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CSUEB 'Thinks Different': Our innovations make technology an agent of change

  • January 12, 2010

In 1997, Apple Inc. restored its reputation as a leader in technological innovation after launching a wildly successful advertising campaign that appealed to an audience receptive to the challenge to Think Different.

In its television and print advertising, black and white images of some of history’s greatest pioneers — Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Joan Baez – were linked to the Think Different tagline to help consumers recall the connection between the company and its roots as an alternative to the conventional personal computer.

The ads ran over a five-year period and won awards, re-established the company’s position in the marketplace, and drew attention to the iMac computer, which brought the simple, “just works” philosophy of Apple’s early days into the 21st century. The result was technological and financial rejuvenation for a company that had lost millions of dollars from 1995 to1997 and cut thousands of jobs.

In past View columns I have written about the necessity for Cal State East Bay to not merely tinker with the old ways of doing things but to explore how we can be transformative … to Think Different. The innovations we develop and implement by thinking “out of the box” at this time will prepare us to emerge from this budget crisis well-positioned for the future.

The transformation at Apple is intriguing because it combined the message of looking at new ways of doing business with the development and use of technology. At Cal State East Bay, the use of technology has become a strategic element as well as a change agent as we face unprecedented budget cuts. We have been able to adjust funding for our highest priority, instruction, with paradigm shifts, particularly in Information Technology Services, that have not only cut costs but improved service, increased efficiency and reduced our carbon footprint.

Looking at new ways of doing business in ITS is liberating and confirms our commitment to innovation, often on an individual level. For example, last year Cal State East Bay was the only Northern California university to participate in Climate Savers’ “Power Down for the Planet” challenge, an effort to promote green computing awareness and practices on campuses nationwide.

Our approach included sending a pop-up power management request to all faculty and staff computers through our Central Power Patch Management system that allowed individuals to choose from five power management options for their work computers. Ultimately, 567 students, faculty and staff members committed to support green computing by pledging to use the power management features on their personal computers. We also made an institutional commitment to purchase energy efficient computers when it’s time to replace old ones.

A review of ITS accomplishments over the past three years is helpful in demonstrating how one division, critical to university operations, has used imagination and innovation to deal with budget cuts and staff reductions due to attrition. Centralizing our IT functions has allowed us to become more efficient in our delivery of technology services. This has been due to retraining efforts that resulted in unique certification for more than 100 of our staff members that significantly contributed to their professional development.

Chief Information Officer John Charles worked with his team to develop a shared services environment that strikes a balance between centralized and de-centralized operations. By purchasing necessary computers in bulk, instead of by department, we have saved more than $250,000. Those funds went directly back to the colleges, where we know how much they are needed.

Other “win-win” initiatives are in development, such as the “virtualizing” of computer labs so they are available to students 24/7. Last week, the Wall Street Journal noted that Cal State East Bay is among the nation’s first university campuses scheduled to adopt Google Apps, a cost-efficient system including e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and other tools that are entirely hosted and accessed online through a subscription negotiated by the CSU chancellor’s office.

Our summary of the ITS Response to Institutional Transformation has a number of other innovative approaches you may wish to explore.

Representatives from the CSU Chancellor’s Office and other universities have asked us how we managed to achieve these innovations while, at the same time, consolidating our ITS professionals into a single unit to make it so much more effective than before. These questions come to us from colleagues who have suffered, as we have, as state support for the CSU fell by $625 million over the last two years. Like us, they have had to compensate by reducing enrollment, increasing student fees, cutting services, and furloughing employees.

These discussions with our CSU colleagues are leading to an exploration of collaborations with other universities in areas beyond information technology, such as business services.

We tell those who ask about our advances that we had to start with collaborative efforts. Visionary staff, faculty and administrators were willing to come together in groups such as our Technology Steering Committee and imagine new approaches to achieving our seven mandates despite the limitations of drastic budget cuts.

As we enter 2010, I am looking forward to working with students, faculty, staff and administrators who are moving away from old paradigms toward new ways to Think Different. We are in challenging times for higher education, but Californians are right to look to universities such as Cal State East Bay for leadership, vision and new ways of achieving our mission.

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