Campus Computing: What's in an Idea?

By Philip Baczewski, senior director, University IT

Introducing the UNT IT Idea Center

IT Idea Center markWe live in an age of information technology. Over the last 30 years, there has been a continuing explosion of new technologies and services that has changed the world around us. Our home, commercial, and university activities have all been affected and the pace of change seems to just get faster. The array of IT goods and services keeps expanding, providing plenty of potential applications to enhance, improve, or even revolutionize how we pursue our business or instructional activities. Such a wealth of possibilities yields an abundance of ideas for use of IT applications and services within all aspects of a university environment. But good ideas alone don't drive change and innovation within an organization.

The life of an Idea

Ideas and their products have a life cycle. The first stage is the conception of the idea -- in other words, the moment when the metaphorical lightbulb goes on and spurs us to do something different and/or innovative. If we want this idea to go beyond our personal scope and work within a group or organization, then the next step is development and testing of the resulting product. For large-scale deployments, a pilot phase is often used to establish the practice of a new product and develop training and documentation for the organization. Deployment or implementation establishes the idea as an ongoing resource within the organization. And the often forgotten stage is that at some point that idea may be obsolete and need to be retired.

In a complex organization like a large university, there are a lot of good ideas for employing new information technology, but even some of the best ideas my not make it past -- or even to -- the testing and development stage. It's easy for an idea to become lost in the maze of the organization. Who should hear about your idea? Your manager or department chair? Your Director or Dean? CLEAR or UIT or ITSS? The answer may be "none of the above" or "all of the above" depending on the nature and scope of the idea. A path through this maze is needed to be sure that all good ideas get their fair consideration and to be sure we are not missing an opportunity to, at least, keep up with the times or to drive innovation within our university.

Enter, the IT Idea Center

ITIC markThe UNT IT Idea Center is a process by which information technology-centered ideas or projects can be proposed and developed for possible implementation as a formal project or targeted as an incubation project to explore emerging trends. The Idea Center allows individuals, business units, or ad hoc interest groups to submit fully-formed ideas or speculative applications that could advance the mission of UNT. Ideas are vetted by UNT IT staff who have expertise or a job function related to the proposed concept.

The process established for considering IT ideas is meant to bridge the large gap that often arises between concept and implementation. The process is meant to consider practicality, scope, resources, and funding associated with the idea and includes the following steps:

  1. An Idea is proposed via the online submission system on the UIT web page (see below).
  2. The Idea is forwarded to IT management with related expertise or oversight for evaluation and recommendation.
  3. The Idea may be assigned to an individual or working group for further investigation or routed to IT Governance for information gathering and evaluation.
  4. Recommendations, supporting information, and resource suggestions for an idea are documented for further consideration.

The outcome of the process will be to help foster the development of a formal project, to forward the idea, if ready, for consideration by UNT's IT Planning and Prioritization committee, or to provide feedback regarding the possible progress or further development of the idea if it doesn't yet seem to be a ready fit for the proposed scope.

The Democratization of Ideas

The IT Idea Center is the formalization of a process that has been occurring for many years. We've had good ideas come forward and have spent time and effort to ensure that we can make effective use of new or newly adopted technologies. A recent example is the adoption of Lynda.com training resources for UNT. Another example is the availability of Panopto lecture capture for use in potentially any of the generally-scheduled classrooms at UNT. Even the Blackboard Learn Learning Management System was at one time an idea kicking around about ways to support online learning.

What's new with the IT Idea Center is that it expands the source of ideas to encompass the entire UNT community. Visiting the IT Idea Center at http://it.unt.edu/idea4it allows you to share a quick idea or to start development of a formal proposal. We can't guarantee that all ideas will be adopted, but we can guarantee that all ideas will be considered.