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A Change of Course

It's far too easy to take things for granted when they've been around for what seems like forever. This is true even for IT shops that have an arrangement with a service provider. The work gets done, and you don't have to worry about how it's getting done.

But if that service provider suddenly decides to drop support, that feeling of security built upon a foundation of a long-term relationship can suddenly send an organization into a tizzy. It now has to find another provider or bring the processing in house; neither alternative is desirable. But as the University of Florida (UF) recently discovered, that type of dropped support doesn't necessarily spell disaster.

After the state of Florida instituted a "home rule law in 2003," as Mike Conlon, the university's director of data infrastructure, explains, the organization was on its own, having to beef up its existing IT environment to compensate. But by carefully weighing its options (including the deployment of some IBM* eServer pSeries* systems), this move from outsourced to insourced actually enhanced its ability to respond to ever-changing user needs.

Bringing It In House

UF, whose main campus is located in Gainesville, Fla., is the largest and oldest university in the state, having been established in 1905 after several name changes and mergers with other educational institutions. The main campus now covers some 2,000 acres and includes more than 900 buildings, 170 or so which contain classrooms and laboratories. In 2002, UF had the fourth-highest student enrollment (more than 48,000) among all U.S. universities.

Prior to the home rule being invoked in 2003, the university was run in part by the state. This meant that many of UF's IT assets (excluding an on-site mainframe and some mainframe applications) were located in Tallahassee, Fla., although it had some functionality on site, such as timekeeping and payroll. Conlon explains, "We would compute payroll and send that information to Tallahassee. They would then issue the payroll, make records in their system and send back a record of what they had done. So we were providing timekeeping and payroll information to them, but they were actually doing the payroll and booking it into the ledger and issuing checks."

When the state decided to divest itself of the university, turning it into a publicly run rather than state-run organization, UF had to bring many of these computing activities in house. But in order to do so, it had to rethink almost its entire IT infrastructure, including its use of the mainframes. One of its first steps was to investigate ERP options, knowing that it would now have to account for its own financials. "This part of the effort was application driven," Conlon says. "First, we needed to decide on an application package and then the hardware."

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at



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