The IT Forum is currently in the midst of setting our 2017-18 research agenda, zeroing in on the small handful of topics we'll tackle in depth. It's an exciting time of year for us researchers, but it's not without its bittersweet qualities.
One of the sad parts of this process is seeing the interesting, but not-quite-ripe topics get winnowed away. Partly, this is sad because I want to learn about as many things as possible—but also because topics that would benefit certain segments of our membership get cut.
As a forum, we focus our primary research on topics that affect all our members, like data governance or student success. It's what makes our research model cost-effective and affordable. Nonetheless, we appreciate certain challenges are felt acutely by particular sections of our membership. We can't tackle them as full research studies, but we can still support our members in addressing them.
So, how do we do that? Fortunately, our researchers are not the only smart, thoughtful people involved in the IT Forum—our members also fit that definition. In 2017, we resolve to help our members take better advantage of one of the best features of membership: the other members. Facilitated networking has always been one of the services included in membership, but we're going to be more intentional about opportunities to connect members this year.
To catalyze that effort, here are three topics that particularly appealed to certain subsets of the membership in a recent survey. Are you interested in connecting with other members to learn more about what they're doing in these areas? Do you think one of these topics should be promoted to primary study status? Let us know.
1: Outside the classroom: Defining IT's role in supporting faculty research and service
This topic particularly resonated with research universities. When I think of IT supporting faculty research, I tend to think about high-performance computing. However, our members (rightly) recognize that they have a broader role in supporting faculty research.
For example, one member told us at a recent meeting that CIOs have a key role to play in protecting intellectual property. The stakes are particularly high when research is funded by corporations, as the loss of intellectual property can threaten current and future partnerships. If you're thinking about new ways and areas to support faculty through technology, let us connect you with other members who are too.
2: Supplementing your IT budget through non-traditional funding and revenue generation sources
Members at private institutions were noticeably more interested in this topic than our public school members. I hypothesize this is for one of two reasons:
- Private schools may have more freedom to identify non-traditional revenue streams; or
- CIOs at public institutions are focusing on securing their "traditional" funding before turning to "non-traditional" sources.
That said, as IT departments shift away from capital expenditures toward operating expenditures, the need to find an appropriate funding model is becoming more acute across our membership. Our colleagues in the Business Affairs Forum—which serves chief business officers in higher ed—have collected a library of alternative revenue sources, many of which either require IT's involvement or can bring new revenue into the IT department. If you've come up with a creative way of funding your IT department, tell us about it!
3: Organizational structures to position IT as a strategic partner
Members at smaller schools (<6,000 students) were substantially more interested in this topic than those at our largest schools (>20,000 students). One explanation is that CIOs at smaller schools simply have more control over their organizational structure.
In a 2013 brief, we found that interviewees tended to de-emphasize the importance of organizational structure. However, as members seek strategies for becoming more responsive to student and faculty needs, we speculate that organizational structure may now be more impactful than it was in the past. If you're thinking about how to organize your IT team, let us know!
As these three examples demonstrate, not all of our member institutions look alike or are thinking about the same issues in the same way. One of our ongoing priorities in the IT Forum is provide the infrastructure to connect members who are thinking about the same things. But even across the differences, many of the same themes emerge, particularly around helping IT move beyond being a cost center to being a strategic partner in higher education's fundamental mission. That's the lens through which we promise to conceive all our research.