Inside IT Security: Clifford Hirschman
Clifford Hirschman is Director of Information Technology for the Division of Biology and Medicine. His team serves Brown Medical School, six academic Biology departments, and the Program in Public Health. It provides computer procurement, desktop support, application and website development services, and systems consulting. Prior to his arrival at Brown three years ago, Cliff served as Director of Application Development at Children’s Hospital—Boston, and as a management consultant to clients such as the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System.
Q: What are your responsibilities as Director of Information Technology for the Division of Biology and Medicine?
A: The majority of my staff provides desktop support. They set up and troubleshoot desktop computers, and serve as a "front end" for CIS’s network team in investigating network problems. We also have a full time web administrator who maintains our websites, and we develop administrative applications for use within the division. I supervise all of these activities, and serve as a member of the Division’s management team.
Q: What skills and experience do you bring to your position?
A: I've been doing IT work for about 25 years. This includes stints working at a startup software firm, a major teaching hospital, and several international consulting firms. Although my specialty is the healthcare industry, I've had the opportunity to gain perspective on IT practices across various other environments. Brown is the first place where infrastructure is a major part of my job and I like it a lot!
Q: What are some of the challenges that you and your staff face?
A: The sheer diversity of our users can be quite daunting. We serve the Division's administrative areas, which includes the Dean's office, Admissions and Financial Aid, Research Administration, Financial Services, Faculty Affairs, Student Affairs, and the academic departments. In addition, we support over 50 biology labs, many of which do work which is computationally intensive.
So our main challenges are appropriately deploying our resources so that the Division's needs are met, and trying to make strategic improvements while maintaining a high level of day-to-day service. Because the ratio of users to our staff is so high, we have to count on those users to practice good IT security on their own, and that can sometimes be a challenge!
Q: Are there concerns regarding information security that are specific to Bio Med?
A: Like many other departments, we have to be constantly vigilant about maintaining confidentiality. We have our own Admissions, Financial Aid, and Student Affairs areas, with all the confidentiality issues that go along with those functions. Furthermore, our labs generate terabytes of original research data that needs to be secured.
Q: What would be the most important piece of computing advice that you'd like to pass on to the average user?
A: Pay attention to the news headlines about computer security and use common sense, but don’t be afraid to explore. You'll never learn anything new if you never leave your comfort zone.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The opportunity to work with such an intelligent, exciting user community.