.

“If we can stay on top of it before anyone notices anything, then we’ve done our job,” Ramsey said.

Much of the rest of the job is also behind the scenes, according to Ramsey, and the part of their work that most directly connects to student life is WebAdvisor.

“So, behind WebAdvisor is really all the systems that the college uses to function and to manage their work,” Ramsey said.

These functions vary from student-related tasks, like organizing meal plans and financial aid, to keeping track of alumni and donations. WebAdvisor, and therefore Enterprise Services, is also connected to transcripts, grading, class registration and putting new majors online, Ramsey said.

The athletic department is also connected to Enterprise Services and uses WebAdvisor to monitor NCAA eligibility.

“Pretty much every department comes up. The needs come to us through avenues, and each one of those business offices, and each one of those offices need support on how can they handle that internally,” Ramsey said. “They come to us to figure out what’s the best way that they can do their jobs.”

The form Enterprise Services’ support takes has changed as much of the infrastructure that was once provided directly by on-campus IT has been largely outsourced in recent years.

“One of the things that you would have had happen in the past is that most colleges would have run their own email system,” Ramsey said. “At a certain point, places like Google and Microsoft just started doing it, doing it cheaply, doing it faster and better than we could keep up with.”

As these changes have arisen, Enterprise Services has turned to what it can do best — knowing Allegheny and what Allegheny needs.

“So that’s a big part of what we do is just being out there and being aware of what’s happening in the community,” Ramsey said.

Enterprise Services will continue its efforts to be aware campus issues while staying in Murray Hall as User Services moves to Pelletier Library. As commencement approaches, Ramsey said the Enterprise Services team will, unlike User Services, actually have a brief lull in activity before summer work begins.

“It’s generally the times that you would think are super busy in the academic year, tends to be the time we can afford to take a vacation because everyone’s just so busy with move-in, or with commencement, or those big things,” Ramsey said. “It gets real quiet on our side of things as long as nothing breaks, which we have a pretty good record on.”