When The University of New Mexico entered a period of limited operations in mid-March, questions arose about how every day processes would move forward. The UNM Information Technology Department had answers – moving swiftly to stand up and expand frameworks it already had in place. By doing so, IT ensured the UNM community, and partners across the state of New Mexico, had the technology, infrastructure, resources and support needed to work and learn remotely.
UNM Chief Information Officer Duane Arruti recently completed an in-depth interview with Enchanting Economics in New Mexico, the podcast produced by the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research. He explained how the department of less than 200 already laid a lot of groundwork, which helped expedite moving classes and work flows online.
“It’s about building out the infrastructure and the services so that they are ready for use. Part of that is anticipating what the needs are going to be by watching trends and understanding how technology is evolving in order to predict what will be needed,” Arruti said. “IT is involved in every aspect of what the University does. We’re involved in so many innovative things and almost all of them have some sort of bridge or reliance on technology.”
When most people think of UNM IT, they likely think of NetIDs, email support and other online-related assistance. But the department of less than 200 staff really is an essential lifeline of the entire University. Yes, it’s in charge of the storage, hardware, and network infrastructure needed to bring computers together. But it also is tasked with developing and integrating essential UNM apps like LoboWeb, updating and maintaining classroom technology and computer pods, and ensuring cybersecurity, authentication, firewalls and threat analysis are up-to-date and functional. In all, UNM Information Technologies supports around 24,000 computers on UNM Main and branch campuses.
Aside from computer-related concerns, IT plays a major role in the University’s cameras, alarms and building access control systems; the landline telephones, university-issued cell phones, UNM voicemail service and call centers across campus; and the Blue Light Security Phones that put students directly in touch with UNM Police dispatchers.
“Our reach is a lot broader than just the University campus, we also partner with the HSC IT teams in various technology initiatives, and we even provide voice services to the Hospital and entities like the Poison Control center and their automated calling system,” Arruti explained.
The list of services IT provides and supports is extensive, both on and off campus. The latter became even more imperative as students, faculty and staff were mandated to work, teach and learn remotely.
“It has been a huge transformation for the University,” Arruti admits. “I’d like to think our UNM IT staff were uniquely positioned to be prepared for this. Given that technology is our daily work, our staff were very familiar with the tools and resources available to enable and empower both remote work and remote learning.”
Arruti says that familiarity enabled IT to help the rest of the campus embrace remote work and school. He also says it was thanks to the foresight of many IT teams that a lot of services were already on standby to be deployed.
“I have to give kudos to my team,” Arruti said. “When they build services, they do so with an eye on the future. And as they’re prepping those services, they make sure they can scale them up if there is wider spread need.”
One example of this was the attainment of enterprise licenses to services like Zoom video conferencing. Arruti says The University of New Mexico was the only institute of higher learning in the state to procure an enterprise account with Zoom prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That allowed UNM employees to use the Pro version of Zoom through a centralized UNM account, instead of having limited access through a free personal account. In early February, the license had about 2,000 registered UNM users; but after remote work began, that number soared to 10,000. Similarly, the virtual meetings held on the UNM license increased from about 2,600 a month, to 32,000. By securing that enterprise license, IT empowered UNM employees continue their work at home while not losing their connections to the campus community.
“If we can avoid it, we’re not charging departments for anything related to this transition,” Arruti said. “We’re tracking the costs and we’re figuring out the means to cover them in the short run because we want faculty and student to be able to focus on the things that they need to do. We want staff to be able to focus on the support role that they play. We don’t want everyone to have to scramble and make the finances work.”
IT also partnered with departments and the Provost’s Office to help make sure students had the technology and wifi accessibility they needed to learn remotely, including an innovative equipment checkout program for students with the greatest need. In addition to upscaling current systems and publicizing resources, IT is keeping an eye on evolving technology developments and updates so that there will be a seamless transition back to life on campus when The University of New Mexico physically reconvenes on-campus.
“We want to leverage the familiarity people now have with technology in a better way, while continuing to maintain and improve our online and technology-driven classroom environments,” Arruti concluded. “This shift is requiring us to support the remote environment right now, but we know that people will come back with a newfound approach to using technology and we will be ready when they do.”
Whether safeguarding UNM data and networks, ensuring the latest technology is accessible to the campus community, or pursuing new ways to serve the community at large, UNM Information Technology is a department that is well worth the title “essential.”