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ITS virtual Tech Talk connects IT@UofT community

On Aug. 11, 224 staff and faculty from across the University of Toronto’s (U of T) tri-campus community attended IT@UofT Tech Talk. This virtual event offered an opportunity for the University’s Information Technology (IT) community to stay connected, receive updates and ask questions about IT at U of T.

The event was hosted by the Information Technology Services (ITS) department via Microsoft Live Events. It was moderated by Laurie Harrison, director of Online Learning Strategies (OLS), and featured a presentation from ITS’ Chief Information Officer (CIO) Bo Wandschneider. There was also a Q&A session where attendees asked questions — pre-submitted event questions were also answered — with input from Wandschneider and various ITS managers and directors.

Here is a recap of some of the discussion highlights:

New demands

One of the biggest operational challenges over the past five months has been the number of new, unplanned demands that have been placed on IT organizations across the tri-campus community due to COVID-19. Some of the specific demands the CIO touched on revolve around course delivery mode and enhancement in technical support, prioritizing the new U of T multi-factor authentication (MFA) service — called UTORMFA — and demand for crisis and issues communications planning. “Even though this is all unplanned work that we’re doing right now, we have to put it into context and align it with the [IT@UofT] Strategic Plan,” said Wandschneider.

IT@UofT solutions

In an update on the solutions coming out of the ITS department, Wanschneider talked about new and ongoing projects, including the Alibaba Cloud Enterprise Network (CEN) service, which provides lower latency connectivity for international students living in mainland China. He said there are currently approximately 1,000 students actively using this service since its launch on July 9.

The Enterprise Service Centre (ESC) is another solution that has now been rolled out to all the technical units within ITS and other departments. ESC provides IT teams across the University with a common platform to communicate with its clients and share knowledge in a seamless and transparent way. With ESC, clients experience a smoother interaction with IT and receive answers more efficiently. “Since launching in September of 2019, ESC has received over 36,000 incident tickets and over 3,300 service catalogue requests,” said Wandschneider.

What’s ahead?

Given uncertainty remains for fall enrollments and budget impacts, ITS is monitoring the need to pause or defer projects due to financial constraints. Aside from these potential deferrals, some projects are being rescheduled because of high COVID-related demands, as some shared service providers (e.g., human resources and finance units) do not have the capacity required to engage.

When asked about what new opportunities and technologies the University is adopting, Cathy Eberts, director of Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration and deputy CIO, explained that the biggest area in development relates to application programming interface (API) initiatives. Examples she gave were integration automation strategies between the large platforms, such as Office365, the Repository of Student Information (ROSI), SharePoint and ServiceNow. “Being able to leverage these platforms and getting them to communicate with each other is the way of the future,” said Eberts.

COVID-19 and remote working

To address the various questions about returning to work, Wandschneider said that this will be dependent on direction from public health authorities and the City of Toronto. At the moment, there is no pressure to return to the office unless specific roles require you to do so, he said.

In closing, Wandschneider recognized the current challenges and commended the entire IT community for their patience, empathy and collective work during this time.

Feedback survey

Thank you to everyone who attended this event and provided feedback via the post-event survey. Results of this survey showed that 76 per cent of respondents were extremely or very satisfied with the experience and are highly interested in participating again in the future. We hope to see you back at the next IT@UofT Tech Talk this October. Stay tuned for announcements.