CIO Blog

OIT Launches Strategic Plan

The University of Alabama Office of Information Technology launched a three-year strategic plan to help guide technology services on campus. The plan focuses on providing innovative and reliable services to students, faculty and staff.

“It’s our mission at OIT to advance the University forward with innovative technology solutions,” said Dr. John McGowan, UA vice provost and chief information officer. “Along with providing what’s new in IT, it is also our core mission to provide reliable IT services to our campus.”

OIT conducted interviews, focus groups and campus-wide surveys to develop the strategic plan that supports the University’s goals and missions. This strategic plan originates directly from the University’s strategic plan.

The OIT strategic plan has six themes including teaching and learning, research, security and risk, enterprise architecture, user experience, and community and collaboration. The plan focuses on providing IT resources, services and support for UA students, faculty and staff.

“We also conducted an internal review of our organization to learn how we can establish OIT as a great place to work,” said McGowan. “As IT continues to evolve, we must support our employees with training and resources to implement cutting-edge new technologies. It is also our goal to establish an environment where employee collaboration and teamwork are encouraged.”

The plan also includes goals to unite the IT community at UA, while leveraging talent across the organization, including increasing student workers in OIT.

“Over the past six months our team has experienced the essence of community that makes our University the Capstone of Higher Education,” said McGowan. “We thank everyone for their feedback that helped guide this plan, and we look forward to continuing to provide exceptional IT services to our campus.”

The strategic plan can be found on the OIT website.

Broadband and Rural Health Care

One of my strongest passions is related to my interest in the buildout of our nation’s broadband infrastructure. I am particularly interested in achieving a broadband network infrastructure in the state of Alabama. In this blog post, I will detail the need for a network infrastructure in Alabama, and how it has the capabilities to impact health care and economies in rural areas.

Models to Follow

I first became aware of how the broadband initiative was evolving when I attended the Nobel Summit in Stockholm, Sweden in 2002. At the summit I met with the mayor of Stockholm and their network team, and I was amazed at how well connected the city had become. Education buildings, health care facilities, emergency management stations, libraries, theaters, and pharmacies were all connected to the network and to almost every building in the city. This was especially impressive because the city is built on many islands. Telehealth and telemedicine were commonplace for this nation. European countries have long been engaged in the development of their infrastructure, but the United States has lagged behind in part due to the way in which our telecommunications and transportation industries are segmented.


InfrastructureIn the U.S., infrastructure stands as the critical issue when cities attempt to attract and sustain economic growth and development. Infrastructure can also be a major consideration when striving to develop better health care services. Both the West and East Coasts have been noted for their strong network infrastructure, specifically the regional optical networks, as noted by the development of the Corporation for Education Network (CENIC) and Pacific Wave in California, Oregon, and Washington, Florida Lambda Rail (FLR) in Florida, and the Atlantic Wave on the East Coast.

Alabama Progress

The University of Alabama System Regional Optical Network (UAS RON) represents the first major step toward a statewide network in Alabama. This project was designed to meet demands of rural health care initiatives and also to provide a stimulus for the development of a research corridor. Alabama’s network infrastructure requires a significant build-out and retrofit to meet the growing demands of a technology-centric culture.

There has been increasing pressure to make quality health care more accessible through usable technology. To achieve effective health care reform, nationally, as well as in rural areas, all entities involved must systematically redesign their own infrastructure to assure the highest quality of care, avoid duplication of effort and trim costs. Lack of access to health care professionals, as well as lack of knowledge regarding how this access can be provided through telemedicine, have hindered Alabama’s ability to provide ubiquitous health care to its residents.


x ray

The Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) is a model of care articulated by principles that embrace the aspirations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM). This model is closely aligned with the capabilities of patient-centered health care at a distance through the practice of medicine by physicians, physician assistants, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, and specialists. In this model, all entities collaborate for patient consultation either within the confines of the same location or at a distance.

Rural health care is highly dependent upon the ability of the PCMH team to provide health care services to the population that resides in many underdeveloped areas of Alabama. Broadband is required to provide this service to residents in rural communities.

Rural and Economic Impact

Rural well-being is especially critical to Alabama. Approximately 60% of Alabama’s population resides in rural areas, while less than 20% of the state’s physicians’ practice in these areas. In fact, 38% of Alabamians reside in federally designated “professional primary health care shortage” areas. This discrepancy is just one of many rural health care issues facing Alabama; however, collaborative research is providing much needed insights into Alabama’s rural health care issues that may someday provide all Alabamians better access to quality health care. To meet the challenge of the health initiative, several groups have aligned in partnership. The 14 public universities in Alabama, the State of Alabama and Alabama Power have formed a strategic partnership that will focus on the elevation of public health as well as safety, education, and defense for the citizens of Alabama.

Expanding the use of emerging technologies can provide an answer to several necessary requirements for improving quality while removing barriers. Through such technology, rural health care facilities can offer patients an expanded continuum of care at a lower cost. Local patients who receive such convenient and specialized care at their local health care facility will be more likely to enhance the facility’s financial viability by returning to that facility for other health care needs. The use of emerging health care technologies can also aid in decreasing the tremendous pressure that rural facilities face in trying to provide subspecialty care for its local patients. Broadband provides the solution.


To enact a solution, we must map a set of fiber-optic cable rings to provide a more accessible backbone for connection points. The map below is concept-only and doesn’t represent a complete plan. It is intended to illustrate the concept of regional rings, and how they might bring connection points closer to the communities and facilities where they are needed. The figure does show the existing UA System-owned Regional Optical Network that would certainly be an integral component of a general state network backbone.


This is an exciting initiative, one that will place Alabama in a position to enhance its economic potential through its ability to provide health care, education, and other critical services to all of its citizens. Multiple planning sessions have been held to move this initiative forward, especially in light of the U.S. infrastructure development plan. I look forward to providing updates as this project moves forward.

UA Vice Provost and CIO Dr. John McGowan to Speak at HCA Guest Lecture

Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 at 7 p.m. the Honors College Assembly will host a guest lecture featuring UA’s Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer Dr. John McGowan. The lecture is titled, Technology:  An Evolution & A Revolution, and it will be held in Lloyd 132.

“We are excited to host this lecture because Dr. McGowan’s insight provides a unique, cross-sectional opportunity for students to discover the connections developing in technology within different fields of study,” said HCA representative Riley O’Neill. “With the perspectives and knowledge gained from Dr. McGowan’s lecture, students can prepare to anticipate needs currently developing in their fields.”

Dr. John McGowan has served as the UA CIO since 2008, and he brings vast experience in the realm of technology having served as the CIO for both The University of Texas at San Antonio and Florida International University. He also served as chief technology officer for The University of Southern Mississippi.

In 2003, Dr. McGowan was selected as one of the world’s Top 10 Leaders in IT by Cisco Corporation, and he served on Cisco’s Enterprise Technical Advisory Board from 2003-2005. Dr. McGowan has worked as a consultant for IBM’s higher education practice, UNISYS, AT&T, American Express, NASA, and the Department of Defense including the National Security Agency, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Army.

Dr. McGowan spent 11 years as a research biochemist in the fields of cancer research and molecular biology, and he was a member of the project advisory committee of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study Human Genome Project.

Dr. McGowan’s lecture will encompass the expansive growth and impact of technology over his career, and offer insight for college students and soon-to-be graduates entering the workforce.

The Changing Landscape in Technology …. An Evolution and a Revolution

“If you aren’t willing to adapt, you will die. Evolution isn’t only for species. It applies to whole industries and even individual careers. Legacy, disaggregated infrastructure is becoming less sustainable. IT is under assault from every direction.” – Scott D. Lowe

Recent political events related to the development of jobs have sparked me to think about the role that technology will play in the future of job markets. I am concerned that many individuals do not understand what is currently transpiring in information technology, and how it will impact every industry from healthcare to energy to manufacturing and transportation.

In today’s blog post, I will review step changes that have led to the present state of technology, and I will then challenge the reader to consider the future of technology, and what changes should be conducted in higher education to better prepare the future global workforce.

Causative Agents

First let’s answer the following question: what causative agents have affected the changing landscape of technology? For me, I think about the period of time that I became involved in IT. At that time, there were no computer science degrees, it dates me, I know. In my post doctorate program in biochemistry, I was working on an EPA grant where my skills led me to be the programmer for our research initiatives.

IBM 5150 PC, an Intel 8088 based system
IBM 5150 PC, an Intel 8088 based system

I purchased an IBM 5150 PC, an Intel 8088 based system, one of the first delivered in the area. This machine led to a series of events that caused me to shift from biochemistry into technology. When I think about the IBM 5150, and all of the step changes that accompanied it, I am quite amazed. It was the beginning of a movement from centralization and mainframe to distributed computing.

Another major step change occurred at Xerox PARC in the Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs viewed the graphical user interface that Xerox developed, and built it into the Macintosh computer. This evolution began a revolution in the worlds of business and personal computing.

All of these step changes would not have been possible without Gordon Moore and Intel’s chip design. Its lithographic techniques led to the miniaturization of components, and the increase of components on its chips. Moore plotted data on the number of components in chips from 1959 to 1975, it was a straight line. His forecast was that these components (i.e. transistors, resistors, and capacitors) would grow from 2^6 to 2^16 during a ten-year period.  This was not a physical or natural law, but merely an observation. Later this year, Intel will release 10 nm chip technology based upon new lithographic techniques (EUV).

With the advent of the iPhone, Apple has created another step change that has significantly altered how the world interacts with technology. Technology has become personalized and consumer-driven.

Higher Ed

Most readers of this post will probably consider themselves familiar with the current technology landscape in regards to higher education. As you can imagine, my primary concern in information technology is higher education; however, I’d like to take a look at outside industries, and how they are impacted by the evolution and revolution of technology to determine what changes are necessary in higher education in order to better prepare the future workforce.

Industry Advancements

There are many technology step changes within the transportation industry at this very moment that will cause significant changes to how we get around in the very near future. One example being the invention and implementation of autonomous vehicles.

Rolls Royce Ghost Ship
Rolls Royce Ghost Ship

Car manufacturers are currently testing vehicles on the streets of our busiest cities, demonstrating that these vehicles, with no drivers, are able to taxi individuals from one destination to another. In Europe, autonomous luxury cars and even autonomous tractor trailers are being tested on the Autobahn.

Boeing has recently announced that it will test autonomous air vehicles that will travel above our present roadways, thus opening up an additional series of lanes. Rolls Royce has developed ghost ships that will travel seas without a crew.

Rio Tinto Autonomous Haulpaks
Rio Tinto Autonomous Haulpaks

Rio Tinto, one the world’s largest mining operations, is moving toward fully autonomous vehicles in the open pit mines. The 320-ton Haulpaks, and their trains, are without personnel. Rio Tinto has spent $350 million on AI and software development related to this project, and hundreds of individuals have been displaced from their jobs.

Mercendes Benz Plant in Vance, AL

When considering technology advancements in manufacturing, you need to look no further than the Mercedes plant located just northeast of Tuscaloosa. If you have the opportunity to tour the facility, you will notice one thing:  very few people. The majority of the operation is automated with large robots that move very quickly. Frankly the robots remind me of the cylons in Battlestar Galactica.  This manufacturing plant is an indication of our future. Jobs are no longer plentiful in manufacturing.


All of the observations listed above are not of the future, yet they are the present. My concern is the chasm that will widen between those who have, and those who have not. Those outside of technology could be left useless in our workforce. As members of the higher education community, we must strive in continuously evolving education to meet and exceed the growing technology demands impacting the global workforce.

The Changing Face of Higher Education, Part 2

In my last blog, I shared my observations and experiences with open educational resources including massive open online courses (MOOCs). In this blog, I am sharing my observations, experiences, and interpretation of changes affecting The University of Alabama and the information technology (IT) organization.

Since March, the University has appointed an interim provost and a vice president for each student affairs, advancement, and strategic communications. In June, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Stuart Bell as president. I was honored to represent UA as a member of the Presidential Search Committee. It was obvious; UA System leaders, UA faculty and administrators, and other committee members were very focused on bringing the right candidate forward. Chairwoman, UA board of trustees President Pro tem Karen Brooks, the first woman to serve in the position, asked the search committee to select a charismatic, student-focused leader capable of continuing the growth at UA over the last decade. I believe Dr. Bell is an excellent fit. His qualifications, experience, interest in research, and fund-raising efforts are commendable. He is a gentleman and a scholar with a keen focus and a strong orientation toward the business of higher education.

Chancellor Robert Witt, who served as a vice chairman of the search committee, oversaw the appointments of new presidents for our sister universities at Birmingham, in 2013, and at Huntsville, in 2011. Following the recent changes in leadership at UA and after serving the System for over twelve years, first as president and then chancellor, Witt announced plans to retire in August 2016. His recommended successor, Ray Hayes, was approved by the board of trustees. Hayes, the System’s current executive vice chancellor, will assume his new role September 1, 2016. In the interim, Chancellor Witt ensures a smooth transition. We thank him for preparing the UA System to make the most of the challenges and opportunities confronting higher education.

So, what changes can we expect as we move forward? I expect the University to build upon its accomplishments in undergraduate research and expand its research ambitions. Earlier this year, the vice president for research and economic development selected two, prominent UA professors as associate vice presidents. While maintaining other leadership roles in academia and the research enterprise, they are facilitating development and implementation of a strategic research plan, promoting interdisciplinary projects, and enlarging the University’s collaborative role across the UA System. In another effort to strengthen partnerships across the System and with other organizations, I have been asked to take an additional position as associate vice chancellor for information technology.

IT is more relevant than ever. It is integral to the University’s research engine, delivery of education, and support of its academic mission. To maintain relevance, we need to focus on collaborations with and among our faculty, researchers, and administrators. For research alone, there is a growing need for a new professional discipline—cyber practitioners who have a blend of IT experience and science domain knowledge. In a recent survey, UA faculty and researchers requested additional, high performance and data-intensive computing capabilities, visualization, simulation, other analytical tools, and related IT support.

To facilitate their research, we are building a dedicated science network component. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the University a $464,770 grant for establishing an advanced network capability, distinct from our general-purpose campus network, to specifically support high-bandwidth, data-intensive, scientific applications. We have re-engineered our Technology Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) to better support the University’s Research Advisory Council (RAC). In other governance matters, we are revising our IT governance structure and expanding it to include representatives from across the campus.

Our administrators’ needs are evolving from process automation to use of digital technologies (e.g., mobile, social, and analytics) and physical resources to change what people do—changes that enhance their ability to achieve specific goals. IT professionals will need to enhance their communication and analytic skills and build new competencies to facilitate use of data and analytics for strategic and operating decisions. We will need to help bridge, break, or integrate data silos and make available the information needed to support more effective academic and institutional decision-making.

We will need to become more proactive by aggressively seeking grant funding, increasing cost transparency, forging new collaborations with our sister universities, lowering complexity, improving security, and anticipating the needs of our constituencies. I expect changes in our services and possibly, our organizational structures. At a minimum, expect more flexible structures.

Yes, Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin” as are the faces of many of our leaders, as is the face of IT in Higher Education.

The Changing Face of Higher Education – A Personal Journey

I have often been amazed at the lack of use of technology in the Ivory Tower. I came back into Higher Education after approximately 20 years in the business/corporate environment and was very disappointed in the technology status of the universities.


It saddened me because it (technology), in my opinion, is one of our greatest tools for enhancing the learning experience.

Many of the faculty today, in my experience and observation, believes that a PowerPoint presentation is advanced technology. It has gone way beyond that and touches on the fringes of the Internet of Everything. I can’t remember the last time I went to a Library for my information. The Internet has opened all types of possibilities for me personally. My journals in technology, science, current history, and business are immediately available to me on-line and as the W Hotels slogan states “Whenever, Whatever”. My iPad is my gateway to the world. I often wonder, was there life before the iPhone, iPad and the Internet?

In my exploration of new methods of technology I have adapted various methods. For example, when I was teaching a graduate course in Toxicology the internet became our gateway to the National Institute of Drug Abuse site for journal articles related to drugs of abuse, and the three dimensional structures of molecules. The full course material was totally on-line.

I have expanded my own experiences by becoming actively involved with iTunes University. It is a site that gives an individual access to the world of education. Every University you can imagine has full courses and seminars available and it is free! I took a course from the University of Dublin in Immunology. It was excellent!
Of course you are able to have access to all of the material at no cost but it is not for credit.

The next major movement in on-line education was in the development of massive open online courses (MOOC’s). The MOOC combined with the latest technologies provides for universal access to on-line education. The MOOC concept was endorsed by Harvard and MIT (to the tune of a $60 M investment). Millions of students have signed up for MOOC’s that provide worldwide access to the courses. The MOOC’s make content and learning more accessible and affordable at the scale of the Internet. What is amazing is that you can take the course as an audit (for free), for a certificate, or for credit toward your degree.

I decided that I would experiment with MOOC’s. As CIO I wanted to understand what the current interest and excitement was all about. Many academicians were discussing them but had no hands-on experience with them. I enrolled in a 10 week Epidemiology Course “Epidemics – the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases” through the MOOC broker Coursera,

I have included the description:

Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Influenza, Measles – we’re in a constant battle against infectious diseases. This is a course about the dynamics of such diseases – how they emerge, how they spread around the globe, and how they can best be controlled.


It was amazing and incredibly time consuming. It was every bit as good as any course I had ever taken. I had to get used to studying for exams and reading and discussing papers through on-line chat sessions. It was a course taught by the Penn State Medical School faculty and therefore not for the uniformed.

I had been bitten by the MOOC bug and decided to take other courses in Calculus from UC Irvine, and a course in Programmed Cell Death from the LMH in Munich. Both were excellent and well worth it.

The point I am trying to make is that the landscape is changing for education and those in higher education institutions must begin to think more globally. We are not in the mainstream with some of our programs but I believe we are moving in that direction.

If you have the time explore the on-line world. It is transformative and invigorating!