By Kaitlyn McCormick
Despite consistent transitional issues faced in the beginning of the academic year, the recent outsourcing of Rider’s IT department is credited with hefty savings for the university and hopefully smooth operations moving further into the fall semester.
Although Rider has been partnered with Ellucian Services for over a decade, the decision to utilize the Ellucian Managed Services Division and switch to an outsource model for the university’s Office of Information Technologies (OIT) came fairly recently, prompted in part by the many changes being made at the institution to elicit savings to counter the ongoing cash deficit faced by the school.
Making the switch
Jim Hartman, Rider’s vice president for finance and chief financial advisor, explained some of the behind-the-scenes decision making when it came down to making the choice to outsource the department, including a “high six-figure savings.”
“I did a lot of reference checking,” Hartman said. “Not only did universities save money when they did this, but the service to the community actually improved greatly, and that was across every reference that I checked.”
According to Hartman, 13 of the 16 full-time employees (FTE) on-campus were previous OIT Rider employees that decided to stay with Ellucian Managed Services, but there are also two FTE in off-campus remote resources and access to over 184 Central Technology personnel such as consultants, programmers and administrators.
“Retaining some of that knowledge base is really important with the transition, plus some of them have been long term Rider employees, so we wanted to retain as many as possible, but we also needed to make sure that we move forward under this Ellucian umbrella,” Hartman said.
Many people wonder what this outsourcing actually means for Rider and how it differs from the services utilized by the university in the past.
Oliver Wendt, the university’s interim chief information officer (CIO) said, “Ellucian Managed Services is one division of Ellucian. It’s the service arm of our organization.”
One of the key appeals of Ellucian as a longtime partner of Rider is the company’s specialization in higher educational institutions. The outsourcing process began on June 15, but Rider has been partnered with Ellucian since 2008, said Hartman.
Wendt said, “We’re not only industry leaders in managed service for higher education, but we really specialize in just institutional transformation, how to work with schools and to help develop strategical plans.”
According to Wendt, there are over 145 managed services sites across the country, with 11 in New Jersey alone.
He explained that although there is now a “smaller OIT footprint on campus … we have [the] knowledge of all of our neighboring institutions that are facing similar challenges in higher ed[ucation].”
A rough start
While Ellucian Services is not a new partnership for Rider, this new service model correlated with a slew of technology issues present in the beginning of the academic year.
“I would say that it’s a combination of a lot of factors. Certainly when there’s turnover … you lose some institutional knowledge, as well as [having] new people coming in to try to learn,” Wendt said.
Wendt also explained that technology issues today are much more vast than a simple break-fix issue, especially now that advances like “cloud-based computing” are so popular.
The influx of OIT issues was also compounded by the resignation of Wendt’s predecessor and former CIO Douglas McCrea. The resignation was announced via email on Sept. 21. While McCrea could not be reached for comment, Hartman described the separation as “mutual.”
A new chapter
The choice to outsource aligns with a more keen eye being taken to the technology services at Rider, and Wendt and Hartman both expressed an excitement and commitment moving forward to utilize this switch to provide the best possible service to the Rider community.
Wendt said, “We need to look at [the question of], ‘How do we provide modern academic computing needs in the 21st century,’ and that’s not for us to decide and solve, it’s to work with faculty members that understand the pedagogy in the classroom.”
Wendt’s team has also been venturing into the Rider community to gather information from different departments regarding needs, wants and frustrations that the OIT department could help alleviate.
“That’s always been the strategy from the beginning,” Hartman explained.
Wendt concluded, “While it’s bumpy right now, I’m excited about the future.”