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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

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

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

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 team1

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

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 history1

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 history2

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

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 plan1

Develop A Business Plan

Plan’s Focus Areas

  • Executive Summary

  • Business Description

  • Market Analysis

  • Management

  • Business Development Strategy

  • Financial Review

Bid estimates

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

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

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

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 practices1

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

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 landscape1

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

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

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 projects1

Managing IT Projects

Useful Practices

  • Automate anything and everything

    • Document generation

    • Source code builds and unit tests

    • Quota Checks

    • Data loads

Managing it projects2

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 projects3

Managing IT Projects

Managing it projects4

Managing IT Projects

Managing it projects5

Managing IT Projects

Managing it projects6

Managing IT Projects

Act year in review

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

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

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

Contact Info


C. J. Barker

Agile Contracts Team (ACT)

Information Technology Services

University of Texas at Austin


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