IT Forum Perspectives

Notes from our first 2016 national meeting

by Anna Krenkel

At this year's IT Forum national meeting, we're focused on two main challenges:

  • How the changing demographic and competitive landscape in higher education is redefining the role of the CIO
  • What governance structures should look like in the new IT environment

We recently shared our research with a group of 20 members, which led to many lively roundtable discussions. While these discussions covered an array of higher education IT issues, three discussions emerged that seemed particularly timely for IT leaders.

1. Crowdsourced ‘quick wins’ improve IT’s understanding of stakeholder needs and elevate IT’s reputation across campus

Curt Carver, CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has designed an online platform (called “SPARK”) that allows anyone in the campus community to submit suggestions for IT improvement (with IT staff moderation). The community votes on suggestions, which helps IT understand which suggestions have the greatest campus support. In the first six months following SPARKS’s launch, students, faculty, and staff submitted more than 125 suggestions, many of which were “quick wins” that the IT department could quickly and inexpensively address.

Members at the meeting were excited by the ability to get community input on proposed projects in order to prioritize those with greatest value, and how communicating about all suggestions, even those not approved, builds rapport.

2. Lingering challenges to successful integration include contract creep and fluctuating staff needs

Higher education IT leaders are dealing with a mature technology marketplace and tech-hungry constituents. Due to these changes, in combination with growing competition for students, CIOs serve increasingly as strategists who must balance demand for real-time information with an often-underdeveloped integration architecture, budgetary constraints, and critical existing responsibilities.

Conversation on this topic revealed additional challenges around thru-contracting to vendors who may not be aligned with the institution’s integration strategy, as well as many persistent staffing demands, which wax and wane quickly.

3. The CIO has a unique, institution-wide vantage point to re-engineer academic and business processes

The CIO’s cross-campus perspective provides the perfect vantage point to partner with peers in other units to redesign processes to streamline workflows. Meeting attendees were quick to point out the difficulties of campus politics in positioning the CIO as a process re-engineer. As one participant said, “Sometimes, if we don’t lead the functional unit nothing happens. But we don’t want to pull them forward, either.”

IT teams dedicated to process re-engineering can act as a resource to educate units, and have great success spurring action across campus. Attendees were particularly interested to learn about how the University of Maryland’s “Process Innovation Team” is successfully driving change and saving costs at the institution.

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