A Partnership between the Office of Information Technology and Economics Department leads to New Efficiency Gains in Statistical Computing across Campus
By Dr. Tom Fomby
The students in the Masters of Arts in Applied Economics program (as well as many undergraduate economics majors) have always been heavy users of various statistical software packages like SAS and SPSS. Up until now the students have been confined to working their homework problems in the various computing labs across the campus. However, many of the Masters students work full or part-time and it is quite burdensome for them to travel to campus to do the many computer homework assignments for the five econometrics classes that are taught in the program.
This semester the Economics department and the Office of Information Technology (in particular Abby Kinney, Allen Hughes, Bryan Chamness, Rhonda Slack, Randy Preston, and Joe Gargiulo) have worked together to put SAS and SPSS up on the SMU VCL (Virtual Computing Lab via Apps.SMU) facility that provides students with direct access to SAS and SPSS from their own personal computers and laptops. This innovation saves off-campus students an extraordinary amount of time in doing their degree work as they are no longer tethered to working on campus. Even for students on campus, it has been a nice convenience for them to work their computer problem sets in the comfort of their own rooms late at night when the SMU computer labs are closed. The faculty in the Economics department will similarly benefit from access to these programs from remote locations. In addition, as the word spreads about the use of VCL computing, the students and faculties in other departments in Dedman College, the Engineering School, and the Cox School of Business will also see substantial efficiency gains in statistical computing vis-à-vis VCL.
Efficiency is one of the main topics discussed in economics – how do we measure it and how do we achieve it? As the result of the collaborative effort between OIT and the Economics department in implementing VCL in the graduate courses in economics we shall now see some very nice efficiency gains in statistical computer usage across campus for many years to come.
in Support Services
Towards the end of 2012, two support services staff left SMU. Joe Jackson resigned from his position in Classroom Technology Support. Jan Wellington retired after almost 26 years as a Help Desk consultant! With those two vacant positions, Support Services introduced a few changes to the team structure.
For the past year, the Field Support team was also working regular shifts at the help desk to keep up with the volume of requests. We’ve also expanded our Student Worker team to provide additional support at the front line. With the steady volume of request and the increase in the number of devices and services we support, we reallocated the Classroom Support position to the Help Desk team. We were able to bring two individuals on board to raise our Help Desk Staff up to 5! The Desktop Support team will no longer work regular shifts at the Help Desk but will offer backup coverage as needed. That means they can devote their time to the resolving their tickets more quickly.
Zach Peterson joined the team in December coming from UNT Dallas Campus. Lauren Nelson transferred to our team in January from the Lyle School of Engineering. Both have quickly adapted to the new team and are already providing exceptional support! We are thrilled to have both of them on our team. Be sure to check out the rest of the Help Desk team in this month's Spotlight feature.
Garrick Linn moved from the Desktop Support team to the Client Architecture team. Garrick has extensive experience in programming which was greatly needed to help with various projects on that team. Robert Burkett moved from the Hardware Lifecycle team to the Desktop Support team to fill Garrick’s place. Jim Jaeger assumed the responsibilities for AV project management working closely with PDC on various projects. In addition, the three classroom support techs (Adam, James and Ed) were asked to take on more responsibility for classroom upgrades while relying more on the IT student worker team to provide emergency classroom response.
So far, the changes have been positive. We will continue to explore ways to provide the various service and support needed across campus with the personnel that we have.
Technology Fund Allocation Update
During the past several weeks, we’ve been reviewing the inventory reports supplied by each department and school and reconciling purchases already made during this fiscal year for technology equipment. At this time, we have completed that process and are supplying a report to the Financial Officers of the invoices covered and computers eligible for replacement.
The next step is to order and install the computers covered under this year’s refreshment allocation. Departments may order computers through OIT via help.smu.edu or may contact the Computer Corner for non standard computer orders.
OIT is now compiling reports to be used for upcoming budgeting and planning for fiscal year ’14. We will provide those lists to each FO in the next few weeks.
Thanks to everyone for their assistance in verifying the inventory and your patience as we reconciled invoices for this year.