Goal achieved – Quercus is live

September 1st arrived. With that date, students were preparing to move into residence and go back to class, faculty were setting up their courses and the tri-campus was full of life and activity. September 1st also signified a milestone in the Information Technology Services (ITS) division and the rest of the University community – the transition of all courses from Portal to Quercus.

After three years of planning, extensive community consultation and comprehensive training Portal was decommissioned and Quercus went live. The change was significant and it happened without major issues. There were a few minor technical matters and they were promptly addressed by the Quercus team and Instructure, our valued delivery partner. As new issues arise, we will continue to respond and improve the service.

Key to the accomplishment of this initiative was community engagement. People from all areas of the University were consulted, trained and engaged. This effort was truly institution-wide and touched every corner of our three campuses.

Over the course of this project:

  • 191 training sessions were lead or co-lead by the Center for Teaching Support and Innovation.
  • 109 centrally supported content migration clinics took place.
  • Additional training sessions were run by over 60 technical and training leads embedded in 23 divisions.

Over the last 10 months a total of 47 divisional meetings and information sessions took place reaching 833 people. There were 46 departmental meetings with 925 attendees. Regular update emails (20) were sent to 100 key contacts across the U of T.

The project had:

The reach of Quercus is significant with over 71,000 students logging into about 4,700 courses, with over 4,500 individuals in instructor roles –all within the first week of classes.

There are still training opportunities available until the end of 2018 and I encourage you to sign up for a webinar.

The word in the community is positive and people are happy with the new tool. In an anonymous survey, early adopters said:

  • Much easier to move from one course to another.
  • Very clean and easy-to-use.
  • Love the syllabus feature and it updates the calendar – and students love the calendar.

Social media comments are optimistic too!

Overall, the move from Portal to Quercus was a success. On October 15th, over 50 project and steering committee members came together to mark the achievement. To learn more about this project visit the website.

Quercus core team and steering committee

Core team and steering committee members celebrate at the October 15th, celebration luncheon.

A top priority – safety and security

Cyber Security Awareness Month - October 2018 - Security matters every day

The safety and security of our students, staff and faculty is a top priority at the University of Toronto. That concern and commitment to safety and security extends far and wide to the online and cyber realms.

Being aware and practicing sound online behaviour and use helps keep us all safe, information secure and systems free from viruses, malware, phishing attempts and more. Next months’ Cyber Security Awareness Month campaign will help spread the word about just that.

One of the campaigns’ underlying themes is that online and information security is not a once a year afterthought or saved for a special occasion. But something that is embedded into everything we do – every day.

I encourage you to get involved this October and beyond.

  • Read articles and blogs to learn more
  • Participate in our survey/polls to voice your opinion
  • Follow us on social media to stay in the loop
  • Read handy tip sheets
  • Take a chance at your luck and enter contests
  • Attend talks and events

You can also get personalized online safety recommendations when you check out Security Planner by Citizen Lab.

Please stay tuned to our website, social media channels and digital signage for updates, details on how to participate and more information as the campaign rolls out.





Cyber Security Awareness Month - Coming Soon - October 2018

IT @ U of T

“But we have always done it that way.” How often have you heard that phrase at the university, especially about Information Technology Services (ITS)? Take a step back and think about it. My response to that statement might be – “The status quo is not good enough for a world class institution like U of T.” We have heard your voices too, loud and clear, and many of you are in agreement. Positive change, a new direction and clear strategic priorities are in order.

Earlier this summer ITS launched the strategic planning process. As a first step we engaged a few hundred people including students, staff and faculty and asked them what they envisioned for ITS and IT at U of T three years in the future. Vision development is one of the first steps in our process. This new plan will shape our work, highlight our priorities within ITS and IT at the university for years to come.

Through feedback, discussions and expert advice and conversations with various committees, including a steering committee, the vision is being crafted and honed. Whenever I go into these processes of wide consultation I always am concerned about diverse opinions and our ability to consolidate them into something meaningful. A good colleague of mine always reminds me “trust the process”. Sure enough, in all the great feedback we have received there is a huge amount of commonality.

You may ask what our vision for the future is. I will be launching it later this fall. So please stay tuned.

Although, I can give you a preview now – it’s about people. Core to everything we do at ITS, is our people. People within our division and partners throughout the university community and beyond. Without them, our applications, systems and services would simply not exist. Our collaborative projects and solutions would not take flight.

And we want to hear your feedback about the process so far and the vision once we share it.

Visit our webpage often to keep up with the process and learn more about our community consultations and next steps.


Investment in relationships

CUCCIO is probably the best investment of my time, of any organization I belong to. CUCCIO stands for the Canadian University Council of CIOs and has been in existence for about 12 years. It currently has 62 member schools which makes up almost all of the schools in Canada.

CIO's laughing

What You Always Wanted to Ask a CIO, But Were Afraid to panel at Ontario Higher Education Information Technology (OHEIT) conference in Sudbury, May 2018. Left to right, Bo Wandschneider (University of Toronto), Nela Petkovic (Wilfred Laurier University), Luc Roy (Laurentian) and Brian Lesser (Ryerson).

CUCCIO hosts three face-to-face meetings per year and also oversees the annual Canadian Higher Education Information Technology conference (CANHEIT) that brings together people from all across the nation to share and discover new ideas, and generate innovative collaborations. In other words, CANHEIT is about relationship building. Too often our staff work within their own bubbles and don’t get to see how others are solving the same problems and challenges and fail to look at the opportunities. CUCCIO also hosts various special interest groups (SIGs), to facilitate ongoing discussion between universities. CUCCIO is currently piloting a leadership program for aspiring higher education IT leaders in the country. This program is designed to be complementary to other programs out there and is taking on a mentorship approach, as sitting and past CIOs are delivering the content and engaging in dialogue with participants.

These are all fantastic initiatives that provide a value beyond the minimal cost of membership. That being said, the main value for me is the network and interactions with the other CIOs. There is so much to learn from each other and the group has developed an incredible sense of trust where we share almost everything in order to drive better outcomes across the sector. We are in touch by email and phone on a regular basis and almost any question is answered promptly, even though we all have incredibly busy schedules. The face-to-face in-person meetings are critical for building the relationships that set the stage for partnerships and collaborations between schools.

Yikes: What did I get myself into? Confessions of a New CIO at CANHEIT 2018.
Left to right, Martin Bernier (University of Ottawa), Gayleen Gray (McMaster University), Bo Wandschneider (University of Toronto), Ryan Kenny (University of Windsor), Sally Felkai (Emily Carr University of Art and Design)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “therapeutic” value of these meetings. Just being able to share our challenges with someone who really understands, is worth its weight in gold. I love my job as a CIO, but there are times where it really can be demanding. I always feel refreshed and better after hashing things out with my peers and getting some advice. One way we do this is by doing presentations to the community with CIO panels. This year I had the pleasure of chairing a panel of new CIOs and learned so much about leadership and how they approach a new role. I also chaired a panel with my peers where we took questions from the audience. From the picture below, you can see how much fun we do have when we get together.

I am very fortunate to have been able to attend CUCCIO meetings almost since the beginning and I can safely say I wouldn’t still be in this position or be the leader I am without this great network. And on top of that, CUCCIO makes it fun – just look at those smiling and laughing faces when we get together.

If you have a big problem, think about big and bold solutions

The frequency and complexity of information security threats are increasing at an unprecedented rate and as such, the associated cost of mitigation is unsustainable. This is particularly acute in the higher education space. It is safe to say that no individual institution has a realistic chance of addressing the issues alone. The problem we face is becoming so large that if we want to move from being reactive to proactive we are going to have to think outside of the box and work collectively.

Back in April a group of Senior IT leaders met at the University of Alberta to explore the possibility of creating a shared Canadian Security Operation Centre (SOC). The group included a collection of willing and able institutions: University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, McGill University, University of Toronto, along with their respective provincial Research and Education Networks: BCNET (BC), CYBERA (Alberta), RISQ (Quebec), ORION (Ontario) and the national Research and Education Network: CANARIE. Discussion focused on the challenges that we face, the value of collaboration, what others were doing, potential financial models along with the possible services a shared SOC may offer. A lot of the discussion focused on an emerging model from the Big Ten universities called OmniSOC.

Since that time we have met at the University of Toronto in April, and during the Canadian Higher Education Information Technology (CANHEIT) conference in Vancouver last month. In addition, part of the group attended a summit at the University of Indiana in June, to ask questions about OmniSOC. There now exists a draft project charter for a Shared SOC Service, and by the August we are looking for verbal commitment to undertake a 12-month proof of concept (POC). After the meeting in Toronto, McMaster University and Ryerson University officially joined the conversation. This brought the group to six universities. Experience from OmniSOC suggests that the sweet spot is four to six institutions for a POC.

During the POC, we will test some technology to ingest information from the various partners and also create the document outlining how this could be rolled out more broadly to the Canadian higher education community. This document would include resources and tools such as a governance model, a financial model, templates for data sharing, a service delivery model and several other deliverables. The intention is to collaborate with OmniSOC and try and leverage what they have already learned and completed. If things go as planned there would be an excellent opportunity to create a federation of higher education SOCs built on similar technology stacks offering similar services.

Overall this is an ambitious undertaking, but big problems, require big solutions. There is a great deal of interest from the community and we will be looking to sharing progress on a regular basis and soliciting input on direction. This model may not fit everyone’s needs and it does come with some risks, but the opportunity is so significant that we are compelled to explore. Assuming there is broad agreement from the participants, the project will start shortly, there will be a website and a series of community update meetings to share progress.

Photo:  Initial Shared SOC meeting  on April 11th 2018, at the University of Alberta.
Initial Shared SOC meeting on April 11th 2018, at the University of Alberta.  Absent from the picture are the partners from Ryerson and McMaster University – Brian Lesser and Gayleen Gray.