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CampusWorks Tries, Fails to Hijack Coconino CC IT Department

According to reports published in the Arizona Daily Sun, our friends at CampusWorks tried and failed to take over the Coconino Community College IT Department following a last-minute notice issued by the college administration. The deal, which stalled, would have seen CampusWorks provide managed IT services after subsuming the school’s IT staff.

The college administration ran the old “shock and awe” play, telling the Coconino CC’s staff that it was going to seek Board approval for the deal at the Tuesday morning board meeting. If the Board approved the deal, the IT staff must immediately agree to work for CampusWorks or resign their positions by the end of the week.

The Coconino Community College faculty, staff, students, and community members swarmed the Board Meeting this morning and after the 20th person spoke, Coconino Community College President Eric Heiser asked to withdraw the item from the agenda for “internal re-evaluation.”

Mmmm hmmm.

While the Coconino administration decided to fall back, the Board members continued on with pre-determined “talking points” to justify the decision to tear apart the college’s IT department. The Board raised non-specific complaints of not having the information needed to make decisions, and aired random concerns about cybersecurity and ransomware, based on conferences they’ve attended recently.

I wonder how much money the Board has invested in the college’s IT infrastructure. Numbers don’t materialize from thin air; if you want business intelligence, you need to invest in your information infrastructure.

Coconino Community College has already tried managed services

For years, the WCC administration deliberately starved and defunded its IT Department. For good measure, the Administration appointed one of their own, (someone who was 100% unqualified in charge of its operations), then complained about the results and used that as an excuse to eliminate its own IT Department.

(Today, I am happy to say that the WCC Administration gets all the reports it wants while the rest of the campus suffers.)

Coconino Community College went the Campus Works route once before, having signed a contract for managed services from the company in 2007. When the contract expired, the college took over IT services once again, but had to rebuild its entire IT staff at no small cost.

From the AZ Daily Sun:

“Board members said changing the approach to IT had been discussed for more than a year prior to this meeting, in response to concerns about the college’s ability to respond to IT needs beyond everyday maintenance and customer service.”

Sorry, but I’m going to pop this balloon. While IT certainly has to “respond to needs beyond everyday maintenance and customer service,” no matter what new responsibilities it has to manage, it still has to respond to everyday maintenance and customer service.

Instead of firing the IT staff for not doing what it has not been asked to do, or what it has been asked to do but not equipped and funded to do, why not expand the staff? Equip it to be more responsive to these newly identified needs? Why not invest in more IT infrastructure and more staff expertise to augment what the IT Department already has and does?

Managed services increase IT costs

CampusWorks has been talking to the Coconino board and administration for more than a year. In that time, I have no doubt that a “whispering campaign” emerged to impugn the quality of the IT staff and undermine its efforts to support the school’s 4,500+ students and its 275 staff members. Not because the IT staff can’t do what’s being asked of them, but rather, because this is how CampusWorks (and other managed service providers) side-step the governance process, insert themselves into the institution, and then extract from it a buttload of cash.

When this approach is successful, managed service providers first try to hire the exact same people they’ve spent the last year (or more) tearing down. Why? Because those people know how to run the campus’s IT operations.
When they can’t hire the existing staff, they hire people off the street to fill newly open positions. (So much for all the “expertise” they’re going to be bringing in.)

And the third party provider isn’t going to save the institution any money. In fact, the institution’s IT costs are going to go through the roof because now the school has to pay for an additional layer of third party IT management along with a heavy dose of the provider’s overhead, in addition to all of the IT costs it already has in the current budget.

Instead of spending a year talking to third party managed service providers behind the scenes about vague and ill-defined (yet glaring and even dangerous!) deficits in the IT Department, why not spend a year talking to the IT Department to identify and plan new IT investments, and figure out how the Board and Administration will fund these new priorities?

Keep the IT staff; ditch the consultants

My questions are: Where was the RFP in this process? What other managed service providers did the Board consider? Why wasn’t this a transparent purchasing process? What was the proposed CampusWorks managed services contract worth? Was it a no-bid contract? And who from Coconino Community College was offered a seat on the CampusWorks “advisory board?”

Think about it. If you’re hiring a consultant to identify and “fix” your IT problems, exactly what do you think you’re going to be “advising” them on? You’re the one with the questions. Isn’t the consultant supposed to have all the answers?

Photo Credit: henry… , via Flickr