Surfing on the Wave of Transformation: CC's Past, Present and Future
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When an article was solicited from me for the upcoming issue of the CISN that would celebrate the 10th anniversary of the newsletter, I took the very chance to look several years past and engage myself in a some kind of nostalgia similar to the way my friend and colleague Erdal Taner did in his article he submitted to this issue. Erdal was quicker to speak upon the most ardent moments of the past and convey what are essentially the critical milestones in the span of time; and it is difficult to escape his way of writing because it promptly captures the attention, and swiftly convinces the reader that this is not an easily exhaustible piece of writing. That of course left me with the option to write something in a different attitude (better call it a little dull one). During my employment at CC that starts in 1988 and ends in 1997, I assumed a range of particular responsibilities of the positions in user support group, network group, I took part in many projects and I lastly assumed position of assistant to the CC director. In that span of time, CC transformed METU and Turkey by introducing innovations to the homeland with distinct pioneering capabilities. Following that unparalleled period, I have studied for 6 years at the academic level abroad. During that time, I was able to compare CC and the services it provided with an eqıivalent organization within one of the leading US universities. I returned to Turkey in 2002. Now I am evaluating the services of CC from an academic position and as an end-user. In the light of my experience and knowledge, I will cover in this article the phenomenal transformation experienced since the beginning of the 1988 and posit some arguments as to determine the position that CC should take in the future.

It is essential today that METU CC and the similar offices should place themselves in an entirely different position than the position they assumed during the time when I started my career in CC, namely in 1988. The structure of information technology has already begun to change slowly in the middle of the 1980s; however, the attention was directed naturally to the central computer systems then. Nearly all the services introduced to users comprised of computing services. Other than the administrative purposes, the central systems were mainly being used by students that were attending to programming courses or by the academicians that did not own any computer systems to perform computing operations. In fact, this was the characteristic extension of the typical computer use that had not changed for many years. The university had a single computing device; therefore, that computer had to be located centrally. This was the main reason why the Center was named as Computer Center.

The picture was to change especially from the start of 1990s' however. That emphasis on the central computers became obselete with the advent of personal computers that challenged and diminished the prominent position of the central computers. The concept of local network has introduced itself to the daily life. During all these phases, CC was in the position of controlling this change rather than letting itself being drifted away by the high tides. As I have already mentioned at the beginning of my article, the pioneering position that CC takes at every phase of transformation is very intrinsic to the history of the institiution. During a time when other universities and organizations in Turkey were not even able to imagine what a campuswide local network would mean –yet in those times they were critical as well of the benefits that such systems can yield– METU had already set up its infrastructure and began to use it. The people taking a more a gradual approach were then to follow METU on that path of progress. The credits and quality of being a pioneer and progressive in character was duely and rightfully earned by METU. Another leading step was introducing the unprecedentent reality of the Internet project and rendering it as one of the essential tools of our daily life. Being rivalled by Ege University with introduction of the concept of wide area network in EARN/BITNET project; leading position was left to Ege University. However, METU quickly maneouvered against this challenge and brought Internet to Turkey in 1993. The project was undertaken and realized in those times (despite the fact that it was being criticized by even people within METU) by the vigourous efforts and endevaours of CC staff in the light of the University administration that owned a sound vision of the future. Internet was made more available then as a result of those effortful undertakings. It is not wrong to state confidently that the CC was always quick to assume the position of "innovator" by implementing the mechanism of diffusion of innovation, which is one of the significant theories that explains the transformation undertaken in the organisations. Creating the first web site in Turkey and maybe the first web site of the whole world, establishing computer labarotories for the first time in the student dorms, launching the first electronic student registration are only some of the numerous achievements of METU. METU's persistent and undeviating pursuit of being an innovator in every important aspect of life is a characteristic feature that renders it as one of the prominent universities of Turkey and the world as well. CC has always been the central setting or locale where this dynamic characteristic of METU has been most readily manifested. The significant researching and developing capabilities of CC earned it this position and differentiated it from the non-academic units within METU. Research and development processes have become a natural and integral part of such services of CC as launching the IT services, distributing them and operating these services weherever needed by the staff of groups within CC. Therefore, there is no need to set up a separate research and development unit. As next to performing the daily chores, the groups at CC further aim to follow ardently the global changes and tendencies in IT sector and exert valuable influence upon the process determining the general information technology policies.

If we reconsider what we have experienced in the past ten years, I may safely assert that Information Technologies was never able to and will never be able to achieve in the future a full-scale maturity; due to the rapid developments being achieved everyday in this sector. It is almost the case that every ten years Information Technology is transforming itself in an unparalleled way. Take the example of Internet technology; though it is yet ten years old, it has promptly become a common and integral part of human life. The current life span of IT investments ranges between 3 and 5 years.Whereas IT users were a bunch of professional academicians in the past, today, the user audience so diverse as to include the building caretakers of the departments. The range of the services has diversified massively as well. METU and CC should be able to flexibly adapt itself to these enormous changes taking place. However, enhancing the adaptation to the technological transformations is the easiest undertaking of the whole job to be done. The most difficult part of the task is to adapt the structure of the organization to what is intrinsic to the nature of the services provided. According to my opinion, the importance of providing computing service, which had been one of the basic services of CC in the past, have decreased noticeably. Except for the very specific applications, the users are now able to perform computing on their desktop computers conveniently. CC was to focus every effort in a number of limited fields suh as computing, some package programs and administrative tasks in the past; however, CC is to answer the IT needs of the users with a wider variety of services in today's information world. Therefore, CC should be able to abolish that servicing-for-the-computing-needs attitude and adapt itself to the new requirements of the time. CC should also transform or revise itself so as to maintain the mission of "pioneering" in the future. This transformation is to be a phenomenal and should not be narrowed down to the boundaries of CC. It is vitally important that the University administration and the public participate in this transformation process actively.

If the computing service should not be one of the central concerns of CC anymore, what is CC going to direct its seriuos attention to. Here, the main missions of the University should be determining factors to be reconsidered for CC. University is an institution that aims to achieve high quality education and research. In that sense, CC should be able to help the University in achieving that high quality in the field of information technologies and their widespread use. The most intensely employed functionality of the University is education. CC should take a critical role in here. Today, everybody accepts an attitude change in the filed of education: the central and traditional role of the teacher in the learning processes has diminished. This attitude does not prove effectual anymore. Student-focused active and resource-rich learning environments should be created. These learning environments can only be realized by the information technology tools. Therefore, CC should launch the information technology service infrastructures with the aim of providing wider and effectual educational capabilities all across the campus. This infrastructure should provide means for learning management systems, commonly used tools, synchronous and asynchronous communication services etc.

All the sections within the University, whether academic or non-academic, are working in an information-focused attitude. Such magnitude of information requires the University to handle all the information electronically rather than keeping them conventionally on the paper. The idea of a paperless METU, an idea that the President of the University announced in the opening ceremony of the academic semesters, can only be achieved if the coordination with CC is soundly established. The elelctronic documents that are kept by separate departments and units are independent of each other and they are not organized. There is a discrepancy about the integratity of information concerning some services between these units. The most valuable possession of a university is its "information"; however, it is valuable as long as it is kept intact and organized. The "enterprise data management" attitude should be applicable within the campus to organize this information. This "enterprise data management" system can only be achieved with the coordination of CC. Unless this system is not provided, the information will be lost in the enormously expanding information world of cyberspace.

Another emerging issue related to the facts presented above is the role of CC as the provider of usability feature of the information. The services should be provided just in time, in just the right content, and in the appropriate format. The user should be able to obtain the information with the least effort. However, there are serious usability concerns with the current information systems of METU campus. Every department or unit provides web services according to the personal likes or preferences of the web master of that unit. This creates a serious information pollution.The most important negative effect of this situation is serious loss of efficiency. The 3 or 5 minutes lost due to the information that is difficult to find on the systems, causes people lose hours or days in the total. To create information technology systems that are easy to use and that are "transparent to the user" are the concepts that CC should be a pioneer of now. CC should be well equipped to develop policies in this respect. Usability issue should be a central concern and an area of innovation for CC. It should guide the units wihin or outside the University as it was the case in the Internet project in the past.

In the field of research projects that are undertaken or are planned to be undertaken within the University, CC should be considered as a natural partner during the endeavours. This will accelarate the development of the projects, because the know-how that is accumulated at CC is valuable and should be used. This will also facilitate the cooperation between the University and the industrial sectors.

To conclude, it must be appropriately asserted here that the name of the Computer Center should be changed in accordance with new responsibilities assumed and the transformation achieved in the new decade of the information technology.

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