Another Cloud Podcast
A podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in IT, operations and business, and learn how they're using Cloud Technology to improve business and the customer experience.
Tackling security and architecture at a University
with Alex McBratney and Jeff Young
Don't have time to listen? Read the full transcription.
Robert, Alex, Jeff
Hello, and welcome to another cloud podcast podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in it, operations and business and learn how they're using cloud technology to improve business in the customer experience. All right, well, welcome to another cloud podcast. Again, I've got my co host with me, Jeff young. And today, our esteemed guest is Robert Henderson. And he is over at the University of Pacific, in California. And, Robert, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you very much.
And Jeff, again, good having you on. Glad to see you again. And I love having these it executives that I get to learn so much from
Well, yeah, and I tell you this, this will be interesting. I love conversing with Robert about the university side of things, because we'll learn things today that that we don't hear on other calls that are Industry Focus. So I look forward to this as well. Thanks for having me, Alex. Good to see you, Robert. Nice to see you, Jeff. Thanks.
Absolutely. So Robert, just to give the audience a background of just you know, who you are, where you came from, you can give us like a two to three minutes, you know, snapshot of your career path, how you got to the university. And you know how I even got into it to begin with.
I started really young, I went to college with a computer information systems major, here in the Central Valley, started as a student assistant, helping the networking team back then it was appletalk and, and co x Ethernet and helped run cable. Since then, I've worked in higher ed for 25 years, and was able to move out at that other university. But I transferred here to University of Pacific 20 years ago. And I've been here in a number of roles. I started as a project manager, and then evolved into network management, telecom management, overseeing systems, teams, data center operations, that sort of thing. We hired a new CIO, who was an Enterprise Architect from another organization at non University organization, and said, We need Enterprise Architecture here. So he asked me to build an enterprise architecture team at Pacific five years ago. And I've had a great time. So So what is the team? Do? We evaluate the current systems, technologies, business processes that are in place, and we look for opportunities to consolidate those systems or develop standardized practices? We may recommend new technologies, or we may recommend the removal of technologies. So I've been at University of Pacific over 20 years.
That's a great background. So you've been in the education side of it for a very long time. Most of your career, most, you know, for the most part, right. So what do you see, as you know, well, just to give a background, how big is the University of the Pacific? How many students undergrad graduates are you guys manage calm users, right? Because that's a lot of users,
Users, customers. Absolutely. So we have about 6500 students spread out over three campuses in Northern California. I'm based out of Stockton, and then we have a campus in Sacramento and San Francisco. We're well known for our professional schools in dentistry, pharmacy law school. We also have a number of pre medical programs as well as medical programs. physician's assistant, is one that's up and coming. So the university also has a number of residence halls. We average around 2000 students living on the Stockton campus. Those students are on our network as well. So we have the unique challenges of providing both a customer level internet as well as a home based internet to meeting all of those challenges.
Yeah, that's that's a lot of users. 6500. And then just I think the biggest challenge is probably those 2000 rights like what, what challenges arise on all aspects, whether it's security or just managing those users on a daily basis. What do you what do you see pop up? That's Probably very unique to just being a university.
Yeah, being a university, we we have a BYOD challenge. And so that students bring whatever they own technologically, and they try to plug it into our network. And also coming with that as a number of viruses, malware, phishing attacks, that sort of thing. And so we do get a whole host of security risks that come with adding 2200, uncontrolled workstations onto our university. We are and also the other students that attend but do not live on campus also bring their laptops to participate in classes and whatnot. So those are security challenges. The most amazing thing about that, to me, Robert is not only do you get to absorb and figure out how to handle those 2200 new devices In 12 months, you get to do it again. Yes. And that starts August 23. is our big moving starts soon. Yeah,
So what so what do you what are some of the solutions that you are processes that you put in place to combat that with a security risk and what these students are doing.
So we've deployed a sock as a service package, and they assist us with monitoring our firewalls. We've put in some packet shaping capabilities so that one student doesn't take over all the bandwidth, or an infected machine take over all the bandwidth. We've also deployed some some next gen firewall capabilities to ensure the students are not going to malicious websites or downloading malicious content. We've also deployed cloud applications, all of our student emails are hosted and found. We use Google Apps for Education for the students, and we use Office 365 for the staff and faculty. And so the combination of tools and technologies and partnerships has really been a tremendous help for us.
How about the the education side of it, right? I know, like a lot of companies on the b2b b2c side, they're always doing like, you know, spoofing phishing attacks, to see if their employees are going to fall for it right to train them on, hey, don't click this link, being the generation that these 18 year old 17 year olds are coming in, it's completely different than my generation and Jeff's generation of, you know, being more a little more. Let's just call it like, looking at things more critically. But this younger kids are just clicking anything they see how do you train for that? Or how do you educate them on that?
Well, we do a couple things. From the staff and faculty side, we do have the mandatory education annually on on spam and how to recognize spam and phishing attempts. From the student side, if we recognize that their machine is infected, or if they clicked on a link, using Google Apps for Education, we then reach out to that student proactively and we give them access to the training as well. So they're getting the same corporate training, if you will, that we provide for our faculty and staff. And that has really helped curb the number of attacks that we've seen.
Yeah. And so Jeff, where have you seen like being the big changes in security and what companies are doing? I know, Robert, brings a unique perspective, from the university side, where do you do you see that a lot of overlap from what you're seeing on the business side as well?
Well, the thing that you're seeing on the business side is, the business side is now starting to get exposed to Robert, what you've dealt with for a while. Because the days of you're only on my network, if you're connected to our wire, or within these four walls, or on a device that I provided, you know, all that went out the window a year and a half ago, even if somebody was still believing that that was the way they want to do business, they found out that that day, they weren't doing business that way anymore. So So I think, you know, there's a new appreciation for what you do new appreciation for bringing in 2200 devices different each year. And not only the fact that a fourth of your users change every year, which is an incredible modification in your Active Directory. But you know, industry Alex, like you're asking me, now it's remote. And yes, it's coming back in, but it's gonna stay remote. You know, companies are never going to go back where they were, they've seen the value of, and flexibility and efficiencies of being able to work somewhere else. So they need to get in tune with the things that Robert is talking about. And now, I think it's really interesting to me, for you to talk about your stack, and to talk about, you know, okay, we know, we're gonna get in trouble with these devices. So what do we do? You know, what do we build to make sure we're okay. And I think it's really interesting, I think, I'd love to hear even more about that. And the other thing, just briefly, you know, you mentioned the Enterprise Architecture team. But this sounds to me like something that whether it's education or industry, I'm really, I really am excited about that thought, and and what made you put the team in place? What are the last two or three things that you've done? I think other people this, this podcast are going to want to look into how they would set up an enterprise architecture team because what you're doing is really good. And so along those lines, we've really focused on understanding the business processes that are in place today, the legacy processes, we had a number of paper processes like everyone else, that when we went home and during the pandemic, we had to go to digital process. As we also look at who's assigned the roles, the proper roles and responsibilities, so should these paper processes be in place? And if not, should they be changed to an online and maybe the department that's managing that process changes as well. So we do a lot of socialization of all of the technologies that are in place, with our end users from the architecture team. And then we asked them to help us draw, so we spent a lot of time in front of the whiteboard, help us draw those pictures, so that we can use them to educate other administrators, executive leadership teams, and other departments. Because what we found is when we drew a picture for one department, it was probably wrong in the view of another department, because they thought other departments were doing different things. So architecture has been real valuable here in socializing the technologies that are in place, the business processes that are in place, and making improvements in those processes, such as removing paper printing processes, Sure, do you involve students as well as staff. In some of this research?
We do so I am fortunate enough to have a co op student, work with me. And so these are typically your third or fourth year students in our school of engineering program. And so I'll pick up one a year. And what I like to do is sit down with a student and I asked them what is their most painful situation at Pacific with technology. And they'll give me that unique student at firsthand experience challenge. With one student a couple of years ago, they were getting too many emails, they were averaging 150 emails a month. And so come to find out, every department had their own list their own bulk email system, for sending messages. And so they were overloading the students with email. And one way to circumvent that is to start simplifying and centralizing the number of email systems that are out there for mass communication, and then coaching those departments on those challenges with email. And, and so this student was, was transparent with me, I took pictures and share them with the executive leadership. At the end of the day, we discovered 25 different bulk email systems were in use. And they were all emailing the students different ways.
Oh my gosh. So anywhere from residence hall to each school, I guess, each school, the bookstore, the health center, the fitness center, the athletics department, they were all trying to get students to come to their events and, and attend and recruit folks to participate in clubs. And this was on top of traditional faculty to student communications with their classroom experience. And you know, that that influx of emails gonna make them be less careful. Because they're angered by it for the first one reason. So, again, Alex, the thing that's interesting here is someone's going to watch this podcast, and they're gonna say themselves. Hmm, I wonder how many of those we have? Yeah, so that's a really good tip, Robert?
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it sounds like an enterprise organization that went through about 30 acquisitions, and they're all using different systems. And that's one thing that I learned that I always expected, you know, with universities, okay. There's just your executive suite, your CIOs, your you know, your IT department, and they push everything down to the other departments. But what I've learned from you specifically, is that now like, it's pretty much like 20 different business units within the school. And they're all just doing things on their own. And you mentioned that how it can become very siloed. And when you first started took on this role, you know, as a, you know, technology architect, how's, from the start to where you're at now? What was that process, like getting buy in from the departments? Go through some of the case study of already from zero to where you're at now? Sure.
So one of the things I did really early on is I sat down in front of the whiteboard and just scratched out scribbled out all of the technologies I knew we were using within our central IT organization. And then I met with technologists and other schools, and I said, what programs and systems do you have in place. And eventually, I slowly started getting a clearer picture of all of the different technologies in place here at the university. Then I started documenting what is the purpose of those technologies, and that's where you start seeing the overlapping technologies. So to your earlier point, the schools are able to purchase and acquire products on their own, using a pro card or subscription to AWS instance of whatever application and so we started discovering those types of applications through analyzing the protocol. statements, the bills. So we would see at&t and Verizon would be listed as regular payments. And then I would go and reach out to the leadership of those schools and ask them where what are their pain points with technology? And which technologies do they use? Eventually, you document enough pictures, they get the sense that there are too many systems in place. Then I started from that discovering what were their pain points, documented their pain points, and then I picked the top three or four, ran them by the university leadership and said, What is the biggest of these four do you think is we should tackle, and one in particular is around communications, we have too many email systems as one component. But we're also asking the students to log into multiple different portals or different systems to complete their transactions of the university. So I'm still in the middle of this. But we're, we've painted a pretty clear picture that there's many too many different systems, students have to log into to be enrolled at Pacific. And then there's too many systems that they have to interact with while they're here at Pacific. So my goal, and what we're doing now is, is trying to consolidate those systems down. And it's really getting consensus meeting with all levels of the organization, educating them on on those challenges. And, and, and helping them understand the proper roles and responsibilities. Or what I like is that it sounds like I love your approach, because you're educating them not dictating to them. Figure out Yeah, well, no, it wouldn't work. Because you know, if there are 30, and you talk to me, I understand there's 30, but mine's the most important one, so you can't change mine. So you hear that 29 more times, but by educating like you are you help them come to the conclusion. And I would expect also, you're making an impact on the budget. Because if each of those have their own agreements, I would expect you're going to be able to get a lot better deal. Once you get all this consolidated. Today, Alex asked me to highlight a project recently, so we implemented office 365, we were an on premise exchange shot. And that in and of itself, we were down to one FTP. And and so we significantly reduced his reliance on that one f t, that single threaded resource, but also reduce the number of servers, the infrastructure, and then you gain that Microsoft Security stack by using their their technologies. So there was significant savings there. You know, low six figures, but for size of our University have a significant savings here. In the other project, we're cloud coining it as the digital workspace and it's basically a fancy intranet revamp, if you will, that we're going through an IDC, there's probably 30 systems that will consolidate down to one so that the students go to one location, and do all of their transactions and receive all of their communications from that one location. And that's what we're working on right now. I'm also working on another project to revamp the university phone system. So we've been with voice over IP for over 15 years or so. And so the goal now is to adopt more of the technologies people use when they were at home. So a number of our departments adopted teams, and another group of departments adopted zoom, testing that the ability to select one of the two and integrate our phones and remove the desk phones. So telecom expenses are are a big a big expense here that we need to address. I'm sure
I can only imagine other pots lines that you guys have around campus that haven't been looked at
Quite a few. Yeah, you should do a scavenger hunts and see if you can find a pots line that you're paying $40 a month for that nobody's plugged into a bet you can find a few. There's a few 100 that that we are getting bills wherever we can't find out where they go. So we're working on that.
That's what's amazing is just the amount of projects that you can that you want to tackle but they just all takes time. And I like how you took those four big ideas took it to the executive leadership. Okay, which of these four is do you want us to tackle first, right because there's you could just as a fire hose with him, things you can do to prove efficiencies, you know, at the at the, at the university. So kudos to you for EPS we're gonna get started and just seeing where you guys have gone and how you're tackling it Just one bite at a time which is which is amazing to see to hear about.
It's nice to see you You The leadership engaged as well, along the way, and they're supporting it as well. They're they're putting their resources and, and staff time behind those initiatives, because they understand the importance as well.
I was gonna say that the pot, one pane of glass that you're talking about for the students to be able to do whatever they have to do that, that single pane of glass is applicable to anybody. That's not a university only thing. That's, that's big. And I would think another thing too, once you get to that point, it will help you on your onboarding as well. Because I would think onboarding and the education and actually security awareness, I, I just think that single a single pane of glass is going to provide you incredible benefits, and I would to any organization in my mind. So I think that's a great concept.
So where do you think the just it in general, I guess technology, right, with universities assess the world that you're living in? Would you say that you guys are at? I don't know exactly. Which ones are kind of behind the curve ahead of the curve at like, you know, right in the middle? Where do you guys think you are in that scale? Because I know there's universities out there that are probably way behind, just so they can kind of understand what they should do? And then maybe looking forward to the ones that are ahead. What else do you think needs to be done? Or is there anything that you kind of see like this is where things are moving that we need to be prepared for? Well, that's a loaded question. I know it's a big one.
So I've touched on a couple of these. And so I'm sorry, if I repeat myself, but I believe we're a little ahead of the curve in looking at the university phone system, and getting that desk phone component removed. We are talking with our peers. And that's the nice thing about higher ed is you can call CIOs from other organizations and ask them what they're doing at university level, very collaborative. I think we're a little behind the curve on the portal side, the intranet, I think, the industry, you know, tackled internets, you know, 510 years ago, I think universities are playing catch up in that area. And I think we just haven't started yet on the parent experience. So getting connected with not only our customers with our students, but also in addition to that the parents, the ancillary customers, because we need to sell the parents and the students on the university. It's not one or the other. So So I think we're in the middle of all of this. Yeah, you know, so we have some, some bleeding edge leading edge efforts, and then we have some catch up efforts going on.
Yeah, absolutely. And you brought up a good point about collaborating with your peers, right, and talking with other university CIOs or other you know, technology architects and whatnot. But I think what I like is, do they look at you as competition? Because on the business of business world, right, it might be like, I'm not gonna tell you what we're doing, because that's a competitive advantage. Do you see that happening in the, in the education space or not so much, because, you know, say up is up in Northern California and University of South Carolina as a way across the country, like they're not a competitor of ours, like, we're happy to tell them everything, You know,
It is very open and collaborative. And there's some consortium groups out there that focus on higher ed groups, higher ed it efforts. And those groups are very open and collaborative, there's list servs, that we can join in and read and ask them any question and we get lots of responses back. And so when we were doing our initial research on phones, everyone have most of the responses, what I'd like to learn more about what your research yields. And so we're very open and transparent and sharing that information. So it is very open and collaborative there. There is no sense amongst it University leadership of a competition. Our enrollment folks would say otherwise.
That's right, the admissions office. Right. Right.
I was just really happy to hear that because it the fact that that collaboration is so open is really helpful. And I kind of chuckle and think about the students consider the IT infrastructure when selecting university, I guess, I'm guessing the answer is no. There, they actually say, Can I bring my computer? they do? They do they, you know, a common question is How good is the Wi Fi? Okay, and is there wireless everywhere? And so we do brand ourselves having wireless everywhere?
Yeah, those two things are very important. Yeah. Yeah. They don't care. I guess my point is, they don't care how you make that happen. They care that you made it happen.
Right. Yeah and they're getting a better or the same or better experiences that they had at their house. Yeah,
Yeah. You know, that reminds me of hospitality. When you look at the list of what's most important when you're going to a hotel. It's how good the Wi Fi or how good the internet is. Used to be the TV? And like, you know, do they have all the channels? They don't care anymore? Because now they're just streaming their own stuff on their phone or on their laptop. It's all about internet connectivity now. So it's very, very similar in that way. That's true.
Yeah, I guess the hotels don't advertise, they have HBO anymore. Right.
And it's funny, you mentioned that we are in the same boat, the students are bringing more entertainment in through the streaming services than we could ever provide. So we may scale back on our TV service in the future.
Yeah, absolutely. So collaborating with other it, executives, I love it. I want to talk a little bit about just mentoring and having someone that you know, has helped you along the way right to get you where you're at? Like, how have you had that experience, where you've had a, you know, a mentor higher up that's kind of brought you along and kind of taught you the ways of it in the university space? And what did that look like for you?
Yeah, I've been very fortunate, you know, being a Pacific for 20 years, and changing in a number of different roles, I've definitely had a lot of opportunities in that area. I mentioned my current CIO, a former Enterprise Architect, and bringing my skill set up to that new level has been a tremendous value. Previous CIOs have always been supportive of me and my efforts, whatever role I've been asked to lead, or take on or challenge, I've also found value in working outside of it. In in the university space, though, so I work closely and still do with the financial leadership. Even though we report directly to the President, it was always important to me to reach across a different division and get some input there. I've worked closely with facilities departments, because well, you know, it's not it, if if the air conditioner is broken in my data center, then then it has got a problem. And so having good close relationships and mentorships, with folks that have been willing to take time, and, and, and share how air conditioning systems work, and how battery systems work, electrical grids, and that sort of thing has always been valuable as well. So I've been very fortunate here at Pacific and in developing those relationships with other departments.
Yeah, I like I like that. It's not just in the IT department, but also going outside. So you're not siloing yourself, just like the other departments can be when you're trying to make these changes. If you don't understand what's going on with finance, or facilities, there's a lot of cross collaboration that can happen. And you learn a lot of different things on how what, what they're thinking about their issues, and how, how it all kind of plays, how it all will play together.
Jeff? How about you, like, you've had a lot of experience, and now you're retired, which is amazing, but like in your decades of leadership, how have you? What's your view on how you brought people up? And, you know, we're mentors to them, and vice versa?
Well, yeah, the thing talking with Robert has been really, really an enjoyable experience, because I like your attitude and your approach, both of you know, if you ever want to implement or impose change, if you will, on an organization, that you can't do that, by your own will, that you have to listen first. And, and you have to be very, very little, I think you just have to be in tune with, with your users, with your customers. And you have to make sure that you address, you know, they don't know how to express to you what their needs are, but you know, how to listen, and you know, how to, to understand what they're trying to express to you. So, I think, you know, that's very important. And also by taking what you do, and pass it on to other people that work with you and work for you, I for to be able to take this enterprise architecture team and, and develop that, you know, the the important lesson I get from that is, if I first was gonna find out that I would say, Wow, he must know a lot about different technologies. But what I've heard today is what's more important is you know, a lot about the inner workings of your organization you're trying to support. And that really doesn't matter what you know about the technology, if you don't know, you know, where the ships heading, you know, after you've got it, you've got to talk to people. I understand that. So, yeah, I think that makes you a perfect mentor. And, you know, others can can learn from from listening to this and bottom line, Alex, you can't lead anyone if you can't listen. So I think he's proven that here today.
Yeah, Absolutely. Well, Robert, I gotta say, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on this podcast, and I love the aspects. You're the first guest that is from a university at higher education. And so it's really good to hear a different perspective, and how much how different it is, but then there's also a lot of similarities as well. Obviously, same challenges. replacing an enterprise phone system is not an easy lift. But you know, it's being done everywhere right now just because of COVID. And everyone's moving off of the desk phones and off the off all the hardware based systems. But, again, great having you on and I love the the perspective that you bring in. Jeff, thank you for always co hosting this with me.
Oh, yeah, Robert, good luck on August 23. Well, thank you very much. Thanks for having me on the show. Appreciate it.
You got it.
I look forward to many more of your podcasts. Thank you. Alright, thanks.
Well, that wraps up the show for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to join us next week as we bring another guest in to talk about the trends around cloud contact center and customer experience. Also, you can find us at Adler advisors. com LinkedIn, for your favorite podcast platform. We'll see you next week on another cloud podcast.