How one of the nation’s premier university systems is laying the groundwork for the technology their students and faculty depend on
In 1963, a mere five years after the creation of NASA, the state of Florida established a public institution of higher education designed to develop the talent needed to support all facets of space exploration, and to enrich the lives of the people of Central Florida. Today, UCF is one of the most vibrant public universities in the nation, impacting roughly 112,000 jobs and adding an estimated $7.73 billion in economic value to the state. Within its 13 colleges, UCF offers 240 bachelor’s degree programs, 215 master’s degree programs, and 81 doctorate programs, conferring more than 18,000 degrees annually.
Not surprisingly, UCF has been lauded as one of the most innovative universities in the nation by U.S. News and World Report six times, including ranking 20th in the country for 2022-23. UCF’s online degree programs are ranked in the top 10 of their national standings: eighth in the nation overall for best online bachelor programs, tied for first place in the best online bachelor’s program in psychology, and seventh in the country for the best online bachelor’s programs for veterans.
In addition to the main campus in East Orlando, UCF has a number of satellite sites, including the UCF College of Medicine, the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, Orlando Downtown and the Academic Health Sciences Campus. The entirety of the UCF system’s facilities cover over 1,800 acres, every inch of which must have modern connectivity.
UCF’s IT organization connects approximately 70,000 students, 12,000 researchers, staff, faculty, and visitors to campus IT mediums, enabling them to access and utilize the critical infrastructure they need for the enterprise’s daily operations. Without the systems and people of IT, the campus wouldn’t be able to perform any functions that require communication, whether on campus or remotely.
As the UCF Chief Technology Officer, Michael Scruggs oversees the majority of day-to-day IT functions that span over 250 personnel as well as the university’s Office of Instructional Resources and several other critical business functions. A 20-plus-year industry veteran, Scruggs began his career in IT as an entry level office assistant and worked on every level in the Telecommunications department prior to his current role. The annual operating budget for his efforts at UCF, which encompass staffing, software, hardware, and projects, typically exceeds $50 million.
In IT parlance, the open systems communication model, or OSI, explains the seven layers that computer systems use to communicate over a network. The CTO’s group is responsible for four of those layers: physical, data link, network, and transport. All departments and sub teams beneath Scruggs’ aegis design, procure, install, and maintain these systems from the enterprise level. “Currently I manage four different departments with over 250 staff, contractors, and consultants that can easily balloon up to about 350,” he told BOSS.
Scruggs’s group is responsible for all campus instructional learning spaces, such as classrooms, conferences, and laboratories. From a client services perspective, they are responsible for desktop engineering, the school’s 24/7/365 service desk, the technology product center, and more. When it comes to infrastructure, they oversee enterprise, research and residential networks, data centers, whether on prem or cloud, and virtually every aspect of telecommunications throughout the UCF system from design, procurement, installation, and maintenance.
Within the CTO vertical the departments overseen by Scruggs and his teams are each at different stages of a forbiddingly complex long-term digital transformation. His departments are expected to spend $40 million on project work that will span over $15 million in network upgrades, $12 million in audio-visual upgrades, and $13 million in physical infrastructure, all to support various systems of IT connectivity for 150-plus campus buildings.
Transforming technology for higher education
In 2021, UCF began its current phase of the sweeping technology metamorphosis led by Matt Hall, the university’s CIO, his executive team and the UCF IT leaders and staff throughout the university. “We are engaged in a multiyear journey to develop and implement major changes to how we design, build, maintain, and fund these critical services,” Scruggs said.
In contrast to digital transformation in for-profit companies or commercial businesses, undertaking a challenge of this complexity is quite different; rather than a specific action spurring the decision to upgrade technology, as we often see in other industries, universities are driven by academic needs and IT is considered a fundamental utility, just like electricity, water, or HVAC.
The push to modernize was underway prior to the pandemic, although the crisis accelerated some aspects. The sudden need for hybrid work and learning was a catalyst for the university to accelerate cloud capabilities. “We had to enable those features from traditional offices/workspaces to mobile platforms in order to maintain critical business functions,” he noted.
Scruggs established a mission for the CTO vertical and university that he calls Work, Teach, Learn Anywhere! “To get to adoption of this experience our teams would have to build scalable and effective services that allow connectivity from any geographic location,” he explained.
Strategy, investments, and changes would be required in all four OSI layers, the first of which is physical. IT systems can’t perform effectively without a solid and efficient infrastructure composed of outside plant fiber, structure cabling, and building pathways. “This area is the core foundation for any system that would be implemented on our campus,” he added, noting that many CTOs, CIOs, and departments overlook this critical level and fail as a result.
Scruggs’ career expertise in telecom and IT infrastructure stressed the value of that core foundation, and as a result, “the university put a large focus on standardizing the physical layer, creating a strategic plan and standards document so we could inform our supply chain partners and design personnel on how we’re putting so many things in place, especially growing the number of wireless access points from 4,000 to 9,000.”
As part of the rethink, UCF will look to consolidate and reduce the number on-premises data centers, move a major data center from Orlando to the Azure, and plan to spin up large cloud services with major providers. When complete, the migration and data center consolidation will move the majority of infrastructure to cloud based services.
The network is undergoing a massive expansion: the WAN required for cloud and partnership connectivity will grow from 20 GB to 100 GB within 2023. The LAN, which is necessary to connect all campus systems and currently consists of 1,746 switches and routers and 105,000 ports, will move to a new, SDN next-gen network topology that focuses on role based authentication. The all-important wireless part of the network is slated to increase double in capacity and coverage as well.
The university is currently undertaking phase two of a three-phase migration of all voice services from Cisco IPT and Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams across over 8,000 phone lines and more than 10,000 Teams accounts.
When it comes to the more than 22,000 desktops and laptops used across the university, a campus wide consolidated strategy will encompass both PC and MAC operating systems, mass manufacturing and configurations, automatic patching, and overall management.
One essential goal of the project is to make the user experience as important as the technology itself. “If you make a system too difficult to access, use or improve, many users will not utilize these systems out of frustration or overcomplication,” he noted, adding that in many cases IT personnel build systems on how they should be maintained rather than how end-users will access and use them.
We asked Scruggs for his best advice for other CTOs facing a multilayered, extremely complex technology sea change for their organization. “Don’t try to be the most knowledgeable person in the room, be a strong leader and surround yourself with talented subject matter experts,” he said. “Communicate, collaborate, and set high levels for success with each of them and the systems they design, install, and maintain. Never stop raising the bar for success, most employees appreciate challenging growth.”
In digital transformations, the CTO is ultimately accountable for the effective delivery of IT services and the speed at which the institution reaches those results. As Scruggs put it, this requires patience and persistence to stay focused throughout this digital transformation. “Many times, IT digital transformation can feel like you’re rebuilding a ship’s hull while sailing across the ocean!” One thing is for sure: If any IT team could do that, it’s the incredible one that the University of Central Florida is so proud to have.
Founded in 1963 to provide talent for Central Florida and the growing U.S. space program, UCF has been making an impact on the state, the nation — and outer space — ever since.
With 13 colleges and more than 240 degree programs, follow your passion at one of our campus locations designed to help you succeed. From the main campus in east Orlando to UCF Downtown and Rosen College of Hospitality Management to the Academic Health Sciences Campus, you’ll have the opportunity to learn in the heart of your industry.
UCF also has multiple regional locations and fully online programs — including online bachelor’s degrees, online graduate degrees, online certificates and more — to ensure that you can achieve your dreams whenever and wherever you want.
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32816
Phone Number: 407.823.2000
Homepage Link: https://www.ucf.edu/