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Sharing IT merger experiences with the University of Cologne

Last month, UIS welcomed Jan Eden from the University of Cologne’s Digital Studies department, who is currently visiting several universities to learn from their experiences of merging their IT operations.

University of Cologne logoCologne is contemplating merging several IT departments to form a single unified service, as Cambridge and other universities have already done, and Jan’s learnings will help inform their merger process.

Cologne, like Cambridge, has had a long and illustrious history since its foundation in 1388. It has structural aspects that are similar to those of Cambridge. Although there are no colleges, it is made up of a relatively small number of faculties. Cologne also has a similar approach to tradition, which presents its own challenges. It was therefore an obvious choice to come here to see what we were doing.

Cologne currently has a scientific computing centre, an administrative IT department and a digital studies department, the last of which comprises their student information system and services related to digital learning. The first step in the merger process will be to bring these entities together into single unified service. The second step will move towards forming a service-based organisation.

Jan is collecting data from several universities in North America and Europe before Cologne starts its merger programme. Last year, he visited Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. In June this year he will visit four Universities in the Netherlands: Eindhoven, Nijmegen, Twente and Utrecht.

The North American universities he visited were at different stages in their journeys towards becoming service-oriented organisations. In general, they were not that comparable to European and UK universities; there are many more similarities between Cambridge and Cologne. In the North American institutions, there is more focus on teaching as opposed to research. In research-oriented universities, teaching traditionally hasn’t received enough attention, and Cologne is aiming to redress the balance.

Jan Eden, University of Cologne

Phil Shore... helped me to better understand the nature of the WRAP process as a request gateway and prioritisation method.

Jan’s visit to UIS has proved fruitful. Although he never expected it to be plain sailing, Jan has learned merging several departments really is no trivial task, and will require lots of detailed planning and sustained effort.

"Talking to Phil Shore was a highlight," said Jan. "He elucidated the WRAP (work request analysis panel) process from an operations viewpoint, and described the Infrastructure Team's potential contribution to implementing new services (via a DevOps approach). His opinions were very insightful, and helped me to better understand the nature of the WRAP process as a request gateway and prioritisation method. So I’d like to point out its flexibility with respect to the organisation of approved projects – allowing for both a traditional project structure lead by B&D as well as a DevOps delivery style – in my report."

He hopes that the visit will benefit both parties. It is always helpful to gain a fresh perspective from outside, and Jan has offered to share some of his observations from his time here. For example, he picked up on the challenges inherent in introducing the role of relationship manager into the university environment, and the need for their close integration with existing internal processes – a factor he says Cologne will have to consider carefully.

He has already presented his findings from the North American universities to other universities in North Rhine-Westfalia. His second report will be presented at a future meeting there, and possibly at other institutions if there proves to be interest.

Decisions about how Cologne will enact its merger will be taken by its rectorate after Jan presents his report later this summer. We wish them well on their journey towards becoming a service-based organisation ready for the challenges of the 21st Century.

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