How we successfully collaborate with your University’s existing IT Department

Project Management December 28, 2018

One of my favorite aspects about how West Arete works is our ability to seamlessly dovetail with various university IT groups. We take pride in our ability to do so consistently, because every project and every IT group is different.

Understand the objectives and parameters of the project

We begin by gaining a thorough understanding of the objectives and needs of our primary stakeholder for the project. It could be a faculty member with a critical research project, for whom we’re managing the research data. Or it could be a member of the administration for whom we’re creating a custom web or mobile application. It could also be one of the university IT groups itself, who are often dependent upon other IT groups for various services. In each case, we start with our stakeholder and develop a thorough understanding and description of the project and objectives, above and beyond the implementation. This step helps to guide decision-making later on.

Consult with the university IT groups

Next it’s time for us to discover and reach out to the various university IT groups that could play a role in the project. We set up an initial meeting with our project stakeholders, the appropriate people from the IT group, and the key people from West Arete.

We come to the university IT groups with a great deal of respect — many of us have worked in the exact same role during our careers, so we understand the challenges of their jobs intimately, as well as the value of what those teams bring to the table.

During these initial meetings, it’s important for us to explore the capabilities, concerns, and objectives for the IT group. There will be overlapping capabilities between the services that the West Arete team is capable of offering, and what the university IT group is capable of offering. Our job is to find the solution that is in the best interest of both our stakeholder and the university.

Identify the separation of responsibilities

Sometimes the IT group would prefer for West Arete to handle certain services — we may be in a better position to handle the configuration and maintenance of a server as part of a service contract, for example.

Other times, it’s best for the university IT group to handle a given service. It may help to bolster a strategic initiative for that group; it may be less expensive; or there may be specific technical requirements or constraints that would be difficult for an outsider to satisfy.

Finally, we work to make sure that all of this is accomplished with conscious adherence to university policy. There are often several areas of security, accessibility, and access that must be considered, and we work diligently to learn about the nuance of each university’s policies so that we may guide compliance throughout the process.

The key is that we are looking for the “shared win” in these scenarios. Our agenda is for our stakeholders to be well informed and well supported, for the project’s objectives to be met as efficiently and reliably as possible, and for the university IT groups to feel like we are helping them to achieve their own objectives as well.

Finalize and document the plan

Once the joint meetings have resulted in agreement, we document the plan for all parties’ reference. This serves as a good reference for the months and years to come of what decisions were made, and what the motivation was behind those decisions.

We find this step to be invaluable as there as the timelines are long, and turnover is inevitable at all organizations that are involved. Continuity of strategy and responsibilities is key.

Maintain good communication during execution

Once the project is underway, we often serve as the primary technical point of contact for our stakeholders for the sake of the project. We find that this is often a valuable side benefit for all parties. Our stakeholders can be informed of the conversation at hand, but they don’t need to get directly involved in the technical details. Likewise, the IT group can feel like they have someone who speaks their language and can arrive at conclusions with them quickly.

The IT group also knows that we’ll be on top of security and reliability issues, which takes a worry off of their minds.

Reflect at appropriate milestones

At the end of a project phase, we will often touch base with the IT group and stakeholders to make sure that the original plan is still working for everyone. This also gives the opportunity for feedback on the execution phase. We find that proactively closing the feedback loop in this way helps to reinforce the fact that we all share the same objectives.

Over time, as we do more projects at a given university, our relationship with the IT group grows more familiar and even more efficient. We look to these groups as critical partners for everyone’s success.

After all, we all share the common objective of solving the technical aspects of these projects as seamlessly as possible, so that you can focus on changing the world for the better through your teaching and your research.

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