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Tech in check

UND’s new chief information officer Madhavi Marasinghe discusses campus technology challenges, strategies and opportunities

Madhavi Marasinghe
UND Chief Information Officer Madhavi Marasinghe will work with all units on campus to infuse communication and efficiency into their IT processes. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

The world of information technology (IT) can be cold — filled with coding, motherboards and databases. But UND is bringing some warmth into the domain with the recent hire of Madhavi Marasinghe as the University’s chief information officer (CIO).

UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo said Marasinghe’s unique combination of higher education experience, knowledge of hardware and software issues and goodhearted disposition made her a candidate they couldn’t pass up.

“IT touches the whole University. We thought she had a great personality to work with everyone on moving the University forward,” DiLorenzo said. “People should expect her to come by and chat about what they are using and how we can do a better job with information technology.”

Marasinghe has already started these discussions around campus, making time in her first month on the job to talk with user groups about their respective challenges and needs.

“That excites me — going out, talking to people and trying to find solutions,” Marasinghe said. “I want to make sure that everybody understands that this is not something I can do by myself. This is on all of us. It’s on every IT department as well as the leadership to make it a collaborative effort.”

Breaking down silos

Marasinghe is deeply connected to UND; she’s been on campus in some capacity for 16 years.

She started with the Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) as a programmer and then moved to main campus as the assistant director for enterprise services. When UND IT merged with North Dakota University System (NDUS) Core Technology Services (CTS) in 2012, she was named director of enterprise services, overseeing the majority of enterprise level applications — like Blackboard, Perceptive Content (ImageNow), and Adobe Connect — as well as leading a team of Web developers and programmers.

“Having worked previously at UND and then at the system level, I have a good understanding of the challenges at the institutional level as well as the challenges at the system level,” Marasinghe said. “My hope is to bridge the gap between the system and UND so that we actually have communication lines open throughout this relationship.”

Marasinghe said that open communication is essential to breaking down “silos” on campus and within the system, and finding ways to share services.

“As the CIO, I would love to see all IT units working together,” she said. “Individual departments go ahead and purchase their own software and services without talking to IT or looking at the rest of the campus to see how others have implemented similar functionality. If we were to actually talk to each other, we can gain some efficiencies.”

“One thing we would like for Marasinghe to do is to carry out NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott’s wish for functional consolidation,” DiLorenzo added. “That means you can have savings and efficiencies by, when possible, using the same technological systems, software, etc.”

Security will be one element examined through functional consolidation. Marasinghe said some IT departments on campus still have their own servers that they control independently, and she wants to make sure that these are secured and up to standards.

Marasinghe will also be working with NDUS to implement one learning management system — Blackboard — across all 11 institutions. She says right now at least three systems are being used at UND alone, which can lead to confusion for students with more than one major.

“Those are the things I’m trying to look at. How can we make this easier for the student as well as our staff and faculty?” she said.

Budget priorities 

Consolidation is one way Marasinghe would like to address campus budget challenges, but she knows tackling IT needs will take planning and patience.

“We are being asked to do more with less, and that comes in the form of money as well as resources. That’s when we have to prioritize,” Marasinghe explained. “We have to make sure that we get together and have that conversation of what it is that is important, and then go through that list and check them off one at a time.”

Marasinghe is reviewing the current practices of requesting approval for non-standard software purchases. To help prioritize technology resources at UND and at CTS for the services provided to UND through the Service-Level Agreements, service request processes will be redefined with the help of electronic forms, standard procedures, and workflows. Marasinghe is also reviewing the software application suite serviced by CTS for UND to identify redundancies, usage, and need to find efficiencies and cost savings.

“I actually take this as an opportunity, because that’s what challenges are. That’s when we actually put on our creative thinking cap to see how we can do these things in a different way,” she said.

Marasinghe will play a large role in helping to meet objectives outlined in UND’s draft Strategic Plan, including growing enrollment, retention and graduation rates, and expanding research opportunities. She said she’s excited to see the plan come together and determine how to help achieve those goals.

“Technology is important in not just teaching and learning, but also research,” DiLorenzo said. “We have to look at what kinds of storage and capabilities we need for the types of research and scholarship we’re doing now, and what we want to do in the future.”

In the meantime, as UND’s information technology leader settles into her role, she wants others to know she has an extra seat in her office open and ready for a chat.

“Faculty, staff, students and all of the UND community — if they need any IT services, let’s talk. I’ve always had an open-door policy, and I want to continue to do that.”