Seasoned IT Expert to Join UCSF as Chief Information Officer

By Lisa Cisneros

Elazar Harel

Elazar Harel, PhD, JD, will join UCSF as chief information officer on April 12 with a rather tall order: Improve the University’s information technology infrastructure and services across administrative and academic areas to help UCSF achieve its mission.

The UC Regents on March 25 approved his appointment by UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, to the new position of vice chancellor for information technology.

Information technology is a critical system to UCSF, as it supports virtually every aspect of the health sciences university, including finances, education, research, security and sustainability.

The position of UCSF vice chancellor for information technology is unique in the UC system in terms of its scope and responsibility, as Harel will oversee both academic and administrative information technology activities across the complex, multi-sited campus.

“With Dr. Harel’s appointment, this newly configured role will be occupied by a stellar individual who brings a rare combination of technical expertise and vision, as well as business and political acumen, to lead and coordinate our IT infrastructure,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “This role will be of critical importance as UCSF moves forward as a more efficient and streamlined organization.”

A 30-year member of the University of California community, Harel earned his PhD degree at UCLA, where he served as director of Administrative Information Systems. Most recently, he served as assistant vice chancellor for Administrative Computing and Telecommunications at UC San Diego (UCSD). He comes to the new position with in-depth knowledge of and admiration for the UC system, and excitement about strengthening IT systems and services at UCSF.

“UCSF now has the opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art IT environment which will serve the needs of its students and world-class researchers, while simultaneously becoming a national example of staff efficiency,” Harel said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to join the new UCSF leadership team and contribute to this remarkable institution.”

Harel is the latest executive to be named to the new leadership team by Desmond-Hellmann, who became chancellor in August 2009. Her other high-ranking appointments are Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the medical school; Carol Moss, vice chancellor for development and alumni relations;  John Plotts, senior vice chancellor of finance and administration; and Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, whose appointment also was approved by the Regents on March 25.

Harel will report to Bluestone and and Plotts and will work closely with Larry Lotenero, chief information officer of UCSF Medical Center, to help make the overall IT infrastructure more effective and efficient.

“We are excited to welcome Elazar Harel to the UCSF leadership team as our new vice chancellor for information technology,” Bluestone and Plotts said in a statement. “With a proven track record at our sister UC campuses, Dr. Harel will help transform information technology services at UCSF so that we can best meet the needs of our campus community across both academic and administrative functions.”

Importance of IT in Higher Education

UCSF, like all institutions of higher education, is under increasing pressure to meet the greater expectations and demands of the fast-paced digital age, whether for student recruitment, educational preparation and accreditation, workforce needs, economic development or public service.

For its part, UCSF has made significant investments in IT infrastructure and services over the past few years, as recommended in the UCSF Strategic Plan, released in June 2007.

The plan specifically calls on UCSF to “optimally deploy information technology for administrative, academic and clinical programs.”

Progress in information technology over the past year at UCSF includes:

  • Opening a new data center that houses new network infrastructure, backup power systems, plenty of cooling capacity and room to offer computer hosting services to campus departments;
  • Continuing to expand a more capable and secure infrastructure for wireless access across campus sites;
  • Expanding and upgrading email and calendaring services to the campus; and
  • Instituting a UCSF recharge system to help finance continued improvements across the University.

The challenges to keep pace with competitors are enormous as information technology continues to evolve, presenting new opportunities for distance learning and training as well as new methods and modes of networking and collaborating among faculty and staff within UCSF and with partners at other institutions across town or across the globe.

“Rapid changes in information technology are affecting everybody,” Harel said. “Recent innovations, such as cloud computing [Internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to customers on demand] and software as a service [or SaaS, in which a provider licenses an application to customers on demand], give us opportunities to leapfrog older technologies – making people’s lives easier and more productive in a cost-effective way.”

As access to digital data expands across multiple platforms and personal devices, UCSF is also challenged to better protect sensitive and confidential electronic data. For the past year, UCSF has taken a critical look at its data security systems, practices and policies, and has encouraged safe computing practices. Following a campuswide review of data security by an outside firm, UCSF is now in the process of implementing a wide range of recommendations, such as addressing the risks associated with new and existing information systems and applications.

UCSF also has identified IT as an important tool in achieving administrative and operational efficiencies, and work continues to find solutions to streamline the IT organization and improve services across the University.

Harel is aware of the challenges ahead and is fully prepared to address them. He says that having the right team in place can quickly speed progress of improvements. But everyone involved in IT – from programmers to end users – will need to do his or her part.

“Creating a future and a culture that embraces constant change will require collaboration and teamwork across the University, bringing together the collective intelligence of faculty, staff, students and trainees,” Harel said.

As the assistant vice chancellor and chief information officer at UCSD, he is credited with fostering collaboration, leading cost-effective innovation efforts, and dramatically improving customer and staff satisfaction with improved IT infrastructure and services. He also implemented a sustainable funding model for the IT infrastructure, a graphical digital dashboard for decision support, an integrated set of web-based administrative systems and portals for the UCSD community, including students.

“We’ve done so much here in the past 14 years that UC San Diego is now recognized as one of the best in the country for its networking, administrative applications, Web portal and data warehouse,” Harel said. “Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but it is in really good shape.”

Given his success in advancing higher education technology, Harel was invited to join EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association that advances higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information, and to serve on the higher education IT advisory council of Microsoft, the higher education advisory board of Sprint/Nextel and the board of directors of the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California.

A Well-Traveled Man

A native of Israel, Harel came to the United States to attend UCLA, where he earned his PhD degree in management. He also has taught information systems management graduate courses at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He has served on the board of trustees of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and on the computing advisory board of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Harel earned his JD degree from Kaplan University Concord Law School, the nation’s first online law school.

Harel, who says he has been interested in IT “forever,” having studied the subject as an undergraduate, loves gadgets and seeing what they can do. Among his must-have tools: an iPhone. “It has changed my life,” he said. “I can’t leave home without it.”

For the past eight years, Harel’s hobby and passion have been photography. His website – viewed by nearly 8 million visitors at last count – features 540 galleries and more than 31,000 images that capture the beauty of people, dancers, architecture, animals, nature and even sports. A well-traveled man, Harel has captured vivid images of his homeland as well as scenes from his trips to Europe, across the United States and Mexico.

Harel and his wife, Cathy, have three children, Jill, Jack and Julie, who graduated from UC Berkeley, Northwestern University and UCLA.

Related Links:

Elazar C. Harel Photography


UCSF Implements Data Security Awareness Campaign
UCSF Today, May 18, 2009

UCSF Forms OAAIS to Strengthen Academic, Administrative Information Systems
UCSF Strategic Plan Website, Nov, 3, 2006