A new day for Information Technology

University IT announces formation of two units to more efficiently and pleasantly meet technology needs

Sherry Lawdermilt, Madhavi Marasinghe and Chris Remme

The University Information Technology leadership team comprises (left to right) Sherry Lawdermilt, director of applications and integration support; Madhavi Marasinghe, chief information officer; and Chris Remme, director of customer engagement and support. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

In the midst of the holiday season, information technology professionals from across the University of North Dakota filled Carnegie Hall to shake hands, learn names and share dishes.

It was a traditional Midwest potluck, and one of the first full meetings of the newly established University IT (UIT).

“All the dishes were so good!” laughed UND Chief Information Officer Madhavi Marasinghe. “I love potlucks, because everybody brings their best dish, right? So by default, it’s always great.”

The feeling of the get-together fit both the food and the attendees – everybody bringing together their best for a better overall experience. That was the idea behind the formation of UIT last September, and now, four months later, the new unit has found a structure that leverages the strengths and skills of its members to provide more efficient, capable and proactive IT for the UND campus.

Tom DiLorenzo

UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo

UIT has taken what used to be several disconnected IT departments on campus and organized them into two units – Customer Engagement and Support, and Applications and Integration Support.

Customer Engagement and Support (CES), led by director Chris Remme, will be responsible for front-facing IT areas such as desktop support, help desk and tech support, classroom support and asset management. Applications and Integration Support (AIS), now directed by Sherry Lawdermilt, will control back-end services like web development, application administration and telecommunications.

“In terms of serving our students, faculty and staff, we wanted to standardize what we do to make sure that we are all going in one direction, in alignment with the One UND Strategic Plan and One IT,” said UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo.

“We noticed that there was duplicative effort,” Marasinghe said. “The academic team was providing services just for the academic staff, while the administrative team was providing similar services for the administrative staff. It just didn’t make sense.”

So Marasinghe and her team looked at what services they provide, and used the incentive-based MIRA model as a foundation for what UIT could, and should, provide centrally. As a part of that examination, UIT identified that an increased focus on cybersecurity and safeguarding UND was critical.

“We want to make sure that we provide a safe place for students, staff and faculty. That’s an area in which we need to elevate our services,” Marasinghe explained, adding that project management and communication were other areas UIT will be looking to enhance. “There are so many IT projects happening that we need to make sure that we do this in a methodical and transparent manner.”

“I am so proud of Madhavi and her team for the spirit of collaboration that they have all exhibited,” said Senior Vice Provost Hesham El-Rewini, who oversees campus IT. “I’m excited about the future of IT at UND, as we have now a strong foundation that we can build on to add more technological capabilities and protect against cyber threats.”

Madhavi Marasinghe

Four months after its launch, UIT has found a structure that leverages the strengths and skills of its members to provide more efficient, capable and proactive IT for the UND campus, according to CIO Madhavi Marasinghe. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Strength in teams

As Remme and Lawdermilt bring their respective teams up to speed on the new structure of UIT, they’ll be building on strengths. Both units completed a teambuilding exercise using Clifton StrengthsFinder, an opportunity offered through the Faculty & Staff Development arm of UND’s Teaching Transformation & Development Academy.

“StrengthsFinder was great for teambuilding and bringing everybody together, as well as helping us to put people in the right positions,” Remme said. He also explained that although people are placed in roles that fit their talents and skills, they now have the collaborative benefit of sharing those skills across One UIT – essential for efficiency.

Lawdermilt noted that many on the UIT team found that their strengths fell in the realms of relationships, strategy and achievement. As another teambuilding exercise, they spun those fortes into the development of UIT core values – customer/community focused, innovative, and collaboratively striving for excellence.

“Looking at that relationship strength – people sometimes don’t realize that IT is all about customer service. They think of us as those nerdy people that are off playing with their computers,” Lawdermilt said, smiling, “but we’re doing it to help other people.”

“It boiled down to customer service,” Remme said. “Everyone wants to provide the best service they can, and go home knowing that they’re proud of what they did.”

Customers served

There’s a lot to be proud of at UIT, as the team ticks big customer service goals off its list.

  • Users can start to call one easy-to-remember phone number for their tech support needs (701.777.2222) instead of choosing from several options.
  • A UIT Twitter account (@UNDTechAlert) will update followers on small system outages and security alerts like phishing attempts. Email notifications will still be used for high impact communications.
  • Work is underway to migrate the former CILT (Center for Instructional & Learning Technologies) and Administrative Services tech support pages to one UIT website for a more user-friendly self-help experience.

The team’s next steps will be continuing to cross-train its support staff to instantly aid an array of caller needs, and to find a physical area on campus to bring all of UIT together in one place (examined in the Master Planning process).

UIT will continue to fortify and enhance its services until the next holiday potluck, when Remme serves his cheesy potatoes and Lawdermilt brings her crowd-pleasing deli pinwheels.

“There is so much we can do, so many opportunities,” Marasinghe said. “We’re taking small steps, and we’ll get there.”

“We’re developing ourselves as a team,” Lawdermilt stated simply. “Food always helps.”