Community Update - July 30, 2020

July 30, 2020

With our colleagues across UBC, we are focused on preparations for the fall term and delivering on our commitments for the Integrated Renewal Program and the Workday implementation in November. We are now more than four months into remote teaching, learning, and working. While we have stabilized our support and established new ways of working, we continue to implement plans to address the needs from the community in order to support academic and research excellence during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Here are a few ways we are responding to, and working with, our community stakeholders:

Implementation of Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) and OneDrive
While it’s been on our technical roadmap for quite some time, we had delayed implementing Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) due to the priority of the major capital projects currently under way due to the significant IT resource requirements.

However, earlier this spring, the UBC community had expressed an urgent need for some of the tools in the Microsoft 365 platform to help support operational needs due to remote work. In addition, the teaching and learning community expressed a need for collaboration tools, which can also be fulfilled by implementing portions of MS 365, and in particular, MS Teams. Many institutions across the US and Canada are using MS Teams to deliver online learning experiences, for some in place of Zoom or other tools.

For IT, this has meant the need to accelerate our deployment, and rapidly mobilize to implement MS Teams and also OneDrive, as file sharing has also been identified as a critical need by our research community.  We launch MS Teams and OneDrive on August 17, 2020. MS Teams will provide asynchronous and synchronous collaboration, including persistent chat, file editing, and video conferencing; while OneDrive will replace UBC’s legacy Workspace file sharing service.

Given the rapid deployment timeline, we anticipate further improvements and enhancements will be required, and we will be following an iterative improvement process based on community feedback. Implementing MS Teams and OneDrive will lead to the incremental deployment of the full MS 365 suite over the long-term.

While MS Teams and OneDrive will be available, other tools such as Zoom will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future as part of the broader enterprise suite of tools. We anticipate units may also choose to use other collaboration tools now that FIPPA S.30.1 constraints have been eased until December 31, 2020, however it is important to note that a formal Privacy Impact Assessment will still be required.

Remote Access to Application Software and Computer Lab Resources
Faculty and students will need remote access to software applications that were previously available through on-site computer labs and general use computer facilities (typically found in learning commons or at the libraries). Working with faculties and the IT @UBC community, we have been looking at solutions that include remote access to existing computer labs, software application downloads, and the visualization of software applications through hosted solutions such as Microsoft Azure Labs. Recommended solutions are currently under review, with an August 10 timeline for delivery.

Discounted Vendor Packages for Students
We are working with various technology partners to provide discounted rates on devices and services to students to provide fewer barriers for student success. A number of discount offers are being confirmed for early August including computers, cellular data plans, home Internet plans, software application licensing, and website hosting. The information will be distributed to students via Student Communications at both campuses.

Internet Connectivity
Students requiring access to learning materials outside Canada frequently experience inconsistencies with Internet bandwidth performance when accessing websites and cloud-based applications hosted outside their country. This is not a new issue, and several other Canadian universities have also provided solutions for their international students. This month, we began a pilot trial with Vantage College students and students from the Faculty of Science, using Canvas courses to test technology that can improve the reliability and speed of their Internet connections. We will confirm next steps once the testing is complete.

Community Engagement
The temporary Ministerial Order (M085) on relaxed FIPPA data residency requirements is extended to December 31, driving higher expectations to pilot additional technology tools. Requests for new technological tools require a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)– both to fulfill the FIPPA requirements and to better understand and mitigate against privacy and information risk. Faculties requesting additional technology tools  are advised to work with their Engagement Services representative with UBC IT and submit their PIA request online.

Significant initiatives of this scale and scope require the commitment of investment, resources, and most importantly, partnerships with the campus community. Preparing for the fall has required extensive consultation with community stakeholders. Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback, participate in testing, and taking the time help us ramp up our efforts to support academic readiness for faculty and students. 

I would like to express my appreciation for the IT leadership, local IT groups, and UBC IT teams for their hard work and dedication as they juggle their workloads and priorities to make all this happen among the current pressures in addition to their regular operational responsibilities, and the additional request to deploy these new services in time for the fall term. All of this work is happening among the backdrop of the activities related to the Workday Finance and HCM deployment this November.

I know for many this has required long hours and weekend work. Our staff have demonstrated an enormous commitment to UBC and its success as they continue to innovate and excel. Recognizing the tremendous pressure, we are working together to find ways allow our staff to take time to refresh and renew, and Friday July 31 marks the second of our “email and meeting free” days. Started by the IRP and adopted by UBC IT, it is one way for us to allow staff to either take time off without worrying about missing important meetings, or to use the time to catch up on work.

Finally, while these are indeed challenging times, they are also incredibly rewarding. I see our teams rise to the challenge with enthusiasm, the spirit of collaboration and partnership on display across many different portfolios, and the support and camaraderie of my colleagues across UBC has been without equal as we work together to keep our institution moving forward.

Enjoy your BC Day long weekend.

Jennifer Burns
Associate Vice-President, Information Technology & CIO