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Guidelines, Best Practices, and Advice for UW-Madison IT Professionals

IT professionals provide services and support for UW–Madison’s central IT, research computing providers, and distributed support in schools, colleges, and divisions. IT professionals at our university include diverse individuals from students, who are working on their undergraduate degree, to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), who provides overall leadership for IT. They collectively serve the faculty, staff, and students who interact with the institution using information technology.

IT professionals at UW-Madison developed this resource. We recognize that having a shared set of guidelines, best practices, and advice helps us to better serve our users, our units, and the institution. If you identify as an IT professional, this guide is for you.

In this guide:

  • Understand your role as an IT Professional at UW-Madison
  • Understand your people’s needs and demonstrate your value
  • Promote good practice within the University
  • Follow and improve standards and common solutions
  • Adhere to legal, policy, and regulatory requirements
  • Grow as an IT Professional, and in a broader IT community
  • Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • Contributors

Understand your role as an IT Professional at UW-Madison

UW-Madison is a large institution with thousands of employees who identify as IT professionals.  Many of these work for UW-Madison’s central IT unit, the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), while many more work in “distributed IT” at other Schools, Colleges, and Divisions on campus.  As an employee of UW-Madison you need to be aware of the university’s workplace expectations. Beyond that, as an IT professional you are in a privileged position as a technical expert, a steward of cybersecurity, an administrator of systems, and a custodian of data. This carries with it some special responsibilities.

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Support the mission

Help people accomplish the mission of their unit, their school, college, or division, and UW-Madison. Become a valuable resource who helps accomplish those missions. If you are viewed in that way, you are more likely to be consulted during planning and strategy development. You will be better able to contribute to success.

Go beyond technical knowledge

Communication skills, decision-making skills, and the ability to work with a diverse group of people will contribute greatly to your success.

  • Communication is a big part of your job: with colleagues, users, and vendors.
  • Stay connected with your user community: participate in your group’s social events, attend public talks, learn about their projects.

Understand the scope of your role

Know what is in or out of scope for your position and understand what resources exist centrally to help you be effective in your role. Many units have unique policies or practices defining what they will support in addition to general campus policy. In addition to items purchased or created with University funding, understand how your unit treats personally-owned devices and applications, those owned by another institution, or those purchased with grant funding.

  • If your unit does not support personally-owned devices and applications, you might suggest alternatives. For example, DoIT can provide support to any eligible person. Depending upon the circumstances, the device or application may be personally-owned.
  • People will sometimes ask you to help them on the side. If you decide to do such work on your own time, don’t use university resources for commercial activity. Whether you’re doing it as a favor or for hire, consider limiting that outside work to devices and applications that are used for university activity, separate outside work from your official duties. Have a clear agreement with your client or customer. The university is not liable for work done outside the scope of employment.

Understand your people's needs and demonstrate your value

Take the time to understand their needs and roles, and keep them informed. Help them understand the value you bring to the table and how IT works in your unit. Manage change with people in mind, and respect confidentiality. Build trust by understanding those relationships and their individual needs.

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Understand people's needs

Each department or discipline has a unique culture, requiring a unique approach to delivering IT services and support. Take time to understand the unit you are working in. Understand where it fits into the campus organization and what motivates people.

  • To gain a broader understanding of your people, develop relationships with key people in your unit and related groups.
  • Consider groups or identities that aren’t represented among people with whom you interact. Proactively engage those underrepresented groups to ensure that you are being inclusive in your service design and identifying potential biases in the services and technologies you support.
  • Each facet of a unit – administration, teaching, and research – will have its own needs and priorities. Consider meeting with each group in your unit on a regular basis, perhaps annually or semi-annually.
  • Let people’s needs drive the solutions, as much as possible while operating within the standards and policies that apply to a given situation. Help find and apply IT solutions to those needs, while taking into account such things as best practices, cost, policy, and technology trends.
  • Be relevant to your people. Spend time with them. Don’t assume you know. Learn their goals and priorities.
  • Understand their timeline, their deadlines, and the lifecycle of their work. If you don’t know, ask.
  • Remote support has become an increasingly important part of managing a modern workforce and many people are themselves working remotely.  Avail yourself of the tools available in your unit to provide remote support and set poeple’s expectations about how and when this support is provided.

Keep people informed

Your communications should be transparent, timely, deliberate, and understandable.

  • Practice transparency. Clearly communicate the choices you are making. Provide rationale.
  • Some people prefer frequent updates on the status of their IT requests. Even if you don’t have an answer, you could let them know you are still working on their request.
  • Plan your communication strategy before you need it. Develop contact lists. Tell people where to find information and get status updates and outages information.
  • Be aware of available communication channels such as in-person meetings, email, chat, or social media. Choose appropriate channels for your message and audience. Consider channels that you haven’t used before.
  • Understand your audience. Plan your communications and review them from the recipients’ point of view.

Help people understand how IT works

Help your management and users understand how IT works in your unit. The process of selecting and delivering IT services and support in your unit may be much more relevant than the details of the technology.

  • Communicate with your management and users. Both groups are depending upon you to understand and deliver IT services or support. Be prepared to explain the underlying rationale.
  • Don’t assume that people understand the process. Don’t assume that you understand the process. Examples:
    • How are decisions made? By who?
    • Why are certain things necessary?
    • What are the available options?
    • Why are some things more efficient and effective than others?
    • Why do some things take more time than others?
  • Explain in terms your audience will understand.
    • Know your audience. They are not monolithic and their needs will change and evolve over time.
    • Avoid jargon and acronyms, unless you are sure the audience knows what they mean.
    • Be patient and understanding.
  • Document procedures and decisions, especially if people have similar questions and issues. Make the documents easy to find and communicate where relevant documents are located.

Manage change with people in mind

Change management involves more than the technical changes. The impact on people requires attention throughout the process.

  • Fully understand the risks of how making (or not making) changes can positively or negatively affect your professional relationships. Seek advice from your colleagues who have performed similar changes on how to engage with your stakeholders.
  • Whenever possible, inform people who will be affected before you change something. Provide as much lead time as possible.
  • Make sure people understand the implications of the change. The possible consequences of the change might not be obvious to them.
  • Be sure you are authorized before you make changes to computers, devices, or applications. Authorization can take many forms. which may vary among the people and units you support. For example, it could be an ongoing blanket authorization to make any necessary changes, or it could be a specific authorization to make a single specific change.
  • Protect the data before making changes. Relying upon routine backups may not be sufficient. There are situations where more specific protection is required.
  • In an emergency situation that requires immediate changes, inform users as soon as possible afterward.

Respect confidentiality

IT Professionals are regularly exposed to sensitive or personal information. Elevated privileges to systems or applications may expose you to information you would not otherwise have access to.

  • Respect confidentiality and privacy when you come across sensitive or personal information during the course of your work.
  • Don’t deliberately access data without authorization and need.
    • The owner of the data or the data steward of the data may authorize access.
    • UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs can authorize access in response to legal requirements or requests.
    • From the policy on Access to Faculty and Staff Electronic Files: Computer system administrators are authorized to access data during the routine maintenance of campus computer or communication systems or the rectification of emergency situations that threaten the integrity of campus computer or communication systems, provided that use of accessed data is limited solely to maintaining or safeguarding the system.
  • Know what to do when incidental access reveals possible violations of law or policy.
    • Don’t discuss it with colleagues or users. Don’t investigate further unless you are specifically authorized to do so by the UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs. The Incident Response team in the Office of Cybersecurity may communicate that authorization.
    • Get expert advice from at least one of: your supervisor, your HR department, your school, college, or division CIO or IT director, the UW-Madison CISO or CIO, or UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs. Contact someone on that list with whom you are willing to discuss the matter.

Promote good practice within the University

Recognize and encourage the effective and efficient use of IT services and resources. Model good practices to provide others with examples and inspiration. Create a culture of feedback for encouragement and improvement.

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Promote efficient and effective use of resources

Delivering efficient and effective IT services and support requires collaboration and pragmatism.

  • Look for common solutions whenever possible. Consider integration with existing services rather than building or purchasing your own. Help users understand the value of shared solutions.
  • Be mindful to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group. Look for solutions where everyone gets what they need, and as many as practical get what they desire.
  • Know when to stop working on something. Keep in mind the law of diminishing returns. An efficient solution that is good enough is better than a perfect solution that consumes excessive resources.

Lead by example

You are a leader in your unit, even if you don’t have the duties of a supervisor or manager. People look to you for guidance and they notice a lot more than your technical expertise. Be a positive influence in your unit.

  • Presence matters. Be mindful of what you do, how you carry yourself, and the effect your actions have on others.
  • Be aware of your language, including word choice and pronouns. The words you use to describe IT become the language of your unit.
  • Your users, colleagues, and superiors will notice if you are responsible, respectful, efficient, effective, helpful, security-minded, and so on. This not only affects your reputation as an IT professional, it also has a long-term  effect on how others interact.
  • Partner in helping solve problems, even if the help is a handoff to another unit or IT professional.  This could include suggesting alternative options that you are able to support that solve a problem.

Welcome feedback for encouragement and improvement

Feedback is a reaction to the work and performance around us. It could be positive or critical, and always geared toward recognition and/or improvement. Welcome others to engage in constructive feedback in public forums, one-on-one meetings, small group meetings, etc.

Resources for promoting good practice

Follow and improve standards and common solutions

In your unit, work to understand why specific standards and common solutions are in place, and what standards may be needed to offer excellent service and protect resources. UW System and UW-Madison IT policies often include standards, and some units may need to adopt additional standards that meet the mission needs of that unit. An academic field or business area may have formal or informal expectations about how work is done and which may influence adoption of standards.

The terms standards and common solutions are often used interchangeably, and have unique meanings:

  • Standard: something that you can objectively measure, often there are multiple ways to implement a standard
  • Common solution: a technical tool or solution that is widely used in the University or industry

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Select the appropriate standard

Standards can provide clarity and consistency for your users and colleagues, make your systems more interoperable, support policy needs, and help your successors build upon the work you’ve done.  Formal and informal audits are measured against standards.

Standards may have some built in flexibility. Carefully distinguish between the requirements and the recommendations and understand how they work in your unit.

When there are multiple standards that could apply to your situation, consider the following when setting a course of action:

  • Seek advice from your colleagues, in your unit, in Cybersecurity, and in other IT units on campus.
  • Carefully consider local needs and the implications of selecting a different standard than the default, common, or recommended standard.
  • Some standards are mandated by law or other regulatory needs.

Help with formal or informal adoption

Where a lack of standardization or common solutions is problematic, support campus efforts to resolve differences. Consider how you could adopt a proposed standard or common solution, even if it isn’t perfect. Get involved and represent the needs of your unit and users by serving on the campus IT Policy group.

Adhere to legal, policy, and regulatory requirements

UW System and UW-Madison have established legal policy and regulatory requirements. Legal requirements may be based in State or Federal law, or contractual terms. Requirements may be linked to specific circumstances. Policies are created at multiple levels: UW Regents, UW-System, UW-Madison as a whole, and individual Schools, Divisions, or local units. Regulations may be created by government agencies or third parties.

If you are interested in getting involved in the policy landscape at UW-Madison, consider joining the UW-Madison IT Policy group by emailing: itpolicy@cio.wisc.edu.

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Understand legal and regulatory frameworks

Understand how laws and regulations apply to your work, and the work of your unit and users. For example:

Understand university policies

Be familiar with the relevant university and UW System policies. This includes business policies as well as IT policies. Promote adherence to policies.

The top IT policies for all faculty, staff, students, and visitors are:

See all IT Policies.

See all UW-Madison policies.

Protect yourself, other people, and the institution

You protect yourself and others by following policies and regulations. Before deviating from requirements, understand how exceptions are handled in the context of a particular policy or regulation. Carefully consider the possible consequences to yourself, your users, and the institution. Consult with your colleagues in IT. Document decisions, including the reasons why and any other compensating controls you put in place. Review and refresh documentation regularly.

Grow as an IT Professional, and in a broader IT community

Professional development is more than improving and maintaining your technical knowledge and certifications. Professional development includes being an active, contributing member in your professional community.

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Start your professional development at UW-Madison

Learn how IT at UW-Madison works. Participate in onboarding activities in your unit and at the campus level. Attend seminars and events to make contact with your colleagues in other units. Participate in the IT Mentoring program or other campus mentoring/coaching opportunities.

Complete required training

  1. Cybersecurity Awareness Training. Required annually for all UW–Madison employees.
  2. Prevention of Sexual Harassment Training. Required in your first 30 days on campus, may be required to renew this training every 3-4 years, based on HR policies.

Continue your professional development

Discuss professional development with your supervisor and colleagues. Consider attending one national or regional conference or similar event each year. Participate in collaborative opportunities such as development teams, advisory teams, and IT governance. Consider obtaining certifications that advance your career goals. Advocate for yourself to be involved. Look for virtual or in-person opportunities.

Contribute to the professional development of others

UW–Madison recognizes that people are the highest value of a successful organization, and given that the information and technology community at UW–Madison is highly distributed, UW IT Connects and the individual groups therein provide diverse engagement, leadership, relationship building, and professional development opportunities for our community to learn and grow together. There are opportunities to grow your knowledge, mentor a colleague, help organize a conference, start a new or engage in an existing community of practice, and help create serendipitous connections between colleagues.

IT Connects identified the following shared values as guideposts for the work of all groups:

  • Awareness
  • Connection
  • Equity
  • Serendipity
  • Belonging
  • Diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Support
  • Communication
  • Encouragement
  • Learning
  • Visibility
  • Community
  • Engagement
  • Respect
  • Recognition
  • Accessibility

Contributors

Document review and revision, 2022 Team

This is a living document. Your feedback is important. Please contact Chris Poser with suggestions for improvement.

Review team

  • Chris Poser, DoIT User Services (primary contact)
  • Crague Cook, DoIT Application Infrastructure Services, Identity and Access Management
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education, MERIT
  • Laura Grady, DoIT Academic Technology, Center for UX
  • Sabrina Messer, DoIT Application Infrastructure Services
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, College of Engineering
  • Susan Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)

Document development and advancement, 2017 Teams

Development  Team

  • Gary De Clute, Office of the CIO, IT Policy (primary contact)
  • Alan Silver, L&S, Chemistry
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education
  • Laura Grady, Office of the CIO and DoIT Communications
  • Sabrina Messer, School of Education, MERIT
  • Sara Nagreen, L&S, Mathematics
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, Administrative Information Management Services (AIMS)
  • Susan Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)

Advancement Team

  • Laura Grady, Office of the CIO and DoIT Communications (co-chair)
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, AIMS (co-chair)
  • Alan Silver, L&S, Chemistry
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education, MERIT
  • Sara Nagreen, L&S, Mathematics
  • Sue Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)