Wednesday, 14 October 2020 16:54

How USQ IT supported remote workers during pandemic


Earlier this year, University of Southern Queensland ICT services director of client services Naomi Lutvey saw the writing on the wall: the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to the campus being closed.

Rather than waiting for that to happen, Lutvey and her colleagues began to prepare for the eventuality, for example by setting up VPNs.

This effort revealed a particular problem. The IT fleet management system in use at USQ required users to be on-campus or remotely connected via a VPN. But since most of the applications were web-based, there was no particular reason why users would VPN into the university network, and that meant there was a good chance that systems would not be updated promptly.

USQ had been using Ivanti Service Manager (ISM) since 2017, so she decided to investigate Ivanti Endpoint Manager (EPM).

A trial was arranged, and "it worked," she said.

So an EPM server was set up. ISM was used to identify staff that were likely to be working remotely and what equipment they would take, and then to obtain their supervisors' approval.

Then EPM the agent was installed on all computers while they were still on campus.

Working with Fusion5 and Ivanti, USQ was able to ensure that the entire fleet would remain patched.

"It was pretty quick," Lutvey observed. The project was completed in just two weeks, and then 1600 employees went remote.

Most staff are now back on campus, and things have moved on. USQ has adopted Ivanti's Neurons self-healing, self-securing and self-service system. 5837 systems were connected to Neurons at the time iTWire spoke to Lutvey, including those in lecture theatres and student labs. An important feature in the university context is that Neurons allows updates to be applied without forcing immediate reboots, which can be very disruptive if systems are being used for research purposes.

ISM isn't just used for IT at USQ. Providing a good digital experience is a given in higher education, she said, so a lot of work had been done to develop knowledge bases, workflows, and so on.

But the pandemic made its importance very clear in situations where the usual face-to-face conversations were no longer possible.

"COVID gave it that boost to get people on board," and its use spread to functions including human resources and safety. IT material now accounts for just 30% or so of the total.

Other departments "love it," Lutvey said, as it is a simple way to provide information. IT provides training to other parts of the university so they can add and maintain their own content. Responsibility for forms and workflows remains with IT as "we want to make sure we have a consistent approach."

"We haven't had any pushback (from departments)," she added. Practically every administration department uses ISM, along with some academics.

The project is ongoing, with plans to install the remaining parts of Ivanti's suite and to integrate it with other products such as Splunk.

The IT budget and headcount aren't growing, so there's a need to be smarter and use more automation, said Lutvey. Neurons' ability to spot problems and take corrective action before they become an issue is an example of this.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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