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Building a technical consulting team within a federated university environment. Educause Southwest Regional Conference February 22, 2007 Austin, TX. By: C. J. Barker. Your Presenter. C. J. Barker University of Texas at Austin Information Technology Services Software Developer / IT Manager

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Building a technical consulting team within a federated university environment

Educause Southwest Regional Conference

February 22, 2007

Austin, TX

By: C. J. Barker

Your Presenter

C. J. Barker

  • University of Texas at Austin

  • Information Technology Services

  • Software Developer / IT Manager

  • Technical Contracts Manager [Software]

Building a technical consulting team


  • Background & History

  • Business Plan

  • Bid Estimates

  • Service Level Agreement

  • Source Code License Agreement

  • Hiring Practices

  • Managing ‘Agile’ Projects

Building a technical consulting team

What will this session provide?

  • Serve as case study

  • Disclose successes, trials, and tribulations

  • General development practices within distributed university environment

Background & History

UT Austin

  • 48,000+ students

  • 20,000+ faculty & staff

  • 20 Colleges & Academic Units

  • Copious administrative departments

  • Vast array of varying business and IT needs

  • Evolving technical landscape

Background & History

Recognized Need

  • Departments lack or have scarce resources

    • Human

    • Technical

    • Financial

    • Time

  • Business process and technological advancements suffer

  • Software development and support needed

  • ITS agrees to address university needs

Background & History

Agile Contracts Team (ACT)

  • Created August 2005

  • Technical Consulting Services

    • Customer-Service Oriented

    • Foster academic and administrative units’ productivity

    • Business and software development & support

  • The catch – developer positions self-funded

Develop A Business Plan

Where to begin?

  • Contents of plan needs to match the purpose

    • Assist academic/administrative departments

    • Customer-oriented services

    • Assist with technical & business needs

    • Self funding team [must sustain business]

    • Small to mid size development and maintenance projects

  • Don’t loose site of your clients’ needs

  • Model after private sector

  • Prepare, plan, anticipate, and ACT

Develop A Business Plan

Plan’s Focus Areas

  • Executive Summary

  • Business Description

  • Market Analysis

  • Management

  • Business Development Strategy

  • Financial Review

Bid Estimates

How to Approach

  • Carry out initial requirements gathering

  • Rely on past project experience & expertise

  • Utilize team’s strengths and weaknesses

  • Get buy-in from team

  • Get approval from client

  • Remember Morse Law and apply it to estimates

  • Measure estimate versus actual

  • Bid estimating is an art form. It takes time and experience

Service Level Agreement

Get it in writing!

  • Service contract/agreement

    • Establishes levels of services

    • Identifies roles & responsibilities

    • Base line for expectations

  • Define deliverables and timeline

  • Get all involved parties’ authorization signature

  • Avoid scope creep – stick to agreement

  • As needed, revisit the agreement

Source Code License Agreement

Reduce Liabilities and Establish Policy

  • Source code is property of UT Austin

  • Available to affiliated dept or academic unit

  • BSD licensed agreement “as is” software

  • DYI (don’t repeat yourself)

    • Leverage source code base

    • Share knowledge and techniques

Hiring Practices

Evaluate the Landscape and Utilize Resources

  • UT has 10 Ten Engineering, CS, & Business programs

  • Students interested in professional work experience

  • Ambitious, smart, part-time workers

  • Student programmers are cheap, good labor

  • Mentor and groom employees

  • Evaluate potential placement

    • Hire fulltime

    • Utilize specialties

Hiring Practices

Potential Employee Characteristics

  • Analytical Skills

  • Great Communication (oral/written)

  • Driven to succeed

  • Professionalism

  • Self-motivated

  • General theory and software design practices

  • Don’t need someone good at technology X

  • Need someone who is a good problem solver

  • Can always pick up toolset

Technical Landscape

UT’s Technical Environment

  • Distributed computing

    • Legacy mainframe (IBM OS390)

    • Various RDBMS (Oracle, MS-SQL Server, MySQL)

    • Programming (PHP, Java, C/C++, Perl, Python, Cold Fusion, etc.)

  • Emphasis on web and database programming

  • Don’t limit yourself

    • Pick the right tool for the job

    • Catch 22 (RAD versus Support/Maintenance)

Technical Landscape


  • Free and Open Source Software

    • Chances are someone has done it or something similar

    • Utilize the tremendous libraries and wealth of knowledge

    • Don’t be afraid – to modify and customize

  • Java: Apache Software Foundation

  • PHP: PHP Extensions and Applications Repository (PEAR)

  • Python: Cheese Shop Repository

  • Perl: Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN)




Tools & Techniques

Embrace Technology Protocols, Frameworks, etc.

  • Don’t limit project capabilities due to environment constraints

  • Build flexible, scalable software

  • Design Patterns are your friends

  • Utilize and adapt communication protocols

    • Web Services (SOA), XML, SOAP, RPC

    • ODBC

    • HTTP, FTP, Sockets

    • LDAP

  • Examples

    • PHP and Oracle integrating with IBM mainframe (XML Gateway)

    • Python invoking existing Java libraries (Jython)

Managing IT Projects

Useful Practices

  • Engage clients with development team

    • Holds developers accountable

    • Vested interest in the project

  • Utilize Scrum ‘sprint’ technique

    • 1 to 3 week development cycles

    • Rapid development

    • Iterative feedback loop with client

  • Incorporate issue/bug tracking, wiki, and project management tool [TRAC]

  • Utilize source code repository with version control [Subversion]

Managing IT Projects

Useful Practices

  • Automate anything and everything

    • Document generation

    • Source code builds and unit tests

    • Quota Checks

    • Data loads

Managing IT Projects

Track Metrics

  • Track employee contracted hours

  • Audit time logs for client billing

  • Monitor budgets

  • Forecasting current project needs/changes

  • Trend analysis of employees work load

  • Improve bid estimates

  • ACT built custom software application (Intranet)

Managing IT Projects

Managing IT Projects

Managing IT Projects

Managing IT Projects

ACT Year In Review

Has it been successful?

  • Assisted over 20+ academic & administrative departments

  • Developed numerous software application suites

    • Modular applications being reused throughout colleges

  • Provides maintenance and support to enterprise University applications

  • Grossed over $155K in the last year

  • Self-funded team sustained for over a year

  • Overwhelming repeat business and client referral

Problems with current model

It’s not all perfect

  • Chicken and the egg issue [developers vs. projects]

  • Limiting salary budget

  • Employee burnout

  • Intense pressure to support self funding model

  • Consulting team isolated for inter-department efforts

  • Some redundancy of projects [web applications w/ dbms]

  • Lack of project priority, screen, approval

    • Do everything for anybody

  • Lack own human resources

Room for Improvement

  • Consolidate all consulting services

    • Hardware, user/desktop support, and software

    • Standardize policy and procedures

  • Dedicate developer resources

  • Dedicate project management resources

  • Rotate employee/teams [avoid burnout]

  • Formal review of potential contracts/projects

  • Recognize the University need and demand for such services

    • Subsidize consulting services

Contact Info


C. J. Barker

Agile Contracts Team (ACT)

Information Technology Services

University of Texas at Austin



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